About a year ago, I thought about making some predictions for the year ahead, though I never got round to writing much down. That is just as well, as 2020 took a turn that I certainly would not have predicted – it has been a very unusual year.
Hindsight makes it all feel inevitable, and perhaps a pandemic was, at some point. But this precise pandemic was not, with its bats and its wet-markets, and its Italian outbreak, and its lockdowns. “So does history occur: in myriad, often unconsidered, minor decisions.” This is a very particular trouser leg of time.
I’m not sure how useful it is to focus on this specific butterfly effect, when countless viruses are transferred between species without causing worldwide pandemonium. Except as a reminder that in a world of billions, one in a million chances are actually reasonable odds. We have always lived in an exceptional world; perhaps, in 2021, we shouldn’t be so surprised.
It’s the start of a new year and a new decade, which means that the internet is awash with hopes, plans and resolutions. I don’t have anything specific to share here, but I have taken the opportunity to think about goals and achieving them. I was interested to come across two different approaches of the same name – Working Backwards.
The first is the more intuitive way to Work Backwards, which is to simply think about a large goal, and the time by which you would like to achieve it, then work backwards to identify interim goals and checkpoints along the way. To take a potentially lofty goal and translate it into more short-term actions.
The second way to Work Backwards is also known as Inversion, which I came across by way of Farnam Street (a generally excellent resource). A favourite of Charlie Munger, this involves thinking about the things that might stop you achieving your goal, or of achieving the opposite:
“Figure out what you don’t want and avoid it and you’ll get what you do want” — Charle Munger
Pithily described as “avoiding stupidity” (which is “easier than seeking brilliance”), this simple change in perspective can make a problem seem more addressable, and less effortful.
Neither way of Working Backwards is a silver bullet, of course. But as I start 2020, I am glad to have both.