Notes from Clear Thinking by Shane Parish


This is one of the best book you can read to simplify your decision making process. I have been trying to implement it and it is very effective. It started a bit like self-help book, but kept getting better with each chapter till the end. It not only covers how to think clearly but also what clear thinking looks like in practice, what matters in life and how to achieve those.

Part 1:

The details: we all have different types of defaults which takes control of our behavior. The

  • emotional defaults: reacting to feelings instead of rationality
  • ego default: “reaction to something that threatens our self worth and position in social hierarchy”
  • social default: doing things which everyone is doing. unable to go against the crowd
  • inertia default: unable to make positive change, the tendency to break bad habits and build good habits.

Part 2:

How to keep your defaults in check ?

  • Self accountability: take ownership and be accountable. if anything is happening wrong with you, its probability your fault. not anyone elses
  • self knowledge: know yourself, what works with you and what doesnt. Use this knowledge to build yourself better
  • self control: create space for reason, slowing down when required,
  • self confidence: be honest with yourself, talk positively with yourself. be confident in whatever you do but not by being egoistic.

Part 3:

Chapter 3.1

  • Some weaknesses are built into our biology and some are acquire through habits
  • their are multiple ways to manage our weaknesses one is through safeguard and another is through strength
  • is all about how self control have and how much you can avoid these weaknesses and
  • safeguard is about optimising your environment and building logical steps into your life which helps you avoid these weaknesses
  • One of the common weakness we have is blind spots
  • Blind spots happen due to our limited perspective
  • To avoid blind spots, expand your perspective. To do this, put yourself in other persons shoes

It easier to see faults in other than our own. The same is true for improvements and feedback. You always have what other should do to make things good, but you don’t know what to do in your own life to make things good.

This is probably why its easier to make decision for companies or an organization. when you think about organization and what should be the right for the organization. You work better and you improve


Chapter 3.2

Safeguards safeguards are built for protecting us from ourselves. Its way of optimising your in environment to make sure that it becomes harder to do your bad habits and easier to do your good habits

How to create safeguards

  • HALT: stop and take time when ever in bad situation
  • Create automatic rules instead of making decision every time
  • Create friction for bad stuff, and excessive prioritisation for good stuff
  • Create guardrails or SOP for yourself. Something like a ritual in difficulut situations. like checklist before travelling
  • Shift your perspective to avoid blind spots

Chapter 3.3: How to handle mistakes

  • Mistakes occur when a. You were unlucky b. You understanding of the world was wrong
  • Mistakes, tells us to update our ideas or ignore the failures
  • Handle mistakes by: accepting responsibility, learning from mistakes, commit to doing better, repair the damage

Part 4: Decision making

Choices are subconscious and decision are deliberate

Depends on the situation whether you should make a quick choice and focus on execution, or slow down process to evaluate in detail. Situations include if stakes are lower or higher, if decision can be reversed or not

Instead of being on auto pilot, you should make every important decision yourself. Make sure to make conscious efforts to make important decision. What project to work? Whom to work with? How to start on it? Which component to build first? You can hire or collaborate for execution but ideas and plan should be yours


Chapter 4.1

To deliver impact, identification of right problem is much important, than directly jumping into solution

The definition principle: take responsibility for defining the problem. Don’t let someone define it for you.

The root cause principal: identify the root cause. Don’t just treat the symptom.

Similar to deep dive principles at Amazon

Separate out the problem defining stage from problem solving stage,

While working in fast environment, too much processes slows down the operations. But if you just keep moving fast, you will fall into social defaults. One should slow down, not too much, and use combination of judgement, principles and safeguards to make sure you are working on right problems and solutions

Tip: writing is a good way to create space between defining problem and solving it.

To know whether you found the root cause of the problem, check if your solution fixes the problem permanently. Will the problem return in future?

Chapter 4.2

The hardest setback to deal with are the ones we are not prepared for and don’t expect.

Always plan for things that could go wrong

Bad things happen to everyone but if you have done some pre-planning it won’t shake your confidence

Apply second level thinking in your solution. Ask question “and then what?”

There are often more solution to any problem. If you don’t have enough solution, you didn’t understand the problem.

Tips on thinking more solution

  • Imagine one of the options is off the table. What other solutions comes to your mind?
  • Come up with solution that combines some of your solutions

Always account for opportunity cost when you are choosing one option over another

View opportunity cost through three lenses. Compared to what? And then what? At the expense to what?

Chapter 4.3

Next step is to evaluate the options using criterias. Criterias should be evident from the problem you are trying to solve

You don’t understand the problem if you cannot come up with criteria

Criterias should be clear, goal promoting, decisive

If you have two or more important things, you are not thinking clearly

Find the most important criteria using criterias battle

After finalizing criterias, accurate and relevant information regarding options are required to properly apply them on criterias

Information closer to the problem is most accurate

Just asking for information in terms of summary create lack of understanding

Information changes as it passes through people

In summaries what might be useful to them might not be useful to us

Experience >> theory/stories/reading

Reading is good for avoiding blind spots


Run experiments yourself whenever possible

Find way to live with your decision without exactly making the decision

Evaluate the motivations and incentives of your sources. Remember that everyone sees things from a limited perspective

Ask people how they think instead of what they think

Get high expertise information

Stay away from imitators. How to tell imitator from experts

  • They cannot explain things in depth. Specific knowledge is earned not learned
  • Imitators can’t explain things in plain language
  • Imitators get frustrated when you say you don’t understand
  • Imitators don’t know limits of their expertise
  • Imitators cannot share their experience, and ways they have failed

People with real expertise is not often not the person who made the subject popular

Chapter 4.4

If the cost to undo the decision is low. Make it as soon as possible and vice versa

(stop, flop, know) Stop gathering more information and execute your decision. When either you stopped gathering useful information, you first lose and opportunity (flop) or you come to know something that makes it evident what option you should choose

Sometimes, more information does not increases accuracy, but increases confidence

Chapter 4.5

When you don’t know what you are doing, a margin of safety saves your from the worst outcomes

Double your estimates while creating margins of safety. It will take 2 months to find a new job? No, 4 months.

Margin of safety depends on how consequential your failure is.

You need a margin of safety most at the very moment you start to think you don’t.

Live with the decision before announcing it. This means to not hastly execute the decision, instead sleep over it or create space between idea and execution

It allows you to see things from new perspective

Plan for failsafes

Three kinds of failsafes: setting trip wires, empowering others to make decisions and tying your hands

Setup trip wires: plan for what you will do when you hit a certain time or circumstance. Kind of like deadlines

Mark intermediate milestones for success and failures

Commander’s Intent: avoid creating single point of failure. Give your team enough knowledge to allow them work independently for large amount of time. Avoid being decision bottleneck

Tie you hands: to keep your execution on track and not one should be able to change it. Not even you

We setup trip wires, empower our team, and tie our hands so that we can’t undo all the progress we have done in the moment of stress

Chapter 4.6: Learning from your decision

Self serving bias makes us unable to see mistakes of our decisions, and improve from our decisions

The process principle: evaluate the process that generated the decision. Debug that instead of the decision

The right decision doesn’t always best outcomes. Uncertainty of life

The tendency to equate decision’s quality to the result it yields is called resulting. Instead, one should always focus on the reasons

Making a good decision is about the process not the outcome.

Make a record of your thoughts at the time of decision making. This will be helpful when you do retrospective. Don’t rely on your memory after the fact.

Write down your thoughts before making decision because

  • It provides your with information about your thoughts process, the information you had while you were making the decision
  • In the process of writing, we often realize that there is a lot we don’t understand and need to know in order to make the decision
  • It allows other people to see you thinking and process
  • Provides other people to learn from your perspective and process (happens in corporate with design doc and reviews)

Part 5: Wanting What Matter

In life we regret both, what we have done and what we failed to do

Defaults social, inertia, ego and emotional, all makes us follow wrong things in what matters in life

Chapter 5.1

Wanting more is not good. Get off the hedonic treadmill.

Focus on building real relationships

Wisdom requires keeping defaults in check, creating space for reason and reflection, using of principle and safeguards that make effective decisions

But being wise requires you to know more that how to get things you want. It requires you to know what is worth wanting

Chapter 5.2

Time is the ultimate currency of life

Money is the social currency of life. You get money when you provide uncommon services to the society.


Say things now to people you care about. Spend Max time with children, live in today’s moment, work in a job you love, choose your mate carefully

Your long term goal in life should be to optimize for happiness

Happiness is a choice not a condition

Happiness requires a constant shift in outlook, daily, to change your perspective from things the doesn’t matter to things that matter, from pessimism to optimism, from hope to despair

Chapter 5.3

Shifting your thinking towards end of life can help you identify important things in life

Remembering that you are going to die soon is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to loose

If today were the last day of my life, would I do “what I had to do today?” — if answer to this is no for long period of continuous time, it’s time to make a change

We regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did

Chapter 5.4

Good judgement is, above all else, about being effective at achieving what matters — not what matters in the moment, but what matters in the life

Wise people see life in all its breadth: work, health, family, friends, faith and community

Optimize your environment to help you achieve things what matters in life

To develop good judgement, ask “what do I want in life?” and “is this worth wanting?”

Conclusion: the value of clear thinking

Most errors in judgement happen when we don’t know we’re supposed to be exercising judgement

Understand how the world works and alignment yourself with it

Improving your decision is not about accumulating tools to enhance you judgement, it’s about building safe guards to help yourself during worst of times

It’s about designing systems when you are at your best to save you from when you are at your worst.

Small improvements can have huge impact on life. You need to be patient


Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.