I thought the genesis of this idea was Rory Sutherland, but he probably got it from Nassim Taleb who writes that fifty, one foot falls is different from one, fifty foot fall. It also came up on Acquisitions Anonymous where Mills Snell noted thirty years of experience could be two people or ten and the situations are quite different. Taleb got it from someone too – King Solomon? – that it exists in many places is good reason to take note.
Rory Sutherland writes that life is not commutative like mathematics. Put numerically: 20,000×1!=1×20,000. Credit Karma acts on this, rewarding $25 spent for lunch rather than a few tenths of a percent in interest. Gifts and maybe mileage reimbursements may act under the same human tendency.
Time management writes Peter Drucker in The Essential Drucker is also not commutative.
“To write a report may, for instance, require six or eight hours, at least for the first draft. It is pointless to give seven hours to the task by spending fifteen minutes twice a day for three weeks. All one has at the end is a blank paper with some doodles on it.”
Rather Drucker suggests locking the door, removing the phone and six hours without interruption. Then one can finish the “zero draft, the one before the first draft.” And only then work in small installments.
‘Is this commutative?‘ can be another problem solving prompt. In true cases, there’s no gain in rearrangement. In false cases, switching from water cooler meetings to off site meet ups, can result in different outcomes on similar inputs.
“To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal,” writes Drucker, “will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours.”