What I learnt: Algorithms for Life - Part 1 - Look and Leap

37%. That is the optimal amount of time/options to spend getting a feel for the quality of potential options before making the leap and choosing one of them.

It is an area of maths called 'Optimal Stopping Theory'. A well-known illustration of this problem is the secretary problem (probably not the illustration we would use if making this up today), where an employer has a list of candidates to choose from, whom they interview one at a time in random order.

The rules of the illustration are that as soon as you say no to a candidate, you cannot go back and interview them. The question becomes, how can I give myself the best chance of choosing the best candidate?

To give yourself the best chance, interview 37% of the candidates and say no to all of them. This is the looking phase and is about understanding the quality of candidates. Then once you are through this stage you are into the leap stage, and you select the first candidate that is better than any of the candidates you interviewed during the look stage.

If you follow this strategy, the good news is that in 37% of cases you will select the best candidate. The bad news is that in 37% of cases the best candidate will have been interviewed during the look phase. When this happens you will have to interview all the candidates and be forced to select the final candidate regardless of their ability.

In the other 26% of cases, you will not find the best candidate, but you will uncover a candidate that is better than anyone in the looking pool.

There are derivatives of this theory that take into account different elements, like if there is a 50% chance that a once rejected candidate will say yes. Or if you have an idea of the upper and lower bounds or some idea of the quality of a candidate.

I have been thinking about how this applies to my everyday life. Finding a partner. Finding a house. Finding a car park. Deciding upon a new work opportunity.

My general rule is going to be to set aside a period of time where I am purely looking. During this phase I do not say a definitive yes to anything. This is about me understand what is likely to work well for me, or not work well for me. I will come up with a criteria based on what is available.

Once this time is up, then I will pick the next candidate that matches this criteria.

The time period I will use will be determined by the maximum time I am prepared to wait for the next opportunity. For example, I want to be living in my perfect house in 5 years time. I want to be work on the next big work opportunity in 2019.

Not sure how this will go in reality, but I'm going to give it a go. In the short time I have been thinking this way, it has already allowed me to remain detached from the first few opportunities that come my way. Rather than thinking that I am going to miss the best opportunity, I see it as a way to grow in my understanding before using this understanding down the track to make a good decision.

Luxuries spawn obligations

One of history's few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.  -- Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

I am loving every page of Sapiens, and this is one quote among many that ring true.

It challenges me to live with less, because I will actually have more freedom and less obligations the less I am able to live with.

Harari talks about our foraging ancestors, and how they would work for about four hours per day and then spend the rest of the time with their tribe. That feels about right to me. I want to work for four hours a day, and then spend the rest of the time with those I love most, or reading a book, or taking care of myself.

While this will mean I have less luxury items in my life, it will bring me closer to who I naturally am and the life I want to live.

I think I am falling in love

I am reading two amazing books at the moment. Sapiens and Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs 

As I read them something is happening inside me that I don't quite understand. It feels important, like I am about to comprehend something brand new. 

This new thing seems to be about understanding at a deeper level the context within which I live. The context of my planet in space; of my species in the evolution of life; of my context in the grand scheme of time.  

And what seems to be flowing from this understanding is a new sense of purpose, and of love for the life I have, the life that is all around me, and the universe that holds it all in place. 

I have wondered recently if I truely love; if I can love again. Somehow through reading books of science I am becoming more spiritual, more loving.  

Sharing the amazing idea you have

I have this idea about writing a book. I think I can do it. It would be about using the crisis moments in life as platforms for dramatic personal growth and change. Specifically it would be about sharing my story of relationship breakdown and how that has been a moment of rebirth.

I write about this because I notice that when I start talking about things, I am more likely to start doing them. I find the opposite is true when it comes to conventional wisdom about ideas. If you choose to protect your idea because you think others my steal it, then it is less likely to become an actual think. Talking with people about it, especially people you trust and who will encourage you, will give your idea life and help it become a reality.

So there it is. A book. The first time I have told anybody. Let's see how long it takes to become a reality.

All of me

I was at a book launch last night for Mykel Dixon's Do 50somthing.

Myke promised that it would be more than a book launch, and it was. I don't quite know how to describe it - it was part cocktail party, part open mic, and part a poking at our collective creative calling.

One of the things he said last night really rang true - it was that the world needs all of me. And that is true for everyone of us - the world needs each of us to bring all that we have, even those bits we kinda think are awkward and shameful. To show up as we are, expressing and revealing.

I was so challenged by his words that I found myself taking to the stage when he left the mic open for people to say what they wanted. With my heart pounding and with no plan of what I was going to talk about, I found myself in front of 100 people and a couple of spot lights. 

But somehow, being out of my head and connected to the emotion and feeling of what I wanted to share, the words eloquently came out, and a story flowed. I loved being up there. I loved the theatre of it. I loved revealing myself.

I am now challenged to follow-up on what I think I need to do. Myke's book is about doing something, making something every day for 50 days. He wrote his book in 50 days, and through it is encouraging all of us to create and put things out there for the world to revel in.

I think I need to speak. In public. Every day for the next 50 days. In my head this is showing up on street corners and soap boxes, expressing what ever it is inside me that needs to be expressed. I am petrified by this idea. I may just have to do it.

True Wealth

Instead of adding things to our life to improve it, Nassim Nicholas Taleb encourages the readers of his book Antifragile to consider what they can remove. 

He suggests a list of things that true wealth consists of (which I quite like):

  • worry free sleeping
  • clear conscience
  • reciprocal gratitude
  • absence of envy+
  • good appetite
  • muscle strength+
  • physical energy
  • frequent laughs+
  • no meals alone+
  • no gym class
  • some physical labor+
  • good bowel movements
  • no meeting rooms
  • periodic surprises

In thinking about this list he makes that call that achieving true wealth is therefore more about what one takes away from their life, as opposed to what they add to it.

I have started to think what I could remove from my life, like the things I do, the things I have, and the food I eat, in order to improve it. The crosses on the dot points above are where I think I could improve (not that I would admit to the third last point in public!).

Forms of existence and being

I recently discovered Oliver Sacks and am making my way through his memoir On The MoveSacks is a physician and author, and two of his famous books are Awakenings (also a movie and documentary) and The Man who Mistook is Wife for at Hat.

There are two central ideas that I have loved from the book. The first is about his approach to working with patients. He writes that he could never consider the symptoms presented to him by a patient without the context of who they were and how they lived. He would always spend time talking with his patients to understand as much about them as possible, which enable him to provide much better insights into their life and condition than making a quick assessment based on what they told  him in the first 2 minutes.

This idea fits in very nicely with another book I am reading called The Systems View of Life by Fitjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi.

The second central idea is the way he thinks about how his patients experience existence, and not considering things like autism and encephalitis solely as conditions to be one day fixed, but also as alternative ways of being and perceiving with their own positives and negatives.

I love that idea - it makes me think that my 'normal' way of experiencing the world could in fact be impaired in some ways. We know there is much of the light spectrum that humans cannot see; many sounds we cannot hear. What else am I unable to perceive and do that other people, some who are with us now and potentially lifeforms of the future, may be able to perceive and do? How much less than I thought I knew do I actually know?