Monday 2018-02-05

James Clear says systems beat goals -- i.e. goals are just mileposts for the systems we build -- which seems eminently correct. While Clear comes at this from a habits perspective (google james clear habits), this observation seems to have a lot more going on, and should be examined.

From First Principles
It is observed that: 1) we have goals, 2) we have resources, and 3) we want to assemble those resources so as to achieve a maximum value from our goals.

Disparate goals which require different resources will be harder to achieve because the resources we build out for one goal can not be used again towards the others. Witness the organizational power of Tyler Cowen's moonshot, where each activity has spillover effects which help him achieve his one big goal. Thus, goals are not all alike, and must be made comparable so that we can see any tensions or incoherence between them.

Resources are manifold. From Clear's habits to Cowen's leveraging of the institutions he works at, the resources available to us are more than just those directly under our control. We need a bit of creativity, knowledge, and self-control to see how help can be found -- from a gym buddy co-dependency that cements the work-out habit to seeing that an institution's goals are not that different from one's own.

Assembled systems do not exist in a vacuum. Just as we seek to marshall resources, existing systems are also trying to co-opt our efforts. We need to understand competing systems well enough to compare them, and to be able to identify when they are actually offering much help for little cost. And when they are unavoidable (e.g. taxation), how best to work with them.

Assembling Systems
Measurability seems the most important criterion for a system. With each measure, progress can seen or mistakes alerted. And each time a bottleneck is removed or a mistake is fixed, the system improves.

Ultimately, building systems will require skills from psychology and engineering. And the sooner these are mastered, the earlier the benefits start arriving....