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Issue #29 of The Two But Rule
Well friends, just two weeks to go before the full manuscript of The Two But Rule is in the can and off to the publisher. Got the final book cover, and it literally ‘cracks’ me up every time I look at it. I think you’re going to love it. Stay tuned. Will definitely give you a sneak preview as soon as they allow it.
Last week, I finished a big 2Buts case on the post pandemic “return-to-the-office” predicament. This week, I’m interviewing a really interesting company in the business of river plastic cleanup for the book’s final case.
Right now, here’s a pro tip for Momentum Thinking.
The Two But Rule can be applied to many kinds of issues, but it’s especially useful when dealing with those that I’ll group into the very unscientific term, “gnarly problems.” A gnarly problem is one where the thing that makes it persist is also providing benefits you don’t want to give up.
In the world of genetics, sickle cell anemia is a good example of this. It’s a blood disorder that can cause organ damage, stroke and reduced life expectancy. People with the condition tend to experience debilitating pain and fatigue. It’s caused by a mutation in the human HBB gene, which provides instructions for making a protein in red blood cells essential for delivering oxygen throughout the body.
Typically, a mutation like this would get selected out of the gene pool, because individuals that have it are less likely to survive and reproduce--at least during the pre-technological age of human evolution. So we shouldn’t see sickle cell anemia today. But we do. And the reason why is a good example of a gnarly problem.
Malaria is another terrible disease caused by parasites that infect humans through the bites of mosquitoes. It reproduces inside red blood cells and can cause seizures, respiratory distress, organ failure, and death. But blood cells with the sickle cell mutation disrupt the malaria parasite and increase a person’s chance of survival. So as humans evolved in regions where malaria was endemic, the survival advantage provided by the sickle cell mutation outweighed the risk of having offspring with the disease.
Today, of course, if we could snap our fingers and remove the HBB mutation entirely, we have better ways to manage malaria. But even before the modern age, biology gave us its own 2But to address the problem. Symptoms of sickle cell anemia present when a child gets the HBB mutation from both the mother and the father. But if the child only gets the mutation from the mother or the father, symptoms largely don’t appear or are mild. It’s Nature saying, “But we don’t want what protects the population from malaria to make everyone worse off, BUT we can limit the cases of serious illness to those who roll ‘snake eyes’ in our genetic game of chance.”
Scientists call this trick of natural selection “balanced polymorphism.” We might think of it as the “double-edged sword” problem. In economics, it pops up in theories about making decisions that involve trade-offs. Momentum Thinking is a way to find the optimal balance. And sometimes it’s a way to see how a source of problems can be transformed into a source of benefits.
Next time you spot what seems like an unsolvable problem, an unacceptable trade-off, consider saying, “But we can’t get rid of X without Y consequences, BUT we could turn it into something less harmful and more useful if we did Z. ”
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