Do Better Better #9: Georgia On My Mind

Quinn Emmett
November 11, 2020
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Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s other business half, said “I believe in the discipline of mastering the best of what other people have figured out.”

So often in life, we take actions based on incomplete knowledge. So often, in fact, that it’s basically the default scenario. As such, it should be our expectation to do so, and to develop systems where we can make the best decisions for ourselves, our families, our investments, our businesses, and our fellow man, regardless of how incomplete our knowledge may be.

You could be an incoming President-elect having to decide how best to fight climate change, knowing only the facts on the ground, and what projections can give us. You could be a fund manager with a mandate to incorporate strict, transparent, and practical ESG standards, knowing the opportunities are massive, but the field is still very much in its early days. You could be a mother or father having to decide between chemotherapy or immunotherapy for a child with pediatric cancer, knowing immunology is new and can work wonders, but only in select cases, that chemotherapy has a long record, but that the treatment can often be as bad as the disease itself.

Luckily, we aren’t often faced with making such momentous, often literally life-and-death decisions. But by developing systems and best practices for making decisions based on incomplete knowledge, and then practicing these on the daily in less fraught conditions, we can build confidence and muscle memory for when we face bigger questions down the line. You know, in case there’s a pandemic.

***

A great way to develop those systems is to learn from others who’ve come before you. Not specifically in the decisions they made, but why and how they approached those decisions. It’s why the publicly available Harvard Business School case studies are so valuable. It’s why learning about popular mental models, and how to dissect a problem down to first principles, is so valuable.

Sometimes, in the real world, you’ll find that a situation doesn’t actually require any new or deeper thinking from you, because other people already have it figured out. In that case, you should use your core values to guide you (as we’ve talked about before) in answering one question: do I want to participate in this endeavor? If the answer is yes, answer two more questions: how can I be most effective with my time? And, if necessary, how can I be most effective with my money? Once you’ve answered both of those, you should ask one final question: am I ok with spending my time and money on this, knowing it means they can’t be spent elsewhere? Again, a check-in with your core values will help reaffirm your answer (or not).

These are the questions you can only answer for yourself, using the models you’ve developed. Answer internally, and then you are freed to act externally, and with vigor. 

***

Because I always want to connect these musings with the real world, I will use a current example. I am actively thinking on how I can best participate in and contribute to making sure the Senate ends up in Democratic hands. To be clear, “Democrats” isn’t the threshold here. Empowering elected officials who share my values is the goal, whether they’re called Democrats or Vogons.

But I digress. In this case, I checked in with my core values, and I know that 51 votes in the hands of “Democrats” means there is a far greater chance of radical climate action, and a better world for my children (who are admittedly incredibly privileged to start with), and further, for so many of our fellow citizens, most of whom have suffered in ways I can’t begin to comprehend. Winning these two seats means racial justice, cleaner air, water, and soil, better jobs, better health care, fewer guns, a more equitable economy, and vastly more productive and cleaner investment options. 

Again, the math is fairly clear — these things are significantly more difficult to come by without winning these seats. Thus, I am eager and happy to spend my time and money on this pursuit, and I am ok with that time and money not being spent elsewhere. 

And finally, I must admit that despite years of directly and indirectly working with a variety of campaigns and activists, I go into this specific commitment with a decidedly incomplete knowledge of how best to conduct ground operations in Georgia. The good news is the operation itself requires exactly zero new thinking on my part: there are incredible people on the ground there, from there, who’ve spent a decade experimenting with and fine-tuning voter registration and turnout efforts to a measurable effect.

These folks have a track record of success (success, mind you, against very heavy odds), and I am lucky that their mission proactively fits with my values.

So I am happy to contribute what I am able, in the best way that they see fit.

— Quinn

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