Man with hand up in 'halt' gesture

Of Course You Want What You Haven’t Got

I mean, that's what the word "want" means. "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost" does not mean that the blacksmith was looking for the nail he wanted and lost the shoe. It means that the blacksmith did not have a nail. So he couldn't put on the shoe. Now the horse wanted - did not have - a shoe. And the rider wanted a horse. And so on, and so forth, until the kingdom is lost over one missing horseshoe nail.

The lesson there is much more meaningfully stated as "small things are not just important; small things are everything." But today we're talking about want, the core element behind the bucket-brain. The bucket-brain wants. The bucket is not full. It must be filled. It wants things to fill it.

The opposite happens when the bucket is full. It no longer wants. You can see these people all over advice forums, their cups overflowing, their bookcases packed, attacking every new idea that comes their way. Don't you dare try to put anything else in that bucket. No new stuff! We have enough stuff! We want nothing! And it's their scumbag bucket-brain making them do it. 

The thing about the bucket brain is that it's in play before anything even gets to the library. The library is where stuff is getting filed away. But even if you don't file it in any kind of rational order, everything in your bucket-brain is still being stored. Everything in it does, somehow, make it into your library.

In the worst possible case, your brain just dumps the bucket on the floor and kicks it all under the bed like nothing happened. It's still there. And, barring some sort of brain damage, it will be there forever. You will be able to access it in some fashion.

But at its most basic level, the brainstem filters what goes into your library. It's in charge of how big a scumbag your brain is. It decides when and whether to pay attention to things, and you have to push it to pay more attention, because it has no real ability to think.

All it knows is want, and do not want. Have we got that already, and if not, have we got room in the bucket for it? That's the whole of its selection criteria.

And in the early stages of anything, when you're just learning a subject, this is invaluable - if you have room in your bucket. Empty your cup so you can taste the tea. Make room in your library to file things away.

During those early stages, even the most basic crap is useful because it's not in your bucket or your library yet. But this is where you want to apply those economic principles, and employ some discretion in what you put into your bucket.

If you fill up your bucket with only a single perspective, with only a very limited series of ideas, then you can't make the same quality of decisions you could make with a broader and more balanced worldview. You'll be working from an incomplete body of knowledge.

Look for the tradeoffs. Look for the cost of a given idea - what you give up to have it. Find the margins of the ideas you encounter, and think about them. Look for the incentives that make ideas attractive. Ask yourself whether this idea makes everybody better off, or if someone is getting screwed. And most importantly, consider whether a given idea is optimising for cost or utility.

Here's a core concept for you. When you optimise for cost first, you're actively choosing not to be a badass. A badass puts everything into the effort at hand. It is not important that the results be as inexpensive as possible, but that they be as effective as possible.

Badassery is not efficient. It is effective.

Efficiency is still something to be considered, but a badass does not compromise effective for efficient. When efficient comes at the cost of effective, it's not really efficiency. You're not really making what you do more efficient - you're simply doing something else. Specifically, something inferior.

We'll begin next week with the actual animal metaphors, but right now, it's time to let things percolate over the weekend. We'll do more brain science on Monday.