The 4 Acts model
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The 4 Acts model

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The 4 Acts book is currently in review! If you'd like to proofread a copy, please e-mail me at book@edwindoit.com

The following passage is the introduction to 4 Acts:

What this book explains and how it can help you

A better way to gain knowledge

One of the main reasons we read non-fiction is to learn something. Perhaps there's a skill we'd like to acquire, a gap in our understanding to fill, or a curiosity to satisfy. To do so, we have to find and obtain the right knowledge. We're fortunate that the availability of knowledge has never been greater. But, it also makes it trickier to find the right knowledge. There's a larger search area and a bigger discrepancy in quality.

Despite these challenges, we don't often pay much attention to the information-seeking process. A typical approach is to find, read, and apply the lessons from a highly recommended book. This way, you treat knowledge growth like building a toolbox. The toolbox holds facts, anecdotes, hacks, and principles. The knowledge has to work, but it doesn't matter much why. I aim to promote a better way: begin from explanations rather than facts and hacks.

Why explanations are superior to facts

Chapter 1 discusses this in greater detail, but the bottom line is:

  1. Explanations are more useful than facts. A fact is only capable of being either right or wrong. An explanation includes why it should be suitable and therefore in which circumstances. This allows testing, adjusting, and improving it. It can even serve as a solution to other problems.
  2. Explanations are more compact to store and remember. The growth of factual knowledge expands the total amount of information to remember. In contrast, explanatory knowledge absorbs its predecessor, which reduces its size.

The 3 benefits of creating and maintaining an explanatory worldview

Knowing how the world works helps you understand what makes things tick. As a result, it makes you more effective and a better problem solver. This book aims to present a concise, yet comprehensive, explanation of the world. It's organized by a 4-step cycle of human action: Understand, Choose, Do, Learn. Before we dive into the specifics, I'll cover 3 benefits that an explanatory worldview can provide:

Benefit 1: You can solve new problem areas better and quicker

When you are faced with a new situation, you don’t have factual knowledge or a trained intuition to rely on. You'll have to either wing it or gather the missing knowledge from scratch. But, with an explanatory worldview, you will always be able to use your fundamental explanations to come up with a theory. Or, use the explanations as a map to quickly find the missing knowledge. This form of reasoning is often called First Principle Thinking. Here are some examples of how it can looks like in practice:

Figuring out what caused a serious hiring mistake:

Fundamental explanations at hand:

You recognize that this is a challenge of human decision-making. Chapter 10 of this book describes how humans choose what to do, and what mistakes we are prone to.

The solution derived from those explanations:

You decide the information you collected on the applicants isn't to blame. The problem happened during the decision-making. It was likely caused by your mental shortcuts, or biases. You know that these shortcuts evolved to make decision-making quicker and easier. Unfortunately, they do so at the cost of accuracy and consistency.

Quickly find what other knowledge you need:

You look up the exact shortcuts (biases) you used so you can avoid them in the future. You find that you had a strong emotional connection with the chosen candidate. It made you ignore warning signs. Also, you had a winning streak in another domain at work. It made you wrongly overconfident.

Trying to maximize the fuel efficiency of your car:

Fundamental explanations at hand:

You recognize that this is the challenge of physics. Chapter 8 on how the physical word works, describes this. But, you also remember some basic physics from high school.

The solution derived from those explanations:

You remember that the car's weight determines how much energy, and therefore fuel, is used (Newton’s Second law). You thus empty your trunk. Also, you remember that the car's shape affects aerodynamics. You therefore remove the cargo box from the roof.

Quickly find what other knowledge you need:

You think you're still missing something. How will the driving style affect the efficiency? You quickly research more laws of motion. You find that Newton’s first law provides an answer. Keeping a constant speed uses less fuel. You decide to minimize intense breaking and acceleration.

Benefit 2: It helps you filter out the useless information

When you seek new knowledge, you face many sources of information. There's not enough time to read every book or watch every documentary. Instead, you can discard resources that blatantly conflict with your explanatory worldview of how the world works. For example:

Discarding a book on the topic of forecasting random events:

The claim:

A book firmly states that you can forecast economic trends. You can do so if you train your tenacity and open-mindedness.

The violation:

This contradicts how impossible actions work as explained in Chapter 9 on the limitations within reality. Firstly, economic trends are unpredictable. This is because the factors that matter are many, complex, and intertwined. Also, it's unknowable: we can't know what future events will matter and influence the economy.

Discarding a book that states consciousness is magic:

The claim:

A book states that we can't explain consciousness. So, it must be outside physical reality. This implies it's supernatural.

The violation:

This violates the basics of a good explanation, as described in Chapter 1: Understanding Knowledge. Firstly, it claims that because we don’t know it yet, it must be magic. Yet, we uncover new knowledge every day. It also does not provide an explanation for what it is and how it works. It’s an uncriticizable idea and thus, a bad explanation.

Benefit 3: You can construct and readjust your worldview when you gain new knowledge

After you read a book, you have to decide what to do with the knowledge. How do you judge if it's worth keeping? Which parts exactly? If you don’t have an explicit worldview, you risk carelessly forgetting or replacing preexisting explanations. You might settle for lower-quality knowledge simply because it sounds or feels more compelling. This is further complicated by authors, myself included, giving a specific view on topics. They aim to provide a captivating narrative with plenty of arguments and examples that illustrate their point. You might be inclined to fully embrace this narrative and trust it based on authority. But, as a knowledge hungry reader, it's more effective to dissect and criticize the knowledge. Take it apart. See what makes sense. Then, decide how you want to update your worldview.  Chapter 19 will cover the process of learning in greater detail, but here is an example of how I apply it:

Absorbing knowledge from the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman:

What it’s about:

It describes how our thinking processes work and what tendencies we naturally have.

Where it fits:

This fits in the chapter 11 on Decision-Making.

What to take from it:

I learned to think of our biases as mental shortcuts that help us to jump to a conclusion. They are not obstacles we can tame, but evolutionary adaptations that we have to be mindful of.

Absorbing knowledge from the book The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey:

What it's about:

An experiment of the author where he tried various productivity techniques for a year and shared his results and conclusions.

Where it fits:

This fits in Act 3: Doing, spread across the various chapters on willpower optimization.

What to take from it:

I found it interesting how Chris Bailey broke down productivity. He said it's about managing 3 key resources: energy, attention, and time. But, I found it more logical to split it into willpower and intentions. Intentions are what you decide to work on. This includes goals, plans, and time management. Willpower is how well you stick to executing it. This includes energy and attention.

How the book is organized

The 4 Act cycle explained

The book is organized by the 4-act cycle of human action: Understand, Choose, Do. Every action we take falls into these 4 Acts. For most actions, we go through them unconsciously and without intention. Other times we concentrate on a specific act and disregard the others. Occasionally, when facing a serious problem, we might decide to control each act. Here are some examples of how the 4 Acts are applied in practice:

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I choose to organize the book by the actions we go through because it directly highlights the benefits of the knowledge. It shows what you can do with it. If it was laid out topic by topic, it would have been coherent. But, the practical value would have been less clear.

Another benefit of the 4 Act structure is that it's a recognizable pattern. It appears in other books and frameworks. Some examples of similar processes are: The OODA loop of decision-making. The Listen Clarify Debate Decide cycle of management decisions is another. The Build Measure Learn loop is used in product-development. The Design Thinking approach to problem-solving is also one.

The layout of the book

Each act starts with an introduction and an overview of the chapters within that act. There are two types of chapters, both of which conclude with a summary:

Explanation chapters describe the theory of how things work. You can identify each explanation chapter by the lightbulb icon: 💡.

Application chapters describe how to apply the knowledge in practice. Many of the application chapters also feature worksheets available on my website. You can identify the application chapters by the 🛠️ icon.

Ways to read the book

The 4 Acts book can be comfortably read from start to finish, but chapters can also be enjoyed on their own. In this sense, the book can be used as an encyclopedia. It's possible and comfortable to skip ahead or bounce around. I also included internal references when I mention topics covered in other chapters. (note: unfortunately, the direct links do not work in the book-reviewing tool!, my apologies)

Where the content comes from

🛠️ The application chapters are a result of pursuing a topic that I'm passionate about: being effective. The 4 Acts are a distillation of the lessons I learned from my own research as well as from building and running a software business. I define being effective as making progress towards a desired outcome. This differs from being productive. Productivity is just about maximizing output and efficiency, without regard for direction. Effective action requires more than just productivity. It's also about reflecting on your goals and questioning what's important. Both are addressed in the application chapters to come.

💡 To produce the explanation chapters, I interpreted the work of various authors - most prominently David Deutsch. I consider his work to be the most accurate description of the fundamental explanations of reality. For those who want a deeper and more technical view than I provide, I highly recommend David's books: The Beginning of Infinity and The Fabric of Reality. That being said, I attempted to make the explanations in this book as self-contained as possible. I did this to ensure the explanations make sense on their own and do not rely on external sources or authorities.

This is the end of the introduction to 4 Acts. The chapters are:

ACT I: Understanding 💡 1. Understanding knowledge 🛠️ 2. Finding the root-problem 🛠️ 3. Analyzing the environment of the problem (through systems) 💡 4. Understanding the world as systems 💡 5. Understanding life's systems 💡 6. Understanding human systems 🛠️ 7. Understanding yourself (coming soon) 💡 8. Understanding the physical world 💡 9. Understanding the limits of reality ACT II: Choosing 💡 10. How humans choose what to do 🛠️ 11. Specifying the intended outcome (Goal-setting) 🛠️ 12. Generating potential solutions to reach the goal 🛠️ 13. Micro decision-making 🛠️ 14. Macro decision-making (Planning) ACT III: Doing 🛠️ 15. Save willpower by doing things you like 🛠️ 16. Optimize willpower by taking care of your health and wellbeing 🛠️ 17. Strengthen your willpower through resistance training 🛠️ 18. Save willpower by changing how you work (with systems) ACT IV: Learning 💡 19. How learning works 🛠️ 20. What we can do to optimize learning 💡 21. Persuading others Conclusion: What's the next chapter in the worlds' history

If you'd like to dive in, consider becoming a reviewer:

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The 4 Acts book is currently in review! If you'd like to proofread a copy, please e-mail me at book@edwindoit.com

Further reading:

I've created guides, notion templates and guides to practically apply the 4 acts model. Check it out:

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