Sunday, January 26, 2014

Useful moves

Are you hitting your head here, hoping you'll wise up?

The solitaire app on my iPhone is kind enough to inform me when a particular shuffle has no solution. 

“No useful moves detected.” 

I love that phrasing. No useful moves. “Sure,” it says, “you could keep moving cards around, hoping for a breakthrough, if that makes you happy, dear player, but don’t pretend you’re accomplishing anything.”

How many times in life, after lots of determination, hard work and expended resources, do we learn we’d been wasting our time, that nothing we could do would bring about the desired outcome? Perhaps you or I are in the middle of one or more right now but we haven’t realized it yet.

For those of us who don’t learn from our mistakes, or who believe making a different choice earlier would change the outcome, the solitaire game provides the option to replay a dead end shuffle. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, right? But there’s seldom any going back and starting over in the real world. 

It would be great if we all had magical Futility Detectors. A gizmo that tells us in a soothing, forgiving, avuncular voice when our moves are useless.

“Al, my friend, you can keep moving around the cards of your life, but it’s not useful. There’s no solution. What do you say you cut your losses and try something different?”

No, I’m not quitting this van dwelling life. I’m just reaching out to my audience (assuming I have one). Examine your life, your goals, the time and energy spent on it. Are you making useless moves? Is there really any possibility of a win? Is it time to change course?

American culture tells us it’s wrong to quit. Losers quit, right? (Insert everything you’ve ever heard in school, pep talks, company meetings or the gym.) But chasing futility is also losing.

For those times it’s possible to reach the goal, but at way too much cost, it would also be great to have a personal Point of Diminishing Returns detector. To help us decide what to do at each point of diminishing returns, we should also have a Success Simulator. Again, the wise, soothing voice:

“Al, here’s what it would be like when you grab the prize. And here’s what it would be like after the rush of accomplishment fades. Will it be worth what you’re going to have to do to get there? Are you sure?”


  1. What timing! I was just talking to Dave about the lack of results from something I've been doing and saying maybe it is time to give up that theory.

  2. My goodness, I am astonished to bump around in the travel blogosphere and run into a thought-provoking post. And this certainly was. I loved both the style and the substance.

    Soon I'll head into your archive. Here's an "attaboy" that I don't give very often: keep up the good work!