Cognitive Agility Isn’t Found at the Extremes

be radical Briefing | February 28th, 2023


Dear Friend,

This week brought another salvo of ChatGPT-related news – from utopia to dystopia. As we started to figure out what could and couldn’t be done with the technology, I was starkly reminded of its limitations when a recent search using Microsoft’s Bing AI (a repackaged version of ChatGPT) recommended the wrong-size wiper blades for my car – a mistake a quick & dirty Google search fixed. Moral of the story: Don’t trust your AI with your day-to-day purchase decisions. 🤷

Read on for a practical approach to finding the healthy middle ground between utopia and dystopia.

Decode. Disrupt. Transform.

Taken together, all the recent hot takes on the future of generative AI tools reveal (once again) an enduring truth about how most of us, most of the time, envision futures: We tend toward the extremes. Utopias and dystopias. Futures where everything has changed and futures where somehow, shockingly, little has.

Again and again, we see this pattern: Generative AI will supercharge creativity, innovation, and problem-solving, or it will lead to a total collapse of trust in the information ecosystem. Covid-19 would either be an annihilating contagion, or it would somehow prove to be a “hoax.” The set of more ambiguous, more deeply contingent possibilities in the messy middle (that gray area that futurists define as the syntopian) is harder to visualize. But the mid-range often contains the more likely and is the most useful for understanding levers of change.

Catastrophizing, our gift for jumping to and fixating on worst-case scenarios in uncertain times, is a significant predictor of poor resilience. Utopian, best-case scenario thinking can undermine resilience differently by leaving us unprepared and at a loss when things inevitably don’t go according to plan or consistently toward a preferred outcome. Dwelling at either extreme in our imagination of the future limits cognitive agility (which depends on envisioning and moving between possible alternative paths) and our ability to embrace a posture of pragmatic optimism – toward the future and toward our capacities to anticipate shape, and adapt to it.

In their recent book Tomorrowmind, Martin Seligman and Gabriella Rosen Kellerman suggest a simple, useful practice that can help us to break away from either/or extremes in our future imagination and, in the process, to build cognitive agility as a foundation for greater adaptability.

(1) When you find yourself jumping to what might be a worst- (or best-) case possibility in a time of uncertainty, draw a line with the words “worst possible” on one end and “best possible” on the other, and place the outcome you’ve envisioned at the appropriate extreme.

(2) Now apply your imagination to envision the opposite extreme. What would be the best or worst-case outcome of the one you envisioned? Place that possibility at the other end of the line.

(3) Finally, envision at least three outcomes that would exist somewhere along the continuum (which can also be oriented from “no change” to “extreme change,” etc.) in the middle of the line. This process pushes your mind to explore a range of possibilities and begin to recognize some factors that might shape a given outcome and contribute to making it more or less likely.

Seeing the range of possible futures laid out in this way allows us not only to recognize both catastrophizing and utopian thinking; we’re also able to identify the assumptions that might bias us toward either extreme, better understand the distribution of probabilities along that spectrum of outcomes, and finally, start to ask the questions – about what we can actually do today to influence or prepare for tomorrow – that can unlock agency amid uncertainty. (via Jeffrey)

What We Are Reading

🏭 What the Most Productive Companies Do Differently A new report from McKinsey Global Institute found that U.S. productivity growth has slowed in the last 15 years and found striking variations in productivity among leading and lagging firms — a gap that is only widening. The article explains four key elements the most productive companies follow. JaneRead

🧑‍🍳 Fat, Sugar, Salt … You’ve Been Thinking About Food All Wrong Ultra-processed food makes up almost 57 percent of the average UK diet and more than 60 percent of the US diet. Why is it so addicting? The components of these foods trigger a reward response in the brain that keeps people coming back for more since these foods never truly lead to a satisfied stomach. MafeRead

🌏 The Cost Of Deglobalization The complexities of recreating TSMC’s Tawainese chip fab capability in Arizona point to the challenges, the costs, and the implications of strategic deglobalization and remaking tech supply chains. JeffreyRead

📣 Your Strategy Needs a Story A valuable reminder that storytelling can be a powerful tool to contribute towards the actionability of your strategy across and beyond your organization. JulianRead

💸 The First Trillion-Dollar Startup Do you know what the first Trillion-Dollar Startup was? It was founded by the fathers of Silicon Valley: “The Traitorous Eight” PedroRead

🥛 It’s Chalk Milk Brilliant Twitter thread relating AI to chalk milk – read it, and you will get it! PascalRead

The Thin Wisps of Tomorrow

🤖 Snapchat launches its ChatGPT integration – with a warning not to share your secrets.

🐹 We might all just be hamsters in global tech’s ploy to bring AI to life.

🕴️ Some useful tips on how to protect your career from ChatGPT.

🖖 Organic matter on an asteroid. Yes, there is life out there!

🤳 Nokia reveals a new logo to ensure you know it’s not making “cellphones” anymore.

🍼 France’s declining birthrates decoded.

Internet Finds

Experts discover how zebra stripes work to thwart horsefly attacks. 🦓

In Other Parts of the Radical Universe

🏴‍☠️ The Heretic: The Deeper You Get 🎧 Listen to the audio version

🧨 Disrupt Disruption - The Podcast: We dig deep into the learnings from thousands of startups, explore how corporates can better partner and work with entrepreneurs and their companies, and discuss common pitfalls to avoid with the amazing Mary Grove, Managing Partner at Bread and Butter in our latest episode of the podcast. Listen now.

📕 Disrupt Disruption – The Book: Get your copy of our bestselling book and learn how to decode the future, disrupt your industry, and transform your business here.

🔗 The Thin Wisps of Tomorrow Flipboard: Our continuously updated collection of Thin Wisps of Tomorrow as a Flipboard Magazine.

Radically yours, take good care, friend!

— Pascal, Mafe, Pedro, Vivian, and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)