/ The Personal Blog of Basil Labib / blog

Systems and Everything Else

February 17, 2021

This is probably the best life skill I have come across in a while that I wish to talk about.

What is this post about?

Have you struggled to find a bearing in the world? With so much information and activity to process, does it make your mind feel despaired? Have you endeavored (tried?) to find a list of fundamental principles to live by? Everyone has a core belief through which stems (either consciously or unconsciouly) all of their thoughts and actions. But I disgress, this is for another time.

Sure there are! You can find them in the works of Charles Munger, Naval Ravikant, Steve Jobs and so on. Today, there is not a scarcity of books that confidently lays down lists of dos and donts to ensure success. I don’t intend to question there effifacy here (or now).

I have wondered if there was not a list but a single guiding principle. An idea that encompasses every other great/remarkable/(insert your adjective) idea. Wouldn’t it be truly amazing?

This post is my attempt to introduce that idea.

Fact: Words are imperfect and language isn’t competent enough to communicate our thoughts correctly. Proceed with caution.

TLDR

Learn to see systems underneath.

What are Systems?

Have you been to the movies? Have to listened to a catchy pop or a classical album? Have you read stories that left you in awe? Or the classics?

Never done these things? Alright, have you been to the supermarket? Or the spa? Or the gaming club? Or to silly little school? Have you talked to your parents? Or interacted with any other human being?

Well, if you have done any of these things, you have experience what a system is though you haven’t known what it is.

Systems are everywhere, hidden in plain sight. The ones who exploit them reap the benefits.

For a really lean specific example, I am thinking right now of the system I am in with you, the reader. You are an audience unscathed by this new idea and are perhaps reading this article to gain new insights (or the title was intriguing enough?) My aim here is to write sufficiently well to get the idea across. And for that, I must put myself in your shoes and resonate with a woman who has never had a whiff of this idea. What will happen then, you might ask? By doing so, I’ll be a good teacher.

It is not straightforward to look at things presented to you superficially and immediately observe the system working underneath. Yes, granted the idea is kind of vague but abstractions are good. Look at computers.

The why and the how

Most people when confronted with a new idea/theory/person tends to ask questions from the “what” spectrum. But I think it will be more fruitful to start your analysis by asking the “how” and more imporntantly the “why” questions.

Gmail

The Gmail service of Google is almost ubiquitous. I look around and almost everyone is armed with one. But why is Google giving away free email accounts? With such a nice UI and the syncing and the security? It surely costs money to host our accounts. Think about it. We are still paying. Not in terms of cash or credit but hidden from plain sight. Have you noticed ads popping up with content (rather surprisingly) coherent with the last email conversation you had with your sister? Well, now you know the answer.

This was just a concrete and rather crude example of how systems thinking and poking for the why can lead to insightful results, often shocking even you.

Pop songs

Have you listened to any of The Beatles songs? Or ABBA or Adele or Taylor Swift? (Choose your era). Why were those songs such a rage? Asking yourself why they wrote the lyrics they did and why they sang it the way they did will lead to new insights. What was going on in their minds? I hear you protesting “but I don’t have a singer’s voice”. In that case, you have missed the point.

Of writers and words

How do writers write such enthralling stories, weaving such intricate worlds and drawing us into them? What is so great about Shakespeare or “The Catcher in the Rye”? Don’t emphasize on the end result but focus on the path to the end result. Then, practise that path to convince yourself you know it and most importantly, don’t walk it. Then you will have developed taste.

Why me?

Never be convinced with what people offer you. Ask why are they offering that and why to you? It will soon become apparent. If you are struggling to decide on a choice, ask what systems are at work and how they interplay. This will lead you to make more valuable decisions in life.

So, What Do I Take Home?

I quote Neil Kakkar from this post (which you should check out too),

There’s two kinds of people.
Bob, who will see this list, find some skills very interesting, and then go about honing those skills.
Alice, who will see this list, and wonder how I came up with these. Alice would then try to understand the system that generated these ideas. Then, she’ll adopt the system, and come up with skills possibly more relevant to herself.
Having the option to do both is powerful. Since Bob is the default, learn to be like Alice. Choose systems when things are important to you.

Don’t listen to anything I said here. Look at the system that led me to these ideas and exploit the system. Then you’ll have followed what I said. :)

Basil | @itbwtsh

Tech, Science, Design, Economics, Finance, and Books.
Basil blogs about complex topics in simple words.
This blog is his passion project.