How you will change the world

Hopefully this is obvious to many people, but it seems some smart ones at least don’t really think about it.

Suppose you have some grand goal, that many people fail at. For instance you want to revolutionise your field or start the social movement that stops poverty or build a flight search application that isn’t frustrating.

Before you think you have a perceptible hope of achieving it, you will need:

  1. Some idea of what it is that everyone else gets wrong
  2. Some strategy for avoiding that

Ok, so far so good, you may think: nobody else tries hard enough, and you will try hard enough.

Not so fast! You will also need:

  1. For the failure and the strategy to correspond with how the world actually works, rather than being things you ‘believe in’ or would like to identify with, or just interesting or novel ideas which are fun to chat about.
  2. A meta idea of why it is that nobody else has come up with your strategy for solving it. ‘Be more passionate than any one else’ seems to be a popular intended solution for instance, but it causes difficulties at this point because chances are every other idealistic youth has thought of it before. If they still failed, then you don’t yet have any reason to suppose you will do better.

Of course you don’t need all this stuff to try blindly, you just have to accept that your chances of success are very low. I think you will also often do better by directly trying to answer these questions before you start.

7 responses to “How you will change the world

  1. I will bookmark this post and redirect friends to it in the future. You have said well what I have tried and failed to convey to a few of them.

  2. Pingback: On success and failure | The Thinker

  3. The smart people who don’t think of this will struggle and probably fail.

    But then…the smart people who DO think of this are not going to change the world at all, or at least only incrementally. Of course, there are more minor improvements to be done than there are smart people to do them, so maybe this is good.

    • >But then…the smart people who DO think of this are not going to change >the world at all, or at least only incrementally.

      Not necessarily so. Just have a strategy or a plan. Do something different.

      Some treat it as a number game – low probability of success with high payoff. I think this is the wrong attitude, but it’s not absurd at least. (Once network effects kick in, we’ll succeed.)

      • I realise this comment is two years old, but I’d nevertheless like to observe that incrementally is the only way to effect meaningful and long-lasting changes (or, more literally, to effect changes). Also keep in mind that the default outcome of proceeding nontrivially differently to the norm is failure. Don’t do it unless you have a reason commensurate to the average loss.

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