The Old Wisdom

Innovation is good. If we didn’t invent new things, whether actual “things” or new ways to do things, we’d be in unlit caves dying as soon as we’re born. It’s easy to recognize that innovation is good, and innovation means carving out the new ways, and so it’s thusly easy to trick ourselves into thinking “new ways” are always good.

That’s a bad, bad trick. There’s a thing called “survivor bias,” which is where you judge whether it’s a good idea to do something based solely on the examples of the people who were successful in doing it. Every zebra on the other side of the river is fat and happy, so we should try to cross the river, too! That line of thinking ignores that four out of five zebras get eaten by crocodiles on the way over.

When you see a successful new thing, what you don’t see are the 999 other new things competing in that same space to be the best new thing in that category, all of which were enormous flaming disasters. The one left behind displaces the old, solidified way of thinking and turns out to be better, so we think “duh, of course, new is always better.”

Here’s the about that old way, though. The people who have been using that old way for a long time can usually tell you a lot about why a particular new way won’t work. But people ignore the old timers, thinking of them as relics of an antiquated way of thinking. Because those fools are stuck thinking that there’s one old way and one new way, and those are the competing methods.

But that one old way beat out 999 others to become the old wisdom. And your new way is just one of a thousand competing to do the same. The old timers, if you stopped to ask, can tell you where to put your bets.

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