Go Try Things

post by atucker · 2011-02-25T06:23:03.965Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 28 comments

So this isn't quite done, and its late here so I don't quite trust my judgements about writing at this hour. I've never done a top-level post before, so I wanted to get some feedback first.


Failure isn’t that Bad

You’ve probably read about how to properly turn information into beliefs, and how to squeeze every last bit from your data. What seems not to have received as much attention is the importance of just going and getting data.

For precise and well-defined fields and problems, clear thinking and reasoning will get you really far. Mathematics departments don’t use that much equipment, and they’ve been going fine for hundreds of years.

For more mundane day-to-day concerns, getting data is probably more important than being rational. Where Rationality helps you get an accurate model of the world based on the data, Data gets you well, data. And practice. Your human brain can’t rederive social rules in a vacuum, no matter how smart you are, so you have to go out and get information about it. But rationality with data is far better than either alone.

Sometimes you have to get your data by actually trying. Some things are just hard to explain in words and video. Your brain has all of this built in hardware for detecting and interpreting emotions and body language, but people are comparatively terrible at talking about it. This makes learning about different social or mood-variant things online difficult. Motions are also hard to teach online. I can kind of visualize how to do a front handspring, but I really can’t transmit what it feels like to someone else without just asking them to try it. Note: I’m not saying that asking others is useless, but I am saying that its mostly only effective as a complement to actually trying.

Practice is important. As any akrasiatic or novice would know, knowledge in a field or domain doesn’t translate directly to success in it. Like muscle memory, you need practice in order to get your brain to incorporate what you know to the point that you can use it automatically. Consciously thinking about what you’re doing while you’re doing it tends to cause lag and awkwardness, and in some fields (like conversation or physical activities) is a pretty large detriment.

I had/have the problem of hesitating on acting until I’m sure that whatever I’m considering attempting is going to be successful. I’m afraid of it not working, and am willing to do anything short of doing it in order to ensure success.

This kind of hesitation though, is pretty useless. In many cases failure to act is about the same as your action failing. It avoids doing things that you regret, but it also avoids doing things in general. And if your hesitation doesn’t result in a well thought-out plan to guarantee success in the future, then not only do you fail it that one time you hesitate, you’re not going to make progress on succeeding in the future.

Sometimes failure is actually a problem (like you’ll break something if you try extreme parkour tricks and fail), but I feel like in most instances I grossly overestimate how bad failing is. To combat this I do a few things:

So long story short, try things out. Improvement is hard unless you do, and failure seriously isn’t that bad.



Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Dorikka · 2011-02-25T17:12:17.061Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This post reads as much too anecdotal to be a top-level post. Here's how I think that it could be improved:

I'm currently reading your post as (treating risk-prone/risk-averse as a continuum) "unless you see yourself to be considerably risk-prone already, you should adjust towards being more risk-prone." You haven't really answered the question "which areas are humans (in general) risk-averse, and why is this risk-aversion unjustified by an accounting of terminal utility generated/lost by success/failure?", and I think that having that data would be very useful.

Replies from: SRStarin
comment by SRStarin · 2011-02-25T19:45:37.653Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll second including discussion of different areas in which humans are more and less risk-averse.

I work in a heavily risk-averse field, and I find that hesitation due to fear of failure has become ingrained in me. I used to be much more spontaneous. I'm still willing to sound like an idiot, which is good, but it's a lot harder for me to propose actions that could result in loss or damage to expensive public property, even if I really think the probability is heavily in favor of learning without loss or damage.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2011-02-25T20:29:03.124Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think there's makings of a top-level post here, but it needs more examples from your own or others' lives. Right now it's abstract and hard to visualize; I find myself nodding my head and wanting to skip to the next paragraph. A more concrete version would make me freshly notice areas of my life in which I'm not trying things, and would make me go "hey, wait a minute, maybe I should experiment with doing particular things differently, when I go to dinner tonight with my fiance's relatives" (or whatever).

A valuable main point, though, and one that's largely been missing on LW; I hope you can turn it into something that indeed gets us to try things more.

comment by atucker · 2011-02-25T06:27:38.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Someone suggested splitting this up into two articles, one for the "go get data" and the other for the "failure is't that bad". The split would be between the paragraph about practice and hesitation.

Replies from: Davorak, Armok_GoB
comment by Davorak · 2011-02-25T09:50:17.759Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Failing is an integral part of data taking. Undue avoidance of failure is avoidance of data taking.

In my observations I have seen many people who unduly avoid failure and as a result never get the data they need to help ensure success of their goals. So I think that "go get data" and "failure isn't bad" are often tied to together strongly. So I encourage you to provide your insight in to the bond between this two topics and how to over its negative aspects.

Replies from: atucker
comment by atucker · 2011-02-25T11:29:48.331Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the comment.

Just to make sure I understand you correctly, are you suggesting not to split the article?

Replies from: Davorak
comment by Davorak · 2011-02-25T18:53:08.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pretty much, sorry for not being more straightforward.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-02-25T10:58:55.586Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yea. Taking into account that they ARE linked, and that there's probably more like this to be written, maybe a mini sequence would be a good idea.

Replies from: atucker, atucker
comment by atucker · 2011-02-25T21:52:45.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any ideas on a name for the mini sequence?

Replies from: Armok_GoB
comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-02-26T19:34:12.569Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Trial and error? Geting Data? somehting abaut failure or hestiation?

comment by atucker · 2011-02-25T11:29:13.810Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the feedback.

Would it make sense to just do a mini split? Like, just have two sections to the article? I can't really think of a third article, and a 2 article mini-sequence seems weird.

Any suggestions for a third?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-02-25T12:41:21.266Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your third article could be a case study of a time when you went out and tried to collect data. You would narrate how you went about it and explain how the concepts from the previous articles apply to your actions.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2011-02-26T09:34:07.049Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are some common reasons why people don't try things as often as they should? If you could answer that question and then suggest strategies for overcoming those failure modes, I'd want to see this as a top-level post.

Right now, I think most of your article is spent on convincing us that people should try things more often. Me personally, I don't take much convincing on that claim -- it sounds plausible. I'd be interested if you had hard data or even particularly compelling anecdotes to present that could raise my estimate from "plausible" to "very likely," but your arguments are all pretty general/zoomed-out. So basically you are making a claim I already agree with and then supporting it with a weak sort of evidence. That probably wouldn't interest me as a top-level post.

Replies from: atucker
comment by atucker · 2011-02-26T18:54:22.184Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that my personal experience includes all the common reasons for inaction. My main ones are perfectionism, fear of failure, the "I'm too busy" excuse, and unduly priveleging the null action. I could try to cover other ones, but I'd have far less experience effectively dealing with those.

What are some guidelines on how long I should spend on each of those?

Replies from: Mass_Driver
comment by Mass_Driver · 2011-02-26T20:24:50.132Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could try to cover other ones, but I'd have far less experience effectively dealing with those.

Well, that's fine; it's a community blog. You write about what you know, and then invite readers to fill in the gaps! :-) If you can name the other problems but not solve them, great; do so. If you don't trust yourself to even name the other most important problems, let the readers do that.

What are some guidelines on how long I should spend on each of those?

Well, it's sort of a labor of love, right? Nobody's paying you or anything like that. All that you're 'asking' for by posting to the top-level page is the attention of potentially busy people. To merit that attention, write enough that you have something substantive to say, and polish it enough in terms of word choice, formatting, etc. so that your article will be easy to read, but don't feel obliged to be comprehensive or witty.

If you're trying to decide how to allocate time among the various failure modes, I would suggest just going with the flow -- when you run out of things that are relatively easy for you to say about one failure mode, move on to the next. All four of your failure modes sound potentially interesting. Depending on what you mean, you might find that "perfectionism" and "fear of failure" overlap, so you might consider either spending less time on each of those or merging them into one topic about which you say slightly more.

Replies from: atucker
comment by atucker · 2011-02-26T23:40:02.269Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks a lot for the in-depth response, definitely going to try to cover all of this.

What I meant more by the question though, was about how long, in length of article, I should spend on each. Like, are there guidelines on when you should just split a post?

My current gameplan is to just write a giant article that covers the initial point of why you should get personal experience more in-depthly, as well as my 4 failure modes, then see if any decisions with regards to formatting, style, posting, etc. are made more obvious after that.

Replies from: Mass_Driver
comment by Mass_Driver · 2011-02-27T00:37:57.617Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're welcome!

comment by PlaidX · 2011-02-25T19:49:38.247Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would like this to be true, but in my personal experience, it is not. Whenever I go try things, the result is the same. Waste of time, waste of time, waste of time and bus fare.

Replies from: AnnaSalamon
comment by AnnaSalamon · 2011-02-25T20:21:34.656Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you give examples, PlaidX?

Replies from: PlaidX
comment by PlaidX · 2011-02-25T23:29:01.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Classes, lectures, trying new food, going on dates... it's not that these things are ever huge letdowns, I'm just not glad I did them.

One of my biggest problems is making new friends. I try sometimes, despite my better judgment, but the amount of time and effort necessary to forge a friendship worth having, or perhaps to reformat the person in question into someone worth having for a friend, seems astronomical. It feels like I only managed to make the friends I have because when I started I had no friends and it was the only option, the way kids are forced by the world to learn a language.

Replies from: JGWeissman, atucker
comment by JGWeissman · 2011-02-26T04:47:03.177Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you try any of these things, is there something that you hope to accomplish, but don't? Is there some outcome you can imagine that would be make you glad you did it?

Replies from: PlaidX
comment by PlaidX · 2011-02-26T15:21:30.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure. Learning things I couldn't learn on wikipedia, finding something good to eat, making a meaningful connection with people, enjoying myself, etc.

It's not some existential angst, I'm just hard to please.

comment by atucker · 2011-02-26T08:31:35.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Changing other people is incredibly difficult to do.

Have you tried just casting a wider net, so to speak?

Replies from: PlaidX
comment by PlaidX · 2011-02-26T15:18:51.640Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Meaning what?

Replies from: atucker
comment by atucker · 2011-02-26T18:40:13.364Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Going to or doing things with a bunch of people (hopefully related to your interests) o improve the chances of meeting someone you'd like.

Replies from: PlaidX
comment by PlaidX · 2011-02-27T09:39:10.893Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately, none of my interests seem to involve group activities.

I have difficulty meeting people I like even on the internet, where there's zillions of them and they can be easily sorted through.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-02-25T13:34:42.715Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you tried these ideas in your own life? How did it work out?

comment by rohern · 2011-02-26T06:49:31.096Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You might read Nicholas Taleb's book The Black Swan for more ideas on this topic, as he agrees with you on your main point. He argues, I think strongly, that the best way to go about discovering new ideas and methods is to obsessively tinker with things, and thus to expose oneself to the lucky accident, which is generally the real reason for insight or original invention.