Nerdy Archives

everything_is_a_test

Photo credit Fe Langdon, available on Flicker under Creative Commons.

 

Today I want to write about a specific mindset. This mindset, once adopted, can help you grow effectively. Let me first tell you how I discovered it.

The importance of a test

I have been a researcher in pattern recognition, which learns from data in an intelligent way. There are many tools available for a successful data analysis. All of them rely on certain assumptions about the data. Each assumption leads to a specific model. In the majority of the cases, however, the validity of the assumptions cannot be checked for complex data (which is often the case for real data).

I know it’s surprising, but it is true.

There are three reasons behind this. These are:

1) Too little data.

There is way too little data available for the number of unknowns in the model to be estimated

2) Algorithmic efficiency.

Even when huge data collections are at hand, a small sample of the data is used to make all the algorithms both fast and feasible for the task.

3) The lack of mathematical approaches.

No models available for in multivariate representations to check whether the given assumption holds or not.

In theory, when the assumptions about the data are true, then the best model (or one of the best) is exactly the one based on the same assumptions.

How do do you think this translates to practice?

Well …

The practice is a different story. There is usually a gap between theory and practice. You have already guessed it, right? 😉

A complex model theoretically tailored to the data distribution may loose with a seemingly irrelevant simple model. Even if this simple model is derived from a completely different assumption, it may still win with the theoretically the best model possible. It doesn’t have to be like that, of course, but it is often the case.

Why?

Because simpler assumptions lead to a few parameters. And fewer parameters can be better estimated (than the many) when there is little data.

It means that a simple model can often provide a better (though rough) fit, then a complex (hence flexible) model whose parameters are poorly estimated. This inadequate estimation often makes the complex model bad for the task.

This is a controversial point so let me paraphrase it as follows.

Imagine that a simple outline of your silhouette (aka, data) is given to a tailor (which is an algorithm). He hasn’t seen you, but he has some data about you – a rough outline of your body.

A simple model would then translate to a basic and plain dress suited around a few measurements. These may be the neck-line, the waist-line, and the chest. The dress, even though not special, will likely fit you as the basic measurements are sufficiently estimated.

A complex model would correspond to a fancy dress with layers, frills and pockets, and an asymmetric line. Many measurements are now required to have it designed well. Since they are based on your outline only, guesses have to be made. The resulting dress may look stunning, but unwearable because it would not fit. Even if beautiful, the dress may either be too narrow or too wide in wrong parts of the body, so that there is no way for you to squeeze in. 

But… If the tailor is well experienced, he is capable on choosing the right complexity based on a few measurements. He will make the right design that would be perfect for you.

The only way to know it, is to test it.

Everything is a test

In practice, when you want to guarantee the best solution for the given data you will do two things. First, you will consider a number of different models, including a variety of data transformation as well. Secondly, you will train and test them extensively on the new data. This is the data which was unused for the parameter estimation (i.e. the unknown parameters of the model) and kept aside for an evaluation.

It is a necessary step.

Without a well-designed testing stage, the primary results are often too optimistic. Moreover, your initial guesses may be totally wrong. Without rigorous testing, no intelligent solution is found. With the extensive testing and adaptation, the solution will work for new data. This is what you want.

This is a powerful learning point which easily applies to my life and your life. Namely,

What I am talking about here is the mindset, not the literal approach to test every single thing in your life. The mindset will have paramount consequences for your conscious growth.

Let me explain why.

First of all, when you approach a new idea or a habit to your life as a test, it is easy to commit when you know it is meant for your first-hand learning experience. Your goal is to see how this idea (say, a specific time management approach, weight loss program or a nutritional protocol) applies to your personal circumstances in a limited time frame. After a specified time period, you are going to evaluate how well this idea works for you.

The mindset of a tester is a mindset of a person who likes to have fun and see what happens without any specific attachment to the results. Why? Because a test is meant to provide you with feedback. When you accept that you have been just testing, it is easy to modify the approach accordingly or truly abandon it if necessary.

Secondly, if you like the newly tested idea, you choose to adopt it as your long-term habit. Even though it is now ingrained in you, after a year or two, you know you are still in a testing stage, though it is now an advanced test ;). The testing never ends. As a result, you are open to either modify it or leave it when the idea stops serving you.

Test everything

The “test everything” mindset is to enjoy running the tests, while being open to adjust them when needed. This mindset will prevent you from blindly following the gurus or getting into dogmatic thinking. A test is always subjected for an evaluation. You simply allow yourself to question both the assumptions and the results.

This mindset keeps you open for new ideas. It makes you conscious to observe when the ideas you practice have stopped serving you. It usually starts with an insight that something is a bit off track or awkward. You will notice that when your mind is set to the testing stage.

If you, however, accept the idea as an absolute truth because it comes from gurus (advanced research, your beloved one or any other authority – you name it), you may easily continue the practice it until things become so bad for you that you have no other way than connect the dots. A bit too late….

***

A tester’s mind is a versatile and flexible mind. It is a fresh mind, indeed.

As a tester, you give yourself permission to run trials of all kinds, even the ones which lead to negative results. These results are your feedback, which will be intelligently analyzed to tailor the tested approach to your specific condition. 

Choose to be a tester. You will learn a lot, adjust ideas and develop your independent thinking. Such a conscious process will teach you how to make smarter and more effective decisions.

On the top, you will get more fun!

***

 What you are going to test today?

***

 

Do you want to stay anonymous or do your prefer personal service?

As for me, it depends.

I like personal service when I choose to connect to people e.g. in the place I live. I recognize them and they recognize me back, we exchange smiles or have a small talk. I am genuinely asking whether they are fine or happy. Yes, I want to buy my books or do my shopping with a smile, welcomed by friendly faces.

On the other hand, I don’t necessarily like customized and personal service run by web agents suggesting me what I might be interested in. Sometimes, I indeed look for such recommendations, especially when I search for books. However, when I am to explore a new subject and/or I want to learn something new, I want to explore spaces far behind the horizon. I am interested to see many different points of view.

Why?

Because I firmly believe that by exploring extremes and the places in between, I am better able to clarify what I want. The wider the perspectives or points of view, the broader the horizons and the better my ability to find the middle point or the center I am interested in.  Learning about opposites makes me think for myself and inspires me to ask deep questions.

It is my choice.

For this reason I am not directly interested in finding the answers or recommendations I might like. I am much more interested in finding the information I might dislike, or even hate.  It is the difference, the dissimilarity to my common experience or knowledge that shakes my grounds so that I can build a better foundation.

Remember that we learn the most not because we find concepts similar to ours but because we are exposed to previously unseen information or go through new experience. In this way I am strongly inspired to learn new things. Surprise, shock or curiosity are the vehicles to use.

Now…

The context

Do you believe that it is you who is searching the information on the Web?
You may be surprised to learn that it might be the other way around.

You are not necessarily searching for information, but information is looking for you.
How do we know it?

Well…

First of all, you are never anonymous on the big World Wide Web. If you connect to a website your computer can be uniquely identified by its IP number. And if you
run a business with a website presence it is not difficult to find out to whom the website belongs. You often accept the cookies from other parties so that any other time you visit the same sites they can offer you a customized view.

Secondly, information is being stored all the time concerning the routes you follow on the Web. If you are often on Facebook, Linked, Tumblr, Pinterest or any other social media services it is easy to connect the dots – your login and your IP address – to know who you are.

As a result, you will see ads related to your search keywords or email topics in your open mail browser or even subjects you discuss with friends on Google chat or so.

This is what we all consciously or unconsciously accept whether we realize it or not. The consequence of this fact is profound. Whatever you write in your emails, comment on social media, write in your posts or anywhere else on the Web may stay forever in the vast valleys of the Network. Even if you remove your accounts, your communication and traffic information may be preserved for years.

This asks us to be honest and accountable for what we say, do and how we react. Please realize that all your words may stay in the “memory” of the Web for a very long time.

***

The search

There is also another consequence I want to point out.

What if you know that your search is customized according to your likes?
This certainly holds for Google.

Make a small experiment. Search in Google for a phrase which is of your interest, e.g. “holiday in Turkey”, “personal development books” or something currently in the news. Do it 3x.

1) First time do it on your computer while login in to your active social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Tumblr, Google+ and alike, as well as email or other service.

2) Second time, sign off every social media. Clear all the cookies. Remove the history of searches.
Restart your browser and run your search.

3) The third time, use a different computer, possibly of somebody else. Run your search.

Are there any differences?
Well, they usually are and oftentimes they are huge.

It is not necessarily true that the information is not found when you search for it from a different computer, say, but it is the way it is presented back to you. Any search produces millions or zillions of possible answers. The ranking of the answers is customized according to specific indicators about the websites such as the popularity. More importantly, however, the answers are filtered in response to your likes, preferences (stored e.g. as the most frequent websites you visit), the likes of your friends on Facebook and so on. If you think it is impossible, I can assure you that is is algorithmically possible, and in use.

For instance, it is easy to make a profile of you by the tags, topics, news, sites or keywords – words you often use (again in social media, email, or various accounts). Every text, every post may have its own profile – even generated in the context of your search. What you then need is a similarity measure between two profiles, a measure that accounts for the overlap of the subjects and intensity (frequency) of the interest. A simple but fast-computable measure may already give satisfactory results for the first 10 returns. For sure, Google has its own strategy to achieve that.

The key point is this. Majority of people, when searching on the Web, do not look further than the first or second page of the results, where the results are highly influenced
by their local context. The remaining pages may actually be of high interest, as they are often for me.

The importance of each piece of information should and must be considered in the context – your preferences, networks you belong to, social media presence and so on. Be aware that what you find may only come from a narrow circle of your likes and likes of your local Web community.

Is this what you want?

As for me, I want the likes at times, yet more often than not, I want independent information. Or, at least, very different to what I know.

Become aware of the context-dependent search. You are a potential customer to all types of products and services. This comes as a natural symbiosis between you using freely the Web and the businesses that make living from their presence there. As with all media, the answers you get may be modeled towards specific interests or benefits.

The trap we get into is that we think about ourselves as individuals, creative and unpredictable. This is true about us as humans but not necessarily about us as potential customers. Any consumer understood as a statistical figure is, in his behavior and the way he makes decisions, often predictable, certainly when we average over masses. This holds also because we are firmly convinced that statistics doesn’t apply to us  ;). Well, it does.

Thanks to our reluctance to bury ourselves in the multi-page written agreements and blindly accept the “terms of use”, we don’t pay attention to the frames of the world being created for us. We slowly accept changes that otherwise would have been beyond question. As a result, the image presented to us on the Web about the world is such that it is being made to be commercially beneficial for everyone, which means – not necessarily for you as an individual. This is a subtle process and difficult to discern. But it is worth the trouble to ask to know to what the world brings us along this path.

Summary

What we read and listen to models our thoughts, ideas and concepts.
We read what we find.
We find what we search.
Therefore, how we search is important. It may determine the quality of information we find and, consequently, the model of the world we create.

There is a difference between a book recommendation you may like and learning a new subject or forming a new concept. Explore both best matches and far away answers to learn about similarities and differences. Look for various points of view to form the ideas well and refine your concepts through atypical examples. This is necessary for practising your independent thinking and increasing intelligence.

***

As an aside note, there are private search engines which claim that they don’t use algorithms to satisfy our likes. An example is  https://duckduckgo.com/
For sure there are many others.

There is also software that enables anonymity online. An example is https://www.torproject.org/.

Tor (The Onion Router) directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide volunteer network (via onion-like encryption levels) to hide a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. As the Wikipedia says “Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace Internet activity, including visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages and other communication forms, back to the user.”

Be aware of your context. Search what you are looking to find. It creates your world.

***

 

Do opinions matter?

People often have opinions on things that are trivial, easily understood or based on common experience. They may either like or hate your style, your decisions or the way you rear kids. They may easily criticize your actions and your work.

 How do you take it on?

  • Are you upset or depressed after the slightest criticism?
  • Do you feel a knot in your stomach when people judge both you and your work?
  • Are you defending yourself to prove the critic is wrong? 
  • Are you debating over and over again of how to respond to a negative feedback?

Or, … do you just notice it, register and move on?

Well, one of the keys to personal mastery is the ability to distinguish whom to listen to and whom to ignore. It is of course not always easy because opinions can be harsh and they may evoke strong emotions. They may touch you at some very personal level. They may deeply hurt you, especially when you feel they are unjust.

If somebody judges you as fat, ugly, unskilled, stupid or alike, does it affect you? Even if you are such, so what? If this is a fact, it is a fact and that’s it.

But …

Is the critic perfect herself? Is she skinny, beautiful, skilled and smart? Does she provide you not only with the opinion but also a practical way of making things better?

Why do people criticize?

A simple answer is this: people either want to add value (contribute) to your (or their) development or put you down so that they can feel worthy and successful. The latter usually happens because of jealousy, feelings of insecurity or their lack of self-esteem.

However …

Even if they want to add value it doesn’t mean it is of use to you. A general piece of advice may be well meant but completely irrelevant.
Even if they want to put you down, it doesn’t mean that you need to respond to it. Just thank them for the feedback and perhaps challenge them with naming their intentions.

Opinions matter

When people are confronted with a difficult subject, they stay silent. On the other hand, when people are confronted with an easy subject, everybody has an opinion.

There is an interesting concept by Parkinson on the Law of Triviality or the importance of the bike-shed. I now cite a big piece from Wikipedia because it is perfect to explain the point. Read on.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson’ [..] dramatizes this “law of triviality” with the example of a committee’s deliberations on an atomic reactor, contrasting it to deliberations on a bicycle shed. As he put it: “The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.” A reactor is used because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so one assumes that those that work on it understand it. On the other hand, everyone can visualize a cheap, simple bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add a touch and show personal contribution.

 

[…] Parkinson writes about a finance committee meeting with a three-item agenda.

 

The first is the signing of a $10 million contract to build a reactor, the second a proposal to build a $2,350 bicycle shed for the clerical staff, and the third proposes $57 a year to supply refreshments for the Joint Welfare Committee.

 

The $10 million number is too big and too technical, and it passes in 2.5 minutes.

 

The bicycle shed is a subject understood by the board, and the dollar amount within their life experience, so committee member Mr. Softleigh says that an aluminium roof is too expensive and they should use asbestos. Mr. Holdfast wants galvanized iron. Mr. Daring questions the need for the shed at all. Mr. Holdfast disagrees.

 

Parkinson then writes: “The debate is fairly launched. A sum of $2,350 is well within everybody’s comprehension. Everyone can visualize a bicycle shed. Discussion goes on, therefore, for forty-five minutes, with the possible result of saving some $300. Members at length sit back with a feeling of accomplishment.”

 

Parkinson then described the third agenda item, writing: “There may be members of the committee who might fail to distinguish between asbestos and galvanized iron, but every man there knows about coffee – what it is, how it should be made, where it should be bought – and whether indeed it should be bought at all. This item on the agenda will occupy the members for an hour and a quarter, and they will end by asking the Secretary to procure further information, leaving the matter to be decided at the next meeting.”

It’s interesting, isn’t it? There are multiple parallels to it in real life.

So …

You will always be faced with opinions of others or given unsolicited advice, especially about surface issues. Why? Because these are easy to make, there is a conversation / confrontation going on and the sense of fulfillment that the critic’s day has not been lost 😉

Some people choose to be offended by what you do or say, or like to play the victim role, just because it is their style. They love to gossip, judge and make you feel inferior, so that they can feel better themselves.

Sometimes, the criticism is intended for your best interest, simply because your friends, family or teachers do worry about your decisions, your kids and your future. This is their worry though, not yours.

Sometimes, the criticism is meant to save the critics because your acting or thinking shakes their world too much.The best defense is attack, as some say, and the criticism will be as sharp as a laser to protect their own homeostasis.

Although opinions matter, you need to take them with a pinch of salt. Or, two ;).

How to handle criticism

If you get opinions, judgements and criticism, just notice them and determine whether they are of any value.

The key is to ask yourself:
“Is this person in the position I want to be? Is he/she an expert on the subject involved?”

Are you getting criticism of starting a business from people who have never had one?
Are you getting marriage advice from friends who can’t hold their own relationships?
Are you getting judgements on your change in carrier from people who are scared to change?

It’s easy to point out things you’re doing wrong, or how you should think, act and achieve things. It is sufficient for you to recognize a negative feedback, look at it with your filter of indifference on, apply it when appropriate and discard it otherwise. It may take you years before you learn this attitude, but you will eventually reach this point so if you decide to.

The power to control your reactions and attitudes to bad comments or harsh judgements is necessary for a personal mastery.

You don’t have to listen to everyone out there.
You don’t have to take all the criticism on equal basis.

Just remember that opinions are in the eye of the beholder.
Only some opinions deserve your attention.
The rest is to pass.

 ***

The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on  www.ingeduin.nl.

 

the_time

A simple truth is this:
When a day is gone, it is gone to never return again.

From the perspective of creative work it means that whatever you have left undone, it remains undone until the next possibility comes.

Time is precious.

When time leaks between your fingers, it is your responsibility to take a hold on it. Time is not a resource as we sometimes assume because we can neither create nor buy more time. Of course, we may be assigned more time to finish a project but it is either due to an ineffective management or a necessity for a better / more complex solution than we currently have.

If you are a person whose progress and work depends on deep thought, guard your time with all your might.

If you are a group leader or manager, your role is to co-create the conditions under which your colleagues work effectively and efficiently, making substantial progress. Guard their time with all your mights.

The challenge is this

People who manage others usually forget how it is to work on multiple projects that require a deep thought and focus. Managers’ days are gone fast, split into small chunks of time, perhaps of 15 or 30 min each. Within these short intervals, they jump between conversations, talks and meetings, and deal with their derivatives such as emails, phone calls, brief readings, short writings or small talks. They need a fast switch between the tasks and a short-span focus. Small talks or humor in between are purposeful because they are refreshing and relieve tension.

On the contrary, thinkers or creative workers, such as programmers, designers, researchers, scientists, analyzers, medical doctors, writers, artists or engineers require uninterrupted chunks of devoted time of a considerable length, say 4h, at least.

Why?

Because it takes a lot of time to reach a deep focus, and even more time to understand what the question or the next step is before taking a small step forward. While some people are able to reach it within 30min, many will need an hour or two. This is both a personal skill as well as the multitude and variety of deep thought involvements in projects a person has to run. The stakes are really high!

Currently, many people have to juggle as many as 10 to 20 projects at a time and each of them of a considerable complexity and difficulty. Small talks are detrimental to the progress and to the person’s ability to conserve energy because they kick him/her out of the Flow.

How can such people deliver creative solutions if they are interrupted by meetings, discussions, calls to action, small talks, courtesy talks, messaging and so on?

Do you realize that any interruption to focused people often wastes a considerable amount of their time and progress? After a short conversation, it may again take them an hour or more to return to the same level of thinking as it was before you interrupted them.

But … what if a meeting is still awaiting ahead? All the time may be lost if there is only little time left before the meeting. Why? Because it would not make much sense to start the real work if a thinker knows, will soon be interrupted.

The goals of creative workers and their managers/supervisors are totally opposite (think marathon runners versus short distance runners), a few tasks and a long term focus versus multiple tasks and short-span focus.

Simple strategies

The next time you knock on sb’s else door or come to start a talk with your team member, ask yourself whether the issue you have at hand is of such importance that it potentially justifies the total waste of their efforts today.

If your progress depends on the quality of your thinking, take all the necessary steps to prevent interruptions. These may involve actions such as:

  • A note on your door indicating when and how you prefer to be interrupt
  • Personal communication to all members of your team, asking them not to approach your with a small talk
  • Using noise-removal headphones to remove all the background distractions
  • Request to your manager to group the meetings or talks together, ideally first thing in the morning or just after the lunch
  • Working from home, or
  • Shifting hours of work

If you are a manager, your main task is to lead the projects and the group towards progress. It highly depends on the ability of your colleagues to maintain deep focus in order to create the solutions your company needs. Meetings severely interfere with the productivity and creativity of your workers.

Even a meeting of 10min, say 2h after the start of the day, may destroy all the progress made in these hours. What is even worse, many creative people may not even start the thinking process because if they have too little time, say one hour before the meeting, they know it is to little to really do something. Consequently, they will choose to procrastinate than to loose the thinking energy in vain.

Your role is to either create or help create big chunks of undisturbed and uninterrupted time for your workers. Not only that, you need to think how to create a positive and open atmosphere in which work is a pleasure. To improve the situation, your actions may ask you to:

  • Cut on talks, discussions and meetings, and when necessary, group them together and make them brief.
  • Choose brief emails (or perhaps messaging) over personal chats.
  • Choose polls on the web to direct and shorten the discussions when important decisions need to be made.
  • Enable other colleagues to work at home.
  • Raise the team awareness on improving personal focus and efficacy.
  • Introduce time for small talks, chats and humor, e.g. before / after the lunch or before the end of the day, to relax the atmosphere.
  • Schedule short time for personal talks with your team members.

Whether you are paid for creative solutions or managing, choose to value the Time. Of yourself and Others. Become a guardian of the Time. It will pay off.

***

To learn how a company can be set and run from homes of creative workers, study the success of the 37Signals company. I recommend reading the Rework book, created by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

***

Top photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

 

learning_from_mistakes 

Let me first clarify what I mean by a “bad idea” here. “Bad idea” means ineffective, at best and stopping progress, at worst.

“Learning from mistakes” is an expression strongly rooted not only in our language, but also our thinking. It is accepted as a sound piece of advice for some or a trivial colloquialism for others. The idea is that we make mistakes and we have to learn from them in order to improve. We consider it as a truth.

Now is the time to challenge it. Or at least, challenge what we understand by this expression.

***

You and I make mistakes in our lives. They are inevitable. We made them in the past, we are making them now and we will make them in the future. No doubt about it.

Mistakes are simply misguided actions or poor estimates in the given context or situation. They may involve experiencing borderline cases, crossing the edge or making wrong judgements.

Mistakes have an important role in the learning process and I don’t want to dispute that. They are a part of the feedback on the progress we make. They are however not the foundation of our success.

When is learning from mistakes ineffective?

If you constantly focus on your mistakes and how to improve them, you focus on what does not work. In other words, you concentrate on the problems and not the solutions. This is a trap that one falls into – the trap of losses, misses and the don’ts. What you focus on, takes your energy and expands. If you concentrate your efforts on what doesn’t work, you provide fuel to recreate the very conditions of such situations.  Whether you like it or not.

Imagine this. You want to go shopping. You make a list of all products you don’t want to buy. Does it help you to know exactly what you need? Does it help you to make a smooth buy? Nope. There are plenty possibilities of what you may consider buying even if you precisely know what you don’t want.

Imagine this. You are a teacher at a college or university and you teach a group of students. At the end of the semester you prepare a questionnaire to find out how they benefited from the course. What would you ask?

Would you focus on finding out what they didn’t like?
or
Would you focus on finding out what worked for them?

In all cases of teaching there are usually a few unhappy no matter what. Would you adapt your course, examples and exercises to satisfy the disappointed few or would you rather expand with doing more of what worked for the 90-95% of others? Paraphrasing, would you focus on multiplying your strengths or on improving your perceived weaknesses?

(By the way, a great question to ask in such circumstances is this: “What did you like the most and how can I improve it to make it even better?”)

Imagine this. You are starting a business. One of the advice you will get is to fail often and as fast as possible. This is the idea of learning from mistakes in the context of business. If you follow such a process, however, you will become an expert in the land of unsuccessful approaches. But… Will you know what makes it all work?

The implicit assumption behind “learning from mistakes” is that if you know what doesn’t work, the opposite will pave you the road to success. The reality is not that straightforward, however. Oftentimes, it is a unique combination of strategies, approaches and particular details that fuel progress and create a formulation for success. Such a mixture cannot simply be discovered by negating the things that don’t work.

Do you see where I am leading to?

Knowing what does not work, helps you very little to find out what does, despite what you may want to believe.

Understanding own mistakes does not necessarily lead to progress. They may, in some circumstances, but they usually do not.

Persistence

Take a 9-12 month old infant who learns to walk. Have you ever seen one? Although infants find unique ways to master this skill, they all share one thing. They are persistent and continue doing what they are strong at (or what works for them), no matter what.

Some of them, like my oldest, practiced crawling in a free-style movements and supported standing (i.e. standing up by a table, chair etc), until one day he simply felt ready to walk. His first steps were not just a few, but a 20m straight walk, instead. I was shocked as he simply walked a distance.

My other child was forcing me to hold his hands in order to exercise walking with him until he was ready to do it by himself. Over and over again. Although his first steps were a few only, soon they became many. He demanded help and he received it.

Both children spent somewhere between 5 to 8 weeks on daily practices. Until they succeeded.

The point I want to make is this. Oftentimes, persistence (or perseverance) coupled with a simple strategy is much more effective than multiple approaches, all abandoned too early at the level at which we could perhaps judged them as mistakes or failures.

Foundation

The key point about learning is the same as about concept learning. You need a solid foundation first.

How do you build your foundation? By collecting your positive examples which are used to build your first concept. Studying the examples and experiencing the successes behind them will help to refine the concept further on.

With respect to life it means that you focus on your talents, gifts, model cases, nearly-ideal examples, successes and everything that works for you or others involved.

Mistakes is everything where you sucked at, what others judged as wrong, inappropriate or unsuitable. They serve as an important feedback for the re-formulation of your concept. This is a crucial difference with respect to the usual understanding of the “learning from mistakes” mantra.

Mistakes are necessary for the testing of the boundaries. They allow us to re-define clear (or crisp) edges of the concept we are learning. But in order to make use of the mistakes successfully, we need to have the concept formulated first. And such a concept can only be built by using the positive examples – essential for our learning. This brings us to the final thought here.

Mistakes are not for the learning of a concept/skill but for re-learning of an already formulated concept/skill, especially with respect to the boundary cases.

Finally

Any time you want to learn a new skill or start a new enterprise, learn from successes of yours or others and focus on what works. Build your concept first before you begin testing the boundaries. Only then mistakes can be used effectively.

What does it mean?

If you begin your relationship, make it successful.
When you start your business, make it work.
When you lead a project, bring it to conclusion.

Commit to make your efforts success first before you allow yourself to fail.

***

Photo courtesy Fe 108Aums, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

 

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