Welcome to Chaos: Corona, Bat Soup and the Butterfly Effect

butterflyThe natural tendency of humans is to look for order. In general, the progress and development of technology and society have enabled us to live in a world that is much more organized and predictable than the one of our ancestors. However there are moments in which this order is disrupted and things become chaotic. We are living one of such moments now, with the Corona virus spreading fast across countries.

But what looks like chaos is not necessarily the total lack of order. Actually, chaotic states may also be studied, and this is the purpose of Chaos theory. According to Wikipedia:

“Chaos theory is a branch of Mathematics focusing on the study of chaos—states of dynamical systems whose apparently-random states of disorder and irregularities are often governed by deterministic laws that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. Chaos theory is an interdisciplinary theory stating that, within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals, and self-organization.”

One of the most popular concepts of Chaos theory is the Butterfly Effect:

“The Butterfly Effect, an underlying principle of chaos, describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state (meaning that there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions). A metaphor for this behavior is that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a hurricane in Texas.”

Corona Virus

bat soupAt this moment, the Corona virus is disrupting the life of hundreds of millions of people globally. Factories have been closed, travelers have cancelled their trips, conferences have been postponed, children are studying from home.

There is a rumor that everything started with a Chinese guy eating bat soup. Imagine that: one person eating bat soup in China causes Billions of dollars of losses in the economy worldwide. Exactly like the Butterfly Effect.

But it is not really important if the Corona virus started with a bat soup. The fact is that at some point a single person got infected accidentally, and now all the world is suffering the consequences. This is Chaos theory, in practice.

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Time immigrants: facing the unknown

time_travelAn immigrant is a person that makes the decision to leave his native country and move to a foreign country. The immigrant is conscious that he will face many difficulties and will have to adapt to a new reality. He may need to learn a new language, and probably will have to acquire new skills. When a person immigrates, he decides to face the unknown. He leaves a world that is very familiar and well understood, and moves into a new environment that is full of challenges.

Today we are living in a world that is changing extremely fast. New sophisticated technologies are constantly replacing other technologies that become obsolete. Some traditional professions are disappearing while new specializations are being created. College students are not sure if they will be able to find good jobs when they graduate, and at the same time many companies have difficulties hiring qualified professionals with the right expertise.

We are not able to predict how exactly our lives will change in the next decades, but we know for sure that the future will be very different from the present. We will probably face many difficulties and have to adapt to a new reality. We may need to acquire new skills. We are leaving a world that is very familiar and well understood, and moving into a new environment that is full of challenges. We are not immigrating geographically, but we are time immigrants.

Are you ready to time-immigrate? What is your strategy to succeed in a world that will be drastically different from the one you know?

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On Brainstorms and Criticism

This is the definition of Brainstorming from the Wikipedia:

“Brainstorming is a group creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members.

In other words, brainstorming is a situation where a group of people meet to generate new ideas and solutions around a specific domain of interest by removing inhibitions. People are able to think more freely and they suggest as many spontaneous new ideas as possible. All the ideas are noted down without criticism and after the brainstorming session the ideas are evaluated.”

In the quote above, the emphasis on “without criticism” is mine. As we know, it is not a natural tendency for people to avoid making criticism. They may even be able to refrain from making an open criticism, but in general it is quite hard for people to identify with the innovative ideas being proposed by others.

Therefore, even if during the brainstorming session the ideas are not criticized, most of them will be immediately discarded when “after the brainstorming session the ideas are evaluated.”

This is very well depicted in the cartoon below:

ideas

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Learning From Others’ Mistakes

124191160-new-year-from-2019-to-2020-colored-3d-numbers-with-shadow-on-a-white-backgroundToday is the last day of the year 2019. At this very moment, most people are thinking about how they are going to change next year. They are making plans for 2020. But I’m making a retrospective: I’m thinking about how did I change in 2019.

I believe that the most important change in my attitude has been to focus on learning from others’ mistakes. Previously, I was very excited about reading success stories. I discuss this change in my approach in my previous post: “Should we Learn from Success Stories?

I also understood that avoiding mistakes is what really increases our probability of success. I stopped trying to follow rules or to adopt a formula to be successful. I discuss this idea in my previous post: “On Rules and Probabilities

Following this change in my attitude, I started asking the question: What is the science behind bad decisions? How can we really avoid making mistakes?

Learning from Chess Games

One of the most interesting articles I read on this topic was “Data Mining Reveals the Crucial Factors That Determine When People Make Blunders“, from MIT Technology Review.

This article is based on a scientific investigation using a database of 200 million chess games. The researchers have analyzed the games to detect whether a player has made a mistake, and what were the factors that have caused this mistake.

These are some of the main insights from this article:

“Decision making is influenced by the complexity of the situation, the skill of the decision maker, and the time pressure.”

“The amount of time spent on a decision is a factor in blundering, but only up to a point. Quick decisions are more likely to lead to a blunder, but after about 10 seconds or so the likelihood of a blunder flattens out. So when players spend more time than this on a move, it is probably because they don’t know what to do.”

“The difficulty of the decision is an important factor, too. More difficult positions are more likely to lead to a blunder.”

“Skill levels have a big impact in reducing the likelihood of a blunder. In general, better players make better decisions.”

And the most surprising: The researchers “have found evidence of an entirely counter-intuitive phenomenon in which skill levels play the opposite role, so that skillful players are more likely to make an error than their lower-ranked counterparts. The team call these ‘skill anomalous positions.'”

In summary

While at this moment most people are planning to adopt formulas to increase their success rate in 2020, I’m mostly focused on avoiding mistakes to reduce my failure rate. Happy New Year!

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On Rules and Probabilities

failureEventually we understand that there are no rules. There are only probabilities. There is a probability to succeed and there is a probability to fail.

No one is able to predict anything. At most one can estimate the chances of success or the risk of failure.

Similarly, it is no use making detailed plans. We can only take preventative measures to lower our risks, or prepare ourselves to the utmost to increase our chances.

We should change our focus. We should stop being obsessive about doing “the right thing”. Because even “the right thing” can fail. And because when we believe we are doing “the right thing” this gives us a false sense of safety.

We should stop trying to make “the right decision”. Because in most cases we never have sufficient information to make “the right decision”. And because we cannot really predict all the possible consequences of our decisions.

In general, critical situations are very complex, and this complexity makes them unique. Since each situation is unique, there is no predefined formula to guarantee a positive outcome. Previous experience is useful but not sufficient.

We should just try to increase our probabilities to succeed. Our we should try to reduce our risks to fail. Because there are simply too many things that we cannot control.

There are no guaranteed results. Never.

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On Keys, Potential and Goals

uncut keyThis is an uncut key. That’s how it comes from the factory.

The uncut key has the potential to open any door. But that is just a potential.

The locksmith cuts the key so that it can open a specific door. When he does this, he is setting a goal for the key.

When we are young, we also start with a huge potential. But that is just a potential.

We also need to prepare to achieve our goals. We need to define which doors we want to open!

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Do we really need New Year’s Resolutions?

new_yearWe are approaching the Jewish New Year. In general, in our New Year’s Resolutions, we always think about what we need to change: for example, we may decide to take an interesting course or start a revolutionary diet.

However, this year I am thinking about what I need to keep: what are the things that are working out for me.

I intend to focus on doing more of what is working, and doing less of what did not work.

Focus

In general, I think that people may benefit more from investing in their natural talents instead of constantly trying to develop new skills.

Mastery requires intensive practice for a long period of time, thus it also demands dedication and a clear goal to be achieved.

The modern tendency to try many different paths, always looking for shortcuts, results in the opposite of mastery: shallowness.

Forget New Year’s Resolutions. We probably don’t need to start doing anything new. We just need to persist in what we are doing well.

Shana Tova!

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