Shoals: what do you know you don’t want?

Shoal, n. an area of shallow water, especially as a navigational hazard.

a photo of waves crashing on rocks near a cliff face

There are lots of questions that it’s helpful to know the answer to. One of these is “What do I want?” But this is a hard question to answer… which means despite its theoretical value, it’s not particularly practical. A question being worth answering doesn’t make it a good question. If it’s a hard question to answer, then asking it might be fruitless and frustrating. So one generally effective tip is to consider what other questions you could ask that will be more tractable than a hard question but yield similar insights.

In the case of “what do I want?” which is often a scary question, one great alternative is “what do I know I don’t want?” In particular, in a given domain.

My friend Shane Stranahan calls the answers to the second question “shoals”. The idea is that if you’re on a ship, and trying to land it ashore, then the shore is the goal… but the water may be treacherous, containing a bunch of shallow water that you can run aground on. These are the shoals: they’re close to the goal, they’re made out of the same stuff as the goal (land) but they’re not the goal, and they represent a risk to you reaching the goal.

And, if you have a good map of where they are, you’re much more likely to sail safely to shore. » read the rest of this entry »

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I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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