Action News

A useful skill is being able to correctly identify the kind of information you need to solve a problem right now, as opposed to just information that is good.

If your car has a flat tire, then there’s a certain kind of information that’s actionable. Is there a spare? Where is it? Do I have a jack and other necessary tools? Am I somewhere safe? Is the delay going to cause any problems that I need to get ahead of? These are actionable questions, the answers to which can help you.

Whether or not cholesterol is good for you might be good information to have. But it can’t change your course of action in a meaningful way right now.

Okay, that’s the simple version. Sure, if your tire is flat you don’t care about how healthy eggs are, even if that’s good to know in the abstract. But in real life, this scenario repeats itself a lot and you need to know how to manage it. Because it doesn’t happen by accident.

You will have lots of short-term dilemmas that need to get solved in your life, and during those somewhat stressful times, people will be attempting to alter your long-term trajectory by bending it towards their own agendas. They will do this by shooting information at you disguised as information that can help your short-term problem.

Look, I’m going to tell you a secret. If you’re worried about how to make next month’s rent payment, it doesn’t matter who the President is going to be in two years. That information isn’t actionable to your immediate needs. But there are sure people who are going to claim it is!

Pause and breathe. Consider sources and motivations. Consider whether you sought this information out, or whether it came to you unbidden. Consider your capacity for examining counterfactuals. Consider trust.

But consider.

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