Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 4 - Smaller things that I've learned 2019-10-11T01:26:40.240Z · score: 19 (7 votes)
Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned 2019-10-11T00:49:10.739Z · score: 27 (10 votes)
Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 2 - Deciding to call it quits 2019-10-09T04:17:25.259Z · score: 40 (10 votes)
Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 1 - My journey 2019-10-09T00:42:05.694Z · score: 43 (14 votes)
Feature Request: Self-imposed Time Restrictions 2019-05-15T22:35:15.883Z · score: 22 (7 votes)
You can be wrong about what you like, and you often are 2018-12-17T23:49:39.935Z · score: 32 (10 votes)
What is abstraction? 2018-12-15T08:36:01.089Z · score: 25 (8 votes)
Trivial inconveniences as an antidote to akrasia 2018-05-18T05:34:55.430Z · score: 49 (16 votes)
Science like a chef 2018-02-08T21:23:45.425Z · score: 74 (24 votes)
Productivity: Working towards a summary of what we know 2017-11-09T22:04:28.389Z · score: 88 (43 votes)
Idea for LessWrong: Video Tutoring 2017-06-23T21:40:50.118Z · score: 13 (13 votes)
Develop skills, or "dive in" and start a startup? 2017-05-26T18:07:34.109Z · score: 1 (2 votes)
How I'd Introduce LessWrong to an Outsider 2017-05-03T04:32:21.396Z · score: 8 (6 votes)
New meet up in Las Vegas! 2017-04-28T23:57:21.098Z · score: 2 (3 votes)
Meetup : Las Vegas Meetup 2017-04-28T00:52:37.705Z · score: 0 (1 votes)
Should we admit it when a person/group is "better" than another person/group? 2016-02-16T09:43:48.330Z · score: 0 (14 votes)
Sports 2015-12-26T19:54:39.204Z · score: 12 (13 votes)
Non-communicable Evidence 2015-11-17T03:46:01.503Z · score: 10 (17 votes)
What is your rationalist backstory? 2015-09-25T01:25:04.036Z · score: 8 (9 votes)
Why Don't Rationalists Win? 2015-09-05T00:57:28.156Z · score: 1 (13 votes)
Test Driven Thinking 2015-07-24T18:38:46.991Z · score: 3 (6 votes)
Is Greed Stupid? 2015-06-23T20:38:34.027Z · score: -6 (18 votes)
Effective altruism and political power 2015-06-17T17:47:11.509Z · score: 4 (6 votes)
Ideas to Improve LessWrong 2015-05-25T22:55:00.818Z · score: 10 (11 votes)
Communicating via writing vs. in person 2015-05-22T04:58:06.373Z · score: 4 (5 votes)
Lessons from each HPMOR chapter in one line [link] 2015-04-09T14:51:53.411Z · score: 11 (12 votes)
How urgent is it to intuitively understand Bayesianism? 2015-04-07T00:43:43.215Z · score: 7 (8 votes)
Learning by Doing 2015-03-24T01:56:43.462Z · score: 4 (7 votes)
Saving for the long term 2015-02-24T03:33:32.183Z · score: 7 (8 votes)
[LINK] Wait But Why - The AI Revolution Part 2 2015-02-04T16:02:08.888Z · score: 17 (18 votes)
Respond to what they probably meant 2015-01-17T23:37:38.135Z · score: 11 (18 votes)
The Superstar Effect 2015-01-03T06:11:19.710Z · score: 10 (19 votes)
Ways to improve LessWrong 2014-09-14T02:25:26.228Z · score: 5 (6 votes)
Is it a good idea to use Soylent once/twice a day? 2014-09-08T00:00:36.118Z · score: 5 (10 votes)
What motivates politicians? 2014-09-05T05:41:01.629Z · score: 3 (8 votes)
Why are people "put off by rationality"? 2014-08-05T18:15:03.905Z · score: 3 (10 votes)
What do rationalists think about the afterlife? 2014-05-13T21:46:48.131Z · score: -17 (27 votes)
A medium for more rational discussion 2014-02-24T17:20:49.248Z · score: 10 (17 votes)
Is love a good idea? 2014-02-22T06:59:16.874Z · score: 3 (31 votes)
Rethinking Education 2014-02-15T05:22:11.067Z · score: 2 (32 votes)
How to illustrate that society is mostly irrational, and how rationality would be beneficial 2014-02-14T06:16:32.499Z · score: -2 (11 votes)
How big of an impact would cleaner political debates have on society? 2014-02-06T00:24:41.862Z · score: 6 (28 votes)
Salary or startup? How do-gooders can gain more from risky careers 2014-02-05T22:54:26.519Z · score: 5 (10 votes)
Why don't more rationalists start startups? 2014-01-20T07:29:08.244Z · score: -3 (32 votes)


Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-14T20:36:09.898Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps. At the time what held me back was not wanting to be spammy, but as we talked about, I think I was being too shy. Next time I'm going to jump at those sorts of opportunities, so thanks for helping me realize that, amongst other things.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-14T17:02:18.979Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Here are the four that actually got some attention:

I was thinking about it some more last night. It feels like I DMed a lot of people, but the number isn't quite in the hundreds, I don't think. Maybe it's just a numbers game and you really actually have to reach out to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. But at least on forums, that could be tough, because you could get flagged/banned for spamming.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-14T07:38:40.279Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That makes sense about them not being too responsive to this particular DM. I predict that I won't get many more responses over the next few weeks though.

I have actually spent a good amount of time DMing people asking for that sort of stuff, and also just posting saying that I'm looking for people to video chat with. It just hasn't really worked for me. That's why I feel like the email list idea is interesting, because I myself have had the problem of not being able to get in touch with users. I do place more weight in your intuition though, because I'm just one data point and you seem to have more experience with startups, so if you feel skeptical then I shift that way a lot and don't expect it to be successful. Although I'm not so skeptical that it doesn't seem worth talking to some founders though.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-13T19:18:31.331Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I definitely agree about talking to founders and prospective early adopters as an MVP. I think it's a great example of what you talk about on your blog, about how and MVP doesn't actually have to be a product.

I myself would definitely have paid for it. Somewhere in the ballpark of a couple hundred dollars. Possibly more if I actually was making money and growing. I spent a lot of time struggling to get in touch with users, at various points, for various reasons, and if the email list solved that problem for me, that'd be hugely valuable.

Again, in theory I should be able to easily get in touch with people by messing around in different poker communities, but that just doesn't seem to actually work for me in practice. I have a great example. I posted about my app on Reddit at various points. Lots of people commented saying nice things. Some even commented to say that they would pay for it when it's on the market, and to let them know. Yesterday I took some time and DMed everyone. I sent out 24 messages, but only got one reply. And that is for people who have already said they love my app.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 4 - Smaller things that I've learned · 2019-10-13T19:04:52.150Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are a lot of times when you have to do actual math in poker. For example, if you bet $50 into a $100 pot, I'd have to risk $50 to win $150, and thus need to win 1/4 of the time to break even. If I have a flush draw, I have to estimate how often I'll win with that flush draw, which there are shortcuts to help you do. But the example I just described is a simple one. What if there is more money left behind, so when I hit my flush I can expect to win the $150 in the pot, plus some more? And how do we incorporate the possibility of you having a higher flush draw and me losing a lot to you when we both hit the flush?

You can get by without doing any actual math, and instead just winging it, but actual math does help in these situations.

Anyway, the bigger point is that the same thing probably applies to expected value: you can get by without it. But to me, that doesn't mean you should try to get by without it. It's a very fundamental concept, and if you're going to make a living with poker, why wouldn't you take a little time to learn them?

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T22:04:43.552Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Re the "early adopters email list" idea:

My thinking is that by signing up as an early adopter, it wouldn't be industry specific, you'd just be saying that you're interested in being contacted about new products and stuff.

Yeah, I myself am an example of someone who would sign up as a founder on this platform. With my poker app, and with future projects. With the poker app, I found that the poker subreddit, other poker forums, in person networking, and cold emails didn't amount to enough leads.

I know that sounds implausible. Maybe it's an uncommon experience. I think the success of this platform idea we're talking about depends a good amount on the answer to that question, because if founders are currently doing fine with customer outreach, then it wouldn't really be solving a problem for them. But my impression is that a) many founders struggle to get in touch with these sorts of early adopters, and b) even if they are successfully getting in touch with some, they'd still want more. Of course, this is a hypothesis that could be validated without actually building anything, eg. by talking to founders.

Your original Value Prop Story should probably already about the kind of person you have access to in your life, depending on what field you're working on, so I'm skeptical that what founders really need is an email list of early adopters.

That's understandable. I don't feel particularly confident in the idea.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 4 - Smaller things that I've learned · 2019-10-12T21:50:42.977Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
This is really a blessing in disguise, because words like "app" and "software" sound like potential users would have to download and install something and potentially fumble around with settings/permissions before they can get a first glimpse, and also having to delete/uninstall afterwards.

That's true. Good point.

I think ghosting is so ubiquitous in every facet of life that at this point, we'd all be better off to just accept it as a neutral fact.

My perspective here is that even if it is ubiquitous, that doesn't make it ok. I don't think it's ok to treat people like that, and thus, I think that ghosting should be frowned upon. (There could of course be an innocent explanation for the ghosting, in which case I have no problem with it.)

But how could one reasonably expect people in general to have such obscure technical knowledge?

I see "x-axis" and the ability to read a 2d graph as something that the great majority of the high school educated population should know, even if it's been a while since they've been in school.

Expected value I wouldn't expect most people to know, but I certainly would expect a professional poker player to know, especially when you are also charging people money to coach them.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 2 - Deciding to call it quits · 2019-10-12T18:03:20.170Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I actually do plan on doing what you describe: leave it up, and also continue to work on it in my spare time. I enjoy working on it (when I'm not feeling pressured), and as a poker player, there are a few tools that I want to build for myself. There are also a few sort of last ditch things that I plan on trying, but none of them require me to be working on it full time.

In retrospect, this would have been a good thing for me to address in the post, because you're right, it's a logical question for the reader to ask.

As for the bug preventing people from paying me, I'm not sure exactly how many tried, but it seems like it was four or five. I have since fixed the bug (ended up just being a small typo), and after I did I emailed all ~100 people who were signed up for the free trial, and have gotten one paid user. Now that I think about it, I should reach back out to those four or five people who previously tried to pay me. I'll go do that right now :)

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T17:50:59.064Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW


Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T05:21:10.484Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! Yup, I definitely misunderstood YC's message. I'm glad we talked this through.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T04:52:32.277Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
I can imagine that someone could make poker software that makes poker more fun and addictive, pulling more people into learning to play well who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered.

Yeah, that's a good point, but I'm not sure that it applies to every product. So then, it still seems to me that you should try to think about whether it is plausible to "grow the pie".

What do you think? I lean slightly towards thinking that you disagree, because you initially said that founders shouldn't worry too much about market size. If so, what is the thought process behind that? Because you think there's a route to "grow the pie" for any product? Because at an early stage your goal is to be nimble and figure out what direction to run in?

Ya my whole blog is about founders not understanding this.

Awesome, I'll check it out!

Your own ego will already bias you toward not putting yourself out there enough.

Huh. I thought it would be the opposite. That people have egos that are too big and they think they're more important than they actually are. Or are you saying that I personally don't have a big ego, because I'm having this conversation?

Also, when you narrow down what your MVP is to the point where it’s almost by definition an incremental improvement in one specific person’s life, you should feel more confident to attempt to do a Collison Installation on that person. If it doesn’t work out, they should be able to understand why you were convinced this would be worth their time, even if you were wrong.

That registered really well with me, thank you! I agree! I do find myself thinking this a lot, that I'm doing them a favor by reaching out.

I dunno, try giving a specific value prop story ( illustrating why it’s much better than Product Hunt.

If I'm an early stage founder and I launch on Product Hunt, I may not get any attention. Whereas with my idea, the founder would be able to browse the email list of early adopters and reach out to the ones who meet the target demographic.

With Product Hunt, you have to actually launch something to be seen. What if you want to chat with users before you launch? What if you launched already and want to do user research? What if you releases a new feature, or changed pricing, and want to send a sales email?

With Kickstarter, you can put yourself out there before you launch, but you can't actually reach out to users, from what I understand. I think there's value in having a list of user email addresses that you can browse through. Basically, warm leads, because they signed up, and because you can see demographic info and other user profile stuff.

Note: I think it'd be pretty necessary to limit the amount of emails that founders can send out. Otherwise early adopters would get totally blasted and not want to sign up. So maybe the email addresses wouldn't actually be visible, and you'd have to message them through the platform, and the platform would limit how many messages you can send.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T04:32:22.544Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I see. That makes sense.

I'm still not sure we addressed the question of whether there are times when MVPs inherently take a long time to build though. What do you think about that question? Sorry if you addressed it and I'm not understanding.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T23:00:01.729Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that poker survives on optimistic idiots. My thoughts are that we can divide players up into three buckets: pros, somewhat serious players, and fish ("optimistic idiots"). Fish haven't really spent any time ever trying to learn how to play the game. Or if they have, it's only a book or two. Somewhat serious players have read a bunch of books and study/review hands maybe once a week or so. And pros are pros. I figured that the number of fish are in the millions, somewhat serious maybe 100k or so, and pros, maybe a few thousand. I say this because you seem to be dividing the population into pros and fish, whereas I add in the somewhat serious players.

I think the big mistake I made was that I assumed that these somewhat serious players all somewhat consistently use poker software. I know that the "optimistic idiots" clearly don't, but I figured that the somewhat serious players do.

Assuming that studying is the main part of poker success is also a mistake. Most profit comes from identifying and exploiting opponent mistakes, not in optimizing your own play beyond a certain competence. It's very hard, even for very good players, to formally model the kinds of mistakes they profit from, so very hard to imagine that software calculations help them improve their exploitative play.

I would disagree with that. I think software can really help you improve your exploitative play. This video is an example. Another example is looking at different flop textures and seeing which ones you'd generate enough folds on to profitably cbet.

There's plenty of pretty decent free software

There are some free equity calculators, but they are limited. And from what I understand, there are no free range analysis tools like my Hit Calculator or Flopzilla, and range analysis tools are important for a lot of things, like getting a sense of how much fold equity you have.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T22:45:35.933Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
The Poker subreddit only has 100k subscribers, and it’s a much bigger commitment for people to buy poker software than read a subreddit. So it seems plausible that the total market is only 1k users, but you never know.

Well, my thinking was that only a fraction of the somewhat serious players are on the subreddit, so if only 10k of the 100k on the subreddit are somewhat serious, maybe we can multiply by 5-10 (or hopefully more) to account for the fact that not all of the somewhat serious players are on the subreddit.

Now my thinking is to assume that only like 100 of the 100k are somewhat serious, not 10k.

Founders shouldn’t worry too much about market size, just focus on getting early users and growing the user base at some rate like 10%/month. For example, Uber has grown beyond the total market size of taxis.

That makes sense, but only if you have a plausible path to growing the size of the market.

The way to give people value is to grab specific people and manually stuff your value into them.

This belief has been growing stronger and stronger in my mind over time. And it seems like a really important thing for founders to understand.

It makes me feel really uneasy though, because I don't want to be spammy. What are your thoughts on that?

BTW, one of my unfleshed ideas is to have a platform that connects self-proclaimed early adopters with early stage founders. Maybe the early adopters would get access to products discounts or something for being on the platform, and early stage founders would have to pay to be on the platform. I plan on fleshing this out and writing about it some time in the future. It easily could turn out to be a bad idea; just thought I'd mention it.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T22:34:19.782Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

These sorts of books sell for around $50. $100k/yr profit at 10k copies/yr would imply they only make $10/book. I would have thought profit margins would be better. But that's a really good point about publisher/marketing costs.

Anyway, your overall point that the top poker book isn't making millions for the author is well taken. It seems like a pretty strong signal that I shouldn't really be expecting to make millions either. I wish I had thought about this earlier, thanks.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T22:30:19.308Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Paul Graham made the point that these days when you want to judge a startup idea, you’re actually judging the idea pair (what you’re doing that people want, how you acquire customers).

Huh, I didn't realize that. Thanks for pointing it out. I read most of his essays, and a lot of YCs stuff more generally, but I don't recall much talk about customer acquisition. Anything come to mind that you can link me to?

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T22:28:30.756Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I spent a good amount time trying to do this sort of stuff. I found that people weren't too responsive. But perhaps with even more persistence they would be. And it sounds like a good thing to do in general.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T22:26:30.956Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That makes sense. I didn't mean to come across as scolding; it happens to me as well.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T22:24:50.081Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Using SpaceX as an example, there are a lot of sub-MVPs that they need to build before they actually have an MVP that they can bring to market and see if they get traction. And so it would take them a long time before they actually even have an MVP. It seems to me that this conflicts with conventional wisdom, because conventional wisdom says that if you haven't brought your MVP to market and tested it in, say, six months, that you aren't being lean enough. But with SpaceX it seems that it may not really be possible to do. What do you think?

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 4 - Smaller things that I've learned · 2019-10-11T19:22:35.834Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That makes sense in general, but in this case I don't think the software is strong enough to do that. It'll make you better at poker, but not fast enough to blow everyone else away and make them think, "Wow, that software sure is doing a good job, I need to get it myself."

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 1 - My journey · 2019-10-10T19:21:31.250Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW
This is a great authentic diary of a certain type of smart startup founder's experience. I'm sure there have been dozens of other founders who have similar stories and never wrote them up like this.

Thank you! Yeah, I tried to be as honest as possible telling the story. I think it makes it easier to learn lessons, more fun to read, and for some reason, easier to write.

The goal is to validate that specific people exist who have a need for what you're building. But the "specific people" part of that sentence is more important than the "what you're building" part.

That's a great point. In my mind at the time, the "specific people" part was already validated due to the fact that hundreds of thousands of people use Flopzilla and similar apps, or so I thought. But moving forward, I totally agree that it's something that I should have actually validated.

(FWIW I have a third post coming out soon where I reflect on the lessons I've learned. If you don't mind, I'd love to DM you when it's out, because I'd love to hear more of your thoughts.)

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 1 - My journey · 2019-10-10T19:13:00.154Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wow, that must have really sucked to lose out on $100k. I can't imagine what that's like, things never got that concrete for me.

I think you're probably right about acquaintances + handshake deals, but it's still a little counterintuitive to me. There's a lot of things that I think of as basic human decency, and expect 99% of the population to do. Following through on a handshake deal is one. Not ghosting people is another. It still feels tempting to me to continue with those expectations, but Rational Self feels pretty confident that the expectations are unrealistic.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 1 - My journey · 2019-10-10T19:08:31.994Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, very hard to write, but it makes it feel very worth it if people are enjoying it :)

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 1 - My journey · 2019-10-10T19:07:25.228Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, it's awesome to hear that you found it helpful!

I'm always down to talk more about the RSS reader idea. But yeah, I think 1, 2 and 3 are very good ideas.

As for the "do the same thing as the market leader but better" thing, I also feel skeptical about it now. There was a large period of time where people were telling me that they liked my product more than Flopzilla, and I was offering it for free, and I wasn't getting users! I never would have expected that to happen.

That's not to say that "do the same thing as the market leader but better" is always a bad idea, but I think it needs to be coupled with "and I have some good ideas about how to do customer acquisition" not "and once I do, I expect that users will just come". For the latter, my thinking now is that you need to 10x your competitor or something, like the YC guys encourage you to do iirc.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 2 - Deciding to call it quits · 2019-10-09T19:07:59.643Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yup, I totally agree, and it's been a lesson I've learned.

Comment by adamzerner on When is pair-programming superior to regular programming? · 2019-10-09T05:48:50.780Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

One thing I feel strongly about is that pair-programming is a skill, and that if both participants aren't skilled at it, things will be rough. When I was at my coding bootcamp, they'd always separate us into pairs and have us pair program on the exercises they'd give us. It was terrible. The driver would always just go off on their own.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 2 - Deciding to call it quits · 2019-10-09T05:23:18.189Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That makes sense, thank you.

Comment by adamzerner on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 1 - My journey · 2019-10-09T05:22:15.687Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your thoughts.

So even if you capture the entire market, it still might be only 1000 people or so.

Good to get another data point on this, thanks.

If someone wants to do business, you’ll feel it.

I suppose. But then again, there's the law of opposite advice thing. My thoughts are that there's something also to be said about perseverance.

I did a web startup too for a few years. And everything took me longer than expected as well. Including authentication. It’s just a fact of life; but hopefully we can plan better now.


Comment by adamzerner on How good is the case for retraining yourself to sleep on your back? · 2019-10-01T20:57:39.795Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for this! Beliefs updated :)

Comment by adamzerner on How good is the case for retraining yourself to sleep on your back? · 2019-09-25T19:00:55.315Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The YouTuber What I've Learned has a relevant video: What's the Best Position to Sleep in? Do we even need a Pillow?

Comment by adamzerner on Specificity: Your Brain's Superpower · 2019-09-05T19:09:57.368Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm excited to read and follow this sequence! Eliezer's Be Specific post is one of my favorites. And I just find myself thinking about specificity all the time. Yesterday I was at a poker meetup and my friend was giving a presentation. I was trying to take notes and come up with useful feedback. The big thing that kept coming up was, you guessed it - be specific! Same with if I'm ever giving someone feedback on writing or something.

My initial thoughts are that the two big difficulties with specificity are:

1) Often times if can be weirdly difficult to come up with examples. Me personally, there are many times where I want to communicate some good examples, and I feel like it should be reasonably easy to come up with some, but my brain just draws blanks and doesn't cooperate. And I feel like I see this in others as well.

2) Illusion of transparency. We think our non-specific statement was good enough, and don't realize that the other person is really wanting some specific examples. I feel like this usually doesn't happen at the conscious level. We don't actually think: "Hm, did I explain that well enough? Should I stop and try to get more specific? Nah, I don't think so, I think it was fine. Let's move on then." We just... sort of... keep... going.

Another thought:

3) I'm a huge fan of providing some sort of visual along with text. Picture, video, animation, whatever. I think a big reason for this is because the visual helps with specificity.

Comment by adamzerner on Bayes' Theorem in three pictures · 2019-07-21T17:54:40.563Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I liked this a lot, thank you! My understanding of Bayes' Theorem has always been a little shaky, and I think that this sured things up for me.

One thing that I think would improve this post would be to have used a practical example.

Comment by adamzerner on Thinking Fast and Hard · 2019-05-13T21:22:56.685Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This reminds me of Cal Newport and his book Deep Work. He argues for something similar. He talks about how "thinking hard" allows you to perform wildly better than those who don't, and also that it is increasingly rare and valuable in our world.

Comment by adamzerner on Disincentives for participating on LW/AF · 2019-05-11T00:47:18.688Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, here are two things that prevent me from participating as much as I'd like that I suspect might apply to others:

1) Internet addiction

Whenever I post or comment, I can't help but start checking in to see if I get any responses rather obsessively. But I don't want to be in that state, so sometimes I withhold from posting or commenting. And more generally, being on LW means being on the internet, and for me, being on the internet tempts me to procrastinate and do things I don't actually want to be doing.

2. Relatively high bar for participation

If I'm going to comment or post, I want to say something useful. Which often means spending time and effort. a) I have a limited capacity for this, and b) if I'm going to be spending time and effort, I find that I often see it as more useful to apply it elsewhere, like reading a textbook.

With (b), not always though. There's a lot of other times where I do feel that applying my time/effort here on LW is the most useful place to apply it.

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T18:32:44.005Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Gotcha. Maybe it could make sense to apply it to diabetics then.

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T17:44:51.735Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for chiming in. I was hoping to hear from a practicing doctor.

That all does make sense. A doctor requiring appointments for refills seems understandable now. The system that forces them to do so doesn't, but that's a separate issue.

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T17:23:43.908Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
I would not be surprised if the doctor adopted a rule of "always discuss treatment in person" as health issues often are very emotional and patients may be ill-informed

Ah, that does seem plausible. Along with the hypotheses that he sloppily applies this to diabetics who need insulin, and it subsequently became an ego contest.

I wonder how the doctor would react if Zvi's friend would point out his motivation for keeping his schedule while actively endorsing the importance of his doctor's opinion.

I too suspect that the doctor would have responded much better. I've been learning more and more that when you give people an out that lets them maintain their ego, they often are happy to take it. The places where people get really stubborn is when giving in would compromise their ego.

But of course, it's 100% not acceptable for a doctor to let their ego get in the way of life saving medicine, and it is extremely understandable for someone being denied life saving medicine to overlook all of this.

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T04:32:03.746Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why is it that they are like that?

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T02:50:06.623Z · score: 18 (5 votes) · LW · GW


I thought that was a possibility but I didn't think it was too likely.

Don't they have enough money already? I've always been confused about people who are already extremely wealthy acting so greedily. Eg. CEOs. You already have a ton of money, the extra money can't mean that much to you because of diminishing marginal utility stuff, why hurt other people in pursuit of more? Is it that they compare themselves to others around them and want to have more than their friends? Is the pursuit of more just a habit?

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T02:16:07.565Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that all makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the reply.

So now I'm finding myself very curious as to what possibly could have been this doctors motivation for acting this way. Why would he have such a strong preference to see the patient so soon? And why would he be so reluctant to give the patient insulin in the meantime?

True maliciousness and desire to cause harm seems unlikely, so what could it be?

My first thought is some sort of twisted ego. "You don't say no to me! I'm the doctor! I am the one who knows when I do and don't need to see you!"

That seems somewhat plausible, but also seems to introduce other questions. Why would the doctor want to see the patient in the first place? More revenue? I guess that's possible but doesn't seem likely to me. Maybe the patient has other complications and the doctor cares about the patient and wants to see the patient more frequently to make sure they're alright. That seems to contradict the subsequent "you don't get your lifesaving medicine unless you listen to me" attitude, but I guess it could just be that ego is his stronger drive, or just that he's inconsistent.

Now that I think about it more, the thing that seems most likely to me actually is that the doctor may have come across a good(seeming) reason to have this policy in the past, and just follows it blindly now. Idk though, what would that good reason even be?

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T01:43:05.570Z · score: 9 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm trying to steelman and see if there's a way for this situation to make some amount of sense.

  • What happens if you let patients buy refills without a prescription? Would they consume too much of it? Would there be any sort of risk of them selling the excess to others? I wouldn't think so for either of those questions, but I know very little about this domain.
  • Is there a medical reason why the doctor might not prescribe more insulin if he examines the patient and finds something new? I know you're saying that the answer is "no" and that he'll need insulin regardless, but perhaps there is some edge case. The medical system seems pretty obsessed with edge cases and covering their asses. "Have a headache? Ok. Let's just make sure that you don't have a brain tumor or anything first."
  • On that note, I wonder if the doctor is coming from a place of worrying about covering his ass and getting sued if he prescribes more insulin without the exam. Maybe he also knows that he's going to prescribe it regardless, but legally, he needs to say that he examined the patient first in case the patient has a weird reaction or something and ends up suing him.

Of course, this isn't to excuse the behavior. When we're talking about life and death, the system needs to have protocols in place to reallyreallyreallyreallyreally make sure that the death part doesn't happen.

The doctor accuses my friend of having a gun to his head. My friend points out this is a rather interesting choice of metaphor. One could say that the doctor has a gun to his head, in the form of denying him access to life saving medicine. And that the two do not seem remotely comparable.

What an amazing reply.

Comment by adamzerner on How long can people be productive in [time period]? · 2019-05-09T04:43:04.011Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cool! I'd love to hear what you find!

Comment by adamzerner on How long can people be productive in [time period]? · 2019-05-08T19:43:34.957Z · score: 26 (10 votes) · LW · GW


Note: I'm going to be talking about productivity in the sense of hard work. Eg. Anders Ericsson's idea of deliberate practice.

It seems self-evident that if you're performing busywork like data entry or cleaning, you could be productive for way longer than four hours/day.

It also seems self-evident that in doing something in between busywork and hard work, you can still be productive for more than four hours/day. For example, a calculus student doing tons of practice problems, or an experienced web developer building a simple sign up form.

So then, it seems to make sense to me to deal with the question of hard work. Pushing yourself to the edge of your comfort zone, or perhaps slightly beyond it. For example, mastering a difficult new concept or skill.

Of course, when we talk about hard vs easy work, we're talking about a spectrum, so "hard work" really refers to a general area in that spectrum, not a single point. The answer to the question of how many productive hours you have in a day probably depends a little bit on where exactly you are on that spectrum, but getting into that nuance seems like something more appropriate for a different question. Here, it seems like it's worth just grouping "hard work" together and treating it as a single thing.


Note: As jimrandomh mentions, things like age, physical health and motivation probably matter, as do things like performance enhancing substances or techniques. It seems to me like it'd make sense to address those things in different question though. Eg. here I think we can ask the question of how many productive hours a healthy individual who isn't doing any performance enhancing stuff has in a day. Then in a separate question, we can ask how things like age and physical health impact this number. And in another separate question, we can ask how things like performance enhancing substances impact the number.


After about an hour of googling around, I haven't been able to find any of those high quality studies either. My impression is that the "people are only productive for four hours/day" idea largely comes from interviewing successful people, as opposed to rigorously measuring their performance. If there were high quality studies that really measured performance, I'd expect that they would be talked about more and easier to find, so I take the fact that they're hard to find as reasonably strong evidence that they don't really exist.

It is interesting to note that across a wide range of experts, including athletes, novelists, and musicians, very few appear to be able to engage in more than four or five hours of high concentration and deliberate practice at a time.

This quote comes from a Harvard Business Review article titled The Making of an Expert. The authors are K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely. I know that Ericsson is known as an authority in the study of expert performance; not sure about the other authors.

The article Why you should work 4 hours a day, according to science also had some relevant excerpts. The author mentions various examples of experts reporting that four hours/day is their limit, and that in interviewing people, this is the strong pattern.


After his morning walk and breakfast, Charles Darwin was in his study by 8 a.m. and worked a steady hour and a half. At 9:30 he would read the morning mail and write letters. At 10:30, Darwin returned to more serious work, sometimes moving to his aviary or greenhouse to conduct experiments. By noon, he would declare, "I've done a good day's work," and set out on a long walk. When he returned after an hour or more, Darwin had lunch and answered more letters. At 3 p.m. he would retire for a nap; an hour later he would arise, take another walk, then return to his study until 5:30, when he would join his wife and family for dinner.


Toulouse noted that Poincaré kept very regular hours. He did his hardest thinking between 10 a.m. and noon, and again between 5 and 7 in the afternoon. The 19th century's most towering mathematical genius worked just enough to get his mind around a problem — about four hours a day.

G.H. Hardy:

G.H. Hardy, one of Britain's leading mathematicians in the first half of the 20th century, would start his day with a leisurely breakfast and close reading of the cricket scores, then from 9 to 1 would be immersed in mathematics. After lunch he would be out again, walking and playing tennis. "Four hours' creative work a day is about the limit for a mathematician," he told his friend and fellow Oxford professor C.P. Snow.

John Edensor Littlewood:

Hardy's longtime collaborator John Edensor Littlewood believed that the "close concentration" required to do serious work meant that a mathematician could work "four hours a day or at most five, with breaks about every hour (for walks perhaps)."

Ericsson's study of violin students:

Add these several practices up, and what do you get? About four hours a day. About the same amount of time Darwin spent every day doing his hardest work and Hardy and Littlewood spent doing math.
This upper limit, Ericsson concluded, is defined "not by available time, but by available [mental and physical] resources for effortful practice."

The article also makes some more general statements about the four hours/day idea:

Darwin is not the only famous scientist who combined a lifelong dedication to science with apparently short working hours. We can see similar patterns in many others' careers

In particular, it mentions the following study:

A survey of scientists' working lives conducted in the early 1950s yielded results in a similar range. Illinois Institute of Technology psychology professors Raymond Van Zelst and Willard Kerr surveyed their colleagues about their work habits and schedules, then graphed the number of hours spent in the office against the number of articles they produced. You might expect that the result would be a straight line showing that the more hours scientists worked, the more articles they published. But it wasn't.
The data revealed an M-shaped curve. The curve rose steeply at first and peaked at between 10 to 20 hours per week. The curve then turned downward. Scientists who spent 25 hours in the workplace were no more productive than those who spent five. Scientists working 35 hours a week were half as productive as their 20-hours-a-week colleagues.

If you search through Cal Newport's blog, you'll find lots of other examples of expert performers only being able to manage four hours/day of hard work. John Grisham’s 15-Hour Workweek is one:

Grisham primarily writes his novels during the winter months on his farm in Oxford, Mississippi. During this period he works five days a week, starting at 7 am and typically ending by 10 am.

There is something important that I'd like to emphasize. From what I can tell, all of these examples of expert performers who can only perform about four hours of hard work per day, these people all seem to be getting the other parts of the productivity equation right. They're sleeping enough, taking naps, taking walks, eliminating distractions, quitting Facebook, etc. So four hours/day seems like it is conditional on those things. I think that this is worth noting because many of us are not getting those things right. I know I'm not.

Comment by adamzerner on How long can people be productive in [time period]? · 2019-05-08T17:49:27.902Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems worth clarifying what you mean by "productive". As Raemon and waveman mention, the answer will depend on whether you are talking about "hard" work a la Anders Ericsson's idea of deliberate practice, or about more routine type of work. I suspect that you are talking about the former and that people will interpret it as the former, but it still seems worth clarifying.

It also might be worth mentioning that you are referring to "standard" cases of healthy individuals who aren't using any performance enhancing drugs or anything like that. I took that as a given, as the question of how unnatural things like that could change the default seems like a different question, as does the question of how things like anxiety or lack of sleep reduce your capacity.

Comment by adamzerner on Karma-Change Notifications · 2019-03-02T06:51:29.025Z · score: 38 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I'm someone who is really worried about addictiveness. I find myself doing the compulsive refreshing, and hate myself more and more every time I find myself doing it. This coupled with my just having finished reading Digital Minimalism made me feel really worried as I first started reading this post. But once I reached the point where I realized the team was aware of the problem of addictiveness and gives users a way around it... I just felt a strong feeling of warmth towards LessWrong. hearts

Comment by adamzerner on Some Thoughts on My Psychiatry Practice · 2019-01-19T03:34:19.830Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I definitely see what you're saying about how we make comparisons when we process information, and that there is a strong evolutionary pressure for us to be concerned about social status. The thing that makes me feel hopeful is that when you look at humans, there's a pretty decent range of how much different people care about social status. Some care a lot, some only care a little. I wouldn't argue if someone were to claim that you can never 100% get rid of the concern for social status, but it does really seem to me that there is room for growth in terms of how much you care about it. Otherwise, what explains the fact that there is a spectrum of how much people care. Unless it is all genetic, it seems that there is a lot of room for people to improve.

I think that's a really cool idea about society moving towards healthier comparisons. Without having thought deeply about it, my impression is that it'd be extremely difficult because of equilibrium stuff. If an individual actor starts to prioritize something like effort instead of accomplishment, no one is going to praise them, and they won't get social status points. It seems like something where you'd need to get a sizable group to all make a change at the same time, which is always tricky to do. Not to say that it isn't worth pursuing though.

Comment by adamzerner on Some Thoughts on My Psychiatry Practice · 2019-01-18T23:58:25.629Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's something that I've always been curious about but never had the chance to ask: as a psychiatrist and psychologist, to what extent has your training helped you avoid or solve your own mental health problems? How helpful has it been?

My guess is that it is only somewhat helpful. Many doctors smoke and eat unhealthy foods even though they've spent years studying just how harmful that stuff is. It seems to me that this is an area where "incremental improvements in rationality don't always lead to incremental improvements in winning" is true.

Comment by adamzerner on Some Thoughts on My Psychiatry Practice · 2019-01-18T23:46:44.211Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've been meaning to think more about ego and identity. I also sense that a lot of people have problems where they don't feel accomplished enough, and where they compare themselves with other people. I know that I have those sorts of problems.

On the one hand, it seems silly to compare yourself to other people like that. Especially when it is taken to such an extreme. But on the other hand, it seems like something that is deeply ingrained in us, and that is very hard to avoid. In reality, that sort of thinking is probably establishing a false dichotomy. Clearly there are some people who are more invested in how accomplished they are than others.

The question that I'm interested in is how to change your mindset, such that you retain your ambition, but aren't caught up in it, if that makes sense. Where you pursue improvement and accomplishment either because you are intrinsically motivated to do so, or because you want to do good for the world, but not because you want social status points. And where you see the accomplishment as a "nice to have", rather than an "I'm happy if I get it, and sad if I don't". And especially not where you see it as a "I feel normal if I get it, and depressed if I don't". I find for myself, and sense that the same is true for many others, that a "logical" understanding often isn't enough, that your brain still may act as if it's a necessity rather than a nice to have, even though you logically understand that this mindset is silly. I suppose that this is a much more general problem, and a very important one.

Comment by adamzerner on You can be wrong about what you like, and you often are · 2018-12-21T01:19:15.254Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In the example of TV vs. novels, no, but there are other examples where I do think so:

  • Live-like-the-locals vacation vs. tourist vacation
  • Doing home improvement stuff yourself vs. paying someone to do it for you
  • Biking everywhere vs. having a car

On balance, I'm actually not sure of what I think about whether "high class" things tend to provide more happiness than "low class" things, so I spoke too soon in the previous comment.

Comment by adamzerner on You can be wrong about what you like, and you often are · 2018-12-20T20:03:49.538Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
I'm curious why you chose these particular examples.

I wanted to think of better ones but was having trouble doing so, didn't want to dedicate the time to doing so, and figured that it would be better to submit a mediocre exploratory post about a topic that I think is important than to not post anything at all.

More generally, whether or not you enjoy something is different from whether that thing, in the future, will make you happier. At points in this post you conflate those two properties.

I agree, and I think it would have been a good thing to discuss in the main post. "I know that I don't like salads now; I think I could develop a taste for them, but I don't want to or can't bring myself to do so" is definitely a different thing than "I don't like salads now, so I'm not going to eat them" and "I don't like salads now and I don't think that I could ever like them".

By discussing the above point, I think it would have the benefit of being more clear about what exactly the problem is. In particular, that "I know that I don't like salads now; I think I could develop a taste for them, but I don't want to or can't bring myself to do so" is a different problem.

The examples also give me elitist vibes: the implication seems to be that upper-class pursuits are just better, and people who say they don't like them are more likely to be wrong.

I definitely don't mean to imply that this is true. I personally don't think that it is. But I do see how the examples I chose would give off that vibe, and I think it would have been better to come up with examples that demonstrate a wider range of "I know what I like" attitudes.