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AI James Altucher


Learning to Drop Familiar Tools

No tool is omnicompetent. There is no such thing as a master-key that will unlock all doors.

-Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History

This quote precedes the introduction of Range by David Epstein and is the main theme of it's 11th chapter, "Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools."

Do you have habits, patterns, or ideologies that may have served you well in the past, but failed you in unique situations that you didn't expect? I am not talking about bad habits which serve no practical purpose and should be dropped completely. What I'm referring to is dropping physical or mental tools in order to adapt to a unique situation or as a response to a more permanent change in your environment.

    1. The alarm clock

    I used to wake up every morning at 6 am for work. I would set an alarm and then go to sleep. But now I'm retired I don't have to get up early so why do I still use an alarm?

    This is a great example of a tool that can be dropped. It serves no purpose anymore. Except, of course, the purpose it serves of waking me up in the morning when I want to wake up in the morning.

    2. The computer

    I tend to write all my notes on a computer now. But sometimes I forget that and try to write on paper. Why?

    I know it's easier to search for things, organize them, etc. on a computer but there are times when it's easier on paper.

    3. Reading books

    When I was younger and first learning about how investing worked, or how chess worked, or how writing worked, I would read lots of books by experts in those fields so that they could teach me their skills. Nowadays I just look at some youtube videos if there is something specific I want to learn.

    But sometimes it's good to just sit down with a book and let someone else teach you something new.

    4. The phone

    Sometimes people call me during the day (or email) and ask me questions or make requests of me. And sometimes i find myself saying, "Sorry, can you email me?" Or "Sorry, can you call later?" Why not just answer the phone?

    It feels like such a hassle these days with all the robocalls and all the other messages we get from our phones.

    5. Myself

    When faced with difficult situations (e.g., what do i do about my daughter who has cancer?) often people will ask for advice from friends or family members who have supposedly been through similar situations before.

    But maybe they haven't been through this exact situation before so there's no way they can give useful advice.

    6. The rules

    Often when playing games as a kid (chess or checkers) there were rules that seemed arbitrary but were accepted by everyone because they had been around forever.

    • Why couldn't someone castle after moving his rook two spaces instead of one space?
    • Why couldn't you move your token back two spaces after landing on Go if you wanted to collect immediately instead of waiting your turn?

    There are always reasons for these rules but sometimes it's better just to break them than worry about why they exist.
    • In chess ,why not castle immediately after castling rights have been gained
    • In Monopoly ,why not buy three houses right away instead of wasting time buying properties one by one

    Sometimes there are no good answers but breaking arbitrary rules leads to more creativity in problem solving.

    Note: this doesn't mean breaking all rules all the time! Sometimes rules are made for a reason.

    Edited for clarity.

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