Taking Ideas Seriously is Hard

by neilkakkar1 min read31st Oct 20204 comments

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Taking Ideas SeriouslyRationality
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Most people don’t practice taking ideas seriously. I think it’s because most people don’t know how to. I didn’t either, until I stumbled upon an implication.

For example, what would it mean to take compounding seriously?

Ugh. I can feel your aversion. You’ve already heard so much about compounding, how it works, how it’s the eight wonder of the world, etc. etc.

But, familiarity is not the same as taking it seriously.

Say you start with $100, and every year, make 10% more. This compounds, since the extra money is a function of how much you already have. The more you have, the more you get. It’s a positive loop that keeps on increasing.

That’s the familiar interpretation. The earlier you start, the more money you’ll make.

To take this interpretation seriously would mean investing your earnings for a similar return. Reality has a surprising amount of detail, and sometimes assumptions break. You don’t make 10% - which means you need to balance your investments somehow. That makes things complicated. However, this complication is not related to compounding.

Taking compounding seriously means taking it a step further. Your net worth is just one implication. What else compounds?

Your life experiences and knowledge. What would it mean to leverage compounding here?

If you’re taking compounding seriously, you’d learn the skills with the greatest return first. That means learning the broadest applicable skills you’d apply throughout your life first. That means learning how to think well - before learning the new fancy tech you want to learn.

Of course, sometimes you need a medium to learn the skill better. That makes sense: learn to think well via this new tech you wanted to learn. Purposes are fragile though, and it’s easy to get lost in the tool, instead of the overall goal.

What makes this example so good is that you’re probably very familiar with compounding. What else are you familiar with, but haven’t realised you’re not taking seriously?

A good way to practice this is to ask this question: What are the implications of (idea) in (field of interest)?

For example, asking myself What are the implications of compounding for my self-directed knowledge base led to the above insight of learning broader skills first.

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That means learning the broadest applicable skills you’d apply throughout your life first.

Another example: when learning a new language focus on the list of 100 or 1000 or whatever most commonly used words - this enables you to get started understanding the gist of basic conversations quickly, which then enables a positive feedback loop of compounding as you speak more in the new language, gain confidence, pick up new words in those conversations etc.

Extending this - focus learning (especially in early life) on permanent, unchanging knowledge like math, physics etc.

Also - with compounding, optimise for things you can keep doing for a long time. The earlier and longer you can do something, the more you will gain from the force of compounding.

There are some caveats to the principle of compound interest (with money and other applications):

  • Not all things will continue to compound forever, or the rate will change
  • No one ever got rich putting $100 in the bank and letting it compound for 50 years. Lesson: You do still need significant deposits (raised through means other than compounding interest) to actually get large gains from compounding.

Yes, that's a very good example! That's exactly how I learned French - and I learned much quicker than, say, the usual class curriculum starting with grammar. Turns out, if my goal was to go to France and speak to people there in French, the grammar wasn't necessary to get the point across (in most cases).

with compounding, optimise for things you can keep doing for a long time. The earlier and longer you can do something, the more you will gain from the force of compounding.

I was hinting at this, but didn't say it. Thanks for making it explicit.

nitpic

If you’re taking compounding seriously, you’d learn the skills with the greatest return first.

I don't see how that follows. Whether you multiply your initial value by 1.3 before 1.1, or the other way around, the end result is the same.

Edit: ah, maybe you meant to learn the skill which unlocks the most opportunity for more learning

Indeed, I meant the latter interpretation.