TSR #7: Universal Principlespost by Hazard · 2017-12-27T01:54:39.974Z · LW · GW · None comments
**This is part of a series of posts where I call out some ideas from the latest edition of The Strategic Review (written by Sebastian Marshall), and give some prompts and questions that I think people might find useful to answer. I include a summary of the most recent edition, but it's not a replacement for reading the actual article. Sebastian is an excellent writer, and your life will be full of sadness if you don't read his piece. The link is below.
Background Ops #7: UniversaL Principles
- Don’t forget about soft technologies.
- Examples of Places with principle oriented decision making
- Bridgewater (Ray Dalio’s hedge fund)
- Principles (Ray Dalio’s book on how he thinks about principles)
- Book In a Box (unorthodox publishing company)
- Rules Concerning principles
- Principles must state action.
- Principles must have an antithesis.
- Principles must overrule power.
- Hundreds of all the little decisions you have to make are automatically made by having strong principles.
- Search for and define universal principles
- Diagnose before prescription
Pulling it all together
- Recognize that universal principles can be distilled, and that it’s worth doing.
- Schedule enough time to explore, codify, create, test, and operationalize them.
- Start by diagnosing the problem first, before jumping into solutions.
- Codify the problem; write it down.
- Explore different solutions until you find a set of solutions that are the food fit.
- Codify the solutions; write those down.
- Operationalize it — build tools and practices around ensuring the principle is put into action.
- Entrain it — practice until it’s consistently happening in your life and your organization.
I notice that often I feel a tinsy bit confused when thinking about principles. I have accepted that having explicit principles and operating on them is something that has a good shot at making me more effective, yet I’ve always felt a bit hazy about what exactly principles are. Should they outline the sort of world states I'm striving for? Should they be strict policies that inform me on how to make decisions? Do I decide them or discover them?
I’d really recommend you read the BIAB (Book In a Box) Culture document that Sebastian uses examples from. Seeing a list of 10 well thought out, well described principles has done wonders to my understanding of how to usefully think about principles. Seriously, read through it. Principles seem to be the sort of things that are best served by extensional definitions, rather than intensional ones.
Having read through BIAB’s principles, see if you agree with these claims.
- Principles are decision making aids that attempt to occupy a certain sweet spot of specificity. Too specific and your principles become unwieldy and have to be updated too often. Too vague and your principles can’t actually inform your actions.
- Principles act sort of like a lighthouse in the distance. They strongly filter out a lot possible directions to take towards your goals, yet they stop short of telling exactly how to get to where you're going.
- There are lots of little decisions to make whose answers become obvious in light of a good principle.
- A good principle is one that won’t systematically lead you astray; the worst it will do is not give you enough guidance.
The main change in my thinking is this: I used to be bothered by the fact that being very rigourous and formal in defining a principle seemed to kill it a little bit. Now I'm okay with principles not being formaly and rigourously definied.
When BIAB says that one of their Principles is “Act Like an Owner”, I now get why they don’t need a long technical definition of what it really means to “Act Like an Owner”. There is some cluster of ideas in idea-space, and what I now think about when I hear Act Like an Owner, is likely very similar to what Tucker and Zach are thinking, courtesy of them giving such excellent extensional examples. They’ve definitely given this some rigorous thought, but that doesn’t mean that they need a rigorous definition.
Here are some questions you might find useful:
How many principles is “too many”? What are examples of good and bad rationalist principles? Do you have any principles that you’ve thought through and live by? Any one’s that you haven’t thought through yet still live by? If there’s a principle in your mind that you haven’t quite found the right words for, what are some good examples you could use to give it an extensional definition?
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