Marvin Minsky, co-founder of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, described a fundamental flaw in human thought that he called The Investment Principle:
“Our oldest ideas have unfair advantages over those that come later. The earlier we learn a skill, the more methods we can acquire for using it. Each new idea must then compete against the larger mass of skills the old ideas have accumulated.” 1
First, we learn something new. Then, we practice applying it. Finally, we enjoy success as it becomes our go-to-move whenever we’re faced with a similar problem. But, what about adopting a new idea, variation, or technique that might solve the original problem better? Minsky suggests that we are so invested in the original idea, that it’s highly unlikely that we’ll adopt the new one.
So, how do we adopt new ideas? Minsky performs periodic evaluations of his old ideas.
“If I still believe something after five years, I doubt it,” he said.2
Storytellers should periodically question what we know. That doesn’t mean we must always change our views or adopt a new idea. Instead, it gives us an opportunity to review our mental inventories, weed out the bad ideas, and bolster the good ones.
One way is to revisit an issue from a different perspective. We are the heroes of our own lives. Darth Vader was the hero of his story, just as Luke Skywalker was the hero of his.
If a story is the result of people pursuing what they want, looking at what each character wants offers different perspectives. Luke Skywalker wants to destroy the Death Star because it stands in between him and the survival of his people. Darth Vader wants to protect the Death Star to quash the rebellion. Both are part of the same story, yet each views the end goal differently.
What do you still believe after five years? Question it. Find someone who disagrees with you. Read a new book about it. Flip the script. Put something old into a new context.
You might just find a better idea, perspective, or story.
- Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1985) p 146.
- Stewart Brand, The Media Lab (New York, Viking, 1987) p 104.
Photo Credit: https://www.loc.gov/item/2017696833/