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?

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