The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

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What Is 'Counterfactual Simulation'?

Counterfactual Simulation is applied imagination: consciously asking a "what if" question, and letting your mind imagine the rest.

Based on the stored Patterns, Associations and Interpretations, your brain will produce what it believes is the most likely scenario.

Counterfactuals are very useful because of their flexibility: you can simulate anything you want.

When you use Counterfactual Simulation, you assume the event or state you're simulating is already true. The mind then fills the gaps between A (where you are) and B (where you want to be).

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Counterfactual Simulation'

As we discussed in Mental Simulation, our minds are constantly trying to predict the future.

Now it's time to learn how to simulate potential courses of action intentionally.

Counterfactual-"what if"-questions allow you to consciously access you brain's simulation capabilities directly.

You can think of Counterfactual Simulation as applied imagination-you're posing a "what if" or "what would happen if" question to your mind, then sitting back and letting your brain do what it naturally does best.

Based on the Patterns, Associations, and Interpretations you have stored in memory, your brain will produce what it believes to be the most likely result.

All you have to do is suspend judgment, pose the question, and wait for the answer.

Counterfactual Simulation is one of our most powerful capabilities.

Instead of waiting for your brain to simulate a potential course of action, Counterfactual Simulation allows you to "force" your brain to run the simulations you want it to run.

One of the reasons Counterfactual Simulation is useful is because of its flexibility: you can simulate anything you want.

The subject of your simulation can be completely arbitrary: the only limit to the things you can simulate is your imagination.

If you want to simulate what would happen if you suddenly quit your job and moved to Tahiti, there's nothing stopping you. You could even simulate what would happen if you lived 10,000 years or set up shop on Jupiter.

Counterfactual Simulation can help you discover hidden opportunities you may have previously assumed aren't possible.

While I was working at P&G, I often dreamed of working for myself and developing the Personal MBA full-time, but I always assumed it was "a year or two away." Unsurprisingly, a year later, it was still "a year or two away." Working for myself was a pleasant daydream, but I simply assumed it wasn't realistic.

That changed shortly after I discovered Counterfactual Simulation.

While traveling on business in September of 2008, I ran a simulation: "What would have to be true if I left my job at P&G by my birthday?" which was in early November. I didn't think this question was realistic, but it was ambitious enough to be interesting, so I Inhibited my judgment and simulated the question anyway.

When you run a Counterfactual Simulation, you assume the event or end state you're simulating is already true. By supplying your mind with an artificial destination, it will automatically start to fill in the blanks between point A and point B.

When I ran the simulation on leaving P&G, I assumed that it was definitely going to happen, then figured out how it would be possible.

As I ran the simulation, other questions naturally presented themselves.

How much revenue was coming in? How many clients would I need to have? What other projects would I work on, and how much money would I need to bring in to be financially Sufficient? As these questions presented themselves, I answered them as best I could, scribbling my answers in a notebook.

By the time I was finished simulating, I had discovered it was actually possible for me to leave my job at P&G immediately, instead of "in a year or two." When I returned to work the following Monday, I resigned. My last day of corporate work was four days before my twenty- eighth birthday.

In my experience, time spent examining counterfactuals is never wasted.

Instead of simply assuming what you want isn't realistic or possible, Counterfactual Simulation allows you to actually figure out what it would take to make what you want real.

After doing a simulation, you'll always come away with a greater understanding of what it takes to do something, or what would need to be true in order to make something work.

Apply your mind to counterfactual simulation, and you'll be absolutely astounded at how easy it is to do actually do some of these things that you assumed were simply dreams.

Questions About 'Counterfactual Simulation'


"To be able to ask a question clearly is two-thirds of the way to getting it answered."

John Ruskin, nineteenth-century art critic and social theorist


From Chapter 7:

Working With Yourself


https://personalmba.com/counterfactual-simulation/



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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

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