Principles of Compression Thinking

Principles of Compression Thinking, Short Version:

Both physical resources and human capacities have serious limitations.

1. The World and All in It Are Finite: 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. Check the EROI of any significant proposal.

b. Beware of slowly accumulating effects, especially the long-term effects of slow toxin build ups.

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

d. 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 scale.

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 faster.

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

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

4. Emphasize measures of what we physically do. Don’t bias them with monetary valuations.

a. For decisions, subordinate monetary valuations to physical measurements of projected outcomes. (Regard profitability as a constraint, just another technical specification, not an objective.)

b. Distinguish between the physical economy (real production and consumption) and our monetized representations of the economy (trading of symbols).

c. Examine human beliefs and behaviors. They strongly influence what we consume, and what we do.

5. Learn by scientific methods.

a. Seek evidence and 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. Beware of bias, and 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, “wicked problems”),reconcile divergent  perspectives.

c. First map out a system in total, including its human influences. Seek the feedback loops within it in order to predict how an intervention will change it.

d. Learn to make your beliefs and assumptions explicit.

e. Minimize dependence on reductionism, fragmented studies or data that don’t relate to a total system because of too many simplifying assumptions or preconceptions. Correlation isn’t causation, etc.

For the long version, 20 minute read, click here.

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