Why are you doing that?
What does that do?
What’s it’s purpose?
These sort of questions form the core of an idea I’ve been thinking about for the last couple of days:
Nothing should be arbitrary.
To illuminate what “arbitrary” means, consider some of it’s synonyms. Random. Erratic. Inconsistent. Illogical. Groundless. Wanton. And perhaps my favourite, whimsical.
If a decision is arbitrary it’s “based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.”
It’s how we make most of our decisions. Honestly. We like to think we’re super-rational beings that imbue every action with purpose and intent, but it’s not true. We don’t have a reason for why we do half the things we do.
Arbitrary thoughts and actions are natural. They make us human. But here’s a few areas where they definitely don’t help us.
- Any writing or creative work is about exclusion. Art is selective. Good art includes only what is necessary, what is meaningful. When it comes to writing, if a word or a sentence or a chapter has no purpose, it shouldn’t be there.
What doesn’t contribute, detracts.
- Think about designing a website or a product. Space and resources are limited. So anything superfluous is removed. If you go to most any website, every picture, every word is trying to get you to do something. It’s the same in advertising.
Everything is included because it makes it more likely that you’ll do what the advertiser wants.
- The modern workplace is filled with arbitrary things we have to do. Meetings, memo, processes, frameworks. Most of them started with good intentions, and maybe even had an impact. Now they’re arbitrary. We continue to do them because we’ve always done them.
They don’t add value. They’re just there.
- When you craft a strategy and prepare to execute it, every action, every manoeuvre has a purpose. If you’re launching a product, you don’t do xyz just for the sake of it. You do it because it has a significant impact on the outcome of the campaign.
No actions or resources are devoted to that which has no impact.
The way to decide if something is arbitrary is to ask questions similar to the ones above. Why is it here? What does it actually do? Does it help or hinder my efforts? What’s it’s purpose?
In the world we inhabit, much is arbitrary, which is fine. We would be insane to try and assign a reason or a purpose to everything.
But what we can do is look at the big areas of our life—our work, our relationships, our ethics, our environment—and ask of their components, is it arbitrary? Is it necessary? Does it matter?