“To understand how something works, figure out how to break it.” – Nassim Taleb
Usually, when something is broken, we try to figure out how to fix it. We ask, what can we add, what can we change, what can we do?
What if we didn’t do that? What if we experimented with Taleb’s idea and instead of trying to fix what it is wrong, imagined how we could make it worse? How we could utterly destroy it?
After all, disconfirmation is a stronger proof than confirmation. It’s easier to avoid the wrong thing that stumble upon the right.
Take my health. It’s okay. Above average I’d say. But how would I royally mess it up?
I’d start by maintaining a diet consisting of sugar, cheap processed food and lots of caffeine and carbonated drinks. I’d slouch around all day, moving only to fetch food to shove into my mouth. Or to go to the toilet.
The next thing I’d do would be to ensure I get poor quality sleep. I’d watch TV and drink alcohol until midnight, then reluctantly wander upstairs. I’d turn the TV on, get into bed and attempt to drift off. I’d ensure I get fragmented sleep by setting an alarm to go off every two hours.
I would repeat this day after day.
I don’t think it would take long to screw me up.
What about relationships?
First step. I’d go full electro. I’d minimise physical human interaction in my life.
I’d also stop responding to messages and only contact people when I wanted something from them. If anyone persisted and tried to stay in contact despite my efforts I’d make snide comments and sarcastic remarks that are based on the insecurities and issues that I know about. I’d do my best to make them sting.
Another good one. I’d (via an internet connection) tell people all about the mistakes their making and explain to them what I think they should do instead.
I’d also spill any secrets or confidences that were shared with me and try to create conflict between every one I know. Like I was the director of a human drama and the cast were the people I used to know.
Doing that would alienate everyone right?
What if I wanted to reduce my ability to think clearly and critically?
Well, I’d stop reading. I’d replace reading and any intellectually stimulating activity with sitcom re-runs. I would watch the adverts and allow them to create feelings of desire. I’d also make sure I watched the news in the morning, at lunch time, in the afternoon, and in the evening.
Not just any news, I’d specially tune in to the entertainment and celebrity news. Occasionally I’d tune in for the fear mongering of the political and current affairs and lament the state of our world.
I’d also avoid all conversations or message threads or articles that weren’t insulting someone else, creating feelings of scarcity or opining about an over-hyped event.
Wouldn’t take long for me to have the critical thinking skills of a hamster.
The beauty of figuring out how something breaks down is that you can better understand how to not break it.
If you understand what would wreck your health, you can avoid it. If you know what actions would poison your relationships you can ensure you never do them. If you realise what drains your capacity for critical thinking, you can counteract it.
Next time you have a problem, don’t think about how to make it better. Ask how could you make it worse? How could I amplify the problem?
Embedded in the answer to that question there’ll be a clue. Maybe even an answer.