August 9, 2022

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Better Thinking & Incentives: Lessons From Shakespeare

At Farnam Street, we intention to grasp the very best of what different folks have found out. Not surprisingly, it’s quite a bit. The previous is stuffed with helpful classes which have a lot to show us. Sometimes, we simply want to recollect what we’re on the lookout for and why.

Life might be overwhelming. It looks as if there’s a brand new know-how, a brand new hack, a brand new method of doing issues, or a brand new method we have to be each 5 minutes. Figuring out what to concentrate to is difficult. It’s additionally a job we take critically at Farnam Street. If we wish to be a sign within the noise, we’ve got to search out different indicators ourselves.

That’s why we spend quite a lot of time prior to now. We like studying about historical past, and we prefer to search for timeless concepts. Learning info that’s going to remain related for 100 years is a greater time funding than making an attempt to digest info that can expire subsequent week.

However, the previous is a giant place containing quite a lot of info. So it’s at all times appreciated after we discover a supply that has curated some timeless classes from the previous for us. In his ebook How to Think Like Shakespeare, professor Scott Newstok dives into historical past to tug out a few of what humanity has already realized about higher pondering and making use of incentives.


Better pondering and schooling

“Doing and thinking are reciprocal practices.”

How will we get higher at pondering? When you concentrate on one thing, hopefully you be taught extra about it. But then the problem turns into doing one thing with what you’ve realized. Often, we don’t need our information to remain theoretical. We’ve realized one thing with a view to do one thing. We wish to put our information into follow in some way.

The excellent news is, doing and pondering reinforce and increase one another. It’s a refined however highly effective suggestions loop. You be taught one thing. Armed with that new info, you do one thing. Informed by the outcomes of your doing, you be taught one thing new.

Throughout his ebook, Newstok weaves in lots of concepts on learn how to suppose higher and learn how to have interaction with info. One of the methods to suppose higher is to enhance pondering with doing. For centuries, we’ve had the idea of “craft,” loosely understood because the information one attains by doing. Newstok explains that the follow of any craft “requires—well, practice. Its difficult-to-codify habits are best transmitted in person, through modeling, observation, imitation, [and] correction adjustment.” You develop a deeper understanding while you apply your information to creating one thing tangible. Crafting a chunk of furnishings is much like crafting a philosophical argument within the sense that truly doing the work is what actually develops information. “Incorporating this body of knowledge, learning how to improvise within constraints, [and] appreciating how limited resources shape solutions to problems” lies on the core of mastery.

The utility of what you’ve ingested with a view to actually be taught it reminds us of the Feynman Learning Technique. To actually grasp a topic, educate it to a novice. When you break down what you suppose right into a teachable format, you start to really know one thing.

Newstok writes, “It’s human to avoid the hard work of thinking, reading, and writing. But we all fail when technology becomes a distraction from, or, worse, a substitute for, the interminable yet rewarding task of confronting the object under study.” Basically, it’s human to be lazy. It’s simpler to cruise round on social media than put your concepts into motion.

Better pondering takes power. You have to have the ability to tune out the noise and stroll away from the short dopamine hits to place the trouble into trying to do one thing along with your ideas. You additionally want power to confront the outcomes and determine learn how to do higher subsequent time. And even when your job is determining learn how to be higher on social media, specializing in the connection between doing and pondering will produce higher outcomes than undirected consumption.

The time and area to do one thing with our ideas is how we remodel what we be taught into one thing we all know.

Admittedly, realizing one thing typically requires braveness. First, the braveness to confess what you don’t know, and second, the braveness to be the least sensible individual within the room. But while you grasp a topic, the rewards are unbelievable. You have flexibility and understanding and choices to continue to learn.


Applying incentives

“If you create an incentive to hit the target, it’s all the less likely you will do so.”

Newstok explains how the wrong incentives do much more harm than diminishing our motivation to achieve a purpose. Applying unhealthy incentives can diminish the effectiveness of a complete system. You get what you measure, as a result of measuring one thing incentivizes you to do it.

He explores the issue of incentives within the American schooling system. The precedence is on the fast utility of data as a result of the inducement is to move checks. For college students, passing checks is the trail to larger schooling, the place they will move extra checks and get validated as being an individual who is aware of one thing. For academics, college students passing checks is the trail to larger rankings, extra college students, and extra funding.

Newstok suggests we don’t want to fret a lot about being proper and feeding the continuous evaluation stress this perspective creates. Why? Because we don’t know precisely what we might want to know sooner or later. He writes, “When Shakespeare was born there wasn’t yet a professional theater in London. His ‘useless’ Latin drills prepared him for a job that didn’t yet exist.…Why are we wasting precious classroom hours on fleeting technical skills—skills that will become obsolete before graduates enter the workforce?” It appears that a greater strategy is to incentivize educating instruments that can give college students the flexibleness to develop their pondering in response to adjustments round them.

Considering the right utility of incentives in relation to future targets has ramifications in all organizations, not simply faculties.

A standard drawback in lots of organizations is that the alternatives to accrue additional reward and compensation can solely come by climbing ever larger within the pyramid. Thus persons are incentivized to get into administration, one thing they could have no real interest in and might not be any good at. Not everybody who invents wonderful widgets ought to handle a bunch of widget inventors. By not incentivizing alternate paths, the group finally ends up dropping the wonderful widget inventors, handicapping itself by diminishing its adaptability.

We’ve written earlier than about another common problem in so many places of work: compensation is tied to visibility, bodily presence, or quantity of output and to not high quality of contribution. To be truthful, high quality is more durable to measure. But it’s actually extra about organizational perspective. Do you need folks to be busy typing or busy pondering? We all say we wish thinkers. We not often give anybody the time to suppose. In this case, we find yourself with organizations that find yourself having the ability solely to provide extra of the identical.

And paying folks by, say, profit-sharing might be nice, because it incentivizes collaboration and dedication to the well being of the group. But even this must be managed in order that the incentives don’t find yourself prioritizing short-term cash on the expense of long run success—very like college students studying solely to move checks on the expense of their future information and resiliency.

Newstok suggests as a substitute that “we all need practice in curiosity, intellectual agility, the determination to analyze, commitment to resourceful communication, historically and culturally situated reflectiveness, [and] the confidence to embrace complexity. In short: the ambition to create something better, in whatever field.” We don’t have to be incentivized for fast efficiency. Rather, we want incentives to discover what may have to be recognized to face future challenges and reply to future alternatives.


The most fascinating factor about Newstok’s ebook is that it rests on concepts which might be lots of of years previous. The issues he explores should not new, and the solutions he presents to the challenges of higher pondering and aligning incentives are primarily based on views offered in historical past books.

So perhaps the final word lesson is the reminder that not each drawback must be approached as a clean slate. Humanity has developed some knowledge and perception on just a few subjects. Before we reinvent the wheel, it’s price trying again to leverage what we’ve already found out.

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