Four Levels of Thinking

You are a stud … and I’m unsure if you really believe it. Let’s find out by venturing through four levels of thinking that I just made up.

The lowest level is Regurgitation. Here, the best one can do is identify brilliant people to copy, and copy them with a bit of rhetorical flourish. Do this well and, at minimum, you’ll be seen as “competent.”

Not good enough, right? So climb the ladder hidden behind the mist and you’ll arrive on Error Detection. There was certainly some identification of troubled thinking on L1 in determining who to emulate, but here you realize there are mistakes in damn near everyone’s thinking. Mistakes that you, standing on these gorgeous marble floors (much better than the dirt on Regurgitation), can proudly correct with answers that appear in your mind. This thinker said X, but it’s actually X+.25, or I think this person straight missed that footnote on page 15 which renders much of this strategy dumb. On and on. Always something to find. Sit back, let others throw stuff out there, and then pick it apart. In the same way that editors are necessary for successful writers, a company without occupants on L2 will fail. Still, right or wrong, those occupants are not viewed as studs; authors get million-dollar advances, not editors.

Since a million dollars sounds cool, how about climbing that brick wall over there? Don’t worry, many of the bricks jut out just enough to count as footholds. Yes, I know your fingers are bleeding, but I promise it’s worth it. See, you have a nice rhythm now. And for just a second look up and observe the destination in the form of that human-sized hole in the ceiling. Motivating to spot your destiny, I know. I’m here for you. Your destiny, for now, is What Matters. Small children never make it to this floor. Think of those precocious, pugilistic 8-year-olds who are so good at finding the tiniest mistakes adults make only to be laughed off with Yes, I guess you are technically correct, but that’s about it. You fail to see what’s going on here. On What Matters, one has a comprehensive understanding of the mission, the players, and the incentives. No longer is time exhausted gaining status points by pointing out trivial mistakes when the overall intent is generally clear. The error can still be corrected, just with a smoothness that largely skips over right vs. wrong. You probably meant X instead of Y. Cool. No biggie. Let’s talk about X. This skipping is vital since time is ticking and L3 residents focus on cost/benefit calculations. Risks are everywhere, and there is always a cost to mollifying them. Thus, “we gotta do whatever we can” should almost never be uttered. Many times the costs outweigh the risks. Many times the costs grow as unintended consequences appear. And because of these realities, What Matters residents accept that you must tolerate certain risks, errors, and technicality violations in properly directing limited resources to areas yielding the largest returns.

The levels build on each other. So someone on L4 still possesses all the attributes she had on L1, L2, and L3. For that reason, the shift to the highest level – a weird move where you are kinda sucked upward on a Candy Land-colored reverse chute – is especially short. The shortness, though, belies the challenge since Proposing Proper Strategy is more about self-confidence than anything else. And for however hard external battles may be, nothing is quite like the battles we wage within ourselves.

Strategy does not tend to float magically down from the heavens – it comes from deep knowledge of the playing field. Question. Read. Think. Write. Interview. Question. Write. Read. Think. Write. Interview. Keep repeating and strategy appears. So if you are here on L4, you have done these things because these things were necessary for L3. But perhaps you worry that when it really comes down to it, strategy is just a professional word for creativity, and creativity is something derived from special genes you happen to lack. A reasonable fear that’s ultimately unfounded since creativity isn’t locked like height or eye color. If you add skills and new thoughts, creativity springs forth as your mind has more outlets within which inklings can expand. This process may have also occurred on What Matters. If not, we can smuggle it into this colorful top floor. Gimmie a sec to connect that point.

With your hands firmly planted on your waist for a power pose which actually does nothing to improve your confidence (all those studies saying otherwise failed to replicate and, come on, you really think solving internal chaos could be so simple?) but which absolutely looks cool, you know what should be fixed and how it can be fixed, what should be built and how it can be built. This accomplishment entitles you confidence, but, again, confidence can prove elusive. So for an additional boost, try to move beyond knowing into capable of doing it herself (as may have occurred on L3). Solo-solving is not required, and is certainly not feasible in all matters since one lifetime isn’t long enough for universal expertise (i.e., comparative advantages are a great benefit of working with other people), but will unquestionably make your proposals harder to reject. It is, of course, the fear of rejection that can lead to sleepless nights on Proposing Proper Strategy. The total certainty available on Error Detection is not possible up at these lofty heights. Thus, the crucial difference between leaders and everyone else is not intelligence or charisma or being 6′4”or public speaking skills or blah, blah, blah; rather, what separates L4 residents from everyone else is a willingness to decide in uncertainty. No, there isn’t perfect information waiting over the horizon. No, procrastination won’t make it easier. No, you’ll never be able to please everyone. Proposing Proper Strategy people accept these potentially demoralizing sentences as facts … and then act. They know that by virtue of taking that Candy Land-colored reverse chute up here, there is nobody better equipped to make decisions and proposals. It is, in fact, their responsibility to carry the burden of submitting stuff into the world, because if they don’t, the status quo will forever prevail.

You have earned admission onto the higher floors (a.k.a. you are a stud). Start spending more time there.