"Chesterton's Fence and Critical Mass: Lessons in Second Order Thinking and Network Effects"


Hatched by Glasp

Sep 08, 2023

3 min read


"Chesterton's Fence and Critical Mass: Lessons in Second Order Thinking and Network Effects"


Understanding the rationale behind previous decisions and recognizing the consequences of our actions are core components of making great decisions. In this article, we will explore two concepts - Chesterton's Fence and Critical Mass - that highlight the importance of second-order thinking and network effects. By delving into these ideas, we can gain insights into the significance of tradition, the unintended consequences of intervention, and the potential for exponential growth in a network-driven world.

Chesterton's Fence: Understanding the Reasoning Behind Traditions

Chesterton's Fence, inspired by G.K. Chesterton's book "The Thing," emphasizes the need to understand the purpose of an existing system or tradition before attempting to change or remove it. The fence serves as a metaphor for any established structure, and its removal without understanding its purpose can lead to unintended consequences. By practicing second-order thinking and considering the consequences of our actions, we can avoid making hasty decisions that may do more harm than good.

Traditions and Hierarchies: Recognizing the Reasons for Their Existence

Many problems arise when we intervene with systems without understanding their underlying reasons. Hierarchies within companies, for example, exist for a reason - to ensure effective decision-making and avoid chaos. While hierarchical structures may have flaws, disregarding them without addressing their purpose can lead to unforeseen consequences. Eliminating hierarchies may result in an invisible power structure or the dominance of charismatic individuals, undermining the original intent of the organization. Recognizing the reasons behind established systems allows us to make informed decisions and avoid unintended disruptions.

Replacing Bad Habits: Addressing the Underlying Need

In our personal lives, bad habits often arise as a response to unfulfilled needs such as connection, comfort, or distraction. Simply removing a bad habit without addressing the underlying need can lead to the emergence of equally harmful or worse habits. To effectively replace a bad habit, it is essential to either replace it with a good or less harmful habit or address the underlying need itself. By understanding the reasons behind our habits, we can make meaningful changes that promote personal growth and well-being.

Critical Mass: The Power of Network Effects

Critical Mass represents a turning point in a network effects platform, where growth shifts from linear to exponential. By attracting early adopters and expanding their user base, startups can reach a point where their growth becomes non-linear, disrupting entire industries. However, reaching Critical Mass is not easy, as it requires overcoming resistance from incumbent industries and generating sufficient interest from users. Understanding the concept of Critical Mass allows startups to develop powerful defenses against competitors and capitalize on the potential for exponential growth.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace second-order thinking: Before making any changes, take the time to understand the rationale behind existing systems or traditions. Avoid hasty decisions that may lead to unintended consequences.
  • 2. Address the underlying need: When seeking to replace bad habits, focus on understanding the root cause rather than simply eliminating the habit. This approach promotes long-lasting change and personal growth.
  • 3. Harness the power of network effects: For startups aiming to leverage network effects, it is crucial to understand the concept of Critical Mass. Focus on attracting early adopters, expanding the user base, and creating a brand that becomes synonymous with the service offered.


Incorporating second-order thinking and recognizing the power of network effects can significantly impact decision-making and growth strategies. By understanding the reasons behind existing systems and traditions, we can avoid unintended consequences. Similarly, by leveraging network effects and striving for Critical Mass, startups can disrupt industries and establish themselves as dominant players. By applying these principles and taking actionable steps, we can make informed decisions and unlock extraordinary results.

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