Strategist Dictum 1: Do things for reasons.
So, what is this is absurd strategist nonsense I'm always going on about?
Reflecting today on the nature of the world, I believe I have come to the core tenet of strategy. The one from which all other tenets flow, the quintessential, alpha-omega principle of strategy, which is -
Do things for reasons.
Wait, what?! What is this absurd nonsense? "Do things for reasons"? This guy aspires to be the greatest-something-or-other-victory-empire-strategy-what-the-hell, and what he's got to say is "Do things for reasons"? Do things for reasons?
Yes. Do things for reasons.
While this might simple on the surface, this is not the way most people run their lives.
Most people's daily lives are done out of custom, with no carefully evaluated and explicitly defined reasons for their actions. Worse still, decisions in high conflict and highly leveraged situations are usually made on the basis of naive emotion... which is horrifying if you really stop and reflect on what that means.
Most people do not do things for reasons. They do things "because that's the way it's done," or they go with their first impulse.
You might have as many as 10,000 nuanced options when you come to a crucially important decision. Outside of Disney movies, your first impulse is not at all likely to be the most effective one.
So again -
Strategist Dictum 1: Do things for reasons.
Which brings us to a corollary -
Strategist Corollary 1: Do not simply "do shit" for no reason.
Doing shit for no reason is a cause of lots of misery. Your wife is in a very bad mood one day and starts yelling. If you go with your first impulse, it will most likely be wrong, and your marriage will suffer. Out of the 10,000 options available to you, the naive impulse is unlikely to be the correct one.
The same is true in negotiations.
The same is true in the buying and selling of securities.
The same is true in choosing how to market your product.
The same is true in dealing with crime.
The same is true in maximizing tax revenues without destroying commerce.
The same is true in dealing with being insulted.
The same is true in dealing with criticism.
The same is true in choosing how to spend your money.
Doing things without reasons (usually because of habit/custom, or out of emotion) leads to ineffectiveness and misery.
The first dictum of strategy, then, is "do things for reasons."
The way to start doing that is to ask, "What is my objective here?"
Then, "What course of action makes me most likely to reach that objective?"
That's a little hard to remember when all hell is breaking loose. The simpler version is to ask yourself, "What is winning?"
Do things for reasons.
Don't "do shit" for no reason.
Your naive impulse is unlikely to produce the best result.
Ask, "What is my objective here? What gives me the best chance of reaching it?"
Ask, "What is winning?"
Follow up with action. Adjust if necessary. Win.
i was referring to micro in the moment behavior, not habit choice. (though, perhaps, environment choice might be more relevant).
Assumption I: most of our behavior is not premeditated
what is the proper framework to consider acting in the moment vs. acting deliberately. and then consider my question about rationally vs. optimally.
Nice article! "Do things for reason" is not only a strategy rule, it would be basicly "be homo SAPIENS" (not only animal), which is a good thing if you (can) think about it. I've had similar thoughts and ultimately ended up with a need for a reason for having them...
By the way, I still count you the way I did before :) Otherwise I don't see enough reasons for what you're doing just by being a strategist!
@Steven, my namesake, customs are not reason at all! If I'm talking about a personal habit, that someone become accustomed to, then at most it is something that maybe itself came out as a result of a reason once or twice under rationally considered circumstances. But then it is painful to rethink everything again and again, so it passes to subconscious as granted rational action, but subconscious mind is no longer under reason's control, unless you consciously pay attention again and rethink it. If I'm talking about customs as collective practice, well... I think it is a compiled set of actions for anyone not willing or not being able to compile one of its own. Here I'm not talking about laziness or stupidness, rethinking everything from scratch is exhausting, so we all take at some point for granted a lot of models - way of doing things. Those who can afford, rethink and re-validate or invalidate them changing or making new customs, for themselves and sometimes for others, too! So here the social custom is very similar in treatment with individual one, in it's stated dynamics at least. But customs are not reasons.
Excellent post, and I ask, how do you reconcile this with "being in the zone"? Analysis can be disruptive to flow states, when intuitive decisions are more likely to be optimal.
If I am not wrong, one would also have to be calm and a collected, be a student of patience in order to do things for a reason , when all hell breaks loose . It is interesting how one of your older posts about the Japanese dynasties and this one, comes together for me . You don't give way to your emotions, you are collected, and then you do things for the right reason .
Good post .
This is just the post I needed.
"Doing things without reasons (usually because of habit/custom, or out of emotion) leads to ineffectiveness and misery."
Emotional reactions tend to blur the mindset to the point where rational and sensible solutions to a situation are put on the back-burner. Giving reasons to our actions can help us sustain the motivation/inspiration to continue on, even if discouraging factors occur.
I agree with Jason's point above. I agree with taking action even if the reasoning behind it is very vague during that moment. Sometimes there are moments where you have very little time to decide your specific reasoning to do something. (E.g. My own personal experience)
^Give Jason extra props for him linking me here from facebook. :)
While I was reading the article in my mind came up a tag line in a movie I have watched recently. It was free will /choice/ must be fought for, deserved /so we can make better choices/. It was about important decisions in life not things like choosing a cloth.
It is interesting that you mention some areas that we trust people do things considering them carefully /money, crime,negotioations/. I think the main hinderance here is going with the flow, do what is usual to do, what some custom ways say /which by the way vary very much depending on the situation place and so on/.
I do like this idea in general - as when you ask people why they do things, they'll often say "I dunno". However, I think there are many times where it's better to do *something* rather than nothing (eg going to talk to a girl at a bar). And therefore it's ok to engage in an activity without a particular plan of action and do things within that activity without a particular reason (eg make random conversation), though you *do* have a reason for engaging in the activity in general.
I've been thinking about how you're a strategist. What does that entail? How do you go about getting into that area of study? How do you start learning about such a broad field?
My ideas for my life are fairly big and broad, making it difficult to know where to start. I know about the principles of kaizen, taking small steps that compound into something big, but there's still the question of which small steps (out of the 1000 possibilities) to start with. I'm hoping your experience with being a strategist might give me a few ideas.
At the end of a month, there's usually a lot of random nonsense that has built up. I'm testing out a strategy for dealing with that by dedicating the least-important day in the last week of the month to task crushing.
Here's what I do.
This is similar to the GTD method of dumping everything from your brain. I write down the main categories that tasks sit in, and then I sit down for 10 minutes and scribble down everything I can think of, no matter how trivial.
"Host webinar" goes down on the list right with "Get a vitamin holder". I keep going until I can't think of anything.
I use a simple dot system to rank the categories, then I go into the tasks themselves. One dot is most important, two is middle, and three is least.