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Mining 'the idea of [something]'

Updated: Aug 13



It's exceedingly common for people (including myself) to say something like "yeah, I caught up in the idea of being a lawyer/having a girlfriend/trying out a new exercise regiment, etc."


Pretty much all of us are quite prone to fantasizing about how things will be based on very limited information (often entirely socially derived) and then acting on it. This happens even in the case of major life decisions.


And while I'm not a big fan of all forms of externalizing thinking through things (e.g. contorting quantification to qualitative experience), much can be surfaced and utilized through well-crafted and context-specific prompts, which also includes surfacing gaps or deficits in information that you do have. (Hopefully followed by crafting a cost-appropriate plan for attaining that information where it makes sense)

I'm often passing along or designing prompts, introspective queries and suggesting conditions for reflection for clients, especially when it comes to 'homework' or 'side quests' between sessions.


One of the most fruitful frameworks we’ve found for causing people to constructively think things through is generating several prompts off of 'the idea of [something]' scaffolding. Contextualized examples:

  • Do you like being a coach, or do you like the idea of being a coach? What's the difference between those two?

  • When you're holding the idea of [thing] in your mind, what is it your mind is actually doing? (Thinking about how you think & tracking where the information is coming from)

  • Murphy's Law/pre-mortem version] In the case where I imagine myself telling someone that I was captured by 'the idea of' being a lawyer, but was actually critically mistaken and hated the experience, what could have gone wrong? What information would have helped me avoid that? 


  • Is there a safety in acting on what ‘the idea of’ being in this relationship will be like? Are you afraid of what you will find if you dig further into this?

  • Are there areas of your life where you're embarking on or in the middle of where you're simply doing it based on 'the idea of' what it is and/or what it takes to do it?

  • Are there situations where you might have stacked things that you like 'the idea of' but don't actually enjoy any of it?


  • What aspects of this product do other people like ‘the idea of’ but often struggle with in their actual experience? How can you account for that in designing the product? 


  • What kinds of organizations/cultures/etc. do entire societies like ‘the idea of’ having, but could actually be corrosive or net negative?

One of the most fruitful frameworks we’ve found for causing people to constructively think things through is generating several prompts off of 'the idea of [something]' scaffolding (seen above)


Would love to hear if anyone else has encountered this scaffolding. Also if you try it out and it’s helpful, please let me know!

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