Do Things That Work

by Aaron on January 10, 2012

In my junior year English class we’re discussing Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. One student asked the teacher “Wait, so if you’re an ubermensch and you come across a traffic light that you don’t like, do you just run through it with a monster truck and squash all the cars in your way?”


The class laughed. The teacher said yes.


Later on, I asked what would happen if you were an Ubermensch, but you didn’t have a monster truck.


“Well, ” my teacher said, “then you die.”


If you’re going to try doing something, you have to do it in a way that works. A lot of people try to copy something that looks successful, without learning why it works. Even more don’t realize that they don’t know how it works. This causes lots of problems.


It’s the person who decides to study, getting distracted by facebook, then spending lots of time and not getting results.


It’s all the people who go to the gym, eat crap, and don’t get any stronger.


It’s Iceland deciding to do finance, starting a bubble, then crashing the economy.


It’s really easy to look at people’s surface behavior, then try to copy it, but leave out all the parts that actually work.


Drowning looks a lot like swimming. You flail your arms around and kick a lot, but you don’t push against the water enough to keep your head above the surface.


Where does the push come from? What makes things work?




When I succeed at something, it’s for a reason. I can trace a chain of cause and event between what I did, and what I got. The things I’m best at are the things I understand the most.


I can build a robot because I can see what every damn part is doing. The mechanics don’t hide anything — gears have teeth that force other gears in a circle. Mechanisms rotate around hinges. Things hold up because metal would need to break if they didn’t.


Electronics is trickier, but if you have time, a multimeter, and debugging LEDs on your mechanisms, it’s not that bad. If you can swap out everything you didn’t build, it’s pretty easy to isolate the problematic part and remove it.


If only everything were like that. Interacting with non-physical facts is harder.


If you don’t want to be blind, you need metrics. That way, you can see what’s happening. The metrics don’t need to be super fancy, but they do have to be related to the thing you want to track.


Worst case scenario, you can science it out. Try something, see how it affects your metric. Try variations of the things that work out better. Local maxima can happen, but at least you’re doing better than random.


But if you really want something to work, get the causality straight. Figure out why people are responding the way they are, and amplify that. Pay attention to comments. Talk to your readers.


One thing that’s interesting about working with Sebastian is how unapologetic his stances are.


When we were putting together the book, the team kicked titles and subheadings back and forth. Sebastian told us to be less beggy and more direct before, so we were coming up with different titles. Suggestions like “Warpath” or “Letters from an Imperialist” came up. You know, fun aggressive stuff. We were having a grand old time.


Then Sebastian replied.


“No no no! If we talk and market like that, we’ll get torn up. You all want STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH in the title, but trust me here, that won’t actually work.”


I was just trying to pattern match to Sebastian’s previous assertions, rather than following the chains of causality supporting them.


In all the cases he wanted us to be decisive, we already were in a good position. We had something valuable, and we were trying to reach people would would like it.


Isn’t it annoying when people just pattern match, and don’t do things that work?


They look like they know what they’re talking about, because they’re using the same words that people who do are using. They don’t know they don’t know how it works, because they’re saying things that make syntactical sense.


But that’s no good.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Matt Aaron January 11, 2012 at 3:30 am

It is so tempting to think we “get” something.. when we really have little clue. Copying the surface tactic, but not the real strategy behind it. Copying the tricks, but not understanding how they fit in and when to use them.

This also happens with expressing a strong/definite opinion on a situation, be it with politics, culture or finance, that is either A) way beyond someone’s skill-set/understanding or B) based on a limited sample of news/literature/first-hand experience.


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