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.

Ready, aim, hold...

The time to hold and the time to fold...or fire.

Sometimes I know the decision that needs to be made, or the action that needs to be taken, but the timing is not right. I get a sense of it in my stomach.

Holding my nerve can be one of the hardest things to do when my head is assessing all the evidence and telling me one thing, but my intuition and gut another.

As I experience this more I trust it more, so that I do not prematurely act. 

Is it me or them?

I write an email asking a not-quite-yet friend for some assistance. I wait a week after getting no reply, and wondering if I have written something that offended or annoyed them.

I am at a cocktail party, and somebody who I thought I was pretty friendly with doesn't talk to me for much of the night. I wonder if I they have heard something about me that has put them off me.

In cases like this my immediate reaction is to think that I am the problem; I have done something, said something, thought something that has caused them to not want to respond to me.

What usually happens is that they do end up writing back, even if it is after another prompt from me. They do end up talking with me, even it is at another social occasion. It wasn't actually something I had done - it was actually about them, all that was going on in their world, which has drowned out what I was looking for from them.

As a rule of thumb I would say that in 95% of cases if I get a sense that I have wronged somebody simply because they have not got back to me in a timely manner, it is because of all that they have going on - not about my offensive behaviour.

Therefore it is much more productive to make this assumption, and be right 95% of the time, then the opposite, and be stressed and wrong 95% of the time.

And as for the the 5% when it is me...well, I'm pretty sure I will find out soon enough.

When the long awaited thing arrives

When I am waiting for something, it seems so far away and out of reach. When it arrives it seems like it was inevitable.  

What is more surprising is that I don't feel very different. I am not changed by it. I am the same person. 

I understand then that my work is not to make things arrive. Rather it is to prepare myself so that when they do arrive I can be my best to make the most of it and its consequences.