In order to make sense of the world and figure out how to deal with it, we have a few essential concepts yet to cover. There are several more Elements (mindsets), as well as the Vices (motivations) in more detail, and the Apocalypses (fundamental risks). Before we get into all of those concepts, however, we should look at the different Attributes that each of them has.
These Attributes are dimensions in the original sense: properties that can be measured. Just as an object can have different values for height, breadth, depth, mass, electric charge, et cetera, so can concepts have different magnitudes of various Attributes when they show up in reality. In order to properly explain the concepts that we’ll get to in the upcoming articles, we’ll need to be able to explore their different aspects.
We can derive the Attributes from the intersection of two fundamental dichotomies (pairs of opposing concepts). Each Primary Attribute is associated with one side of one dichotomy and one side of the other, producing four combinations.
The first dichotomy is cause versus effect. “Cause” represents the environmental factors that influence whether a process or event takes place. With the Attributes, the process usually refers to a person’s efforts. If you are working toward a goal or responding to a problem, the goal or problem are “causes” for your efforts. “Effect” represents the scope of change that a process or event creates in the world. If you succeed in achieving a goal or solving a problem, that achievement or solution is the “effect” of your efforts. An Attribute based on cause describes the conditions you require in order to use a mindset or respond to a motivation or risk. An Attribute based on effect describes how you are able to effect change in the world with a mindset, how you want to affect the world with a motivation, or how you need to deal with a risk. Each Primary Attribute is based on either “cause” or “effect”.
The second fundamental dichotomy is “start” versus “continue”. “Start” deals with what leads you to start making an effort, or what you are able to start building from scratch. “Continue” deals with what conditions are necessary for you to continue a process, or how far you can continue to push it. Each Primary Attribute is based on either “start” or “continue.”
The reason I use “continue” instead of “stop” or “end” is that ending a process can be expressed as beginning a process that stops a previous one. The reason “start” isn’t called “change” is because changes are what we are starting and continuing, and talking about changing changes would get gratuitously confusing without adding mathematical notation. You may recognize “start” versus “continue” as a variation of the omnipresent chaos versus order dichotomy. “Start” represents chaos because until something starts, we often cannot know what it will become, while “continue” represents order because it’s a continuation of a known process, which imposes a degree of certainty on the situation.
The four Primary Attributes are derived from how these dichotomies intersect.
To put the Primary Attributes into perspective with each other, picture a process that changes the current world to be more like a world that we want to live in. We’ll call the process “X”. X has a cause and an effect. The initiative of X is how easy it is to cause X. X’s resilience is how difficult it is to stop X once it’s started. Its mobility is how quickly X is able to start producing an effect and changing the world. Its intensity is the magnitude of the effect: how much it continues to grow from its inception. Since we’re using these Attributes to describe people’s character and use of mindsets, much of the time X is going to be a mindset used by a person.
However, motivations and risks can also be described by Attributes. Motivations are what you want. Mindsets are how you get there. Risks are what stand in your way. Attributes can describe all three of these types of concepts: they describe your motivations by what you will pursue, your mindsets by what you can do to pursue it, and the risks you face by what you must do to succeed.
Just so you’re aware of how important the Attributes are… do you remember when I said the Attributes were derived from two fundamental dichotomies? Unlike the Elements, where derived the fundamental mindsets to find out what was necessary to learn, I discovered the Attributes empirically. I found out the hard way that I was missing important aspects of the Elements I was using, and only figured out what those were by looking at the problems I was failing to solve. It was only after I identified the Attributes that I retroactively expressed them as the intersections of fundamental dichotomies.
As we look at the Primary Attributes, we’ll use a Water Element (operation mindset) skill as an example to illustrate how the Attributes are applied. Juggling is a particularly recognizable skill you can learn with operation mindset. The Attributes let you measure the various ways in which you can cultivate your ability to juggle.
Initiative Attribute is the intersection of “cause” with “start”. It deals with starting a process despite a lack of encouragement from the environment. You may have to leave a place of relative satisfaction and journey through unpleasant places in order to reach a place of greater satisfaction. The incentives to act may be remote, and you may have to delay gratification. The more initiative you have, the more you can choose long-term goals over immediate rewards. People who practice initiative are called Drivers, because they drive change by providing an impetus based on their goals.
When describing a person’s skill with a mindset, the level of initiative answers the question of, “When can you start?”
When describing a person’s responsiveness to a motivation, the level of initiative answers the question of, “When will you start?”
When describing the traits necessary to address a risk, the level of initiative answers the question of, “When must you start?”
Regarding our juggling example, initiative describes how likely you are to attempt to learn a new juggling feat or trick, even if the rewards are uncertain or far in the future.
Resilience Attribute is the intersection of “cause” with “continue”. It deals with being able to maintain the quality of your performance despite stressful conditions and active discouragement. The ability to continue producing excellent work and taking pride in how you live is very valuable in a world of risk and hardship. Having great resilience doesn’t mean you never stop, but when you do it’s because you decide the tradeoffs are no longer worth it, not because you are afraid to continue. People who practice resilience are called Strivers, because they persistently struggle and push back against the world’s disruption and resistance.
When describing a person’s skill with a mindset, the level of resilience answers the question of, “When can you continue?”
When describing a person’s responsiveness to a motivation, the level of resilience answers the question of, “When will you continue?”
When describing the traits necessary to address a risk, the level of resilience answers the question of, “When must you continue?”
Regarding our juggling example, resilience describes how well you can maintain a feat even under stress.
Mobility Attribute is the intersection of “effect” with “start”. It deals with how well you can start to generate change from scratch. Circumstances and goals can shift rapidly, and so you will often be required to begin learning or creating something new. Mobility relies on being able to take minimal information and calibration and quickly produce a useful effect, then start again by recalibrating to keep ahead of any changes that need to be made. People who practice mobility are called Shifters, because they can easily change what they are doing to work on a new process or task, moving and switching gears smoothly.
When describing a person’s skill with a mindset, the level of mobility answers the question of, “What can you start?”
When describing a person’s responsiveness to a motivation, the level of mobility answers the question of, “What will you start?”
When describing the traits necessary to address a risk, the level of mobility answers the question of, “What must you start?”
Regarding our juggling example, mobility describes how well and how quickly you can pick up the basics of an unfamiliar feat.
Intensity Attribute is the intersection of “effect” with “continue”. It deals with the scope of the change you create expanding without stop. These changes includes changes in yourself as you become more skilled. With practiced technique, you can implement in-depth changes that would not otherwise be possible (as long as what you have learned remains true). When you integrate large and diverse collections of information and experience, you can finely-tune your calibration and pull off more sophisticated and impactful accomplishments. People who practice intensity are called Delvers, because they dig down and investigate nuances in detail, focusing on a particular situation, goal, or problem in order to cultivate advanced skill.
When describing a person’s skill with a mindset, the level of intensity answers the question of, “What can you continue?”
When describing a person’s responsiveness to a motivation, the level of intensity answers the question of, “What will you continue?”
When describing the traits necessary to address a risk, the level of intensity answers the question of, “What must you continue?”
Regarding our juggling example, intensity describes how well you can learn complex feats that build on what you already know.
As with the Elements, there are Attributes formed by combining the four Primary Attributes. The four Secondary Attributes are formed by combining non-opposing Primary Attributes.
Initiative combined with mobility yields Enterprise Attribute, dealing with setting and launching goals that take you in new directions. With enterprise, you move to fill needs and solve problems that other people overlooked. People who practice enterprise are called Leapers, because they see a distant place and move to it by choice.
Regarding our juggling example, enterprise describes how well you can spot and seize the opportunity to pick up a simple but unfamiliar feat, even when the rewards are uncertain and possibly remote.
The combination of intensity and initiative yields Industry Attribute, dealing with actively seeking out how to continue the spread of an impact. If you are devoted to a craft, you will likely work on perfecting your skills for their own sake. You may also be constantly raising your standards for advancing a particular cause or goal. Raising your standards increases the scope of change that you will try to create. Your reason for doing so doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a step up that you don’t immediately need for maintaining an acceptable status quo. People who practice industry are called Honers, because they sharpen their tools to improve their performance, and focus on calibrating a specific skill or creating an intense change of their own volition.
Regarding our juggling example, industry describes how likely you are to attempt to learn a complex feat that builds on what you already know, even when the rewards are uncertain and far in the future.
Mobility combined with resilience yields Adaptability Attribute, dealing with responding to stress and problems by finding new approaches to maintain effectiveness. When an unexpected obstacle appears before a goal, it’s often necessary to find a different approach or even an alternative goal. Adaptability is invaluable for a changing world, allowing you to learn to take a different path without missing a beat. People who practice adaptability are called Sliders, because they move and change direction smoothly and easily in response to the world’s problems and obstacles.
Regarding our juggling example, adaptability describes how well you can quickly pick up and perform simple but unfamiliar feats under pressure.
The combination of intensity and resilience yields Determination Attribute, dealing with continuously expanding the scope of a change despite environmental stress. Stress can include pain, fatigue, boredom, fear, frustration, et cetera. When you need to accomplish a difficult task and look to be at an impasse, determination is what allows you to maintain focus and push through. People who practice determination are called Bucklers, for several reasons. Firstly, they cause other things to buckle, or give way. Secondly, to “buckle” means to fasten or bind, just as determined people “buckle down” and bind themselves to a goal. Finally, a buckler is a type of shield, which fits determination’s role in defending a goal against opposing forces.
Regarding our juggling example, determination describes how well you can learn and perform complex feats that build on what you already know, while under pressure.
There are two Great Attributes formed by combining opposing Primary Attributes. As with the Great Elements, combining opposing Attributes leads to a larger range of nuance that you can handle with them. You can exercise either extreme, or any point between them, which means you have more freedom to deal with a whole spectrum of situations along the relevant axis.
Independence is the combination of initiative and resilience. With independence, you can start and continue projects based on your long-term values. The environment doesn’t need to be favorable for you to do what you set your mind to. You do what you decide, rather than being intimidated by the world into not doing what you’re capable of. Independence is essentially the closest concept to willpower that exists in this entire collection of concepts. People who practice independence are called Striders, because they show confident, self-driven advancement and performance in defiance of hardship.
Regarding our juggling example, independence describes how well you can continue to maintain and improve your skills if it’s what you really want to do, even if nobody else cares about juggling, and even practicing is difficult and progress is slow.
Finesse is the combination of intensity and mobility. With finesse, not only can you quickly start learning a topic, planning a project, performing a task, or responding to a problem, but you can also become extremely skilled at it over time. No matter what a situation calls for, you can find an angle and pursue it until you have a better one. Finesse lets you cultivate as much skill with a particular approach as you need, and then start learning a different one when it becomes more advantageous to do so. People who practice finesse are called Dancers because they combine agility with advanced skill, addressing situations with grace.
Regarding our juggling example, initiative describes how well you can pick up and master different aspects of juggling, both unfamiliar and complex.
If you don’t have much strength in any Attribute, but still know how to use a mindset, that’s the Zeroth Attribute of competence. Before you can strengthen the various Attributes of a skill, learning when to use it and becoming more familiar with its nuances, it is necessary to possess the skill in the first place, and know how to use it on command. People who practice Competence Attribute are called Users, because they display basic ability and prowess with a skill or technique.
It should be noted that just because competence is the “Zeroth Attribute” does not mean that you are automatically competent with a particular mindset or skill even if you have another Attribute with it. In other words, it is perfectly possible to use a mindset intensely, for instance, without using it correctly. You need to properly calibrate your skills to a baseline level to develop competence before the other Attributes will do you any good.
Regarding our juggling example, competence describes the degree to which you have implemented the basics of juggling.
All of the Attributes combined is mastery. With Mastery Attribute, you can advance, maintain, and apply your skills under most circumstances. We need people with mastery in order to deal with the many problems that occur in the world. It won’t work if we all wait for someone else to do it. People who practice mastery are called Wielders because they display confident and expert applications of a skill or technique.
Regarding our juggling example, mastery describes how well you invent and perfect new feats while dealing gracefully with pressure.
Measurement and Nuance
As I mentioned before, these Attributes are (loosely) measurable dimensions of different concepts. Next we’ll take a look at an example of a person’s mindset measurements.
Figure 1 is a “radar” or “spider” chart showing a hypothetical person’s Attributes for Fire Element (synthesis mindset). This type of graph doesn’t require adjacent qualities to be related, but it is particularly useful when they are, as we would see if we added in the Secondary Attributes. In this case, we are only looking at the Primary Elements.
High intensity means this person can come up with very creative and ground-breaking ideas if they focus on a particular topic. A lower resilience means their creativity suffers under pressure. A middling mobility means that given a new topic and not much other information, they can come up with some decent ideas reasonably quickly. Low initiative means that they will usually only do creative things when it feels immediately rewarding.
What can we infer about a person’s Secondary Elements from their Primary Elements? Determination has aspects of both intensity and resilience, so we can guess that if a person’s Intensity and Resilience Attributes are high (for a particular mindset or other trait), then their Determination Attribute is also likely to be high. However, that may not always be the case. Their determination could be low if the person is not comfortable with using intensity in high-stress situations. Conversely, their determination could be higher than you’d expect based on their intensity and resilience levels, if they are only comfortable using intensity in high-stress situations and are only comfortable in high-stress situations when they can use intensity.
Likewise, although a person fairly strong in both industry and determination is likely to be very strong in intensity (because industry and determination are both based on and can bolster intensity), it may also be that while they are able to use intensity relatively well in situations where others people might falter (such as delayed gratification and stressful situations, respectively), in immediately rewarding, low stress situations, their intensity is merely average.
Moreover, mastery represents not just a high level in all Attributes but the ability to combine them as necessary. It’s also possible to have a relatively high mastery overall but to be particularly strong (or weak) in an individual Attribute.
It should be noted that it’s not uncommon for a person to have different Attribute levels for different mindsets and even for different techniques within a mindset. For example, notification mindset encompasses both conveying information to others and researching information for oneself. While it is likely that a person’s Attributes for learning the notification mindset skills related to explanation and research will be similar, it’s not guaranteed.
You may have noticed that each of the twelve Attributes has a word describing people who practice that Attribute. Such words are called demonyms, which usually describe someone from a particular geographical region. I’m coopting the term here because we don’t have a word that means “word that refers to people with a certain trait” and “demonym” literally just means “name for a person”.
Why is it important that we have more words to refer to the Attributes? Isn’t that redundant? Not quite. The Attributes are nouns, and while they are appropriate, they are rather abstract and uncompelling. The demonyms are based on verbs, and describe how a person exercising a particular Attribute “moves.” Using an Attribute means using the corresponding verb (e.g. “driving” or “shifting”). Knowing the movement associated with the Attribute helps you understand how and when to use it and why it is important. Visualizing the Attribute’s process may make it easier for you to practice it. If nothing else, they sound really cool.
If you want to remember these movements, you can put them in an order that rhymes:
Buckler, Honer, Leaper, Slider
User, Wielder, Dancer, Strider
Now that we have seen the different qualities that a given concept can have, we can recognize that not only are all the mindsets important for dealing with the world as a whole, but effectively wielding even a single mindset can require the exercise of multiple diverse aspects of it. As I learned the hard way, having skill in one Attribute is not enough to accomplish all your goals.
However, now that we know what it takes, we don’t have to feel helpless. There’s no reason we have to keep falling short. We are empowered to take steps to practice and strengthen our Attribute levels bit by bit, until we can take on even the most challenging situations with aplomb.
Not only that, but we can examine the nuances of the other concepts coming up in future articles. A mindset, motivation, or risk is not simply present or absent; it has a shape defined by the Attributes. We’ll see more about these concepts in the next few articles. Stay tuned!
*The keyword for the attribute of industry in this article was updated from the old version on 10/24/19. The keyword for the attribute of mastery in this article was updated from the old version on 4/19/20. You can view the change in the Changelog.