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Posts filed under 'thoughts'

  • Personal Advocacy

    Continuing on the idea of identity, I'm starting to think that in any practice as personal as job hunting, it's tremendously challenging to disassociate yourself from the process of searching. Meaning, largely, that you're never not looking for work for yourself, you're always thinking about what you'll be growing into in the (near) future when you're looking for work.

    Perhaps the key, especially for someone as identity-sensitive as I am, is to pretend that you're looking for the sake of someone else. I can give good advice to others, and I know what I should be doing, but thus far I've been terrible at following through.

    I can't imagine myself at a lot of these places, but I have to credit that at least partially to my lack of imagination.

    In the meantime, I think my goal until I run out of ramen is to pretend that everything is about someone else, and that I've just been employed by this person to do the legwork of a hard-core job search, and that they're the one who is living in terror.

  • Private Languages

    Each one of us means, with our words, exactly what we mean; no more or less.

    When you are misunderstood it's often because the other's use of words places a greater significance on a given definition than you do.

  • A model of how social interaction works, for sociopaths

    "Never dine alone." There's a purpose to this: if you're dining, you should seek to share food with someone whose social bonds and career trajectory might benefit you down the road, or with someone you could mentor in some way. In all aspects, you should seek to dine (that is, eat out) with people who can enrich your life, and who can benefit from or provide benefit to you through the social bonds created by the ancient rites of breaking bread together.

    Jesus said:

    "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."

    Genius works the same way. Somewhere in the universe is a creature of an alien species that knows the answers to the problem you're working on, but just as his knowledge does you no good in your life, knowledge you don't share with others does them no good in their lives. People work better in messy offices, where ideas can cross-pollinate and you can (hopefully) find someone who speaks a dialect of the language of your problem, and skip out on a lot of the infrastructure that would accompany writing.

    In general, a good intellectual peer allows you to do what I've heard referred to as "skip talk": you skip a lot of words and ideas because your companion indicates, using non-verbal and sub-verbal cues that they see where you're going because they've already been there. So you quickly get to the meat of the discussion, and gain a lot of ground there because that person can help you recognize which ideas are worth pursuing.

    Once you create something, though, you should polish it to a point that someone who doesn't know you and doesn't necessarily like you can understand it. This is the work that happens alone, for the most part, and that which most resembles "work". The endless polishing, cleaning up of ambiguities, and presentation of data in an understandable format for all to see takes a lot of time, but this is where true genius lives.

  • Educational progression

    When students have to make a time/effort tradeoff when swamped with work, not all the work that the professor desires students to complete will be done. Students are still capable of achieving high marks in the absence of 100% commitment, which indicates that there's a disconnect between the work assigned and the demands of a given quantum of instruction.

    Matching these would be a challenge, but consider this:

    • Instructors identify the highest-level skills that students who are successful in the class should possess
    • Instructors make a hierarchy of skills that students would have to progress through in order to develop and demonstrate skills, and connect them together
    • Students are given high-level skills to practice, and if they can't manage them, are given easier and more fundamental skills until they are making progress at their experience level
  • The art of the possible

    Politics is sometimes described as the art of the possible. The possible is the set of all states that are reachable from the current world, given the preferences and abilities of the people currently in power.

  • The Prevalence of Talent

    There are limits to what a person is capable of. In a given population, maximum skill lies along some sort of distribution. If everyone were to devote themselves totally to a single pursuit in a given society, people would eventually reach a point where there was a compressed distribution of that skill close to the maximum possible within that society.

    To put this in concrete terms, if everyone in the US decided to devote themselves to football, we would eventually (within a generation or two) see every person within a couple percent of their maximum possible skill in football. The variance could be explained by factors such as lack of motivation, choosing a bad position (a person whose physiology was more suited to being a linebacker devoting themselves to becoming a quarterback, etc.), and normal imperfections of the world.

    Ignoring other follow-on consequences of such an arrangement—such as the selection pressure to breed more capable children—a lot could be said about the population in a world like this. For instance, the total market for talent would be nearly saturated. Many of the people who are professionals today would not be in such a world because of selection pressures. Most people would be better at evaluating others' skill at the common task—not good necessarily, just better. Given that evaluation of skills and performance of them are correlated yet distinct, not everyone would be suited to determine which of their fellow citizens is better than others.

    Consider: in a given domain, not only are there different specialties (quarterbacks and linebackers; percussion, strings, and wind), there are also different meta-specialties and synergies. A football team, due to the nature of competitive games, needs trainers, managers, coaches, strategists, data analysts, businessmen, and so forth. What makes a team successful in a competitive sense (winning games) and what makes a team successful in a business sense (bringing in as much money as possible) are somewhat distinct skills. Getting the attention of customers and getting them to want to spend money is in part due to the prospect of being excited—close scores, a memorable experience, novelty (being part of something no one else is), camaraderie (being part of something others are)—and not necessarily seeing one team utterly destroy another. A single star player is not enough to produce long-term interest: if no one can ever get the ball to the running back or the defense crumples under an offensive drive, no one is going to be interested in the "product" over time.

    The football metaphor is limiting, so I will set it aside for now. Consider the following, then:

    There is nothing that everyone does well, so we don't know what the limits of performance are. Given that time and attention are limiting factors in most business relationships, we tend to choose products and experiences not on raw quality but rather on some combination of the above factors, and others: exclusivity, inclusivity, identity, memorability, compatibility, reputation, exhaustion.

    When it comes to occupations, there are two main poles at which work accumulates: that which can only be done by many people, and that which need only be done once. The former is represented by the term "labor": cleaning, cooking, building, advising, teaching. The latter is represented (mostly) by the term "creation": design, invention, research, architecture. That isn't to say that this second set of tasks only need be done once, ever; however, designing a particular (e.g.) car allows for the creation of a practically unlimited number of cars, whereas the construction of a single car doesn't allow thousands of people to drive.

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