The Five Cognitive Distortions of People Who Get Stuff Done

Michael Dearing is the former chief engineer for Sun Microsystems and has PhD in computer scientist. He gave a presentation on some “common patterns of automatic thought among those who get a lot of stuff done [and/or] create tons of value” in Silicon Valley.

Here’s my distilled version:

  • Definition: cognitive distortions are strong patterns of automatic thoughts.
  • They are important because they act as filters that ultimately influence thinking, shape interpretation of reality, and become the basis for action.
  • The Big Five
    1. Personal Exceptionalism: “I am special.”
      • Definition: a macro sense that you are in the top of your cohort, your work is snowflake special, or that you are destined to have experiences well outside the bounds of “normal;” not to be confused with arrogance or high self-esteem.
      • Benefit: resilience, stamina, charisma.
      • Deadly risk: assuming macro exceptionalism means micro exceptionalism, brittleness.
    2. Dichotomous Thinking: “X is sh*t. Y is genius.
      • Definition: being extremely judgmental of people, experiences, things; highly opinionated at the extremes; sees black and white, little grey
      • Benefit: achieves excellence frequently
      • Deadly risk: perfectionism
    3. Correct Overgeneralization: “I see two dots and draw the right line.”
      • Definition: making universal judgments from limited observations and being right a lot of the time
      • Benefits: saves time
      • Deadly risk: addiction to instinct and indifference to data
    4. Blank Canvas Thinking: “Painting by numbers isn’t art. And I want to make art.”
      • Definition: sees own life as a blank canvas, not a paint by numbers
      • Benefits: no sense of coloring outside the lines, creates surprises
      • Deadly risk: “Ars gratia artis,” failure to launch, failure to scale
    5. Schumpeterianism1: “I am a creative destruction machine.”
      • Definition: sees creative destruction as natural, necessary, and as their vocation
      • Benefits: fearlessness, tolerance for destruction and pain
      • Deadly risk: heartless ambition, alienation

Are you a person who gets stuff done?

  1. Named after Joseph Schumpeter