Open Thread: How much strategic thinking have you done recently?

post by Emile · 2013-08-28T11:48:25.571Z · score: 7 (8 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 29 comments

diegocaleiro wrote:

I'm tired of people never, ever, ever, EVER stopping 2 hours to 1) Think of what their goals are 2)Checking if their current path leads to desired goals 3)Correcting course and 4)Creating a system to verify, in the future, whether goals are being achieved. I'm really tired of that. Really.

... so we may want to remind and encourage each other to do so, and exchange tips!

See also: Humans are not automatically strategic, levels of action.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2013-08-28T22:32:23.744Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. No, but it's only because I think figuring out what my goals are requires solving normative ethics which seems too hard a problem to tackle directly.
  2. So my interim long-term goal is to eventually figure out what my actual goals are and achieve them (if it's not a null set) and since that seems most likely to happen if we get a positive Singularity, my medium-term goal is to push the future in that direction.
  3. My current big problem is that among people who share my medium-term goal of pushing for a positive Singularity, many don't seem to share my ideas of how best to do it. (Eliezer wants to work on FAI, Holden and Christiano want to generally increase prosperity and empower people, and both of these things seem counterproductive to me.) My current way of trying to solve this problem is to write LW posts to explain my arguments in the hope of resolving the disagreements.
  4. Lack of feedback is a big problem for me and I worry a lot about whether I'm being productive or counterproductive towards my goals. Unfortunately I can't think of any systems that I could create to help with this. (ETA: I did write this post in the hope that LWers can help spot when I'm going off track and help correct my course, but so far nobody has taken up the offer.)
comment by new_throwaway · 2013-08-28T16:24:59.254Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My problem is that I have basically run out of life goals. My goals used to be:

  1. Get rich
  2. Get married
  3. Have children + be a good father

I did 2 a number of years ago. 3 is ongoing though I've made it past the hump of actually having 1 child, and so far consensus is that I am being a good father. I'm not rich yet but progress on that is also steady and I've made it past the major hurdles such that if I continue on the path I am on I'll be rich in a few years. I've already been "high income" for awhile and that is much like being rich except a bit more stressful.

Unless life throws me a curve ball I don't have much uncertainty about achieving my major goals. I just have to keep doing what I am doing. It's unbearably boring! So now my new goal is to figure out how to actually get excited about something again without interfering with the ongoing achievement of my previous goals. So far I haven't made much progress. Any thoughts?

comment by gwern · 2013-08-28T20:55:30.715Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So now my new goal is to figure out how to actually get excited about something again without interfering with the ongoing achievement of my previous goals. So far I haven't made much progress. Any thoughts?

I would point out to people that it is utterly futile to simply suggest new goals. If OP doesn't feel already the desire to pursue them, then the desire will not appear out of nowhere simply because you uttered a few words, even if they are well-chosen reasonable words. ("Reason is, & ought only to be the slave of the passions, & can never pretend to any other office than to serve & obey them.")

What OP needs is mechanisms for generating the desire to pursue some good goal.

Off the top of my head, both travel and psychedelics seem to have nontrivial rates of inducing new goals/dreams.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-08-29T07:57:29.260Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


This is what I see with people who are uninspired - they think they're going to fix that problem by doing a careful search of what might inspire them. Then, once they find it, they'll take lots of action.

Nope. That's backwards.


I decide to try a really good crack at painting... and... well, it wasn't for me.


Well, I learned that to be a decent painter, you need to know how to draw, and I just don't like drawing very much.

Ah, don't get me wrong, I like and respect people who can draw a lot. I just don't really get any pleasure or inspiration out of working with pencils, and the fine level of detail of it.

But both of these outcomes only emerged from action - I had this vague thought that maybe I want to be a painter, but I was never really excited about it until I did it, and then I saw a couple sparks of inspiration and passion starting to grow. But when I investigated what the training would be like and started learning how to draw, it didn't really resonate with me. There's lots of things I enjoy and think are worth pursuing, but the time I'd have to put in to learn how to draw and paint, I didn't think would be worth putting in.

And I think that's how you discover passions. Take a crack at it once and see if you like it at all. Then start studying and improving your craft, and see if you like that too.

Writing did resonate with me with me when I started, but more importantly, I also enjoyed the process of improving my craft and skill at writing.

In business and life-in-general, I love taking a really complex problem, defining it, figuring out what the real objectives are, brainstorming through a number of paths that could get there, spec'ing out a campaign, implementing the campaign, and reviewing the results. I like taking the hazy and undefined, and turning it into the experimental, and turning the experimental into the concrete.

Well, that's pretty much the definition of a strategist...

But what little kid says, "When I grow up, I want to take hazy problems, define the problem and desired outcomes, experiment to see if a proposed solution gets the desired outcome, and implement it" - well, nobody thinks like that. I only discovered it by applying myself, working on different stuff. I love when I read a book on something like knightly orders in the 1100's, and it gives me an idea for something a business can do in 2011 to grow.

But who would've guessed they'd be passionate about that sort of thing without diving in? Nobody.

So that's the first thing I think about passion - it doesn't come from sitting and thinking about it, it comes from diving in and getting dirty.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-29T21:18:33.601Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What OP needs is mechanisms for generating the desire to pursue some good goal. Off the top of my head, both travel and psychedelics seem to have nontrivial rates of inducing new goals/dreams.

That's all true, but I think that the problem for the OP is generating goals/dreams that fit inside the constraints of his life. Once you have your own family and kids the range of (non-drastic) things that you can do narrows considerably. Things like going off to live on a Polynesian island for a while, or, say, deciding to become a starving artist and create ART in capital letters -- all these become... problematic.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-08-29T21:49:52.291Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(The constraints of one's life shouldn't get there by mere convention, but only appear as cost of pursuing goals/dreams deemed important. You don't have to get burdened with supporting a family or professional responsibilities as you get older, if you are primarily interested in pursuing different goals that would benefit from having more time and less constraints. In particular, if your goals change, it should be possible to get rid of some of the costs required by the old goals.)

comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-30T14:37:34.964Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Generally speaking, yes, but note that in the specific case of the OP he has the still-active goal of being a good father.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-08-28T20:07:09.204Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pinky: "Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?" The Brain: "The same thing we do every night, Pinky—try to take over the world!"

"World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimisation."

Think bigger.

Good husband, good father are as open ended as the goods possible to your wife and children in terms of health, welfare, and happiness.

A lot of people here are planning on vastly extended lifespans. That's quite a good. Whether or not you buy into that, few people do more than 1% of what can be done in terms of medical monitoring and evaluation.

You're a man of means, expecting to be of greater means. Put some of that coin to good use.

Genomic scans for everybody! Find some service that puts that into good use in evaluating metabolic pathway efficiency. Enzyme efficiency is one area that genomic scans are already useful for, IMO, particularly for drug metabolism.

Personalized supplement regimens, based on the genomic data. Monthly blood draws. Neuromuscular evaluations. Weekly massages for you and the wife. Hyperbaric oxygen. Infrared saunas.

Hook yourself up with some longevity center, and let them figure it out. Talk to that Med research service here.

There's so much that can be done, and so little of it that does get done.

comment by John_Spickes · 2013-08-28T18:15:20.944Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

May I suggest "zooming in" on one or more of your goals?

Take, for example, being a good father. There's quite a lot of uncertainty in the broader community about exactly what that entails. One could spend a lot of time just figuring out what "be a good father" means. You may decide, as I have for myself, that being a good father means embarking on significant self-improvement efforts.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2013-08-30T21:55:51.106Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What abut minimizing the probability of those children, and everyone else's children, dyeing horribly, by working to reduce existential risk? What about making sure you can keep on being a father, and being rich, and so on by working towards immortality?

In general, if you're satisfied with what you have, work towards not losing it rather than getting more things.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2013-08-28T22:10:13.928Z · score: 1 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

LW ought to be looking at you as if you were a strange alien lifeform. What, you're not a university student not yet out in The Economy, or an underachiever whose life was derailed by sci-fi dreams, or working for an "existential risk" or "effective altruism" charity? Tell us more about this strange world of "family and a good job" that you inhabit!

comment by gjm · 2013-09-11T01:34:14.714Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You might consider the possibility that he is unusual not in being a person with a fairly ordinary life, a family, and a good job, but in talking about it here on LW.

(Data point: I have a fairly ordinary life, a family, and a good job. I don't talk about them much on LW; why should I?)

comment by Brillyant · 2013-08-28T19:56:43.193Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How about a Bucket List?

comment by Metus · 2013-08-28T13:19:00.761Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, No, Yes, No.

And the more I think about it the more confused I am.

Edit: To be more verbose, I think a lot about what my life goals are. Certainly humans had this question for thousands of years when they lived in affluence, but not when more immediate needs were to be filled like food or security. The most common thread seems to be to fulfil the will of a higher being or some measure of personal happiness. I find the latter more attractive, though both options just push the question further: What is the will of this being and what makes me happy? I do not have a good answer, as basic exercise, socializing and such do provide pleasure but not much long-term happiness to me. It seems that my beliefs are somehow miscalibrated in such a way that I am not able to derive long-term happiness from living in this admittedly amazing world full of wonderful people, amazing technology and unreal order. For this I am looking into CBT and Stoicism. Which again just pushes the question a bit farther. What should I strive for? With enough effort I am surely able to derive joy from anything without putting in much further work. Then again, this does not have to be a bad thing.

As I said, the more I think about it, the more confused I am. Stoicism seems to be the closest thing to an answer, though not close to something like a scientifically supported answer.

comment by Cthulhoo · 2013-08-28T15:24:16.660Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I often find that the hardest part is finding the answer to:

Do you know what your long-term and medium-term goals are?

I honestly have no idea. I can easily focus on short term goals, when I am rather confident that Me(now) will be very similar to Me(goal reached). Things get harder and blurrier when I have to take into account my most likely self modification. Concrete example. Since I was 10, I've always wanted to be a physicist. Roughly near the end of my Ph.D. I started to evolve into someone who doesn't want to be a phisicist. I tried a short post-doc abroad and looked for a different job. If I had known in advance I could have spared me at least a couple unpleasant months abroad and a couple (make it 3) of years of underpaid work. But I didn't know. Now I find myself wanting to make a lot more money, but I keep wondering what will happen if this desire faded away abruptly and I finded myself trapped in an awful job.

comment by patrickmclaren · 2013-08-29T15:34:28.930Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just did this last night, actually. I've been noticing that my major goals, i.e. both professional and research goals have been playing host to a number of other side projects, like: learn this new language, write this cool script, start learning the latest trendy math field.

What I ended up doing is allocating 6 hours to my side projects on the weekends, promising to myself that I will use time-tracking, and once 6 hours is filled, spread over whichever projects, then I will not spend any more time on them.

Regarding annoyances, I simply wrote down everything that was annoying me, came up with solutions, wrote the solutions (and deadlines) in my planner, and then I was able to cross them off the list. Once I really got going, my days seemed to become a lot simpler, just because I could see has been bothering and distracting me.

Long term goals were still good. I had effectively been suffering feature creep for a while, and for now I can work much more efficiently.

comment by peter_hurford · 2013-08-28T22:54:13.539Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by niceguyanon · 2013-08-29T04:06:38.174Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How come I don't see this post on discussion or main?

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-08-29T04:11:40.159Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's main but unpromoted. Try this to see everything that's recent.

comment by peter_hurford · 2013-08-29T12:08:21.793Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder how many people see everything in discussion and everything in promoted main, but not the "main but unpromoted" essays.

comment by somervta · 2013-08-29T12:50:06.894Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I used to. Now I have a laggy RSS for when I forget to check the unpromoted.

comment by lukeprog · 2013-08-28T20:18:44.806Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Related, from LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner: The Importance of Scheduling Nothing.

comment by Baughn · 2013-09-01T15:47:48.483Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right now?

Well, let's see. My basic needs are met (and then some), I have long-term goals for work (on track) and medium-term goals for personal development (getting there)...

My long-term personal goals are fundamentally impossible without intelligence enhancement. This, to be honest, makes the question a little hard to answer.

The thing is, I haven't thought about this as formally as you're suggesting I should; I've barely thought about it at all. Doing what I usually do seems to automatically get me moving in the direction I want.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-08-28T15:36:40.416Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're facing big problems or annoyances, have you thought of ways of solving them?

That depends on what level of thinking you mean. Nearly everyone thinks in some ways about solving some big problems that he has.

comment by wwa · 2013-08-28T14:39:21.828Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • yes. I tend to reevaluate goals frequently (at least weekly)

  • yes to the extent of future uncertainty. I am free to change my goals at any point, after all.

  • yes... (obviously?) I'm having a hard time understanding how anyone could not do that.

  • if you would call it "a system", I try to restate nearest action that brings me closer to achieving my goal every day. More often than not the action is "wait" (until you acquire enough money/power/influence to make something happen, until you have enough information to make a decision, etc...)

comment by Emile · 2013-08-28T14:46:38.960Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(in reply to "If you're facing big problems or annoyances, have you thought of ways of solving them?")

yes... (obviously?) I'm having a hard time understanding how anyone could not do that.

Well, a pretty frequent alternative is complaining a lot and looking for sympathy. Another is blaming someone else.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-08-28T15:13:50.047Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, a pretty frequent alternative is complaining a lot and looking for sympathy. Another is blaming someone else.

I think if you would ask those people they would also say yes, that they are thinking about ways of solving their problems.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-08-28T23:41:14.031Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, a pretty frequent alternative is complaining a lot and looking for sympathy. Another is blaming someone else.

I think if you would ask those people they would also say yes, that they are thinking about ways of solving their problems.

I do all three! Except I'm falling behind on the "look for ways to solve problems" part, for reasons that usually turn into horrible emotastic essays on livejournal that are statistically indistinguishable from normal whining. So I expect the same reaction that normal whining gets--which is to say, nothing useful.

I think I should make "get out of this situation and get into such a state that you aren't statistically likely to die from oversleeping/depression/lack of exercise/lack of social activity in the next ten years" a very immediate goal, but to the best I can figure, all I can really do is wait and hope my family will actually cooperate and get me into my own place this fall (they've been insisting this would happen pretty much every three months since spring 2012). The trouble is that most of my options feel very reactive rather than proactive, which is no way to improve anything.

comment by JacekLach · 2013-08-28T18:53:54.989Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think if you would ask those people they would also say yes, that they are thinking about ways of solving their problems.

Not necessarily. They might say it's too big to solve, or "it's not really a big deal" when it obviously is, or that it's not their responsibility to solve, or any of multum other excuses that validate not changing.