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Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

If you’re lucky enough to be someone who’s been able to work from home this year — even if you’ve had hungry, unbathed children popping in and out of your business Zooms, if Seesaw has you begging for mercy, or on the other hand, if you’ve felt a pervasive loneliness being separated for months from co-workers and friends — you’ve probably noticed all of the talk about how the workplace as we know it is somewhat up for grabs.

Everything’s theoretically on the table: how we work, when we work, how much we work, for whom we work, where we work — from the country down to the city down to the type of home standup desk recommended on Wirecutter (spoiler alert: it’s sold out). …

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Photo by Rob Schreckhise on Unsplash

In Friday’s newsletter, we talked a bit about employing “first principles” thinking in dissecting a problem.

Our world is endlessly complex. We’ve got seven and a half billion people, eight million-ish species, twelve major religions, one hundred and ninety-two countries, a wide variety of climates and topographies, as well as finite natural resources and seemingly infinite technological innovations that are somehow both unequally distributed and can make or break nations and livelihoods.

So we’re going to have problems. That’s life.

But some of our problems, like the climate crisis, need to be solved ASAP. If we want to build a radically new world, a helpful approach supersedes the most common question: “How do we fix X?” …

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Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash

Many words and gallons of figurative blood have been spilled in the long war over how most effectively to take on the world’s biggest problems and opportunities.

The lines are often starkly drawn between the factions of “individual actions” and “systemic change”. The gatekeepers of each side can often spend as much energy telling newcomers how they’re doing it wrong as they do fighting the good fight.

But it’s important to understand why these captains of progress are forced to clarify our most prudent way forward, again and again. The forces aligned against them — and us — have sought since the 1950’s to confuse you, to misinform you, to create chaos among the ranks of the well-intentioned, to make this your fault. …

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Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

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. …

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Photo by Crissy Jarvis on Unsplash

The choices we make often involve fairly simple math.

For example, when there is a pandemic, and you choose to repeatedly go maskless among thousands of people, you have a very good chance of catching the virus, even if you are the President of the United States.

I am an upper middle class cis white man born into enormous privilege, which is not a choice I made, but is a situation from which I’ve benefited enormously. People who look like me chose to pursue power at all costs, and so designed a comprehensive system of racism and exploitation that has held up for four hundred years, and which continues to touch every part of Black, Brown, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous lives. …

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Photo by Tonik on Unsplash

With (waves hands) “everything” going the way it is right now, it’s easy to feel boxed in.

It’s easy to doom-scroll through the news and feel like “everything” is falling apart. Even if your state isn’t currently on fire, or underwater, you’re probably still stuck inside your home. Your kid’s school isn’t open, your office isn’t open, our political leadership is off the grid. Sure, your sensible index funds are up-ish, but you’re acutely aware that a few tech behemoth companies are carrying the load for all the rest.

And this is all under the assumption that you’re not one of the unlucky many where your state is on fire, or recently underwater, and you’ve still got to go to work, to an hourly wage job, to an office, a factory line, driving the bus, serving food, or helping patients. …

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Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

One of the most important rules you can adopt to become more productive is to say “no” to new obligations as often as possible (this is one I’m still working on).

“Yes” should be exclusively reserved for situations that prompt you to respond with “hell yes!” “Hell yes!” should be your threshold, always. Because our time is finite, and our bandwidth is constantly in need of replenishment.

That’s all great, but…what the hell comes after “hell yes”?

In other words, what are you really committing to?

Are you simply cutting a check? Are you taking on a new full-time role? Are you joining a board? Becoming an advisor? Going back to school? Running for office? …

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Photo by Szűcs László on Unsplash

This series is called “Do Better Better” (editor’s note: it was previously called “On Purpose”, but a simple Google search revealed 500 other companies and podcasts with that title, so, here we are), because I want to help you question, assess, plan, and act with deeply validated purpose. This strategy can be a tremendous asset in uncertain seasons. If continuously honed, it can guide us through highs and lows.

When we suffer loss, for example, or feel threatened, we tend to gain a heightened perspective on life, if only for a brief period of time. We hunker down, and focus on what’s most important. For many, that means family. This pivot doesn’t imply that other things are suddenly and forever unimportant. Work, friends, the news of the day — these still matter, but they take a back seat for a while. …

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Are you ready to be tested? To put it all on the line? Are you confident in the choices you’ve made?

Since the beginning of time, policy experts the world over — and armchair generalists like me — have fought back and forth about economical, political, medical, and fiscal policies, often enacting them in one administration, only to see them completely reversed in the next, and just a few years later.

Politicians, business leaders, and their advisers make decisions and then act on them, as we all do for ourselves, our families, and our own businesses. …

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Photo by Ludovic Gauthier on Unsplash

“On Exceptionalism”

America has suffered dearly the effects of a novel virus, a virus the likes of which nearly everyone in the virological and epidemiological worlds saw coming, a virus whose growth can be easily projected with some simple math.

But as the Stoics say, you cannot control what happens to you. You can only control how you react.

And so what has been far more difficult to project, and greatly muddled such easy math, has been America’s reaction to this new threat.

Your reaction, and mine. …


Quinn Emmett

4-time Webby nominee and founder, writer, and co-host at @importantnotimp . Futurist/generalist. Screenwriter. Dad. Legal property of @inthehenhouse

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