When to Think Hard, When to Outsource

“I used to think. Now I just read The Economist.” – Larry Ellison

When I read the Economist each week — a task that takes several hours and is worthy of much strategizing for how to tackle such a meaty publication — I realize how much happens in the world that I simply can’t keep up with. This is a central question when I consume news and knowledge: What topics you do think critically about and on what topics do you outsource the critical thinking?

For example, I’ve outsourced critical thinking on Iraq. I have neither the knowledge or interest in the subjects involved to think hard and come to my own opinions on what’s happening there. So I outsource it. I read Jim Fallows, Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks, and others. And I basically trust their analyses.

I’ve outsourced critical thinking on global warming, on Latin America and Africa, on biotech, and countless other topics. I commit to staying casually informed on these matters, but I don’t commit to thinking hard about them and developing my own opinion.

I don’t outsource critical thinking on everything (I hope!). Topics such as business and entrepreneurship, technology, globalization, travel, religion, life philosophy, Asia, venture capital, journalism, U.S. politics, writing and publishing, and others. For these topics, I still read what smart people have to say — Tyler Cowen on globalization, say, or Jack Shafer on journalism — but I will do my own research and write my own analysis.

Since we don’t have unlimited time, we have to choose what to think hard about. For everything else, we should develop trusted sources for analysis. This fits the “T” model perfectly — go deep in a few things yourself, and be broadly informed on lots of things via other people.

What topics do you think hard about? Who do you trust when forming opinions about topics outside your field of focus?

5 comments on “When to Think Hard, When to Outsource
  • Ben,

    Fantastic post here. These exact same thoughts consumed my mind the other day. The time constraint of staying up to date on so many issues is extremely overwhelming. This post clarified what I have been trying to do for awhile. I threw the T.V. out of my apartment(not literally) to allow for more reading, and I still can’t keep up to make informed decisions on each issue that I’m passionate about. In my opinion, the only way is to constantly perfect your outsourcing strategies and continue to make it most efficient.

    Jon Birdsong

  • Strangely enough, I find that the time I commit to reading classical authors is often rewarded by the chance to make unexpected connections to the information I gather from other sources.

    We all make our own value judgements about how to apportion our time and attention, but insight often comes from an indirect approach to a subject.

    After all, much of the “collective wisdom” of humankind dwells in its received literature.

    It has a way of growing the neural network of all our brains.

  • I agree. We have so much information available to us that it becomes overwhelming. I want to let it all in, but I know it’s not realistic give the constrains of daily life. Still, I have a constant internal struggle of when to “let go” and what to focus on. Great post.

  • Hi Ben, really great post!

    The Economist have found a way to collect very good outsorcers of information (I´m a subscriber for almost 3 months, enjoying a lot). Now, I´m reading a lot more than I expected.

    I´m looking for new sources, especially on the US economics crisis.

    You made a great point here. Have a great weekend, Miguel, from Brazil.

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