Those Who Thrive Think Differently: Your Guide to Getting Outside the Box

“Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.” – Flannery O’Connor

Despite playing in an era before the 3-point shot, Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point effort remains the most points ever scored in a single NBA game. Chamberlain’s points came from 36 two-point baskets and 28 single point free-throws. While Chamberlain had been a notoriously awful free-throw shooter, he’d recently adopted a new, far more mechanically advantageous strategy- the “Granny Shot.” This underhand shooting technique allowed for a far more consistent stroke that propelled Chamberlain to a very respectable 28 of 32 from the foul line. But, he quickly returned to his overhand free-throw technique. He would play for eleven more years. Why did he abandon the method that worked and allow himself to become a .511 career free-throw shooter?

We needn’t speculate. Chamberlain tells us in his autobiography, “I felt silly, like a sissy shooting underhanded. I know I was wrong. I know some of the best foul-shooters in NBA history shot that way… I just couldn’t do it.” Rick Barry is one of these “best foul-shooters in NBA history.” He’s long advocated for the “granny shot” to no avail. Shaq, the poster child for free-throw incompetence, told Barry he’d rather never make one than shoot underhand. Kazaam got his wish, too.

Environment is amazingly powerful. Despite its advantages, there are zero underhand free-throw shooters in the NBA. Granny shots are so thoroughly clouded with social disapproval that popular basketball circles have completely forgotten that they are most effective. The underhand free-throw is another example of the boldness often required to act sanely. It is like the delusional 17th century Italian who thought the sun was the center of the universe or the modern-day parent who’d like to keep candy and video games out of the home. You may have the right answer, but it won’t always be popular.

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This is the power of environment and culture. Humans value social norms and acceptance over rational self-interest almost every time. We could convince kids that cigarette smoking is immediately addictive guaranteeing a painful, early death and that it makes them part of ISIS. Still, youth will continue to adopt the habit when social pressure tells them it is the thing to do. It is a quirk of evolution. We need the tribe. Those who are not considered part of the group, the in-crowd, are less likely to survive in the harsh nomadic environment that has defined the vast majority of human history.

This is why we say yes to every invitation despite feeling overwhelmed. Social guilt was once a trait that oriented behavior to promote survival. Today, it is the foundation of ever-increasing irrational behavior. “I just want a weekend to spend time with my family, but we have to drive an hour to go to a 5-year old’s birthday party for my wife’s sister’s friend’s sister. I mean she did come to our wedding 4 years ago.” Or, “I really don’t want to eat cookies and ice-cream. I’m on track and already planned to have margaritas with friends tomorrow night. But Aunt Edna sure gets her feelings hurt when people don’t eat the dessert she brings. I’d be the only one not to have any. I guess I just need to eat it.”  Or, “I’m really tired of sitting all day. I think I’d feel better if I just did some lunges and push-ups here by my desk real quick. But what if someone walks by?”

Pair that social justification bug with our human desire to take the easy and comfortable road. Our environment presents a Siren’s call pulling most away from the behavior they know they’d like to adopt and towards the rocky cliffs of malaise, materialism, and dependency. Even more often it precludes the ability to notice other possibilities. We confuse the way it is with the way it should be and always will be, despite the ever-increasing opportunities around us.

The Canned Life vs. Reality

This “assumed normality” is a foundational understanding of IHD’s precept of the Standard Model of life. Justin and I believe that we need to enunciate flaws in our Standard Model and promote a better path for human fulfillment.

Preceding his piece, “Education, Where Even the Winners Lose,” Justin defined the concept of the Standard Model:

The Standard Model is life as we know it. It is the promise of happiness and fulfillment if you only just follow the expected and “normal” path through Western life.

Most of our current issues stem from a large gulf between what our biology expected and the bizarre environment of modern life. Despite increased opportunity to learn and adapt, the environment pulls us towards believing the Standard Model is the best path- that “this” must be “true” or “okay” because of immense social justification. The standard model of life conspires to convince a new generation that:

  • Parents should remove problems rather than introduce appropriate challenges

  • Eating fast food every day and Pop Tarts or Frosted Flakes for breakfast is normal

  • Sitting all day staring at a screen is normal

  • Having five social media accounts is normal

  • Making pills the first recourse for every behavior and emotional distress is normal

  • Spending five to ten thousand dollars a year on club volleyball expenses is normal

  • Being in debt with no savings is normal

  • Not eating dinner together at the table is normal

  • Checking email on vacation is normal

  • Kids who talk back and feel entitled to storm off at a dinner are normal

  • Education is a means to an end- Learn then earn

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The list could continue, but you get the point. We’re normalizing some very destructive patterns. Yet we know, there are strong-willed and bold exceptions all over: the gal who everyone knows meditates on her lunch break, the wealthy guy who has driven the same car for 13 years and who still packs his lunch every day, future hall-of-fame coach, Greg Popovich, who recently got his first cell phone so he can receive texts, but still has never sent one preferring to chat face-to-face, and author and Georgetown professor Cal Newport who has never had a social media account and minimizes emails to two or fewer batched checks per day. All over we see these exceptions smiling while contradicting what society calls “normal.” No path is necessarily the right answer, but it begs the question: what allows people to have this power to act against the popular tide in the manner they have decided is more fulfilling?

To some degree, it is a personality quirk. Psychologists generally agree that there are five basic personality trait continuums that we fall upon. Agreeableness is one such dimension. Less agreeable people tend to care far less about appeasing social conventions and are far more likely to act in seemingly bizarre ways if they seem logical. While these traits tend to remain fairly consistent in people, they are somewhat malleable. For example, psychologist Jordan Peterson has often counseled workers on how to be more disagreeable so they feel empowered to ask for a raise or advocate for their needs in a relationship. Simple awareness of these traits can lead to positive changes in specific behaviors.

WE are Weirdos

There is another route to challenge the Standard Model. The other day, I was riding my bike home from work. This is a very odd practice in my town, evidence to my disagreeable streak. While riding, I passed a car with a bumper sticker that boldly stated: “Proud Democrat.” Democrats may be the only thing less common than biking to work in this North Texas town. Yet, the Democrats are a large powerful party with many supporters across the nation. Throwing that bumper sticker up was sure to invite ridicule, but the owner didn’t care. Her allegiance to the group and its mission superseded any need to fit in with the local masses. This is the power of the oddball group.

We love to celebrate our unique tribe particularly when they are strong, but not the majority. Many a sports fan has felt the “us against the world” mentality when their team of choice is not the local one. Crossfit has built a culture based on intense pride in their outlaw brand of fitness. They have their own vocabulary, their own rites of passage, and a strong sense of community that creates strength to behave differently. Love them or hate them, they have “culture” down.

This is a power Justin and I would like to tap into. We wish to spark a fire in people towards a recommitment to the principles that honor their humanity and promote fulfillment. We wish to create a sense of pride in rejecting the Standard Model when it contradicts an individual’s pursuit of truth.

First Things First

In direct contrast to the Standard Model, is the concept of First Principles that most innovators and creators hold dear. First principles are the fundamental components we work with to solve any problem. Rather than infusing speculation and opinion into problem-solving, first principle thinking seeks to break problems down to their most basic truths. To borrow James Clear’s example, cultures have had bags for carrying items for a very long time. We have had wheels since Ancient Sumer. Yet, it was not until the 1970’s that the two combined to create the first wheeled luggage. This seems insane. Why did this take so long to piece together? The issue was with our focus on form over function. We conceive of suitcases in one form and our brains can’t see the many more functional possibilities.

Humans do this all the time. When presented with one model our brains have trouble conceiving of any other possibility. Elon Musk describes the way most people think as “reasoning by analogy.” Only conceiving of the world in the terms others have presented to them, they only work with the forms they are given rather than the actual building blocks. First principles thinking is breaking down and separating all of the car’s components and introducing a couple of new ones, rather than just copying the same model as everyone else. It was in this manner that Henry Ford was able to democratize the automobile. First principles thinking requires curiosity and a mastery of the principles that goes far beyond what you can quickly Google. This is why the curious, insatiable learners, often accused of having too many interests, tend to be the innovators.

Is College Worth It?

To engage in a first principles thought experiment, we need to eliminate speculation and assumptions and whittle issues down to their base components. Take education for example. We assume that the optimal path for our children is to graduate high school and immediately go to a good college. This assumption may have made sense 30 years ago. Even adjusted for inflation, college was very cheap and virtually guaranteed a good, stable job for years to come. Today the job market is changing faster than we can predict, and having a Bachelor’s degree puts you in a far larger, less impressive pool. Information and opportunities to learn are more available than ever, while tuition and fees have risen exponentially. The education you pay for today is less significant and more expensive. Yet, we still assume that an 18-year-old without the experience to know what they want to do with their lives is best jumping into an environment of distraction and delayed maturity while accumulating massive debt. By age 22, they may have become mature enough to soak up the true value of the college experience. More likely, they’ll have a job that does not require their degree and a large monthly student loan payment that precludes many other potential life options.

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What purpose is college meant to serve? A path to a career? Skills and education? Maturity? Life options? Why is college the only route to these ends? Author, Ryan Holiday dropped out and apprenticed with author, Robert Greene. Tim Ferriss found a mentor, investment wizard Mike Maples, and set up a structure of meetings to be counseled and create a series of real-world investment experiments. He committed to investing the money he’d have spent getting his MBA at Stanford and came out wise in experience. That his investments earned him money is only a nice side-effect.

I have a good friend who was, by all accounts, selfish, immature, and lost at age 18 (I fear these characteristics are becoming the norm). Instead of going to college, he joined the military. There he learned discipline, contribution, and an appreciation for learning. At age 24, he rejoined the civilian world with transformative experiences, a healthy bank account, and the promise of free tuition. He’s now an impressive teacher certain to be an administrator before long.

By thinking from a different perspective we’ll find that there is no singular path. For some, college may be the best option right out of high-school. Maybe they have a scholarship or a vivid vision of their future in neurosurgery. You go, girl! The majority probably need some life experience and perspective first: a year in the Peace Corps, the courage to try a new town and 6-months work at a labor job, starting and failing a business venture, trying your hand at sales while completing all the IHD courses, earning a few fitness certifications before begging your way into a great internship. Maybe these eventually bring us back to college with a richer appreciation for education. Maybe they create relationships and skills that open our eyes up to different possibilities. These options are a risk because they come with less certainty and social proof. When we fail, which is life’s greatest teaching instrument, there will be no one to blame but ourselves.

“What causes what should be a diverse portfolio of ideas to collapse in terms of diversity where everyone starts representing the same point of view with tiny variations?” – Eric Weinstein

The Standard Model creates paths that promote limited living. Learn to abhor dogma and seek truth as the only way to personal fulfillment and community improvement. Standing up at the PTA meeting and suggesting an end to profitable fast food and cookie sales may bring initial resistance. Telling your son he should look at opportunities outside of college won’t make you popular, but it may be the best route for him. Truth is harder to sell. It is nuanced but holds the keys to innovation and freedom. Only those who are willing to think differently can create new opportunities and create a path that honors their humanity. We hope IHD becomes the odd-ball community that helps you act differently; that our perspective gives you sub-conscious strength to chart a different course. We hope you all become proud of your granny shot.

With that in mind, we are releasing our IHD Membership program. Become a member for only $7 a month and you'll get unlimited access to ALL courses and materials in our constantly expanding course list, as well as become a part of a community committed to striving for truth and the principles of human thriving. 

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Shane TrotterComment