IDEA Box #6, September 2020, Thinking


Welcome to our September 2020 IDEA Box blog where we are pondering ‘Thinking’. This month we tried to think like Rocket Scientists, learned how to meditate like a Roman Emperor and discovered that social media is incompatible with Deep Work. Who knew??

This month’s article explains Transformative Experiences, our podcast tells us to Put Our Intuition on Ice while the video has us Thinking Positively.

We do love hearing from you so please keep sending in your suggestions. If you enjoy reading this blog, please follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn where we post additional nuggets of inspiration from the content we have reviewed each week.


Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life, Ozan Varol

We often laud rocket science as the pinnacle of humankind’s technological achievements but according to the author it’s not. It’s merely the result of a certain mind-set, a desire to solve the ‘unsolvable’ and imagine the ‘unimaginable’. Here are four takeaways:

1. Embrace uncertainty: Our yearning for certainty means we search for safe solutions, like the marketer who continually posts the same junk mail coupons expecting a different result. It is our ability to make the most of uncertainty that creates value.

2. Be different: The author believes that the five most dangerous words in the English language are; “everyone else is doing it”. Take a different path. There are more opportunities in the ditch than along the main road.

3. Moonshot thinking: Lions could easily catch mice but their calorific content doesn’t make it worthwhile. Catching an antelope is a moonshot but it provides food for days. We spend too much time chasing mice, playing not to lose rather than to win.

4. Near misses masquerade as successes: The Challenger shuttle crash, which resulted in the loss of seven lives, demonstrates that just because something has worked before doesn’t mean it will always work. Netflix realised this when they pivoted from sending DVDs by post to streaming content. The company’s DVD postal service was merely a tactic. The strategy was to dominate the home entertainment market.

So, eh … it’s not rocket science then. This is a great read with advice that is both accessible and actionable. It’s available in all formats.

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, Donald Robertson

The author believes that reason is our greatest gift and our greatest burden. In the modern world we are in a constant state of fight or flight. Donaldson suggests that thinking like Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius can help to change this physiological response. Here are four takeaways:

1. Clarity vs. catastrophe: According to the stoic philosopher Epictetus; “What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.” Or to distil that sentiment – it’s not things that upset us but our judgement of those things. We determine the value we assign to objects and events which we should view objectively without catastrophizing.

2. Gratitude: According to Donaldson the wise person is grateful for the gifts she has, recognising that they are merely on loan. Marcus remained grateful for external benefits without becoming reliant and attached to them. This allowed him to focus clearly on what was important.

3. Accountability: Marcus always tasked someone within his inner circle with holding him accountable to his ideals. He was aware of his blind spots and regularly sought out constructive criticism.

4. Speak plainly: Plain speaking brings two profound changes in one’s thinking; (1) simple language leads to a better, clearer understanding of the truth, (2) plain speaking removes value judgments which may elicit emotional responses.

This book is packed full of clever quotes like; “only a madman seeks figs in winter” which I plan to annoy people with in my local pub when it reopens. I enjoyed this book so much that I actually reread it once I’d finished. It’s available in paperback, eBook and audiobook.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport

The author draws the distinction between deep work; tasks that create value and are hard to replicate, and shallow work; tasks that rarely create value, are easy to replicate and are often performed while distracted. He argues that to succeed in today’s information economy you need to produce your best work. Here’s how to think and work deeply:

1. Create a routine: The elements of a deep work routine are; (1) location, (2) duration, (3) structure (e.g. my phone will be turned off and I will write 1,000 words for IDEA Box), and (4) requirements (e.g. drinking water, headphones and concentration music).

2. Schedule your day: Arrange your day into blocks of time assigning appropriate activities to each block. You should aim to group shallow work tasks together, like answering email and returning phone calls while leaving sufficient time for deep work and thought.

3. Eliminate distractions: The author suggests that email is; “the quintessential shallow activity (and) is particularly insidious in its grip on most knowledge workers’ attention”. He has a similar view of social media. If you plan to think and work deeply you need to remove these distractions.

4. Practice productive meditation: Newport claims; “The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally—walking, jogging, driving, showering—and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem”.

The world is literally screaming for our attention. This book shows how we can regain focus and boost productivity. It also includes the line; “think like an artist but work like an accountant” which I’ll try to apply to this weekend’s finger painting. It’s available in all formats.


How Should We Make the Most Important Decisions of Our Lives? Laurie A. Paul, Slate, 5th March 2015

We often only learn what we need to know after we make big decisions and after the consequences of the decision has potentially changed us. Laurie Paul discusses the idea of transformative experiences and how we should think about decision making under extreme uncertainty.

1. Transformative experiences: A transformative experience, such as having a child or changing religion, is an experience that; “is both radically new to you and that changes you in a deep and fundamental way”. Paul notes that; “many of life’s biggest decisions involve choices to have experiences that teach us things we cannot know about from any other source but the experience itself.”

2. Making a rational decision about transformative experiences: Rather than focusing on a specific personal outcome, Paul suggests considering the value of “revelation” by weighing the value of becoming a different person against the value of remaining the same person.

Check out the full interview here.

This A

The Knowledge Project: Putting Your Intuition on Ice, Daniel Kahneman

This interview with Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, Nobel laureate and author of ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, reveals the actions we can take to overcome the biases that cripple our decision, dampen our thinking and limit our effectiveness. Here are two takeaways:

1. Intuitive views get in the way of clear thinking: We have intuitive views of almost everything. As soon as a problem is presented we have ready-made answers which make us wildly overconfident of what we know and reluctant to accept that we may be wrong.

2. We spend most of our time confirming our intuitions instead of collecting evidence: Kahneman believes we should delay intuition by focusing analytically on the separate dimensions of the problem. This will make us think in a more rounded way. Unfortunately society demands quick decisions.

Listen to the podcast here. 

For Your

Positive thinking: Alison Ledgerwood, Ted Talks

Social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood shares simple tricks to remove negative thinking and focus on the upside. Here are two takeaways:

1. Negative thinking is instinctive: According to Ledgerwood once we think about something negatively it is difficult to change this perception. It’s easy to go from good to bad, but far harder to shift from bad to good.

2. Overcoming our innate predilection towards the negative: Ledgerwood offers the following tips; (1) write for a few minutes each day about things that you’re grateful for, (2) share and discuss positive news with others, and (3) be aware that “bad tends to stick” so consciously focus on breaking the cycle.

You can view the Ted Talk here.

And Finally…
For Something

Walk this way

According to Friedrich Nietzsche; “Only ideas won by walking have any value”. It is widely accepted that walking, and the shift it facilities to subconscious thinking, is a fundamental element of problem solving. With that in mind here’s a list of some of Ireland’s most beautiful walks, trails and hikes.

If you’re looking for a bigger list this app by Irish tech start up Hiiker is a great resource that covers pretty much every walk and trail in the country.

And while you’re out walking you’ll have plenty of time to think about who sang the original versions of the songs on our Covers playlist.

Thank you for reading our blog. Next month we will be discussing Entrepreneurship.