Principles of Compression Thinking

Principles of Compression Thinking, Short Version:

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Principles of Compression Thinking, Long Version:


Primary Axiom: The world and all in it are finite.

Hence: Both physical resources and human capacities have serious limitations.

1. Limitations are multiple and interrelated. On this finite planet, humans consume a huge variety of resources, including space. If one resource limitation does not stop us from expanding consumption, other limitations will.

a. Globally, energy return on energy invested (EROI) is declining. Always check
the effect of EROI on any proposal.

b. Beware of slowly accumulating effects, for example fuel requirements for
slowly growing total numbers of vehicles in use. Decreasing per unit fuel
consumption does not automatically decrease total consumption.

c. We have little choice but to make big reductions in resource use.

d. But were resources unlimited, consuming as much as possible still makes no
sense. Excess consumption damages both human health and planetary health.

e. Do not overtax earth’s capacity to work for us.

2. Quality over quantity always.

a. First do no harm.

b. Anticipate unwanted effects; look as far ahead and as far afield as
possible. (The Precautionary Principle)

c. Don’t produce or consume just to be doing it.

d. First reduce resource use; then try to hold or improve quality of
life. Increases in resource consumption do not indicate increasing
quality of life.

3. Organize for economy of learning.

a. Beware the deceptions of physical and organizational economies of

b. Organize to expand ingenuity and learning; those are unlimited.

c. Structure organizations and develop methodologies to learn much
more, much quicker. Dig much deeper; search more broadly; converge
on actions much faster.

d. Learn to learn. Resolve issues into problems; then solve problems.

e. Speak up; then listen. Keep communicating about anything important.

4. Heed measures of what we physically do without biasing them with monetary valuations.

a. For decisions, subordinate monetary valuations to physical
measurements of projected outcomes. (That is, regard profitability
as a constraint, or just another technical specification, not as an

b. Distinguish between the physical economy (real production and
consumption) and our monetized representations of the economy (what
we can sell it for).

c. Evaluate human beliefs and behaviors. They strongly determine what
we do economically, how much we consume, and what we will do to

5. Learn by scientific methods.
a. Abide by facts – all the facts you can discover – not just facts
culled to support a position or those limited to the easiest to get.

b. Use rigorous logic and record keeping.

c. Fear not unpopular conclusions.

6. Think holistically. Be a systems thinker. See as big a system as you possibly can; evaluate as many factors as you can before a major decision

a. For determinate problems, become skilled in seeking root causes.

b. For indeterminate problems (ongoing issues), seek more tractable

c. For indeterminate systemic issues, seek knowledgeable but divergent
perspectives through group learning.

d. Learn to make your beliefs and assumptions explicit.

e. Convert indeterminate issues into determinate problems.

f. Minimize dependence on reductionism.