The massive value of low-level paranoia
So sayeth Andy Grove, the legendary co-founder of Intel.
There are a bunch of quotes out there that get to this point. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” by American Quote Machine Ben Franklin, is another classic.
We all know that flossing, taking vitamins, going to the gym, not scarfing that third slice of pizza, maxing out our 401k, and buying our significant other flowers are excellent investments. And yet they’re SO easy to skip.
There’s been a massive amount of research on this, but it boils down to prioritization. We have so many things going on, the daily journey of getting through life–waking up, making breakfast, packing off kids, work, etc–is exhausting enough.
The Stanford Peace Innovation Lab in particular has done some excellent thinking on how to design behavior and reset habits. We need triggers, systems, strategies–willpower alone won’t do it. But I also firmly believe that low-level paranoia is essential–in fact, I coach young PR pros to develop low-level paranoia in client work.
Paranoia means you care.
Paranoia means you’re envisioning every angle, you’re staying ahead of it, you’re battling ghosts before they materialize.
Paranoia means you overevaluate messages from people you care about, you make the extra call before bed, you wear a belt AND suspenders.
Some people are paranoid naturally. Some have been through a crisis and learned the hard way. Some are just figuring it out.
Now obviously paranoia is a serious psychological condition and I don’t mean to trivialize that one bit. Venturing into a delusional state is obviously too far–and awful. Seek help.
I’m talking about low-level paranoia, not enough to ruin sleep but enough to launch you out of bed with a sense of purpose.
Because the truth is that life is fragile. Everything that may seem set in stone–places, family, careers–can transform overnight.
People who are concerned about maintaining the miraculous things in their life–those of us with low-level paranoia–will do more to stay ahead of it. They’ll install the security system, get up at 5 am for boot camp, and stick to their partner’s User Manual every day to deliver the love they need.
Sometimes that’s more trouble than it’s worth. We need to learn to accept change, even if it’s painful (and it usually is in some form). And low-level paranoid behavior can get irritating and counterproductive–there’s a delicate balance to strike.
Still, much of the time low-level paranoia gets more done, and zeroes us in on the preventative maintenance so vital to defusing crises before they explode.