Category Archives: Learning

Fail Spectacularly

Source: Scott Young website, Jul 2017

… only having successes probably means you’re being insufficiently bold in your plans and ideas. If everything you do is a success, then you’re playing it too safe.

 you should fail more spectacularly. Fail when you really did try your hardest and there was no way for you to have done better. Fail with the same zest and enthusiasm as when you succeed.

confidence plays an incredibly important role both in how you select your goals to begin with and how you carry them out once you’ve started. If you have more confidence, you consider a broader range of ambitions. Once you start, you work more earnestly and push through obstacles instead of viewing them as signs that your endeavor is doomed to failure.

But all of this raises a question—if you don’t have confidence, how do you get it? You can’t simply will yourself to have more confidence, so even if being more confident could allow you to set more ambitious targets and achieve them, what good does that advice bring?

My feeling is that you bootstrap confidence by aiming for failure. When you enthusiastically embark on a project you sincerely doubt you can achieve, then its success (or even failing less than expected) adjusts your confidence upward. Lowered expectations of success allow you to bootstrap confidence until you hit the limits of your abilities as defined by objective circumstances.

with most people, the aversion to failure, combined with the limited personal experience and limited societal expectations for success, mean that we’re too conservative with our expectations for ourselves. Occasionally there are people with unnaturally excess confidence (often without excess ability) and those people tend to accomplish more by virtue of this gap between our real and imagined limits.

Eventually real limits will be reached. But I’d much rather fail at the margins of my ultimate potential than some imagined capacity, designed to protect my ego from failing when I was really trying my best.

Those who aim for spectacular failure will fail more. But they’ll also succeed more, and perhaps more than they originally imagined.

Related Resource: George Dantzig’s Homework, DDColrs, Jul 2010


Ed Boyden: How to Think

Source: MIT Technology Review, Nov 2007

1. Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read, even when you’re reading what you conceive to be introductory stuff. That way, you will always aim towards understanding things at a resolution fine enough for you to be creative.

2. Learn how to learn (rapidly). One of the most important talents for the 21st century is the ability to learn almost anything instantly, so cultivate this talent. Be able to rapidly prototype ideas. Know how your brain works. (I often need a 20-minute power nap after loading a lot into my brain, followed by half a cup of coffee. Knowing how my brain operates enables me to use it well.)

3. Work backward from your goal. Or else you may never get there. If you work forward, you may invent something profound–or you might not. If you work backward, then you have at least directed your efforts at something important to you.

4. Always have a long-term plan. Even if you change it every day. The act of making the plan alone is worth it. And even if you revise it often, you’re guaranteed to be learning something.

5. Make contingency maps. Draw all the things you need to do on a big piece of paper, and find out which things depend on other things. Then, find the things that are not dependent on anything but have the most dependents, and finish them first.

6. Collaborate.

7. Make your mistakes quickly. You may mess things up on the first try, but do it fast, and then move on. Document what led to the error so that you learn what to recognize, and then move on. Get the mistakes out of the way. As Shakespeare put it, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

8. As you develop skills, write up best-practices protocols. That way, when you return to something you’ve done, you can make it routine. Instinctualize conscious control.

9. Document everything obsessively. If you don’t record it, it may never have an impact on the world. Much of creativity is learning how to see things properly. Most profound scientific discoveries are surprises. But if you don’t document and digest every observation and learn to trust your eyes, then you will not know when you have seen a surprise.

10. Keep it simple. If it looks like something hard to engineer, it probably is. If you can spend two days thinking of ways to make it 10 times simpler, do it. It will work better, be more reliable, and have a bigger impact on the world. And learn, if only to know what has failed before. Remember the old saying, “Six months in the lab can save an afternoon in the library.”

Logarithmic Time Planning

Two practical notes. The first is in the arena of time management. I really like what I call logarithmic time planning, in which events that are close at hand are scheduled with finer resolution than events that are far off. For example, things that happen tomorrow should be scheduled down to the minute, things that happen next week should be scheduled down to the hour, and things that happen next year should be scheduled down to the day. Why do all calendar programs force you to pick the exact minute something happens when you are trying to schedule it a year out? I just use a word processor to schedule all my events, tasks, and commitments, with resolution fading away the farther I look into the future. (It would be nice, though, to have a software tool that would gently help you make the schedule higher-resolution as time passes…)

Conversation Summaries

The second practical note: I find it really useful to write and draw while talking with someone, composing conversation summaries on pieces of paper or pages of notepads. I often use plenty of color annotation to highlight salient points. At the end of the conversation, I digitally photograph the piece of paper so that I capture the entire flow of the conversation and the thoughts that emerged. The person I’ve conversed with usually gets to keep the original piece of paper, and the digital photograph is uploaded to my computer for keyword tagging and archiving. This way I can call up all the images, sketches, ideas, references, and action items from a brief note that I took during a five-minute meeting at a coffee shop years ago–at a touch, on my laptop. With 10-megapixel cameras costing just over $100, you can easily capture a dozen full pages in a single shot, in just a second.

Map of Science – Access to Scientific Papers

Source: Singularity Weblog, Feb 2016

Perhaps 5% of Published Scientific Papers are Accessed …

… the mind’s building blocks for constructing complex thoughts … are not word-based.

Source: The Next Big Future, Jun 2017

This latest research led by CMU’s Marcel Just builds on the pioneering use of machine learning algorithms with brain imaging technology to “mind read.” The findings indicate that the mind’s building blocks for constructing complex thoughts are formed by the brain’s various sub-systems and are not word-based. Published in Human Brain Mapping and funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the study offers new evidence that the neural dimensions of concept representation are universal across people and languages.

“One of the big advances of the human brain was the ability to combine individual concepts into complex thoughts, to think not just of ‘bananas,’ but ‘I like to eat bananas in evening with my friends,’” said Just, the D.O. Hebb University Professor of Psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “We have finally developed a way to see thoughts of that complexity in the fMRI signal. The discovery of this correspondence between thoughts and brain activation patterns tells us what the thoughts are built of.”

He added, “A next step might be to decode the general type of topic a person is thinking about, such as geology or skateboarding. We are on the way to making a map of all the types of knowledge in the brain.”

Related Resource: Alfinnextlevel, Jun 2017

The Carnegie Mellon University research is not at all revolutionary or particularly advanced — and it rests upon a number of tenuous assumptions. Nevertheless, it is suggestive. Rather than proving or disproving any particular hypothesis, this type of research is useful for suggesting newer iterations of studies and techniques.

The suggestion that the mind’s building blocks for complex thoughts are not word-based is insightful, but also quite obvious. It may take many years and decades, however, for mainstream society to catch up with that basic and seminal insight — if it ever does.


Enliven your Presentation

Source: Fast Company, Jun 2017


If you’re worried your presentation is going to be boring because it’s heavy on numbers, try using imagery to describe the data. Numbers can become dull if you don’t give enough context about what they all mean and amount to. Unless you make the data concrete, your audience will start to zone out.


The surest way to wreck an already boring presentation is to just be the messenger, delivering data or giving an update. In reality, you’re always selling. As the CEO of a Fortune 500 company told me, “Every time you present, you are selling. You’re either selling your idea today or planting the seed for selling your idea in the future.”

And to sell successfully, you need to position yourself as your audience’s trusted advisor. As Mitch Little, VP of sales for Microchip Technology, describes in his book Shiftability, that means getting past “features” to talk about “benefits”—matching your ideas to your listeners’ needs. They’ll trust you when they see you as a partner whose opinion they value—who helps them see things they might’ve missed.


can also put information in context through comparison. For example, if I tell you that Poland exported $1.6 billion of chocolate last year, that’s not necessarily an interesting data point. But if I tell you that it produced twice the amount of chocolate that Switzerland did, that might surprise you. So if you’re having trouble making your facts and figures sound interesting, look for comparisons.


Finally, if you’re struggling to spice up a dull presentation, tell your audience something unfamiliar. Share a compelling conversation you had or some insider information that few people know about yet. That can create an “aha” moment for your audience to come away with.

Situational Awareness – Think Jason Bourne

Source: The Art of Manliness, Feb 2015

Was the Self-Esteem Movement a Hoax?

Source: The Guardian, Jun 2017

At 7.30pm on 8 September 1988, Vasco met the scientists at El Rancho Inn in Millbrae, just outside San Francisco, to hear the results. Everything hinged on Dr Neil Smelser, an emeritus professor of sociology who had coordinated the work, leading a team who reviewed all the existing research on self-esteem. And the news was good: four months later, in January, the task force issued a newsletter: “In the words of Smelser, ‘The correlational findings are very positive and compelling.’

Four months after the launch of Toward A State Of Esteem, the papers were reporting that self-esteem was “sweeping through California’s public schools”, with 86% of the state’s elementary school districts and 83% of high school districts implementing self-esteem programmes. In Sacramento, students began meeting twice a week to decide how to discipline other students; in Simi Valley, kids were taught, “It doesn’t matter what you do, but who you are.”

The credibility of Vasco’s task force turned largely on a single fact: that, in 1988, the esteemed professors of the University of California had analysed the data and confirmed his hunch. The only problem was, they hadn’t. When I tracked down one renegade task force member, he described what happened as “a fucking lie”. And Vasco was behind it.

This was the collected work of the University of California professors. He flicked through its pages, settling eventually on Smelser’s summary of the findings. “The news most consistently reported,” he read out loud, “is that the association between self-esteem and its expected consequences are mixed, insignificant or absent.

It was hard to believe that Vasco’s task force had been so rash as simply to invent the quote, the one that stated the findings were “positive and compelling”. What had really happened at that meeting in September 1988? I found the answer on an old audio cassette in the California state archives.

The sound was hissy and faint. What I heard, though, was clear enough. It was a recording of Smelser’s presentation to Vasco’s task force at that meeting in El Rancho Inn, and it was nowhere near as upbeat as the task force had claimed. I listened as he announced the professors’ work to be complete but worryingly mixed.

He talked through a few areas, such as academic achievement, and said: “These correlational findings are really pretty positive, pretty compelling.” This, then, was the quote the task force used. They’d sexed it up a little for the public. But they had completely omitted what he said next: “In other areas, the correlations don’t seem to be so great, and we’re not quite sure why. And we’re not sure, when we have correlations, what the causes might be.”