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Josh Nicholas

Josh Nicholas

We (really) don’t know why it happened

Fulfilment at work comes from mastery, and the perks that go with it, rather than pre-existing passion. That’s my main takeaway from So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport.

There isn’t much earth shattering in it. But it’s a great example of a simple inversion of a “common sense” idea. And the power of, and need for, different framing.

But a side note in the book is what has really captured my thinking the past few days:

There was debate in the chess world at the time surrounding the best strategies for improving. One camp thought tournament play was crucial, as it provides practice with tight time limits and working through distractions. The other camp, however, emphasized serious study—pouring over books and using teachers to help identify and then eliminate weaknesses. When surveyed, the participants in Charness’s study thought tournament play was probably the right answer. The participants, as it turns out, were wrong. Hours spent in serious study of the game was not just the most important factor in predicting chess skill, it dominated the other factors.

That we don’t fully understand or appreciate the reasons for successes (or failures) is something I’ve often returned to since reading The Hidden Half.

That book largely focused on noise and unknowability. Newport concentrates on poor framing and mental capture.

I started reading The Serendipity Mindset this morning and came across yet another spin. This is a book largely focused on luck (“serendipity”), and our perceptions of it.

The point is that when we construct our story of past events, we do what forecasters do: we create a model and ignore the details and the random events. Forecasters have a good excuse for doing this with the future: they cannot model every detail and, by definition, cannot foresee unpredictable events. But what is our excuse for doing this with the past?..
...We downplay or exclude the unpredictable events from our version of the past because random events that happened are no longer unpredictable. In fact, in hindsight they can start to look like they were inevitable. We then use information that wasn’t available to us at the time, and construct narratives that conveniently explain everything, including how each piece of the story logically connects with the rest of the story.

The overarching thread is the stories we tell ourselves are wrong. Whether due to an inability to perceive, ingrained misdirection, motivated reasoning, an uncomfortableness with randomness, post hoc rationalisation, or something else.

Eyewitness accounts seem to receive less and less credence as evidence of flaws mount. But perhaps all stories should be treated thus.

Clovelly rocks

Quick scribbles around the rock platforms in Clovelly.