Ask Lindy

The “success” of a book can be identified by the degree to which it embeds itself in popular culture. Or, at least, in a niche part of it. It is for this reason that Stephen Pressfield’s twin-books, The War of Art and Turning Pro can be labelled “successes”. For creatives of practically any stripe the abstract concept of “the Resistance” resonates precisely because it is made into more than an abstract concept.

The Resistance is the tiredness you feel after an hour of intense creation. The Resistance is the anxiety in the pit of your gut that is conjured when you think of what people will say about your creation. The Resistance is what encourages you to take the easy, leisurely fork on the road of decisions. That timeless enemy of the creative is named by Pressfield, and because it is named it can begin to be opposed.

When I read Taleb’s Antifragile, and later, Skin in the Game, I came across the concept of Lindy. Essentially, it’s the idea that that which has worked will work again. The best dietary advice is the heuristics our grandparents lived by. The most ideal structure of life is the life the peoples of antiquity lived—short bursts of work, interspersed with leisure, conversation and reflection. As Joe Norman puts it:

“Most things—diet, exercise, happiness—become a lot clearer when you simply ask: what would my great great great great great grandparents have been doing?”

The irresistible conclusion to which Taleb brings this idea involves the answering of a timeless problem—infinite regress:

“Effectively Lindy answers the age-old meta-questions: Who will judge the expert? Who will guard the guard? (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?) Who will judge the judges? Well, survival will.”

Now, to make the concept of “Lindy”, like the idea of “the Resistance”, stick in my own mind, I’ve found it useful to apply the same trick. When confronted with a scenario and struggling for insight, instead of thinking of the concept of Lindy, I think of him as a person I can ask.

For example, I’ve been playing around with the idea of building my own bicycle. I’ve got an old mountain bike frame to hand and I’ve been considering the components necessary for a rebuild—the drivetrain, the wheels, the tires, the handlebars, the forks, the brakes etc.. Each of these come with a vast range of possible options. How do I choose amongst them? Consider the forks. Suspension forks are a relatively recent invention. Classically, there was no such thing. So Lindy advises I stick with a rigid fork. But made from what? Aluminium is the new norm for cheaper mass production cycles. Carbon is for higher end road bikes. Titanium is more bespoke and more expensive. Steel, on the other hand, is what bikes used to be made of. It has strength and suppleness and is not too difficult to produce. So, according to Lindy, what I want is a rigid steel fork for my rebuild.

But to make this “Ask Lindy” heuristic embed itself, I need more than words. I need an image.

In the Med of antiquity, when confronted with an important decision, peoples would consult oracles. For example, the Greeks would consult the Pythia at the Temple of Apollo. The oracle resided in a “sanctuary” a distance away, and there were distinct rituals associated with presenting oneself and asking for assistance. So, depending on how imaginative you want to get, you can construct all of this in the guise of Lindy. A far away location, a sanctuary building, a ritual for presentation, a ritual of conversation and a ritual for the dispensation of guidance. I want to play a bit looser, so I’ll stick with just a personal image.

For me, Lindy is as an old man. He has grey hair, a rough beard, and his skin is bronzed from the sun. He lives in the forest, alone, and on his back he carries all that he owns and all that he needs—a walking staff, a sleeping mat, a light blanket, a cherished text, a few tools, some clothing. For me, Lindy is an amalgamation of Gandalf’s timelessness, Ogion the Silent’s nature-centric existence, and the eccentricities of a barefoot sage.

When Lindy walks, he does not stoop. When Lindy sits, he does not slouch. When Lindy speaks, he does not rush. When Lindy acts, it is with the tempo necessary for the moment he finds himself in. He is the embodiment of practical wisdom; his perception of reality is one that is closely aligned with its actual state.

That is my Lindy, and he is the man I will go to for guidance. Who is yours?