A.A. Milne

Is there value in doing nothing?

My first and last post in August. I am quite amazed that I didn’t manage to write more than one post. I guess one could say, I did nothing until the last moment.

As for doing nothing. .

In Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation”, Hari Seldon(the greatest psychohistorian – a branch of psychology and mathematics that would allow to calculate the future) has foreseen the fall of the great galactic empire. He sets in motion a series of happenings, that would save the galaxy from a 10 000 year long dark ages. The process would take 1000 years and the prophecy would have different generations handle with numerous crises in order to prevent the doom. But the solution to each crisis will present itself only as the last resort. Only, when there are no other possible scenarios and only one road to follow.

Which is the best solution? A very common question. And the philosophy of the “Foundation” is that the true solution is the one that is the only one left. And to find that solution, you should steer the situation so that all but one possibilities fall out of the picture, become impassable as a solution. That means, guide yourself to a position, where you cannot find more than one way to act.

The effect of this method saves people from worrying about questions like “What if.”  These questions are pure speculations and they don’t let a mind work without unease. Rather than make the most out of one single timeline, the present, people start to worry about the alternate presents. From my own experience, the more choices, the more frustrating and wasteful of resources is the process of finding the right one. A simple task of deciding where to go to eat can get out of hand and drive people angry. Acceptance and peace of mind comes easier, when you don’t have options to choose from.

And perhaps even more interesting is the way that the merchant prince Hober Mallow handled the third crisis in the book. He says he is the only one who knows how to resolve the crisis and has to manoeuvre himself to the top of the political scene to guide the Foundation through the looming war. He has accepted the Hari Seldon’s philosophy(prophecy) and knows that he has to get to the point where there is only one way to act. And his plan is. . . to do nothing. Let things follow their own course and not intervene.

So a quite extreme way to find solutions to problems –  do nothing until you have only one way left to act and there lies the solution to your problem. Sounds crazy, but actually is a way of acting that should be thought over.

As A. A. Milne said through the voice of Winnie the Pooh:

“Never underestimate the value of doing nothing”

I have an interpretation of this thinking. The Pareto Principle or the 80-20 rule states that you get 80% of the results with only 20% of the effort. The remaining 20 % of the result is achieved with 80% of effort left in you. Quick maths and we see that you are about 16,5 times more effective in the 20% effort part. I use this to justify getting a lot of time to rest. If my level of productivity starts to fall dramatically, I just stop the task and rest or do all sorts of entertaining, mind numbing activities. There is no use to stress myself with the 80% of the effort until I am ready to be productive again.

Honey covered Winnie the Pooh

Oh, the sweet life of Winnie the Pooh.

The equivalent of this “doing nothing” in social interaction is silence. Many books and teachers on sales teach the salesmen to know when to be silent. People can’t stand silence. And to break the uncomfortable silence, they get out of character – they need to force a conversation to feel socially accepted. That’s the time to close a sale. Plus, sometimes it is quite fun  to see what people are willing to do or say just to break the silence.

In human relations, I have noticed, silence is one of the greatest notion of trust. I recognize a good friend when I can be silent with him and not feel uneasy. Think of elevator situations. You feel very uneasy, when in a closed room with strangers and there is silence.

So, the next time you need clarity in a situation and an opportunity presents itself, consider doing nothing 🙂