The more experience I build up about the world, across a variety of situations, the more I am surprised at just how complex everything is.
There is rarely a simple answer, and it seems that complexity is everywhere. I’ve recently been reading a book on the proof of evolution, and while I understand it just fine, I also understand how many people can also not believe in evolution, because there is so much evidence across a spectrum of different disciplines, that they just give up. They simply think it cannot be.
I see this in my work as well. Clear messaging is often scarce, and it is difficult to understand the points that people are trying to make.
Because the world is complex, the ability to think clearly is even more important than it would be if the world was simple. The trick is how to isolate specific areas of complexity to make things manageable and understandable. It’s difficult, perhaps impossible, to keep the full complexity of any topic in your head as you are working.
And so, we break things up into smaller parts, we simplify, we abstract, we assume, and so on. And this is the area where I believe there is a huge amount of improvement to be made.
The ability to take a specific situation or chunk of work, abstract it to the right level, and only focus on what’s important. Otherwise, it is dead easy to get stuck on even the most trivial of decisions, because there will be enough data to keep you occupied for years if you let it do so.
This is where certain types of people can have a decisive advantage. Those who are bold enough to trust their gut feelings on certain decisions can drastically speed up their decision-making process. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they make better decisions, but at least they have made a decision and are moving in a particular direction. This can often be better than simply not making a decision and waiting. This is because reality will often provide plenty of feedback once you’ve made a decision, and then you just have to observe the feedback from the real world and course-correct accordingly.
The ability to simplify is also a key skill. Being able to remove jargon, explain things in a concise manner, organize clear next steps, and align teams, are all important for modern managers, as well as anyone who wants a better personal life.
Thinking clearly, in the end, boils down to being able to communicate. This means having the ability to write or speak. The words we choose are important. We need to avoid unclear language and ensure that we cannot be misinterpreted. We should value communication that has a high level of information density.
The idea of thinking about how you think is called metacognition, and it is perhaps the most important skill of them all because this is how we improve as colleagues, family members, and human beings.