Do what you should, not what you can

Thinking Mantra

  • Just because you can do something does not mean that you should.

  • Do something syndrome is the innate bias towards action, even when it does not contribute to — and in some cases harms — the overall goal.

    • It comes from the deep needed feeling of contributing and being useful, particularly to the tribal group.

    • It is an innate bias towards action or expression, when the opportunity presents itself.

  • Like every bias, do-something syndrome comes from a corresponding, useful heuristic: If you can't figure out what to do, you might as well try something.

    • Trying something is usually better than doing nothing — usually.

Say Something Syndrome

  • Do-something syndrome most often shows itself as say something syndrome.

    • It is the ingrained need to say something or add something to a conversation even when it doesn't contribute anything meaningful.

    • That is, all noise and no signal.

  • There could be two reasons that the contribution is not meaningful:

    • One: The person lacks meaningful insight and is simply trying to contribute.

    • Two: The person possesses meaningful insight but is unable to articulate the insight — lacking the words, logic, or language.

  • Often, attempting to communicate an insight adds more confusion.

    • A question to ask is: Is what I'm trying to communicate worth communicating? Will expressing myself here help further a desired result?

  • Sometimes, extremely insightful people will not sound that way.

    • How would Zuckerberg have articulated what Facebook could be?

      • Twitter? Slack? Wikipedia? Bitcoin? Uber?

    • Sometimes, you may just have to trust that the person has the right idea even if they are unable to explain to you why.

    • Does the person have a fundamental insight that he is unable to articulate?

Trade Something Syndrome

  • In investing, do-something syndrome shows up as trade something syndrome: the tendency for investors to feel more productive when they trade more.

  • This is especially seductive in public markets where shares can be bought and sold instantly for pennies.

  • You have to remember that buying or selling shares in itself is not actually productive.


“Companies, as they grow to become multibillion-dollar entities, somehow lose their vision. They insert lots of layers of middle management between the people running the company and the people doing the work. They no longer have an inherent feel or a passion about the products. The creative people, who are the ones who care passionately, have to persuade five layers of management to do what they know is the right thing to do.”

— Steve Jobs

“And here my favorite thing is the bee, a honeybee. And a honeybee goes out and finds the nectar and he comes back, he does a dance that communicates to the other bees where the nectar is, and they go out and get it. Well some scientist who is clever, like B.F. Skinner, decided to do an experiment. He put the nectar straight up. Way up. Well, in a natural setting, there is no nectar where they’re all straight up, and the poor honeybee doesn’t have a genetic program that is adequate to handle what he now has to communicate. And you’d think the honeybee would come back to the hive and slink into a corner, but he doesn’t. He comes into the hive and does this incoherent dance, and all my life I’ve been dealing with the human equivalent of that honeybee. [Laughter] And it’s a very important part of human organization so the noise and the reciprocation and so forth of all these people who have what I call say-something syndrome don’t really affect the decisions.”

— Charlie Munger

"The success of Berkshire came from making two decisions a year over 50 years."

— Charlie Munger

“I have nothing to add."

— Charlie Munger

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