Don’t do anything stupid to avoid doing something difficult

If I were forced to pick one idea of Machiavelli’s to carry with me it would be this. We often do foolish things as a means to avoid challenges.

Here is the original quote:

… a blunder ought never to be perpetrated to avoid war, because it is not to be avoided, but is only deferred to your disadvantage.

Niccolò Machiavelli. The Prince.

This is an insanely useful idea.

You may have seen the part about not avoiding war expressed before. The above quote includes the preceding idea (about blunders), which is pretty damn important to include.

Here is another long version of the same concept (that of not avoiding necessary conflict) but with an alternative rationale.

Thus it happens in affairs of state, for when the evils that arise have been foreseen… they can be quickly redressed, but when, through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that every one can see them, there is no longer a remedy. Therefore, the Romans, foreseeing troubles, dealt with them at once, and, even to avoid a war, would not let them come to a head, for they knew that war is not to be avoided, but is only to be put off to the advantage of others.

Niccolò Machiavelli. The Prince.

This does change the idea a bit, and draws attention more towards the necessity of dealing with problems early, rather than late.

While the nuanced difference is important, I think there is a great unity here. For my part, a blunder and putting something off till it’s too late are similar tunes.

What is interesting here is that Machiavelli offers no explicit guidance on how to avoid blunders, specifically, or how to not procrastinate, or some such modern, narrow obsession and click-baity topic.

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. A great necessity is “we have a conflict at hand” or rather “a serious and meaningful problem to solve,” where, in both cases, the problem is getting bigger and will, if unaddressed, consume you. When those are your conditions, nobody Google searches “tips to stay focused.”

And this is the utility, in all circumstances, of this Machiavellian concept. When you are in an actual circumstance that you really want (Machiavelli was speaking to sovereign rulers, but your circumstance should be something like “live independently, without fear and with excess wealth,” or “run a profitable, growing, scalable company with a healthy debt to income ratio and ability to innovate and transition if and when necessary.” These are important circumstances, ones that are meaningful, and will likely inspire action to address any forthcoming conflict.

Yet, we often avoid conflict – challenge, obstacle, difficulty – and instead busy ourselves with something else. Some prepackaged bit of advice. Or rather find ourselves in another predicament of our own creation that we justifiably – meaning, people will agree with us – need to solve.

In other words, we avoid a battle over what we should know to be meaningful and voluntarily fight a battle over nonmeaning (or someone else’s meaning?) or make a blunder.

This happens in HR quite a bit.

We have a difficult to manage employee who is often rude and disrespectful. Rather than addressing this one on one and head on, we organize a department-wide presentation on professional conduct and communication. These decisions are usually made to protect the feelings of the offending individual.

What of the feelings of everyone else?

It’s not okay to blanket accuse people of wrongdoing for the actions of the few. It’s also not wise to take productive time away from your company on the basis of a localized problem.

This is a blunder made in order to avoid conflict. Notably, the conflict is still there, and likely more severe than it was before.

Instead of looking for ways to avoid mistakes, or finding solutions to lesser problems, dive into the biggest problem you have – the problem that is obvious to the person looking to build and fortify the thing(s) that they really want most. Every moment you don’t, the problems get bigger. All your other options are solutions to fictional problems or blunders.