Part of my series on product skills.

This is a pretty easy and fun mental motion. If you’re in business leadership or engineering, it’s an invaluable skill.


  • When my cofounder and I hired our first employees in 2014, we thought about creating an office and having everyone work from there, but decided to invest instead in remote-working infrastructure, since we thought we would eventually benefit from being able to hire people across the globe.
  • When annoyed by how long you have to wait for a subway train, try to estimate how often a train would ideally arrive, given that the train system is adequately funded.
  • Notice that you need 3 servers today to host your complicated web service, and then ask the question “how many users am I likely to have if this succeed? Will this service scale?”
  • How should a company reimbursement process work? Should the company require employees to write lengthy expense reports and get reimbursed, or just let them put stuff on a company card? Does it matter how many employees they have?
  • In US politics, voter turnout for the most popular elections tends to be in the 60% range. What number should that be, in an ideal democracy?
  • In 1961, the US was behind in the space race with the USSR, and President Kennedy set a goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
  • Yudkowsky wrote this fictional account of a world like ours, but where people are better at coordination (long!)

The mental motion is something like: notice a problem in the short term, and figure out how the world would look if the problem were solved successfully. Or: notice a short term trend, and extrapolate it to a stable state.

Not many people do this regularly, and it’s an easy one to add to your toolbox. It’s useful for business, because sometimes it makes it clear that your business will need to be a certain way (maybe you feel strongly about the remote working policy, as we did) or that your code will need to be structured a certain way. It’s also fun – at least, if thinking about the future of society is fun for you – e.g., wouldn’t it be great if subway trains arrived every 2 minutes?