The Two Things

Glen Whitman, Cal State Northridge economist, presents an elegant idea: The Two Things.

A few years ago, I was chatting with a stranger in a bar. When I told him I was an economist, he said, “Ah. So . . . what are the Two Things about economics?”

“Huh?” I cleverly replied.

“You know, the Two Things. For every subject, there are really only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, here are the Two Things about economics. One: Incentives matter. Two: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

It would be hard to do better than that! And Glen has gathered an terrific group of Two Things statements from readers. A sample:

The Two Things about Marketing:
1. Find out who is buying your product.
2. Find more buyers like them.

The Two Things about Software Engineering:
1. Pick two, and only two: stable, feature-complete, on-time.
2. One great coder is better than two good coders, except when not.

The Two Things about Teaching History:
1. A good story is all they’ll remember, not the half hour of analysis on either side of it.
2. They think it’s about answers, but it’s really about questions.
-Jonathan Dresner

The Two Things about Art Criticism:
1. If it isn’t novel, critics aren’t interested.
2. If it is novel, no one else is interested.

The Two Things about Writing:
1. Include what’s necessary.
2. Leave everything else out.
-Nicholas Kronos

The Two Things about World Conquest:
1. Divide and Conquer.
2. Never invade Russia in the winter.
-Tim Lee

The Two Things about Star Trek:
1. Don’t beam down in a red shirt.
2. You can always talk evil computers into destroying themselves.
-Tim Lee

My modest attempt to match these is

The Two Things about Life:
1. Be brave, work hard, save: live for the long run.
2. In the long run, we’re all dead.


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