Building an arsenal of ideas

Stockpiling ammo for when targets emerge

The time to make or acquire a candle isn’t when you’re in the dark. You have to fashion light beforehand, so it’s ready when needed.

There’s always a gap between insight and when that insight is needed. Two quotations help us see that gap.

Historian Andrew Roberts has described May 10, 1940—Hitler invaded Luxembourg, Belgium, and Holland—and Winston Churchill was appointed prime minister. Churchill wrote: “I felt as if I was walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour, and for this trial.” That’s not an uncommon sentiment. Past is prologue and learning in life builds to some significant challenge.

The second comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once wrote, “the years teach much the days never know.” This is chronological proportionality. Some days are more important than others. It takes time to spot the patterns and events that matter. To capitalize on these lessons, though, presumably, one must undertake sustained study and self-reflection.

So, for argument’s sake, let’s imagine both are onto something. We know we’ll all meet some terrible tiger someday. The best way to capture it is to collect diamonds to trade for a trap when the time comes. Or, we know we’ll encounter locked doors in life and the only way to ensure we can open them is if we’ve collected enough keys over time so at least one key fits.

If we know that our lives will very likely meet with some trial in the future, and that it takes disciplined effort over time to collect and gain from the lessons that life presents us with each day—how do we do it?

We need our own arsenal of ideas. An actual stockpile of new concepts or old wisdoms that may not be useful at the time but may well be necessary down the road in a crisis. In my experience the right idea is asynchronous with the problem at hand.

That’s why I write so many notes. I’m a paper person, so I prefer handwritten notes. But I recognize the utility of digitizing them, which is why I’ve blogged before (and am blogging again, here). That’s my method for building out my own arsenal. I’d imagine others are more digital and use some of the tools and apps that’re out there…I’m sure those are great. (Though I myself remain skeptical about our ability to make sense of so much easily collected raw data.)

I see the collection of ideas as a core daily function because I’ve profited so much from previous ideas as building blocks for new problems. Even incomplete blocks, like a half-built brick wall, can be repurposed to form an entirely new, useful structure.

I’ve always found two kinds of people in life. Those with enough intellectual ammo, and those without. 

So where’s your arsenal of ideas?

*Afterthought: “In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration.” (Ansel Adams)

*Editor’s Note: What do you think? Really, what do you think? Comments and critiques are welcome here. If you enjoyed this, please flick it on to anyone you think might find it of interest. Your word-of-mouth mention matters!

All the very best & see you next week, Matt