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⚠️ The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.
Your weekly dose of new ideas & inspirations
Hey, Pritesh here.
Welcome to those who joined us recently in this journey of discovering new ideas & inspirations. You are in good company and it’s going to be a lot of fun ahead.
Today, we’ve reached post #111. Here’s a quick glance of what’s on the menu:
🧠 In praise of memorization
💡 Where do insights come from
🐜 We don’t trade with ants
🎂 Cake wreck
🗝️ Buridan’s donkey & Coldplay
🇲🇽 Sounds from Mexico city
And much more…
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And with that, let’s dive in.
1. In Praise of Memorization
In our school & beyond, a lot of ‘learning’ happens through memorization. It’s one of the most commonly quoted gaps in our education system and blamed for a lot of ill in our skill development journey.
However, Pearl Leff shares a really good counter argument in the essay “In praise of memorization”.
Here’s a brief snapshot from the essay to set the context:
Memorization means purposely learning something so that you remember it with muscle memory; that is, you know the information without needing to look it up.
Every educator knows that memorization is passé in today's day and age. Facts are so effortlessly accessible with modern technology and the internet that it's understanding how to analyze them that's important. Names, places, dates, and other kinds of trivia don't matter, so much as the ability to logically reason about them. Today anything can be easily looked up.
But as I've gotten older I've started to understand that memorization is important, much more than we give it credit for. Knowledge is at our fingertips and we can look anything up, but it's knowing what knowledge is available and how to integrate it into our existing knowledge base that's important.’’
Below are the three key reasons Pearl had shared with some really useful examples.
You can't reason accurately without knowledge
Memorizing organizes your knowledge.
It stays with you.
I won’t do any justice if I summarize/explain any of those here, so just sharing the key ideas. Head to Pearl’s essay to know more. You’re bound to think more on this topic.
2. Formulae for performance improvement
Gapingvoid covered Gary Klein’s equation of performance improvement in a recent post titled “Where do insights come from?”
Here’s the equation in Gapingvoid style:
It further expands in the context of a company culture:
Basically, a company that wants to get better at what it does, needs to (1) make fewer mistakes, and (2) have more valuable insights.
Klein said that most of the people in the audience who saw this slide said their employer was far more concerned with (1) than they were (2).
Gary found three answers to “where insights come from” and shared in his book - “Seeing What Others Don't: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights.”
His examples makes a persuasive case to read this book. In case you’ve read it already, do share your key takeaways for a curious mind.
3. “We don’t trade with ants” in advanced AI
In the debate around what will happen when AI reaches consciousness, Katja Grace talks about a common saying - “We don’t trade with ants”.
But she does not want to accept this proclamation at the face value.
As she reckons that we don’t trade with ants simply cos we can’t communicate with them.
She has scores of great examples of what we would have done if we knew how to communicate with ants. These are all highly persuasive use cases and worth chasing (say clean pipes, chase away insects and go to war!).
Finally, she talks about how being unable to communicate is a big challenge and can make one useless.
What a fun read!
4. Cake wreck
Sketchplanations used Jen Yates’ Cake wreck metaphor to talk about a fairly common mistake in product building - misinterpretation of instructions. In his words, a cake wreck is to misinterpret instructions—often by simply taking something literally when it was expected to be interpreted.
Here’s the ‘explanation’ in Sketchplanation style:
He has simple suggestions to avoid such situations, in case you are looking for some solutions.
By the way, do check out this google search result page for Cake wreck examples, it’s so much fun!
5. Buridan’s donkey & Coldplay
Those who have read Taleb’s “Antifragile” must be aware of the ‘Buridan’s donkey’. Here’s a brief explanation for others.
How do you make a donkey decide? That’s the hypothetical question 14th century French philosopher Jean Buridan put forth. Take a donkey and place it exactly equidistant from two identical piles of hay. How will the donkey decide which pile to eat from? Not being able to decide, the donkey would die from starvation!
To make Buridan’s donkey decide, you have to nudge him. Move him just one step from the centre any which way and he will go and get himself fed. When things are stuck at an impasse, random nudges can unlock and set you free.
It’s a fairly common phenomenon and even highly talented & successful people can be stuck like ‘Buridan’s donkey’.
Ankesh did a beautiful post covering such a phase from Coldplays’s journey and how they got out of this rut.
He talks about Brian Eno’s “oblique strategies” of using random nudges to break the impasse & overcome such artistic obstacles.
Here’s a quick summary of how it works, but it’s much more fun to reach here by going through Coldplay’s example in Ankesh’s post.
Quotes and axioms are a great way to create new nudges for yourself. And you can move beyond that too. By trying new things. Read a book you usually wouldn’t. Eat a new dish. Try a new hobby. Travel. Start a conversation with a stranger.
Change your routine. Try something that is new to you. And you will never find yourself in a rut again.
6. Light reads
Some interesting posts & essays that are well worth reading.
Stating that monoculture is dead is not a punchy, interesting or new thing to say. But, in recent months, it feels like we’ve surpassed subcultures into something resembling nano-cultures : hyper niche or micro-local social accounts that hold extreme relevance for a very small number of people.
“Be a thermostat, not a thermometer” by Lara Hogan
If you’re looking for signals about how someone is feeling, it’s kind of like you’re trying to take their emotional temperature. You’re being a thermometer. When they’re subtly giving off weird vibes—they’re frowning, answering your questions with fewer words than normal, etc.—you’ve noticed that their temperature is different.
And since we know that one person’s behavior change can cause others to change their behavior in response, we can think of it like they’re being a thermostat: they’re setting the whole temperature for the room. Even if it’s unintentional on both sides. It’s just how we’re wired: to mirror the “vibes” that someone else is giving off.
7. Everything else
Some random goodness from the internet:
Listen to “The siren of scrap metal” by 99% invisible podcast for a beautiful story of an iconic sound that echoes in repeat in the noisy bustle of Mexico City.
UX Bites for a collection of bite size UX interactions showcasing what great UX looks like. So many examples of delightful customer experience in one place!
The title of today’s post is from Seth Godin’s post “Cheaper than that”.
Before we sign off, a quick shoutout to Ranga who has been a great supporter for this newsletter and has helped a lot of you get onboard this journey with us. His input & encouraging words have helped keep the momentum on “Stay Curious”.
That's all for this week, folks!
I hope I've earned the privilege of your time.
If you enjoyed this post, show your love by ❤️’ing it or leaving a comment or sharing it with a couple of your friends.