Theory of Change (super important....)

Theory of Change (Aaron Swartz’s Raw Thought)

I’ll close with one more example, showing how this strategy can be used personally as well. I was at a party once and I told someone I was writing a book and that I wanted it to be a bestseller. They laughed at that and I think it’s because they had a theory of action model in their head: you write the best book you can, and of course you want it to be a bestseller, but either it does or it doesn’t.

But I was working backwards, I had a theory of change: I asked, What makes something a best seller? Well, lots of people buy it. OK, how do you get lots of people to buy something? Well, you have to persuade them it’s something they want. OK, how do you persuade them it’s something they want? Well, first it has to meet some desire or need they have and second you need to explain to them how it meets that need. So what are the desires or needs people have? (Looking at bestsellers: entertainment, escape, self-improvement, etc.) What are the ways of explaining your book meets their need? (Being popular early on, appearances in the media, persuading readers to tell other readers, etc.)

Again, we can keep going for quite a while until we get all the way back to something I can actually do. But because of this, I didn’t have to simply have to hope that my book became a bestseller, like every other author. I could actually do something about it.

I re-read this a few times a year just as I do with "No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better."

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There’s a weird social pressure to not do this. A friend of mine is widely regarded as the kindest person around town. One day I asked him how he was so kind to everyone. He told me he used to be the “roast guy” who would make fun of people on command, until he realized he wanted people to think well of him, not think he was funny/witty, and figured out what would make that happen. Basically revamped his whole social life and never spoke poorly of anyone again, except in worst cases. I try to follow that basic idea - don’t talk shit unless it is vitally necessary.

I told a few friends that story and nearly every single one of them physically pulled back at first. The most common response was something like “just be yourself and find your people.” Yeah sure but if it makes my life a million times easier (without even changing any of my fundamental beliefs or behaviors) why would I not make this small change.

A lot of social practices are just coping mechanisms. Shit-talking is never decried by shit-talkers, and the kind people will never call you out unless you ask them to. They still won’t describe the unpleasant work you would need to do to reach their level. So we end up with people saying “some books just become bestsellers” and “be yourself” and we tremendously discount great examples in front of us. It’s a huge collective cost until you realize you can just do things to make life better for you and everyone without anyone’s permission. Let them shit-talk, you still don’t need to, it’s not really a collective problem.