Jason Fried

May 10, 2024


In my experience, a key skill to develop is the ability to separate one thing from another. To prevent the small from becoming the all.

Take a policy, for example. Could be a government, or a school, or a home owner’s association, or something at work. Whatever it is, you don’t like it. You don’t agree, you don’t like the decision maker, you don’t like how it was enacted, pick a reason, it doesn’t matter which. When you don’t like something, there’s a tendency for that one thing to become everything.

Now you don’t like the whole government, Or the whole school. Or the whole association. Or the whole company. Or, if it’s a specific problem with a product, then the whole product is a problem.

Is it? Or is it you?

Not you as in you did the thing, but you dissolving the membranes, turning a complex organism back into a single cell. It’s psychologically simpler to cast an opinion collectively than it is specifically, but in the end, that easy street often leads to a dead end.

It’s easy to feel “I’m pissed”, but really, just part of you is pissed. At that same time, another part of you loves your partner, another part of you is excited about the trip you’re about to take, another part of you is nervous awaiting the results of a recent blood draw, another part of you is focused on the current task, another part is hungry for lunch. We contain multitudes, and recognizing that you’re a thousand things rather than your most obvious emotion is a step towards maturity.

Take something your friend said recently. You kinda can’t believe they said it. Shocked, even. They’re on that side? They took that take? Ok, let’s say they did. Now, do you let it bleed into everything else you think about them? You could, but I’d suggest that’s your problem, not theirs. What about the other things about them? They’re your friend, after all. You got here somehow, and it wasn’t because of the things you didn’t like about them. There’s a good chance all the good stuff is still the good stuff. The relationship has more depth now. In this context, complexity is a gift.

Now replace friend with government or group or company or product or organization.

Developing the ability to tease things apart helps you compartmentalize the less desirable from the more desirable, and see the whole map, with all its separate states of like and dislike, favorable and unfavorable. There’s a very good chance that when you do that, you’ll like a lot more than you despise.

Kids know this, then it seems they — we — forget it. Kids like their food separated. Don’t let the blueberries touch — CONTAMINATE! — the chips. Don’t let the carrots graze the sandwich. Don’t let the cookies touch the cheese. This way they can HATE the carrots, but love their lunch. In an absurd way, it seems like the healthy approach.

Separate. Distinguish. Decouple. Isolate. Differentiate.

One thing’s rarely everything, unless you make it so.


About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.