From Ryan Holiday’s new book Conspiracy:
It is always revealing to see how a person responds to those situations where he’s told: “There’s nothing you can do about it. This is the way of the world.” Peter Thiel’s friend, the mathematician and economist Eric Weinstein, has a category of individual he defines as a “high-agency person.” How do you respond when told something is impossible? Is that the end of the conversation or the start of one? What’s the reaction to being told you can’t—that no one can? One type accepts it, wallows in it even. The other questions it, fights it, rejects it.
As an engineer, my first response is always to deconstruct the problem. Empathy is important too. Some questions I like to ask:
- Why does this person believe it is impossible?
- What do they know that I don’t or vice versa?
- What are the limiting factors of the outcome that is supposedly impossible?
- What are the actual dynamics of the system that is supposedly impossible to change?
- How do the dynamics of the system differ at other timescales? (Over months, decades, lifetimes…)
- What does everyone believe about the system? What if the opposite is true?