Second order thinking can be summarised as going beyond the obvious and avoiding unintended consequences.
The key question to ask is: "And then what..?"
First-order thinking is usually quick and easy and addresses the immediately presenting symptoms.
“Failing to consider second- and third-order consequences is the cause of a lot of painfully bad decisions, and it is especially deadly when the first inferior option confirms your own biases.
Never seize on the first available option, no matter how good it seems, before you’ve asked questions and explored.” [Ray Dalio]
Here are 4 guiding principles you can use to put second order thinking into practice:
"It’s not supposed to be easy. Anyone who finds it easy is stupid." [Charlie Munger]
This is a process that I developed in my business career and used successfully with many corporate clients.
I called it EEmap because the application of second order thinking requires you to systematically think through the Exposures [i.e. issues with consequences] that will have to be identified and addressed at each step of the Evolution of the solution.
This is the discipline of considering impacts before rushing into action.
This simple diagnostic process causes you to:
The diagram below shows the usual, typical first order thinking approach, namely: working out the steps, allocating the tasks and expecting a result – but without assessing the impacts and issues!
The diagram below shows the EEMap approach moving step by step from task to task via recognition and resolution of all the dependent issues:
Further reading: The Law of Unintended Consequences
Return to: How To Think