Question for the readers of this site –
Do you ever read something abstract about business, history, statistics, science, or whatever… and get the feeling “Damn, I’m missing something here. There’s something important here, but I don’t know what.”
I think we all get it occasionally, no? Sometimes for me it’s near unbearable, if I know there’s something important there that I was missing. Sometimes I’m able to resolve it reasonably quickly, sometimes it takes a while longer — once, I finally worked out some equations I’d been failing to finish seven years after I first started — but I fear that often I never get the missed point… which might be important.
What do you do in these situations?
I search briefly, then let it go. Life is short and in the time it would take to learn what I am lacking so that I can understand, I could have learned ten other things. Or I might discover that I didn't get it because the abstraction was flawed to begin with. My opinion - the key insight is that if you don't get it, your value judgement that it's "important" is by definition a delusion. Maybe it is, maybe not. And by the time you figure it out your time is gone forever. It's poor thinking to make a big spend on a maybe.
In introductory statistics, when the variance of sample means often conveniently ends up as sigma^2/n. You can see the principle OK for normal random variables. But for other types of variable it's not so straightforward. It needs some central limit theorem. These don't tend to get explained, or the gloss-over adequately noted, in introductory courses. So, if you wonder, 'how did they get that?' it can be a head scratcher until you track back to where the missing step was: the central limit theorem that was invoked was never explained, just used.
I try to hang on to the feeling as a positive thing, like a smoke detector, until I find what the source of the problem is. I find common candidates are:
1) I'm missing a prerequisite. Trace back and find out what it is.
2) I'm fouling some important step. Write it out and see where my thinking is sloppy. If technical, try and replicate the equations/whatever on a computer.
3) The source I'm learning from is unclear for me. Find something equivalent and use that.
4) The idea itself is bullshit. Low prior probability here, but it happens. E.g. I've seen models in economics that could imply people working more than 24hrs per day. Can be difficult to decide what to do here, depending on what situation you're in (e.g. exam).
I feel this most acutely when playing the game of Go because my strategic failures are not due to merely lacking insight into the game. They are due to failing to grasp the principles that govern strategy and logic themselves.
Otherwise, as someone more divergent than sequential in thinking, I sometimes know I am not observing an interesting detail that could lead me to a solution, but generally my problem is more being able to act on what I realize than churning through the details trying to realize the abstract.Update: I'd love an explanation of the -2...
"The Knack for Getting Money" was a very popular post yesterday. In it, we looked at the success of two people with a real knack for making money - Judd Weiss and 50 Cent. I invited both of them to comment, and Judd kindly wrote this up. Here's Judd:
The Knack for Getting Money is a broad matter that cannot be fully understood from a sound bite, but I can say a few things.
I don’t know what a hangup for making money is. I try to offer something people will willingly pay for, and then they pay for it. What’s to be hungup about?
After years of pushing people (and my employees) to get out there and do more and become greater; perhaps the most significant trait that I’ve noticed, more than intelligence and skills, is that they’re genuinely excited.
It’s helpful to look at abnormal achievers in other fields. Sports always serves as a quick visual example. Why did that basketball player bother to get so good playing a game? Why did a body builder put so much muscle on his body? Why do some men consciously work to sleep with a ridiculous number of women? Why do some guys knock it out of the park with their income?
Progress is not linear. We all have days where we’re just not at the top of our game. The problem is when one bad day leads into another and before you know it you’ve been running in circles for a month.