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The Precautionary Principle: Better Safe than Sorry?

Also known as the Precautionary Approach or Precautionary Action, the Precautionary Principle is a concept best summed up by the proverb “better safe than sorry” or the medical maxim to “first do no harm.” While there is no single definition, it typically refers to acting to prevent harm by not doing anything that could have negative consequences,...

Seizing The Middle: Chess Strategy in Business

Chess can serve as an apt metaphor for other areas of our lives, especially business. That’s because the game is a microcosm of the ways we use strategic thinking. There are not many areas where we can quickly assess the quality of our decisions and whether they are likely to have the desired effects. Chess helps us develop strategic thinking because...

The Availability Bias: How to Overcome a Common Cognitive Distortion

“The attention which we lend to an experience is proportional to its vivid or interesting character, and it is a notorious fact that what interests us most vividly at the time is, other things equal, what we remember best.” —William James The availability heuristic explains why winning an award makes you more likely to win another award. It explains...

How to Write Creative Fiction: Umberto Eco’s Four Rules

Umberto Eco (1932–2016) was one of the bestselling authors of all time. In Confessions of a Young Novelist, he shares some unique advice for writing fiction. Umberto Eco wrote Confessions of a Young Novelist in his late seventies. But having published his first novel, The Name of the Rose, only twenty-eight years earlier, he considered himself a newcomer...

Better Thinking & Incentives: Lessons From Shakespeare

At Farnam Street, we aim to master the best of what other people have figured out. Not surprisingly, it’s quite a lot. The past is full of useful lessons that have much to teach us. Sometimes, we just need to remember what we’re looking for and why. Life can be overwhelming. It seems like there’s a new technology, a new hack, a new way of doing things,...

Advice for Young Scientists—and Curious People in General

The Nobel Prize-winning biologist Peter Medawar (1915–1987) is best known for work that made the first organ transplants and skin grafts possible. Medawar was also a lively, witty writer who penned numerous books on science and philosophy. In 1979, he published Advice to a Young Scientist, a book brimming with both practical advice and philosophical...

The Pygmalion Effect: Proving Them Right

If you expect a dazzling feat, you might just get one. Many people believe that their pets are of unusual intelligence and can understand everything they say, often with stories of abnormal behavior to back it up. In the late 19th century, one man made such a claim about his horse—and appeared to have evidence to prove it to anyone. Wilhelm Von...

Efficiency is the Enemy

There’s a good chance most of the problems in your life and work come down to insufficient slack. Here’s how slack works and why you need more of it. Imagine if you, as a budding productivity enthusiast, one day gained access to a time machine and decided to take a trip back several decades to the office of one of your old-timey business heroes. Let’s...

The Ultimate Deliberate Practice Guide: How to Be the Best

Everything You Need to Know to Improve Your Performance at Anything—For Beginners and Experts Deliberate practice is the best technique for achieving expert performance in every field—including writing, teaching, sports, programming, music, medicine, therapy, chess, and business. But there’s much more to deliberate practice than 10,000 hours. Read...

What Information Do You Need in Order to Change?

“Feedback is an effective tool for promoting efficient behavior: it enhances individuals’ awareness of choice consequences in complex settings.” —“Feedback and Efficient Behavior,” Sandro Casal, Nives DellaValle, Luigi Mittone, and Ivan Soraperra We all want to improve at something. Skills we’d like to develop, habits we like to change, relationships...

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