Mental Model: Rock Logic vs. Water Logic
Rocks are solid and have a rigid form. They have a definite structure. While on the other hand, water doesn’t have well-defined boundaries. It is as real as a rock, and yet its permanence is not defined by its shape.
Rocks don’t change their shape until some physical effort is applied to do so. A rock is similar in its form in a bowl as it is in a vase. These properties of rocks reflect permanence—in thoughts, values, and culture.
Water takes the shape of the container it is kept in. Water does not have rigid boundaries—it is formless. It adapts to the form of the surrounding environment. Rocks stay where you place them; water flows, it explores the territory around it.
Water is like that little kid who wants to fill the entire world in his eyes, who wants to be everywhere at a time.
To understand water logic, you need to understand three fundamental physical properties of water:
1. Water is Shapeless
Water takes the shape of the container it is kept inside. It has no shape of its own. This trait of water can be used as an analogy for adaptability and flexibility. Like water, you can take the outlines of your environment. You can fit in easily when required. You will have more respect for ideas and conventions that are new to you.
However, you should not always try to fit in, especially when original thought is scarce. This is where the rigid nature of rock logic comes into play. Where water tries to fit in, a rock stands firm in its original form.
2. Water flows
You need a container to keep water stationery. When spilled outside, it flows along the direction of slope—like a mindless wanderer. Water logic is exploratory. It seeks new information and insights like a hyena seeks for his meal. Water logic is a physical manifestation of curiosity.
It also wants to hang out in dangerous territories, where unshapely demons bathe in the blood of innocent souls. Mindless indulgences are also a part of water logic.
3. Water + Water = Water
When you add more water to water, the new water becomes a part of the whole. It is impossible to separate the new water from the whole. They are unified. You cannot observe distinct boundaries between the two.
If you go by water logic, you forget your identity and find yourself as a part of a community or a movement that you consider bigger than yourself. Even though water logic helps you to fit in, it can also lead to groupthink.
You don’t always need to fit in, sometimes it is more important to question and challenge new ideas, rather than accepting them blindly. The entire point of critical thinking is to analyze ideas that are new to you and assess their pros and cons to formulate a conclusion.
Here are a few instances where you can observe Rock and Water logic in your daily encounters:
Non-contextual generic advice is rock logic; advice that comes from a point of understanding is water logic.
Drug addiction is water logic; self-control is rock logic.
Instant gratification is water logic; delayed gratification is rock logic.
Conservatives go by rock logic; liberals are naturally inclined to prefer water logic.
Persistence is rock logic; distraction is water logic.
From the above instances, it must have become clear to you that there are no binary answers to which of the two schools of thought is better. Different problems in life require different tools to solve them. There is no master key in real life, there is a bunch of keys hanging around your neck.
As a founder, you might apply rock logic when it comes to your company’s core values. On the other hand, it would make sense to use water logic while testing your product’s features and designs.
Whether you go by water logic or rock logic, the choice is yours.
I appreciate your patience and dedication to read this essay. I am glad that you made it to the end. I hope you learned something new that will equip you with time-tested mental tools for making better decisions in your life.
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