3.2. What’s the Optimal Outcome (and How Do We Know?)

As we try to figure out how to achieve our goals, it’s going to be most helpful to frame our arguments in those terms.

In every effort to make the world a better place…there seems to be an eternal battle between the realists and idealists. The compromisers and hardliners. The lovers and the fighters.


It has to do with how we conceptualize what options are available to us, and what the best possible outcome is.

We’re all limited. Every one of us. Every group of us.

We only have so many resources—so much time, energy, money, skills, and knowledge—to devote to getting the outcomes we want.

That’s why we’re so protective of our time, our energy, and our money. We don’t have an infinite amount of that stuff. If we did, we could do everything we want!

But we don’t. So we have to make choices about how to invest those resources. And some of those choices are really hard.

The question becomes: how do we—given our limited resources—best invest those resources, to get the best possible outcome?

How do we optimize our actions—and the end result of those actions—so that we get the optimal outcome?

Whatever your beliefs, whatever your opinions about how best to get there—I guarantee what you really want, ultimately, is whatever this optimal outcome truly is.

For you. For your loved ones. And for everyone on earth.

But there’s a problem. Which is we don’t know what this optimal outcome—or the necessary actions that lead to it—actually is.

It’s real. It exists. But one of our many limitations is our inability to ever know for sure what it is…no matter how smart we think we are.

All we can ever know is the little bits of evidence, the theories, the hunches—that seem to add up to what we think the right course of action is.

This not knowing—and all the speculative work that goes into trying to figure it out—is the source of these binary struggles that seem to form whenever any group of people try to work together to advance a cause.

After all, in the end, there are only two ways we can err, as we try to calculate what the optimal outcome is.

We can mistakenly overshoot, mistakenly believing that what’s impossible is actually possible.

Or, we can undershoot, as we mistakenly believe what’s possible is impossible.

I’m not saying the way to resolve this dilemma is to always split the difference, and aim for the middle. Sometimes it really is the case that the majority of people are overestimating or underestimating what this optimal outcome actually is.

But I think we can all agree that optimal outcome is what we’re all aiming for.

So, as we try to figure out how to get there, it’s going to be most helpful to frame our arguments in those terms.

If you think people are overestimating what the optimal outcome is, say why. And if you think they’re underestimating what’s possible, say why too.

But don’t frame it in terms of ideological purity. Or dismissively reductive terms that sell us short.

Make the realists and idealists, compromisers and hardliners, and lovers and fighters explain how and why their course of action will get us to the optimal outcome…and I guarantee those conversations will become more productive.


This is the 46th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *