Thursday, June 11, 2015

Q&A - 11/6

Research

[Gartner] One-third of jobs will be replaced by software, robots, and smart machines by 2025 [Forbes] 63% of workers are "not engaged" at their jobs, and 23% hate what they do.

Interesting

33% of jobs can be replaced, and 23% ppl hate what they do. I believe there is an overlap between these segments.

Tech Guy

I quit the tech industry. This Friday, June 12, will be my last day at Yelp [..] It’s nothing to do with Yelp specifically. I just don’t care about Yelp’s problems, any more than I care about Uber’s problems or Yo’s problems or anyone else’s problems. They’re interesting for a while, but they’re also the same self-inflicted wounds everyone seems to deal with — why is this slow? why is this broken? how can we keep this old code limping along indefinitely without having to rewrite it? how does this thing a former employee wrote even work? They’re cute puzzles, and I can get into solving them for a while, but I don’t care about them. Because they aren’t my problems; they were just dumped in my lap, along with a canvas sack with a dollar sign on it.

Identification with the end goal is key

People like to feel that their contributions make a difference, in a way that jives with them. The optimal setup for this would be many small companies working on niche projects containing people who are passionate about what they do, and massive tech companies who already know how work at scale, and buy smaller companies strategically as they need to. It would be better if the small goes down to the size of person, who can work on his own or collaborate with others through open source mechanisms, inside or outside the money system (or being supplanted by the money system with a basic income). The rest is fluff. It's the kind of stuff that noone wants to work on which means that noone probably should.

Isaac Asimov

Both [Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace] traveled to far places, observing strange species of plants and animals and the manner in which they varied from place to place. Both were keenly interested in finding an explanation for this, and both failed until each happened to read Malthus’s Essay on Population.

Both then saw how the notion of overpopulation and weeding out (which Malthus had applied to human beings) would fit into the doctrine of evolution by natural selection (if applied to species generally).

Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.

Undoubtedly in the first half of the 19th century, a great many naturalists had studied the manner in which species were differentiated among themselves. A great many people had read Malthus. Perhaps some both studied species and read Malthus. But what you needed was someone who studied species, read Malthus, and had the ability to make a cross-connection [..]

But why didn’t [another person] think of it? The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a “new idea,” but as a mere “corollary of an old idea.”

The Great Asimov

Isaac Asimov 

[On isolation and creativity] My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

Nevertheless, a meeting of such people may be desirable for reasons other than the act of creation itself. No two people exactly duplicate each other’s mental stores of items [..]

It seems to me then that the purpose of cerebration sessions is not to think up new ideas but to educate the participants in facts and fact-combinations, in theories and vagrant thoughts.

But how to persuade creative people to do so? First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object [..]

If a single individual present has a much greater reputation than the others, or is more articulate, or has a distinctly more commanding personality, he may well take over the conference and reduce the rest to little more than passive obedience. The individual may himself be extremely useful, but he might as well be put to work solo, for he is neutralizing the rest [..]

For best purposes, there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence—not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness. For this purpose I think a meeting in someone’s home or over a dinner table at some restaurant is perhaps more useful than one in a conference room.

Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

To feel guilty because one has not earned one’s salary because one has not had a great idea is the surest way, it seems to me, of making it certain that no great idea will come in the next time either.

Yep

Larry Page

When I was younger and first started thinking about my future, I decided to either become a professor or start a company. I felt that either option would give me a lot of autonomy—the freedom to think from first principles and real-world physics rather than having to accept the prevailing “wisdom.”

As Eric and Jonathan explain in How Google Works, we’ve tried to apply this autonomy of thought to almost everything we do at Google. It’s been the driving force behind our greatest successes and some impressive failures. In fact, starting from first principles was what got Google going. One night I had a dream (literally) and woke up thinking… what if you could download the whole Web and just keep the links? So I grabbed a pen and scribbled down the details to figure out whether it was really possible. The idea of building a search engine wasn’t even on my radar at the time. It was only later that Sergey and I realized ranking web pages by their links could generate much better search results.

Gmail started out as a pipe dream too. “And when Andy Rubin started Android a decade ago, most people thought aligning the mobile industry around an open-source operating system was nuts.

Over time I’ve learned, surprisingly, that it’s tremendously hard to get teams to be super ambitious. It turns out most people haven’t been educated in this kind of moonshot thinking. They tend to assume that things are impossible, rather than starting from real-world physics and figuring out what’s actually possible. It’s why we’ve put so much energy into hiring independent thinkers at Google, and setting big goals. Because if you hire the right people and have big enough dreams, you’ll usually get there. And even if you fail, you’ll probably learn something important.

It’s also true that many companies get comfortable doing what they have always done, with a few incremental changes. This kind of incrementalism leads to irrelevance over time, especially in technology, because change tends to be revolutionary not evolutionary. So you need to force yourself to place big bets on the future. It’s why we invest in areas that may seem wildly speculative, such as self-driving cars or a balloon-powered Internet. “While it’s hard to imagine now, when we started Google Maps, people thought that our goal of mapping the entire world, including photographing every street, would prove impossible. So if the past is any indicator of our future, today’s big bets won’t seem so wild in a few years’ time.