A case for changing the function
Here’s a familiar scene: it’s the early evening, you’re out and about with friends, and you all start to get hungry. Choices are thrown out – ‘Chinese? Tapas? Gastro-Brewpub?’ – phones get pulled, crowd-sourced reviews are shared, and you decide on the top-rated restaurant in the neighborhood. It will almost certainly be delicious.
In an age where information is widely available and seemingly exhaustive, we’re always on the look out to optimize our daily life: finding the best bar, the fastest route from A to B, the highest-rated film, the most delicious ice cream.
Best, fastest, highest, most…but according to who?
What we are led to believe are the superlative methods of living life are just shortcuts according to the discoveries and preferences of other people in the name of efficiency and available information. We’ve contracted out our subjective powers of taste, choice, and discovery to others, mistaking their opinions for the entire set of possible outcomes. In fact, it limits our reality to the miniscule subset of established knowledge. It’s almost textbook ‘inside-the-box’ thinking.
If people had begun to operate based on the best of what’s available long ago, our growth as a species would have been stunted: even if they were the sleekest and the fastest, we’d still be riding horses, not cars; even with the sharpest chisel and the finest stone, our literature would still be in rock, not paper; even if they were the most efficient, our democracies would still represent just native-born, wealthy land-owning men, not diverse populations. Things would have been optimized, but only within the existing structures and systems.
Of course, optimization can serve plenty of practical purposes in the right context – writing emails allows for document transfer in a simpler and more convenient way than faxes or letters. Mapping applications on a commute allow you to skip past traffic. Streamlining a production process can allow a business to eliminate waste and better serve its customers. There is certainly a place for this practice in our day-to-day.
Too often, however, this penchant for efficiency permeates into situations that don’t call for it. It eliminates, or vastly diminishes, the possibility for discovery and expanding that set of established knowledge on your own. It limits your experiences to those that have been lived, instead of creating new ones by following your intuition. If you don’t need to get from A to B the fastest way, then don’t – meander through the streets and find things that call to you, surprise you. The ‘best’ bar may be two blocks away from one that has received no reviews, but whose booths tell you stories that no one has ever heard. The greatest ideas are ones that don’t exist yet.
Finding the maximum value of a given function is still operating within that function.
Engage your intuition. Change the function.
Published: July 7th, 2016