What, If

It’s good to surround yourself with challenge. It’s good to have people around you that will question you, give you adequate push-back, and run your ideas through the crucible. You should strive for that. (You should also strive to surround yourself with people who are doing that to be supportive, not people who just actually oppose your success.)

But no one has the capacity to check your ideas like you do. You have one huge advantage and one huge disadvantage over all external auditors.

The Big Advantage: No one truly knows your biases, flaws, hangups and priors like you do.

The Big Disadvantage: Nobody ignores them like you do, either.

At our core, we begin every project and action with this foundational thought: “I am right.” We need to, or we wouldn’t get started. Our brains aren’t great at internalizing thoughts like “I’m probably right, and even if I’m not, it’s a good idea to move forward anyway because statistically it’s a good plan and I can course-correct as I go.” Nope, the brain simplifies: I am right.

But the brain’s simplification can quickly become resistance to new data. Confirmation bias turns “I am right” into “I cannot be wrong,” and that’s dangerous.

Here’s a quick way to remove (some of) that bias – The Fictional Other.

Isolate your problem down to a single sentence, and remove any pronouns or names: “A high-paying client is being very difficult to manage.”

Then, think about another person whose only problem is this one. And ask yourself:

What would that person do, if they wanted to solve this problem and cared about nothing else?

What, if.

That person has no other problems. They don’t have any other agenda. No tribe to impress, no status to seek, no biases to serve. Just a single problem.

(I think this is why “What Would Jesus Do” is actually a great mnemonic device for people attempting to live better lives. It’s not just that Jesus was exceptionally moral, it’s also that He was unfettered and had great clarity of purpose. He didn’t have your chains. You put yourself in His state of mind not just to remind yourself to act well, but to quiet all of the other voices from your life that tell pull you in directions otherwise.)

But whether you’re religious or not, the “What, If” model can provide a great check on your actions. Once you’ve got an idea of what the hypothetical other person would do, hold that up next to what you’ve actually been doing. Do they match? Are they even close?

No one can answer that like you can.

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