Why we should re-examine the clichés in our heads

They stop us from digging deeper. We fail to see the downsides. We miss interesting opportunities. The antidote is to consciously seek the opposite

Founding Fuel

[Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay]

Dear Friend,

The assumptions we make about the world live in our heads as clichés. They influence how we look at the world, how we react to events. 

  • The more the merrier. We are happy when our devices come with more features, when shops sell more varieties of plain water and when restaurant menus come in two or three volumes. 
  • Faster is better. We pride ourselves about how our cars can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds, how our startups touched 100 million users in a year.
  • Stability is good. We love routines. We get upset when things change abruptly. We install air-conditioners, to insulate ourselves from what happens outside. We pave tracks in our parks, so we can walk without paying attention to where we step.

These ideas have become clichés in part because they are useful. But, the problem is we often end up thinking they always work. They stop us from digging deeper. We get blindsided. We fail to see the downsides. We miss interesting opportunities. The antidote is to consciously seek the opposite.

  • Less is more: After Steve Jobs came back to Apple, one of the first things he did was to drastically cut the number of products in the company's portfolio. Studies have shown that when convenience stores have more varieties of snacks, soft drinks and beers, both sales volume and customer satisfaction go down. When the designers of Aadhaar were deciding on the demographic details to collect, they kept it to the minimum because it will be more inclusive, less prone to mistakes and easier to scale.  
  • The slow movement: When a coffee machines company was pouring dollars to design a faster coffee maker, McKinsey consultant Kenichi Ohmae asked the executives if it’s speed that customers were looking for. It turned out, they were not looking for a faster machine, but a machine that can make better coffee. From reading to cooking, from relationships to medicine, there is a growing appreciation of the benefits of slowness.
  • Antifragile: Nassim Taleb says “some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” They are antifragile. However, suppressing randomness and volatility has made “the economy, our health, political life, education, almost everything” fragile.

Internalising these ideas will help us make better sense of the world. These principles have a wide range of applications. At Founding Fuel, over the past few weeks, we have been spending a lot of time thinking about and discussing the learning process. It's easy for me to see how they apply to how we learn. At a time when there is an information overload, it's easy to jump from an essay here to a podcast there, spreading ourselves too thin. It's far better to focus on a few quality learning materials, and dig deeper. Similarly, we fantasize about being Neo in The Matrix and learning a new trick by just downloading materials straight to our brains. But learning happens best when we give ourselves enough space to think, reflect—and even sleep over it. Finally, too much structure can constrain our learning. We have to push the boundaries and experiment.

These are just three of the many ideas that we are trying to embed into our Masterclass series. Our next instalment, titled Navigating the Great Indian Slowdown, is designed keeping these learnings and more in mind. If you are keen to join, please apply for a seat here. We’ll do our best to accommodate you.

Meanwhile, keep sharing your thoughts with us on what we could do to serve you better.


NS Ramnath

On behalf of Team Founding Fuel

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About the author

Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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