10 things I know to be true

10 things I know to be true

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Table of Contents

Please note This post is written from the author's own, personal perspective. Take it with a grain of salt.

Inspiration: Google's "10 things we know to be true".

Not in any specific order.

1) The brain can't do planning and execution at the same time

Here's a full post on this: Productivity and Mind Modes

The frame of mind that enables new ideas and breakthroughs is different from the one needed to sit down on a chair and work for 10 hours straight to put those ideas into practice

Now I think it's perfectly possible for one person to have both attitudes, but not at the same time. Perhaps you need to study yourself and/or meditate in order to be able to know what "mode" you're on at a specific moment and act accordingly to be as productive as you possibly can.

I think it's worthwhile to give this some thought because I think both perspectives are equally important when you work in a creative field like software development.

It's maybe akin to how a field marshal looks at a battle strategically (top view) as opposed to a foot soldier which acts locally and views the battle operationally (personal, hands-on view).

Both are needed if you want to win the battle.

2) Sometimes what you know for sure to be true just ain't

No matter what idea or theory you may come up with and/or believe in, there's a chance you might be wrong.

Even when your ideas just feels right, it just makes no difference whatsoever. The complete opposite of your idea or concept may just feel right for somebody else, who is just as much a human as you are.

Take any religion, for instance: there's all sorts of subdivisions and different interpretations within it and most contradict each other to some extent. Now, if there are contradictions, it means one side must, necessarily, be just plain old wrong.

But what's funny is that all parties have absolutely no doubt (some radicals are prepared to kill the other side) that their specific set of ideas is the correct one.

Keep this is mind when you try to convince someone of an idea you hold dearly: you being sure it is right has no bearing whatsoever on it actually being correct.4

3) The global economy is not a zero-sum system

A zero-sum game is a game where there is a limited amount of resources available so, for one to win, another player must, necessarily, lose.

It's easy to assume that the world's wealth (the global economy) is a zero-sum system.

You look at Africa and at Europe and you might think that one is poor because the other is rich (in general terms).1

However, if this were true, the world becoming more wealthy (wealth as measured by quality and length of life) as a whole just couldn't be explained.

Probably 99% of the world today (mid 2019) have better living conditions (and higher life expectancy) than the average European in the 18th or 19th century had. Even Africa.

When an engineer or scientist discovers an easier or more efficient way to produce anything (e.g., buildings, food, medicines, any value-creating process whatsoever), that particular good or service suddenly becomes cheaper and people have to pay less for it.

The world got wealthier. Nobody got any poorer.

4) Your brain is a great machine, but it will play tricks on you

It's not an easy thing to second guess our brain. For starters, what would we use to reason about it, if not the brain itself? Each one of us just cannot step aside their own brain and look at it from the outside, precisely because the brain itself is the tool we use to look at and analyse things in the first place. It's a funny feeling, isn't it?

There is, however, a pretty interesting list I have bookmarked and always refer to so I can learn more about my brain and perhaps, one day, come to learn how to offset these shortcomings and analyse stuff in a more objective manner.

This List of Cognitive Bias examples from Wikipedia is hilarious to look at.

It completely shatters (it did for me at least) the pretense that human beings are rational beings. You will definitely see yourself in many of these categories and perhaps that will throw a smile onto your lips as you come to see how beautifully and perfectly imperfect human beings actually are.

5) Most behaviour by living things (humans included) can be explained by evolution theory

Once you've read about natural selection and how it has made everything that lives the way it is today, it may take a while to sink in. But once it does, it's possible you'll start seeing it in action everywhere you look.

It's quite enlightening once you see that all animals and plants (humans included) are the way they are today simply because it enabled their ancestors to have a larger offspring. It answers all sorts of questions you probably even hadn't thought about. Now, it's quite easy to look at the world and say "oh, I know where that's coming from".

However, it starts getting a little creepy when you start turning this perspective onto yourself. Why are you reading my blog? or Why am I writing it? It may be possible to explain that via natural selection. Maybe deep down we think it'll help us find a sexual partner or better survive in our environment.

And the real question is: can we somehow turn it off, once we understand the origin of such feelings? For instance: if you live in a place where there's war going on, the sound of a plane might send chills down your spine (it may be coming to bomb the place where you live). Now suppose you've moved to a place where war is unheard of. You hear a plane flying low but you don't feel afraid: once you've understood that it's not a threat to you, you don't get afraid anymore; understanding it has rendered it powerless.

6) The fact that something is written down on a book doesn't mean it's any truer

I don't mean to pretend that there aren't some people who are more intelligent and wise than others, of course there are.

However, the simple fact that someone wrote a book about XYZ or that John Doe, Ph.D., Professor of XYZ at XPTO University say that XYZ is good doesn't mean that it actually is.

You should never let your (intellectual) guard down and take something as fact because of that.

You say there was a study by University A that proves that B is true. Good. I can show you lots of research papers by other Universities saying how B is bad and it has caused massive suffering through history. It just doesn't mean anything.

Even a mathematical proof or statement. It might contain errors; you may be able to see something the original author didn't. Who knows.

Trust nothing you read. Even what you read here, obviously.

7) It takes a lot of effort to make something look simple

You'd think this one would be a no-brainer, but it's funny how we can actually forget about the things we rely the most on and probably couldn't live without.

Picture some tool or object or service that was designed to accomplish something and just just works. Perfectly and effortlessly. Like it wasn't even there. It just gets out of the way, does what it was built to do and you just get on with your life. You probably make use of some things like that but perhaps we can't even remember them. We just notice them when we, for some reason, find ourselves without it.

Few people know how much study and research and money and time and frustration and failed attempts to make something like that. Perhaps it's one of those things that you can't understand until you've been there. Only then can you see the beauty it radiates.

I only hope the stuff I make and create can at least be barely useful so that I can pay a tiny portion of the debt I hold to these great men (and women obviously) mankind has produced and whose creations I use.

8) When you are low on motivation, break tasks into smaller parts

When you are feeling low-energy and lacking the will to push on with the projects you have planned, one way out is to break the tasks down until you feel energized again.

I'm not sure how to explain this but when you are 100% sure of what the next step is, you get motivated.

For instance, split task "work on new code project X" with more actionable things like "create a project on github" and "look at 3 similar proejcts to get ideas", etc.

Tasks should be actionable! This is very important.

This ties in with the first point on splitting planning and execution tasks.

9) Small complex systems aren't proxies for larger systems

Complex systems are systems with multiple parts which interact together give a different picture when seen at the micro level vs the macro level. Examples include things like economies, societies, financial markets and the human body.2

One of the defining characteristics of compplex systems is that they are nonlinear. What this means in practice is that you can't use a smaller/shorter version of a system to approximate a larger/longer version.

This is very relevant to all sorts of discussions because we tend to think in terms of linear phenomena in size and in time:

So for instance arguments like are not at all valid because they related to complex systems:

  • X works in Sweden (small country, small population) so X must also work in the US (large country, large population);

  • Strategy X works for managing small companies, so it will also work to manage large companies;

  • We can build a small program in X hours. We can therefore build a program that is 100 times larger in 100X hours.

These are all examples where our (flawed, linear) common sense betrays us when thinking about complex systems.

10) The Knowledge Economy is a Winner-Take-All Market

Up until the late 70's or 80's, most3 goods and services were actual physical entities: most of what you bought involved actual concrete things: furniture, cars, houses, haircuts, eating out at restaurants, etc.

Enter the knowledge economy, the collection of all goods and services that are purely of an informational nature: software development, streaming services, digital content, games, social media and the like.

There are no physical boundaries anymore; if you provide information-based services your customers can be anywhere; your business is also competing with everyone else on the planet.

Whereas local businesses had an obvious advantage just because they were near their customers (less transportation costs, customers had to travel to obtain goods and service), now there is basically no advantage of buying local vs buying a service provided by a company on the other side of the planet: they are both equally easy to use via a computer or mobile device.

This brings us a winner-take-all world: if you have access to everything, why not always get the best? Why not always get the cheapest? Everyone gravitates towards the single best providers available globally; there is no second place.

In practical terms, this means that digital markets are likely to create monopolies (not always bad ones) rather than many local players that are strong in only a handful of geographies. Also, inequality will rise while a few digital professionals will have exponential impact if they work for the winners in this winner-take-all world.

1: There was indeed a fair amount of looting in the past perpetrated by Europeans against the territories they've found like the Americas, Asia and Africa as well.

2: Conway's Game of Life is an example of how complex systems can arise by the application of very simple rules: https://playgameoflife.com/

3: With some exceptions like consulting.

4 Except when it's a mathematical proof. And even then there are limits to what you can prove

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