Fast as Usain Bolt… But dumb as a monkey

Usain Bolt
Usain Bolt: holder of multiple world records and considered by many as the greatest sprinter of all time for how he constantly dominated all of his opponent.

Let me ask you two questions. Think of Usain Bolt. Do you think he is faster than you?

I bet so. Now the second question: think of a monkey. Primates are certainly very intelligent animals. But, among the animal kingdom, no species can compete with the intellectual capabilities of ourselves, the homines sapientes, the “species who has knowledge”. So, let me ask you: do you think you are more intelligent than a monkey?

I have good news and  bad news. The good news is: you are not (necessarily) slower than Usain Bolt. The bad new is: you are not (necessarily) smarter than a monkey. And while I assure you I mean not to insult you, this  is a crucial fact  to  understand if we want to live a better life and to achieve our goals.  Let’s see why.

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So, are things getting better or not?

We tend to laugh at the obvious blunders of people of the past who, lacking adeguate scientific development, made decisions based on superstitions and implausible beliefs , even when it mattered most (such as health or legal trials).

We think we are different. We think we are doing things in an “obviously right” way and from the right mindset. In other words, we implicitely assume we are already applying something as the Functional Mindset (approaching a given goal with a strategy that is in line with the currently available knowledge about that topic),  and we would never imagine our decisions being in such an open contrast with currently available scientific facts.

But how justified is this assumption? I would argue that, despite the obvious and massive increase in the available scientific knowledge, we are less functional than ever. Continue reading “So, are things getting better or not?”

What can happen when we fail to use the Functional Mindset?

Imagine a very powerful and wealthy man has a medical emergency, dangerous yet not lethal. As you may expect, such man is treated by the most respected and capable medical professional in his country, which happen to be one of the most technologically and scientific leaders in the world.

Yet, the man dies. Not because of his initial health issue, but because he is made ill by the treatment provided by his physicians. And not because they made a mistake, but because they willingly decided to ignore established medical facts relevant to the condition of this man. What would you think of that?

This is not a hypothetical scenario. Let’s this stunning example of the harmful consequences that we have to face when we fail to use a Functional Mindset.

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Why the Functional Mindset is more important then ever? Great power comes with great responsibilities

As we have seen, there has been incredible changes from the perspective of scientific knowledge, not only in generic “sciency” stuff, but more importantly (for our purposes), regarding very practical matters that are relevant to the quality of our everyday life.

This progress has occurred at an unbelievably fast pace as compared to all of history, because we now understand the utility of using methodically a scientific approach. Discoveries don’t “just happen” anymore, we are out there looking for them, and we have a rather precise understanding on how to seek for new scientific data and (even more importantly) how to successfully choose between competing theories.

Only a few decades ago, there was absolutely no factual knowledge about the effects of either physical activity or nutrition on health. No knowledge on the habits that may promote or hinder happiness. No information of which factors promote a lasting relationship and which are most likely to end up with a divorce. No data on how prevent or treat mental disorders or, more in general, disabling or hamful mental elements such as anxiety or stress.

This has the potential to drammaticaly change our lives for the better. Unfortunately, so far we only managed to use only a small fraction of that potential.

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From obesity to dead children. Why strategy matters in real life

Summary post of the discussion of a few examples of how people waste plenty of resources, time and effort to achieve literally nothing when they fail to think strategically. We’ll see how this is one of the leading reasons behind people having difficulties with achieving something and facing hardship due to situations that could have easily been avoided. We’ll see mostly circumstances that most of us can face in real life, but we’ll also see how sometimes the consequences of natural thinking and behaviour can be much worse. Continue reading “From obesity to dead children. Why strategy matters in real life”

Would you bet on your child’s life?

The last example we’ll discuss on how strategy is crucial and why it matters in real life is taken from my introductory lecture on critical thinking, and it is probably the most important. Imagine your child (or any other, if you aren’t a parent) becoming ill. His or her condition is bad, but easily curable. As generally happens with anything, health included, there are several available solutions. How to know which one is the best to choose? Is it enough to simply have the best intentions, the highest will to do the best for our children, and the strong belief of doing the right thing? Sadly, the answer is clearly no.

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Why dogs love strategy

We’ve seen how, without understanding strategy, people may incur in adverse consequences. We’ve seen how we can fail at learning a language or at losing weight. Let’s start to see a couple of examples that can have much sadder outcomes. The first one comes from the field of dog training. Dogs are an important part of the life of many of us, but unfortunately people tend to understand very little about their behaviour. Continue reading “Why dogs love strategy”

Forecasting the future by understanding strategy

With the Functional Mindset, you need not to let things just happen and complain if they end up being not what you expected. By thinking strategically, you will be able to predict the future… to some reasonable extent. Not because of some mystical form of divination, but simply thanks to a reasonable analysis of all the factors and how they will affect the possible outcomes.
One of the most important thing to rely on will be the past experience, and using it as a testing tool to asses what will work in the future and what will not. Although there are some pitfalls, this is an amazingly simply but powerful tool… and yet we generally fail at taking advantage of it. Continue reading “Forecasting the future by understanding strategy”

The (non)sense of hardship

Goals to achieve, problems to solve, desires to make true: all of those just keep coming one after an other during our lives. Some are things we want, other things we need, and many more are simply a social need that is often imposed on us from others expectations. Perseverance is considered an admirable trait, and the will to endure hardship in order to achieve what we want or need is a strength. But even perseverance, without strategy, has its hidden risks. Continue reading “The (non)sense of hardship”

The power of strategy

So, let’s start to see the principles behind what I call the Functional Mindset (or Strategical-Critical Approach), and how and why exactly this new perspective can lead to enormous improvement in virtually any aspect of our life. Let’s start from the first element, the strategical part. “Strategy” is a word we all know and understand, but in vague terms, without actually thinking how to apply it the most different circumstances. The word itself has Greek origin and comes from a military contest. The στρατηγός (strati̱gós) was the military leader and, more specifically, each one of the ten members of the councils of Athens who were leaders of the army and the navy. So, strategy was the process of defining the intermediate and final goals of a mission, war or set of military operations, the outlining of a general plan and the placement of the resources in the way that was most likely to lead to a victory (or anyway the most favourable possible outcome) with the least amount of sacrifice.

But going beyond the military sense, a similar concept is crucial in any human activity: to clearly define what the goal is and make a plan that has a reasonable chance to succeed makes all the difference… whatever we are trying to do.

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