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What makes an idea actually matter?

What makes an idea actually matter? | THINKERS Notebook
To begin, click here and watch this short video.

It's my favorite TED Talk of all-time.

And don't worry about having enough time. It's less than 3:00 minutes in length. 

I know it says 3:23, but the meat of it ends at the 2:52 mark when the speaker, Derek Sivers, says, "When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in."

Few presentations have ever packed as much meaning into three minutes as that one, especially for the purposes of this email newsletter, which is all about how to think better.

But what does it mean to "think better" anyway?

What is the purpose of such a pursuit?

  • To cut through distractions and find some semblance of mental clarity.
  • To make better decisions and lead a better life.
  • To solve problems.

Yes, yes, and yes.

But on the grandest and most important scale, the purpose of thinking better is to be able to improve the world -- in ways both big and small -- with our ideas.

And the only way to do that is to create movements. 

Now, "movement" can be an intimidating term.

Don't let it be.

You may not view yourself as someone like Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who led worldwide movements in pursuit of equality that transcended time and location to still reverberate to this day.

And that's okay.

A movement is simply "a series of organized activities working toward an objective; an organized effort to promote or attain an end."

Consider someone like Jennifer, who I've never met but who lives near me in Richardson, Texas.

She started the Richardson Social Issues Fiction Club Meetup, which meets to "read novels about experiences you may or may not have been affected by, a place to discuss and open eyes to them (others/our own), to better our community, to create compassion for others who are different than ourselves." It has 29 members.

That's a movement too. It's a small movement, but it's a movement, and a small piece of the world is changing because of it.

And movements can be even more micro in scale than that.

Maybe a new healthy habit you start inspires someone you live with, or a friend, to follow suit. So you work together to be healthier. That's a movement too, and two lives are changing for the better because of it.

Here's the best way to think about this:

There are ideas, there are actions, and there are movements.

Ideas are thoughts, conceptions, or notions. They're essential. But when ideas just stay as ideas, they can't actually achieve anything.

When our ideas become actions, however, they start to produce tangible results that impact our own little corners of the world.

And when these actions attract other people who want to join in or follow suit, movements begin. And movements have influence. They create change.

It's often said that "ideas change the world." My favorite children's book ends this way. It's a nice sentiment, and it's a true in a sense; but it leaves out a few steps.

Ideas drive actions that inspire movements ... that change the world. 

And that's why the pursuit of thinking better is so important.

Movements matter, whether big or small. And movements can only start when one person performs an action and then another person joins in.

But what sparked the action? The idea.  

This is why we have to value our ideas, and why we have to give ourselves the time and space to explore, record, and reflect on them. 

And this is why we can't keep our best ideas to ourselves.

We need to act on them in the smartest and most strategic way possible, because our actions just might spark a movement that changes the world for the better.

Which brings me to Season 2 of the THINKERS Manifesto podcast.

In Season 1 of the THINKERS Manifesto podcast, we spent seven episodes tracing the "thinker's journey" to help you think better by understanding concepts like System 1 and System 2 thinking, how to use emotional circuit breakers, and the power of creative destruction.

Now, in Season 2, we are focusing on the potential of ideas and the importance of the execution in making them a reality. 

The first three episodes of Season 2 are out, and we hope you'll give them a listen.

You can listen here at the THINKERS Manifesto website.

You can also subscribe on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and anywhere else you listen to podcasts.

You can also click the links below to listen to the individual episodes.

Here are summaries of the first three episodes of Season 2:

Episode 8: The Idea That Led to a Journey

What matters more -- an idea or its execution? We explore that question in this season of the podcast, beginning with this episode.

We also take you inside of how we developed the THINKERS Notebook, from idea to movement, and some of the missteps we made along the way.

Episode 9: The Value of the First Follower

Using the aforementioned Derek Sivers TED Talk as a springboard, we explore how ideas gain steam and become actions that inspire movements.

In this case, I was actually the first follower after Sean got the ball rolling, and the way in which he welcomed me in as an equal was straight out of Derek Sivers' prescription for how to start a movement the right way.

Episode 10: Failure

Failure is painful, it leads us to doubt our capabilities, our ideas, our work. Failure can take a huge toll on us financially, emotionally, and psychologically.

And while success releases testosterone and dopamine into our system, failure has an entirely different effect – one that is purely psychological.

In this episode, we talk about the role of failure through the story of a failure we experienced when we first set out to launch our company.

And ... that's it. 

That's the newsletter this week.

No Workshop roundup or additional links, because we want you to listen to at least Episode 8 of the THINKERS Manifesto podcast. Hopefully if you enjoy that episode, you'll keep on listening.

We're dedicated to creating tools and resources that will help you become a better thinker.

But our motivation doesn't come from just wanting you to fill our notebooks (and app!) with your ideas. We want you to do actually do something with those ideas, and change the world in whatever way you're capable.

That's what we're trying to do with Sean's initial idea to create a better notebook, and Season 2 of the THINKERS Manifesto traces that arc so you know exactly where we're coming from and can learn from both our successes and our failures.

So please check it out, and then let us know what you think!

Why would someone leave college to build a note-taking app?

Why would someone leave college to build a note-taking app? | THINKERS Notebook

Have you heard the story about the two guys who left college to build an incredible app that eventually changed the world?

We all have. 

Whether it was Bill Gates and Paul Allen from Microsoft or Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, the history of technology is replete with stories of young people leaving their studies to pursue a vision of the future that they wanted to build.

But have you ever considered what that is really like for the people involved? 

Friends and family are shocked with their reckless decision. "Why give up on your education for a risky adventure that will probably end in failure?"

Personally, I never understood why people would take such a large leap of faith.

Then I met Daniel Reiling.


Meet the "dropout" leading our development team

I first met Daniel when I posted a job opening for an iOS developer. 

I wanted someone with basic skills who I could train and develop as our company matured. 

During the interview, my first impression was that Daniel was a prototypical millennial. He greeted my exuberant visions for what we could build with casual responses. 

It was only later that I realized Daniel simply has a calm, relaxed personality -- a stark contrast to my own. His understated responses belied the reality he had already conceptualized his own vision for what we could create together, and he was highly motivated to get to work on it. 

At the time, Daniel was just one semester away from graduating college. But he saw that this opportunity aligned with the career path he wanted to travel and the kinds of projects he wanted to work on. So he took our offer and put his academic education on hold.

And from Day One, Daniel came ready to produce. 

For several years while in school, Daniel had spent his days and nights studying every aspect of iOS development and applying that knowledge toward creating a series of working apps. 

So while he applied for our position as a "junior developer," the reality was that he was already a highly experienced iOS developer.

What he lacked was the experience of working on a bold vision that would challenge his skills and give him managerial experience -- the opportunity that we were presenting with the THINKERS App.

That's why he left school and came to work with us, and now leads our development team of iOS and Android engineers.

I don't know if I could have made that decision when I was his age. Could you?

In this 2-minute video, Daniel recalls the reasons why he took such a leap of faith and what drew his passions to building the THINKERS App.

Daniel is soft-spoken, but don't let his matter of fact demeanor fool you. While some of us express our passions with words, Daniel does it in code.

Are you ready to see the fruits of Daniel's labor?

If you would like to be one of the first people to access the new-and-improved next generation of the THINKERS App, please complete the form here:

We need beta testers for the app to help us prepare for our general launch. 

In return, we will give you an access key that unlocks all the advanced functionality of the app for one full year. (These will be paid features in the new app.)

Please join our list by filling out this form to register for early beta access. 


Want to reduce cognitive bias? Employ probabilistic thinking

Want to reduce cognitive bias? Employ probabilistic thinking | THINKERS Notebook
There is an entertaining and instructive subreddit called Never Tell Me The Odds

It's entertaining because you find GIFs like this one, from a baseball game, in which a batter fouls off a pitch and the ball ... ricochets directly into the umpire's shirt pocket.

Or this one, in which a baby tosses a partially filled water bottle and it lands upright. (The baby's face at the end is priceless.)

Obviously you should only spend so much time indulging in this rabbit hole of ridiculousness, but it does offer a useful reminder that sometimes the unlikeliest outcome can happen. 

The question is: what do you do with this knowledge?

Having seen a foul ball fly into an umpire's pocket, would you expect it to happen the next time? Or even once in the next 10,000 pitches? I hope not. Sure, it could. But the reason it's funny is because of how unlikely it is to happen.

And this is idea of how likely or unlikely a future event is to happen -- i.e. its probability of occurring -- is something that we should always keep in the forefront of our mind when making decisions.

As Spencer Greenberg discussed in his recent THINKERS Workshop webinar, and in his post Three Types of Nuanced Thinking, probabilistic thinking is:

... where we consider our level of confidence in our beliefs, avoid having 100% confidence in anything, and consider in what situations a view will be true vs. in what other situations it could be false. Probabilistic Thinking helps us be right more often.

My THINKERS Notebook co-founder Sean Jackson also covered this topic in one of his recent essays, in which he described why his go-to source for information on the pandemic is the IMHE projections:
But the simple fact that they make specific projections with specific dates (daily) with a probability range for their results is what makes their projections believable!

Unlike the experts who provide vague hypothesis on future events, the data scientists behind the IHME projects provide their probability and timing for their forecasts in the public domain and update that information, and their subsequent projections, on a daily basis.

How many times have you seen those talking head TV experts do this?

Probabilistic thinking was also the topic of a recent issue of Further (another newsletter you should consider subscribing to), which described how playing poker provides valuable training in probabilistic thinking:
Poker delivers the perfect storm of ambiguity: neither skill nor luck alone takes the pot. Being able to assess probabilities quickly gives you a strategic edge, as does having the grit to accept that even improved odds don’t always play out.

This example hit home for me as someone who got semi-serious as an amateur poker player back in college.

The power of probabilistic thinking

The first lesson I learned from several of the poker strategy books I read was how important it is to memorize the relative probabilities of each set of cards you could be dealt -- as this would inform what my initial betting strategy should be for the hand.

For example, in Texas Hold 'Em, you have a good chance of winning the hand if you get dealt two Aces. However, if you get a dealt a 2 and a 7 of different suits, your odds of the winning hand are very poor. 

Over time, if you make a habit of betting aggressively when you have pocket Aces and folding quickly when you have 2-7 offsuit, you will win more money than you will lose. 

But here's the most important thing to remember: every now and then, just like the baseball flying into the umpire's pocket, the 2-7 offsuit will beat the pocket Aces.

Regardless of which side of the bet you're on -- the elation of unexpected victory or the frustration of a bad beat -- the emotion of the moment should not impact your assessment of the bets to come thereafter.

In other words: if you bet with the 2-7 offsuit and got lucky, thank your good fortune but realize how unlikely a repeat is; and if you bet with the pocket Aces and lost, chalk it up to bad luck and stay disciplined in your approach the next time around.

In the absence of probabilistic thinking, there is a real danger of recency bias infecting future decision-making.

If you sit down at a poker table for the first time and don't know how unlikely winning with 2-7 is, you might think it's a smart bet moving forward. So you'll be basing your future decisions on a foundation of erroneous logic ... which is the path to a quickly dwindling stack of chips.

Admittedly, poker is as pure (and esoteric) an example of the impact of probabilistic thinking as you'll find. But you can still apply these principles to your own daily decision making.

If you don't understand the relative probabilities of potential outcomes you are trying to assess, or if you consistently fall into the Truth Binary and view complex topics as either correct/incorrect or true/false, then you are unlikely to make a good decision.

Sure it could happen -- the unlikely outcome is always still possible -- but living a life always hoping for an unlikely river card to save you is probably not going to be a happy and prosperous one.

In this week's THINKERS Roundup, I've collected three additional resources on the power of probabilistic thinking and how to incorporate it into your regular decision-making process.

But first, a quick update from inside the THINKERS Workshop that includes some important information about how you can connect with us on social media. 

This Week in the THINKERS Workshop


Don't forget there are two replays from recent webinar events available to all members of the THINKERS Workshop:

And we are hosting our next virtual happy hour on Wednesday, July 22nd at 6:00 p.m. ET. Click here to RSVP.

We hope you'll join us for some fun conversation and connection with fellow community members.

And finally ...

We would love to connect with you on social media!

My co-host of the THINKERS Workshop, Mica, is doing an incredible job with our Instagram account. So if you are an Instagram user, definitely connect us there.

You can also connect with us on the following platforms:




The THINKERS Workshop costs $99.99 per year (or $9.99 per month) to be a member. If you own a THINKERS Notebook, then you get in free. If you haven't activated your free account, just reply to this email and let me know so I can send you the special link.
Now on to this week's links ...

Stop treating predictions like a coin toss.


There are several different situations that could have resulted in the event that we saw. And when we're trying to predict the future, we need to consider each of them.

Watch: Thinking Like a Bayesian (THUNK YouTube Channel)

Probabilistic thinking can help you overcome cognitive bias.


Thinking probabilistically takes some getting used to, as the human mind is naturally deterministic. We generally believe that something is true or false. Either you like someone or you don’t. There is rarely, for example, a situation when you can say that there is a 46% probability that someone is your friend (unless you are a teenager with lots of frenemies).

Our instinct for determinism may well have been an evolutionary innovation. To survive, we had to make snap judgments about the world and our response to it. When a tiger is approaching you, there is really not a lot of time to consider whether he’s approaching as a friend or a foe.

However, the deterministic approach that kept our ancestors alive while hunting in the savannah won’t help you make good decisions in complex, unpredictable environments when your natural mental shortcuts and heuristics start to fail you.

Read: Develop a “Probabilistic” Approach to Managing Uncertainty (Harvard Business Review)

Learn to find the signal in a very noisy stream of feedback.


On this episode, best-selling author and professional poker player Annie Duke (@AnnieDuke) and [Shane Parrish] discuss how to disagree without being disagreeable, spotting biases that sabotage our success, how to find signal in noise, and reliable decision-making models for high stakes, high-pressure situations.

Listen: Getting Better by Being Wrong with Annie Duke (The Knowledge Project podcast)
Quote(s) of the week

“I have no certainties, at most probabilities."

-- Renato Caccioppoli