Open-minded Delegation

If you’re anything like me, you love finding solutions to problems. When faced with a challenge, your mind starts racing to find potential paths to take, hypotheses to test, and solutions to build. This is exciting, but this is also very dangerous! Once you have a potential solution, you may not want to give it up.

Now add a team to the mix. In an ideal world, you could clone yourself and get twice as much done, right?  Unfortunately, we need to work with other people. Despite our best cloning efforts, those other people will be different. At the outset of all new projects, I instinctively present my (coveted) brilliant solution and lay out my grand plan for success. Then, I realize that not everyone sees things my way.

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At first, this sucks. But sometimes I remember to open my mind. Delegation and teamwork can lead to outsized rewards, not despite the differences between the collaborators but because of them. In finance, diversification is basically the only free lunch. Value comes from adding imperfectly correlated assets to a portfolio. The strengths of one asset can more than make up for the weaknesses of another asset.

Good collaboration is about exploration. Often, what feels like compromise ends up being a better solution. If you can enter the process with an open mind, you have the potential to combine the best of one person’s perspective with the best of another person’s ideas. Understand that your way may not be the best way, even if (or especially if) you have more experience than someone else.

What it means to Want

Have you ever wondered what you truly want? In the context of the demands, distractions, and routines of daily life, it is rarely clear. One thing we are all familiar with is desire. Many times each day, we are confronted with physiological urges and cravings for emotional treats: food, sex, the latest viral article, our friends’ pictures on Facebook. And yet, when you ask people what they value, these things are rarely mentioned.

What gives? Often, people conflate their actions with their wants. We feel like we have free will, and hope that we can actually do what is best for us. However, reality is messier. We are far from the prototypical rational actor of economic models: “If you didn’t want this, why did you do that?”

On this topic, my friend recommended this interesting paper. To summarize, Watson suggests that one can draw a useful distinction between the possession of values and desires. Our values can be said to come from our valuation system, in which we think rationally about how we want the world to look. In contrast, our desires reside in our motivational system, which drives what actions we actually take. In this model, we can want to lose weight more than we want that piece of cake, even though we may act in favor of the cake. To the extent that our motivational system fails to carry out the aspirations of the valuation system, we are failing to act upon our wants.

Desires are often driven by physiological mechanisms, addictions, and neuroses. Some are less avoidable than others. Consider the need to consume food as opposed to the need to check Facebook. However, noting the superfluousness of a desire is not necessarily a negative judgement. Even the most stigmatized of addictions, such as heroin use, possesses some who truly enjoy and value the experience. Alternatively, we have the scenario in which we tell ourselves one thing, but fail to act in accordance with that thought. For example, at the moment I want to finish this blog post, but I keep getting up to make more cups of tea.

Traditions and cultural norms make things even trickier. They blur the line between what we care about and what society wants us to care about. Consider the relatively sacred institution of marriage. It may be difficult to identify to what extent people remain in unhappy marriages as a consequence of a sense of duty, often to the idea of marriage, rather than because they want the marriage itself. Similarly, some values may be morally difficult to acknowledge. For instance, I aspire to value all human life equally, and yet would almost certainly feel a greater sense of urgency to protect those who are closer to me.

We may communicate a value, but intrinsically believe something else. The possession of a value is not necessarily discredited by our failure to act upon it. Alternatively, being ignorant of what outcomes we are acting towards might lead to future disappointment. It is better to be aware of what you actually care about and work to achieve that, rather than living in a dissonance of desire.

So that leaves the million-dollar question, how do I identify my values? How do we know what we really want?