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Ask HN: Name one idea that changed your life
1084 points by yarapavan 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 815 comments
Inspired by David Perell's tweet - https://twitter.com/david_perell/status/1257484391204352002

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

— Ira Glass

This is a cool thing about learning something as a kid: You have no taste to get in the way of learning. You just learn. This is true of six-year-olds learning to play the violin.

Another taste-bypass is to jump into a field that's new enough to have no established standards for taste. For instance when I learned programming, there were no beautiful websites or even software to compare my work to. Websites were a decade away, and I had no access to any interesting software other than what I wrote myself or could find in a magazine. I was having a blast, and felt like master of the universe, though my programs by today's standards would be laughable.

I am a pianist that went throught this. The first time I wrote something of my own "taste" was when I was 15. A couple of somewhat important guys told me "We can't wait until you are 18."

This is the only field in which I had this kind of luck. (I am about 30 now and I can write a song within about three days that I would be happy with. A more recent one was when I took an Estonian poem by Johan Liiv and set it to music. I can sing the words, know their meaning, wrote the song accordingly, but I don't speak Estonian.)

My other interests had no such kind of luck. I am still aweful at soccer, but better than other people who started off as rugby players. My MSc was the first time I discovered/invented mathematics and I still am looking for my taste, though I know what it is (self-dual frameworks). I can program the way I think in mathematics, but I am not an accomplished programmer. All of this takes a lot of time, but the recognition along the way is important–especially that one song that I could write at an early age–but then again, I started playing piano when I was, indeed, a six-year-old.

How did you happen to take Juhan Liiv's poem without knowing Estonian?

I asked an Estonian which poet's work to use and then bought the book [1] where his poems are translated to English.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Snow-Drifts-Sing-Essential-Translatio...

I don't see how you can learn anything without such taste. To learn you have to be able to know what can be done better. Or someone tells you.

I think the point here is diminishing returns. When you're younger or rather a beginner you can make bigger leaps because you're learning the rough basics. When you're an expert and you can still tell that it's not good enough it can take months or years to make you reach that next milestone.

Parent seems to refer to taste _being in the way_ of learning (not the lack of it) and I definitely get the sentiment. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about the stuff I could have learned when I was young: I had a C64 and I could have learned assembly programming, if I just had met anyone with an actual disk of an assembler program and my library had a book about it, nothing of which was the case.

But then again, if there had been YouTube already, I'm not sure I wouldn't have been immediately discouraged by some 4-year old whiz kid somewhere in the world doing it better than me.

Back then I was the king of computer science because I was comparing myself to the rest of my rural high school. Now where I'm instantly comparing myself to 4 billion people, that can get pretty discouraging pretty quick.

Or in my case, likely distracted by some random stuff on youtube.

It is best of times, it is the worst of times.

There's so much educational content on YouTube, I envy my brother who has access to courses from CMU, MIT, and Stanford, and countless other presentations he can learn from. Kids, on the other hand...have it worse, ironically, when they should be the ones benefitting the most from all the accelerated learning on offer.

I think the suggestion is that at the earliest levels of mature fields where you've got a lot of basic and technical skills to develop, you're not really able to do much useful with your taste, and it's more likely just to depress you with how far you have to go.

You will need that taste to progress eventually, but in the more mechanical early phases it can be a distraction.

My best advice about writer's block is: the reason you're having a hard time writing is because of a conflict between the GOAL of writing well and the FEAR of writing badly.

By default, our instinct is to conquer the fear, but our feelings are much, much, less within our control than the goals we set, and since it's the conflict BETWEEN the two forces blocking you, if you simply change your goal from "writing well" to "writing badly," you will be a veritable fucking fountain of material, because guess what, man, we don't like to admit it, because we're raised to think lack of confidence is synonymous with paralysis, but, let's just be honest with ourselves and each other: we can only hope to be good writers. We can only ever hope and wish that will ever happen, that's a bird in the bush. The one in the hand is: we suck.

We are terrified we suck, and that terror is oppressive and pervasive because we can VERY WELL see the possibility that we suck. We are well acquainted with it. We know how we suck like the backs of our shitty, untalented hands.

We could write a fucking book on how bad a book would be if we just wrote one instead of sitting at a desk scratching our dumb heads trying to figure out how, by some miracle, the next thing we type is going to be brilliant. It isn't going to be brilliant. You stink. Prove it. It will go faster.

And then, after you write something incredibly shitty in about six hours, it's no problem making it better in passes, because in addition to being absolutely untalented, you are also a mean, petty CRITIC.

You know how you suck and you know how everything sucks and when you see something that sucks, you know exactly how to fix it, because you're an asshole.

So that is my advice about getting unblocked. Switch from team "I will one day write something good" to team "I have no choice but to write a piece of shit" and then take off your "bad writer" hat and replace it with a "petty critic" hat and go to town on that poor hack's draft and that's your second draft.

— Dan Harmon

This one works for dating too. If you are trying to get rejected, it turns out to be incredibly hard to do.

Oh man, this one is great. I’ll try this sometime and actually write a story.

This one is absolutely genius.

"Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something."

-- Jake the Dog

When I was learning to play the game Go, someone told me that there's some old advice about "losing your first 100 games as quickly as possible". That's stuck with me.

Another one is (and I don't even know if it's 100% true, but I don't much care) that a common housefly will change its path if it runs into a window more than twice. I strive to be better than a common house fly.

I got basically the same advice from my adviser about collecting data for my thesis. "If too many experiments are failing," he said, "just do more of them, and faster."

There is a photography adage that your first ten-thousand photographs are your worst.

I'm not sure I agree -- sometimes you get lucky or circumstance is favorable -- but I am certain that my second ten-thousand photographs were better, on average, than my first.

My iPhone photo’s are vastly better than anything I ever took with my DSLR, but I’m positive it’s mostly for that reason.

That said, the incredible digital processing helps a lot.

If at first you don't succeed, try two more times so that your failure is "statistically significant"

or: If at first you don't succeed, Sky Diving is not for you.

What part constitutes success? Jumping or safely arriving on the ground?

In that case it's still statistically significant ;)

Sometimes I wonder if failing twice is an optimal evolutionary state. Once is not enough to know if it’s worth changing for.

Yeah, as a kid this is what always bugged me about Wile E. Coyote.

Oh Adventure Time - has such a special place in my heart.

If it does for you too - I could not more highly recommend Pendleton Ward's latest project The Midnight Gospel.

"How did you almost know my name?"

"I have approximate knowledge of many things, child..."

"I have approximate knowledge of many things" - is my favorite quote ever, because it accurately describes my job role as a systems integration engineer.

So when my role says electrical and I teach people about cooling, hydraulics, human factors and user experience, some people raise questions and I generally debuff with a paraphrase of this line.

"The master has failed more times than the beginner has even attempted."

"A beginner practices until they get it right, a master practices until they can't get it wrong."

> "A beginner practices until they get it right, a master practices until they can't get it wrong."

You can get to the point where no one can see any mistakes. It appears perfect... But not to you. The only way to get to that point is to never be satisfied with your own performance, it could always have been a bit better, you could see that small error (or more likely--those small errors) that no one else could see.

Ayrton Senna talked about trying to drive the perfect lap using this anology: "It is like trying to tie your necktie so that both ends are exactly the same length; experience and practice say that you can do it--but you can't."

Although there is a sort of dual "… until they can make their errors beautiful" or something. If you're good enough, it doesn't matter if you make mistakes, because you can turn those mistakes into good things just as quickly as you could have constructed the original correctly.

It does depend on the medium though, for example painting is pretty forgiving while glass blowing is not at all.

"The secret to making great barbeque is to make a lot of bad barbeque" ~ Aaron Franklin

To be fair, even Aaron Franklin's bad barbeque is some of the best BBQ you'll ever have.

Whenever someone says they "aren't good at something" I'm fond of reminding them (and myself) that "you don't get better at something by _not doing it_".

.. and the only thing that matters is you don't give up.

There are so many people who don't mind being stuck at "sucking at something" it's outright scary. I'm currently learning Python, and very frequently I feel that my solution is not elegant, and I hate it. I imagine a lot of people would just go along with it. Maybe not on HN, but in general.

I watched Ira’s video probably 9 or 10 years ago. And while I didn’t notice it back then, this message had a huge impact on me and resonated heavily with my world view over the years, serving as a great motivational driver on my most challenging times.

The funny thing is, as time went by and I valued this lesson more and more, I couldn’t, for the life of me, find this video again, nor the author of the quote. I remember going on lengthy google sessions trying to find it back, but failed hard every time, to a point I thought I had dreamed of it, or that it was lost for good.

And here it is, 10 years later, on HN, and we meet again. Finally!

Thanks for posting this.

Reddit's "Tip of my tongue" is great for finding things you remember, but can't name. People manage to figure out exactly what the poster is asking for, no matter how obscure the description.


My dad doesn't speak / understand english well. He did manual labor for the past 3 decades (pretty much since having me). For the past year (at 55 years old), he has been learning coding from a javascript book that I've been writing every day every though he didn't understand much. He asks questions and commits to doing problems from the book every day. He updates his progress on notion every day, 7 days a week.


Its been a year and he went through a few notebooks of practice problems back to back. He now catches bugs in my book and proofreads my lesson exercises. He can understand my code and give me feedback. His perseverance and dedication to my content is the greatest gift I can ever receive from anyone.

Five beats a day for three summers - Kanye West

I've never seen this quote and it is excellent.

John Mulaney said the same thing about stand up. Its far, far easier to recognize good work than it is to do it. It may be be years before your ability matches your taste.

Also, between two years in and death, it's still very common to fail into the trough of despair when working on a creative project. Brian Eno has had a pretty good creative run, but he didn't make that Oblique Strategies card deck because he never runs out of great ideas.

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson

“Every artist has thousands of bad drawings in them and the only way to get rid of them is to draw them out.” ― Chuck Jones

I think the problem I have is that I don't understand how to get good at something that I have good taste in. Of everything that I've been able to learn I've always had some sort of pleasure in the doing. I enjoyed my C++ assignments in college. I've enjoyed learning the basics of woodworking.

I love art and would love to learn to paint or draw but I can't figure out how to enjoy the small victories there. It's not about being objectively good but about enjoying an "ah-ha" moment where you feel like you've gotten better. Any advice for me? I'm very open to anything but I just can't seem to enjoy learning a lot of the activities that I value more than anything.

It's just like Glass says: you have to do a lot of work. Be comfortable that everything will suck for a while. Probably a long while. You may not notice day-to-day progress, but if you practice frequently, you'll eventually be able to look back and see that you're doing better.

For many, a good way to do that is just to take a class. You commit to showing up with other people and just working on the thing. A good friend joined an MFA program not because she really expected to learn much from the teachers, but because she benefits from the structure that forces her to write, write, write.

Hey there, I struggled with the exact same thing as you when it comes to art. I started teaching myself to draw around a year ago. I made my way through the well known books, 'Drawing on the right side of the brain' and the Andrew Loomis books on faces and figures.

The main thing that pushed me through, and still motivates me, is that now I know the language and the reasons for the 'wrong' parts in my drawing. Now when I draw a figure I catch myself thinking 'These legs look weird because I didn't pay attention to the calf muscles and now my figure looks completely out of proportion' or 'My initial gesture drawing was rigid and as a result my figure looks static, with none of the weight being balanced'. For me I can see myself get better, but a lot of the 'Ah-ha!' moments actually come from realising where I've gone wrong and what I need to look at next to make sure I can do better next time.

As an aside, a huge bonus with this sort of thinking is an renewed interest and appreciation for artists you like, I catch myself looking at the work of guys like Charles Dana Gibson and marvelling at their control over light and shadow, or the expressions they're able to conjure with a few lines. It's an intensely rewarding experience. I'd really recommend grabbing a pencil and just going for it.

I’ve found that I need to alternate between two kinds of practice within a session: Pushing my limits with no real expectation of success is where I actually learn things, but is demotivating. I also need an easier task that I’m confident that I can succeed at, where I can just get into a flow state and perform.

I’ve never tackled drawing, but if I did, I would probably pick some simple object and sketch it at the end of every practice session. By drawing the same object over and over again, you’ll notice it getting easier and better over time, and you’ll build a ritual around drawing that feels familiar and comfortable.

I am doing this, YMMV: I started drawing exactly 1 quick sketch (mostly human figures, taken from https://line-of-action.com/) a day. EVERY DAY.

After 30-40 days of this I started putting the results on Instagram. I had an Instagram account for maybe five years, only to follow friends there, never posted on it. I kept drawing and publishing at least one piece a day, every day, from April to December. In some cases (e.g. I went away for a holiday) I either took drawing stuff with me or built up a bit of "buffer" before the trip in order to keep posting regularly.

Now it is a bit over a year since I started, I post at least once every two days, actually more like once every 1.3/1.5 days...

I do believe I am improving, and anyway I am enjoying this immensely. I do not know if for you the publishing part may act as an incentive or you maybe feel intimidated by this. So try just drawing without publishing for at least one month, possibly daily.

Would you mind sharing your Instagram? I'd love to see your progress - I'm sure it would be inspiring for others to follow your lead (even if you're not quite Picasso yet)

Of course! I did not put it in the original comment because I didn't want to make my message look like "clickbait" - here it is: https://www.instagram.com/pamar/

And here is my webpage on the process (I want to add more about how I draw, including some technical tips): http://pa-mar.net/Hobbies/Drawing.html

Thanks, and looks like you're really making some progress. Good effort!

Speak for yourself. My Blender donut looks fantastic!

> All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste

Like saying “How bout them Cowboys” at a club in Dallas.

Everybody wants to think they have good taste and everybody wants to be told they have good taste.

Of all the people who read that quote and nod along thinking, “yes this is me” how many are actually right?

Most likely: all of them. Most people have above average taste in some subject they are, for whatever reason, overly interested in. And you can't really judge this based on how good they are now or will be because that doesn't say anything about their taste just their current ability.

It's kinda like your example. No one in Dallas really thinks the Cowboys are any good. Not anymore. It's just something mildly amusing you can say. In fact the comment is rooted in being obviously tasteless. It's just the local team that was really good way back when. Those with taste may recognize that Romo was actually good or that he's made a good commentator but no one actually thinks the Cowboys are or were good since their heyday. (Though honestly I don't know or care about the team. I'm basing this on listening to sports people.)

> Of all the people who read that quote and nod along thinking, “yes this is me” how many are actually right?

Those who actually fight their way through their creative difficulties as the quote suggests, as opposed to those who read the quote and think "yup, no one recognizes my good taste, screw em".

Some people have innate creativity that just needs to be tuned through hard work. Many (most) don't have it in them to begin with.

We should all be OK with the idea that we're not all geniuses (creative genius, business, mathematical, whatever) waiting to be unlocked.

This says it best: https://mashable.com/video/jj-watt-robbie-rudy-snl-sketch/

Except as the quote actually says, it is advice to beginners.

Every expert started out as a beginner.

Yes but the quote is to be told to beginners, none of whom have yet to “actually fight their way through their creative difficulties.”

I don't think we're in disagreement.

You asked: Of all the people who read that quote and nod along thinking, “yes this is me” how many are actually right?

Of those people who think "yes this is me" as beginners, those who stick with it and move beyond the stage of beginner by fighting their way through their creative difficulties will be the ones who actually did have good creative taste and were right. Those who reach creative roadblocks and blame the cause on external circumstances are not among those with good creative taste.

I don't think you should be downvoted, because you speak truth. The comment/quote is factually wrong: not everyone who gets into creative work has "good taste", nor is Ira Glass correct that you just need to plow through it. Go peruse an end-of-senior-year art exhibit or dance recital at your local college. Bless 'em, they worked hard and gave it their best, but usually the raw creativity and talent isn't there.

You're really getting lost in the weeds.

Glass' is talking about good taste by your own standards, and standards that are higher than you can achieve as a beginner. Whether other people think you have good taste is irrelevant to the quote/advice.

The point is to not let this discourage you from putting in the work.

I don't think your example disproves Glass' statement. Surely students are in the beginner phases and their work does not represent their full potential. Glass' statement seems to say forgive students (and yourself for being one) instead of writing them off as hopeless.

Look at the first sentence of Glass’s statement. It is meant to be told to beginners to encourage them. He’s telling beginners that because you’re trying you must have good taste (which is clearly not true) so stick with it.

Ira is obviously trying to point out that the self-hatred comes from the fact that you know enough about your work to hate it. He turns pessimism into meta-cognition.

I don't read it that way. I read it as a message to not be discouraged if you aren't immediately a master because nobody is immediately a master. If everyone looks at the results of their work and says "I can't do this" then nobody will ever improve. It's a hacker's viewpoint for sure. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of not just the good but anything. Fail fast, etc, etc.

I didn't learn to use a command line or write python scripts instantly. I spent thousands of hours banging my head against the wall. Progress is slow. Imperceptible even. Stick with it and eventually you get there.

Does this mean everyone can do everything? No. It means you'll never find what you are good at it if you just give up at the first sign of failure.

> He’s telling beginners that because you’re trying you must have good taste

That's not how I read the quote. I read it as him saying, you can't know whether or not you have good taste without first producing a lot of bad work, and that producing bad work is not necessarily a sign that you have bad taste.

If anything, those who judge themselves harshly are demonstrating good taste because they can see the flaws in their work compared to the works of others. It's those that don't feel any sense of criticism toward their own work that lack good taste, but they wouldn't feel this quote applies to them in the first place, because they wouldn't feel that their work is disappointing. They would instead be blaming others for not recognizing their superior work.

The quote appears in many variants -- here's one as an interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2wLP0izeJE .

I didn't see anyone posting this, which is in my opinion the best essay on PG's site:


Quantity before quality, essentially.

"For the process of fulfillment of art is of higher importance than the transcendence imagined and desired to throttle the world with. Yes, it is healthy and the essence of the sacredness of artistry to the plenitude of society that the artist becomes entranced by his vision of the transcendent, which offers him salvation in the face of material impoverishment while enacting his being.[1] But the vision is often mistaken as the completion of the work instead of understanding it most critically as only its beginning.

Perhaps such verisimilitude is impenetrable to the stubborn set, who would be already fatigued at the awareness of the mountain they have yet to climb in sharing to the world what they imagine they see. They do not get excited at the prospects of the sweat they need to be drenched in to arrive at the glistening of perfection they think sparkled in the corner of their mind’s eye and holds them captive until they unearth it from the stream of their consciousness. They misplace their feeling of self satisfaction in feeling the illuminating spark versus the product of anguishing labor. And more so, with collaborative works, they fail to concede that spark of the incomprehensible is not solely their ownership, it is merely a beacon to direct their will towards and that they must acknowledge that the sublime they are reaching towards can be identically perceived by their fellow artists. As such, the collaboration itself can and does bring a greater fulfillment than what can possibly be imagined by the artist on his own.

Again, the strong-headed simply have misconstrued perfection as existing sufficiently in their minds. And this is reasonable to understand when taken in terms of understanding the sense of gratification that is involved in creating the work. Having to accept the labor involved is demoralizing. But what other choice does the artist have? He is not rewarded in hiding his gifts to himself, indeed, society punishes him for it.

It is expected, however, that the artist finds pleasure in the labor of creating his being. But again, not all artists possess the same courage in reaching beyond them and of confronting uncertainty. For the creative process is similarly heroic in this sense. The artist must have faith in his efforts, or at the least, be so blinded with passion any creative ejaculation creates the pleasure of self-fulfillment. Indeed, this is the Dionysian method, where the artist has no regard for the merit of his work and is simplistically fulfilled with its spawning. And how poetic; by being so unhinged and drunk, the artist is, through the process, rationalizing the incomprehensibly rational with its final appearance as his artwork. He is making Providence coherent to human conscious experience. There is no impedance erected by his subjectivity’s stubbornness. He merely acts as a conduit to a higher realm of truth, by in a certain sense becoming one with a higher power. It is a tantric dance that dissolves the self, which itself has no concern for its quality and therefore no prejudices which block the artist from becoming an artist. Might we say this oracular feat is pure will?

Note that the artist in this instance does not make the work for anything other than itself. He has no expectations, no simian entanglement with which he concerns the relation of his creation to others. The work transcends society, and transcends appropriately human experience. This is the entire aim of art."

From my essay On the Struggling Artist: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M037G3I

[1] Which is the quintessence of idealism contra materialism.

>It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap

I think this is key to building any skill. Find a way to get more reps in. Find a safety net to allow you to finish quickly and start over.

For example, when I learned how to juggle the important thing was to find a way to recover from failure and start over. I started juggling standing up. The balls would fly everywhere and I would spend 10seconds picking them up, bending over, etc. Very annoying. Then I found out that if I use cloths or juggled over my bed or on the ground, I could easily pick them up and start over within seconds. This got me reps. They weren't always quality reps, but I wasn't going for quality, I just wanted to get the skill down.

Worse yet, most people have bad taste and actually can't tell good and bad design work apart, so you're really spending all that effort to please a minority that you're unfortunate enough to be part of.


Blub paradox applied to taste is even harder to deal with because people without it want to believe it doesn't exist. Programmers can eventually move along the spectrum.

I used to scoff at Blub, but with the experience I gathered, I came to the conclusion that with all things considered, it is actually Blub that is the most powerful language.

True, but here is - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gutenberg_bible_Old_Testa... - an example of old font. Do you think a lot of people would have problems with reading this?

> Do you think a lot of people would have problems with reading this?

I don't know. Readability and aesthetics are at odds. I believe there used to be a strong aesthetic desire for text to be of uniformly block-like shape. It took centuries for spaces to appear between words and even longer for paragraphs to become as short as they are today.

> Readability and aesthetics are at odds.

I'm not sure. If it's a cafe front, I can deal with Comic-like windings. If I'm reading something for a reasonably long time, I start valuing functionality - here it's readability.

Maybe people could train to read easily that font - they didn't have much of alternatives. That would mean readability is rather conditional. I'd like to know.

> Maybe people could train to read easily that font - they didn't have much of alternatives. That would mean readability is rather conditional. I'd like to know.

I feel like comprehension of the underlying language will aid readability. If it were written in English, despite the illegibility, I'd be able to read it easier by having a general sense of what the words are supposed to be from context.

Even worse is when you think you’re part of the minority but aren’t.

It's so upsetting when someone with poor taste is putting in their 10k hours and wondering why they're getting no traction. Time + talent + exposure (luck) are all needed in some sort of formula. Talent is the one variable that you can't grind.

Favor interrogative-led questions over leading questions.

A leading question attempts to get the listener to agree or disagree with a premise you feed to them.

An interrogative-led question often begins with the words: who; where; what; when; why.

Imagine the responses to these two questions:

- "Did you like the movie?" (Leading)

- "What did you think about the movie?" (Interrogative-led)

How do each of these questions make you feel? How comfortable would you be saying something you think would displease the asker in each case. What kind of responses are possible/likely in each case?

Of course, you can always be talking to someone who's not interested in talking. It's possible to answer either question with a word or two. So there's some assumption of willingness to participate. Even so, you can still sometimes use carefully-chosen interrogative-led questions to find reasons for the disinterest.

Asking good interrogative-led questions is essential for above-average results in many pursuits: science; engineering; interviewing; and negotiation; to name a few. It can also be an important way to de-escalate tense situations. I've found it especially useful when talking to subject matter experts when trying to learn something about areas I know little.

Here's an actionable way to apply the idea. The next time you find yourself asking a question that doesn't begin with {who, where, what, when, why}, stop yourself and rephrase it to begin with one of those words. What differences do you notice in how the conversation goes compared to similar conversations you've had in the past?

I also find a similar technique useful when searching online. If you search "do Aliens exist?" or "does teflon cause cancer" you're guaranteed to find articles that match the bias of your question. Instead, search "extraterrestrial life" or "teflon health effects" or similar terms that are likely to match articles that both agree and disagree with the premise in question. You will end up significantly more informed from the results.

The most significant time that I made this mistake was during the attempted coup in Turkey.

I was living close to Istiklal Street, and I was woken up by a very loud boom. I was pretty sure it was a sonic boom but wanted to make sure. The smart thing would have been to search for "Explosion Istiklal" or maybe even "Boom Istiklal". Instead, I searched for "Bomb Istiklal", and of course I found the 7 people who had leapt to conclusions.

It took me a while to realize I also needed to search for other alternatives, that was a good lesson in the availability bias.

I was taught that by a sales guy. Never ask a yes/no question. Don't ask "Are you satisfied with your current provider?" rather "What do you like/dislike about your current provider?". The wrong answer to a yes/no question ends the conversation.

In a job I had as a student, I had to sell a product over the phone. My boss told me to ask a couple of obvious leading questions first. The point was to get the customer to say „yes“ a couple of times, before trying to sell the product.

I was very ineffective and got fired after a week.

I read a book recently suggesting the opposite. That it's much more effective to get them to say No right out of the gate. People feel like they are in control when they say "No."

Yes there's a psychological principle at work there, when you ask a serious of "softball" questions that are intended to get the respondent to agree, blatantly so, the respondent's "radar goes up", so to speak. I've heard someone give this approach -- and its unintended consequence -- a name, but currently it escapes me. And yes, the gentlemen I'm thinking of was in sales, technical sales actually.

I assume people are meant to find the second question easier to answer? But I don’t know why. The first gives you some vital information for pulling this interaction off successfully. It tells you the speaker liked the movie (or hated it, depending on tone of voice), so you’d better think about how vehemently you want to disagree with them. The second sounds like a trap! If you say “boy, it sucked!” and the speaker loved it, they might not like that! It only works if you trust the speaker to be some kind of enlightened being who never gets offended. If I didn’t know the speaker well, I’d be tempted to give a really wishy-washy non-answer to the second question.

The point is to shift conversations from opinion to insight.

Instead of getting someone’s opinion about something, which is ultimately subjective and of little benefit, you are trying to get unique insights into the subject that you may have not considered which can be very beneficial.

I hear suggestions like this occasionally, and I don't get it. Apparently sentences like "Did you like the movie?", which sound to me like perfectly neutral questions, actually have a slant.

Which way is this question leading me to answer? How can I tell? "Yes" and "No" seem equally acceptable answers here. I don't see how either one would "displease the asker", without knowing more about the situation.

The framing suggests that the asker did like the movie. It makes it harder to answer in the negative because some (most) folks have an instinct to achieve social consensus. I think it's a society-wide learned defense mechanism against tribalism in the presence of allies. Maybe a good test for these sorts of questions is to add the word "also" at the end.

I think it can lean either way depending on how you ask it ("Did you like the movie??").

However, regardless of leaning, the non-leaning version feels like it will generate more interesting responses, while "Did you like it?" is likely to elicit a "yes" or "no".

‘Like’ is a positive verb so it’s not a neutral question.

More importantly it directs you to frame your reaction on a simple like-dislike axis, when the full spectrum of your opinion is probably more complex, and eliciting that yields a better conversation.

I am with you here, it seems perfectly neutral question to me.

But this reminds me of a time when I went to movies with some younger family memeber and their friends. After the movie they asked each other if they loved the movie. To me love was really strong word. I wanted to say I liked it, not loved it but then I thought no need to be negative here. So I just said yes.

So when people ask did you like the movie, many people subconsciously say yes even if they disliked it.

You are right that there are two acceptable answers to the question. How does this compare to the number of acceptable answers to the other question?

It's also overly simplistic and tends towards binary outcomes. Yes. No. Conversation over.

It was a two hour movie, surely the answer is more complicated! Caveat: does not apply to all movies.

My favorite way to ask this question is “What did you (dis)like about the movie?”

Makes the question more open ended and encourages the person to dig deep for answers and think critically.

"Did you like the movie?"

"Did you hate the movie?"

The idea is that people are more comfortable answering yes to a yes/no question.

The problem with the question is that it reduces an infinite dimensional space (all the things you could have thought about the movie) into a single scalar value. Your mind is likely to be preoccupied with performing that projection which is fundamentally uninteresting.

It’s like asking “Is the pharmaceutical industry good or bad?” vs. “How should the pharmaceutical industry participate in society over the next 20 years?”

It's ok to ask follow-up Why questions.

What do you think about follow-up questions?

But the opening of a conversation influences the rest of it. It's like the old experiment about guessing the number of countries in Africa.

This is well said. This reminds me of this wonderful dialogue from `Yes, Prime Minister`: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA

Eh. I don’t know if I’d frame it the same way?

When I think about this, the only time I’m getting single word responses is when someone wants to kill a conversation. If you’re finding this happening a lot because you /only/ ask yes/no questions and/or people don’t feel free/comfortable/interested to tell you more past that then that’s the issue. You can try to ask more open ended questions rather than thinking of it as leading vs non leading. (You’re almost always asking leading questions in real life. Context is abundant) Ones with more potential ways of answering can be good for those who are not as conversational/literal. But be prepared for the conversation killer of, “I didn’t like it.” It will happen...

Not heard this term before - I believe this is often called "open Vs closed questions" (where open questions are the open-ended ones that cannot be answered with yes or no).

"did you like the movie?" doesn't seem like a leading question to me. It's just a yes/no question so it's certainly not the best question to ask for an open ended discussion compared to the "what did you think about the movie".

A better example of a leading question in my opinion would be something like "how much did you like the movie?" where the question is loaded with the premise that the person actually did like the movie.

Yet there's no universal truth to which types of questions should you be asking. Sometimes a simple yes/no is in fact what you want.


Great advice. Interrogative questioning was my biggest takeaway from my high school journalism class. We would often have to write interrogative-style fake interviews at the beginning of class and it took a while to develop an intuition for it.

But probably don’t start your interrogative sentence with ‘Why don’t you just...?’ ;)

We talk about this a lot in k12 education (I teach at the high school level). It’s often immediately apparent how new/effective a teacher is by monitoring their question style.

Learning Columbo Technique was great advice I got.

This might be super basic, but... assume positive intent.

Your parent is not your enemy. Your teacher is not your enemy. Your boss is not your enemy. The other team at work is not your enemy. The corporation is not your enemy. The other political party is not your enemy. Or, more accurately, YOU are not THEIR enemy. At best, you're an NPC in their game. Many of them probably even want to help you, because you are another person in the world, and that feels good.

I take back what I said about this being basic. The first steps (learning your parent, teacher, boss are on your side) is pretty basic. But applying this concept to more complex systems, like corporations and communities, can be pretty advanced. But at the end of the day, what it means is that, most of the time there isn't a conspiracy against you, there are simply incentives that you don't understand.

Assume good intent until proven otherwise. Because there are plenty of people who'll repeatedly treat you like shit, and then continue to demand you assume good intent.

To which I say, pardon my french, fuck that noise. People are entitled to the benefit of doubt only as long as there can be doubt. Once that is gone, act accordingly.

Absolutely! But corporations can also treat you like shit. When they do, try to ditch them. Well, that is a challenge.

Yes, definitely a problem, specially in markets where there are only a small hand full of players. At my place, internet providers come to mind. They all suck immensely, but you know the competition is approximately equally shitty.

This is so true.

Ditch the toxic people in your life.

where was the french in this ?

It is an English expression to say "pardon my French", before using expletives or crude language.

My life experiences don't match your mental model, sadly. Maybe it has to do with where and how one grows up? For example, I know with certainty that my parents, teachers, and first bosses were enemies.

A lot of people on HN seem to have grown up in safe, nurturing, loving environments. But, remember that most of the world's people didn't. I don't mean to call you out - just saying that I would love to have had your experiences.

This mirrors my experience in many ways. People with legitimate ill intention were a lot more common in my youth and when I was in a lower socio-economic position.

Now I live in a world very similar to the one described by the GP. It took me quite a while to adjust, and I still have my moments.

Sad reality, adequately explained by game theory: https://ncase.me/trust/

Whoa. Excellent website. Thank you so much.

Excellent find!!

I guess maybe it’s worth remembering that even if someone is an enemy it is in conflict with you, nobody thinks they are “the bad guy”.

If you want to understand why someone does what they do, you can’t chalk it up just to “they’re evil” or “they’re crazy”. There’s some reason why they’re doing what they do and to them, they feel like they’re on the right side.

Indeed. I don’t know the origin, but I’ve heard it phrased as “no one is the villain in the movie that is their life”, or “no person is the villain in that person’s autobiography”

Most people grew up with parents who love them. They might not know how to show it, and I'm sure there are exceptions, but love for offspring is about as close as it gets to universal human experience.

Parents may not express that love all the time, and may even harm their children in spite of it. And they will probably hate themselves after the fact for it.

I was oversimplifying, of course. You can certainly end up with enemies. But your boss didn't start out hiring you because he wanted an enemy. He hired you to do a job.

I know for a fact my mom loved me and only wanted my best when beating the crap out of me.

Intentions don't even matter in such cases. The end result does

I normally do not comment here, but I feel like I have to say this. My mom also was beating the crap out of me for most of my childhood and when my sister killed herself, I blamed my mom for it. But after living with all this hate and anger in my life for years, I started to realize that I can only truly be in peace if I learn to let go of these feelings. It definitely wasn't easy and I still find it very hard to trust her from time to time, but recently I hugged her for the first time in many years and to my surprise that actually felt good.

I helped me a lot to imagine how she grew up and how she must have felt to be pushed to such extreme measures. I don't say it's easy and I don't say you have to forgive your mother or anything like that. I just wanted to share that trying to forgive my mother actually made me feel better in the long run.

I hope you will be able to sort this out some day. I wish you all the best.

I tried for decades to let go of the (completely justified) hatred I have for my parents and tried so hard to have a semi-normal relationship with them,or at least one of them.

Nope, didn't work, they are just horrible people nobody sane gets anything positive from being around. My husband pointed out that they were a huge negative in my life with no positives and why was I doing that to myself?

I let go and stopped contact with them and it's been one of the best things I've ever done for my overall well-being.

Thanks for the kind words! I am in a much better place now and apart from some long term effects such as general trust issues with people, I am mostly fine now.

Thank you!

You and I are clearly living in two completely different worlds.

I estimate at least 20% of parents don't love their children, based on my personal experience and observations.

Even if terrible parents who do terrible things actually love their children, it is not like it actually matters. If someone, for example, molests you because they love you, molests you because they hate you, or molests you because they don't have any particular emotion towards you. You still are molested.

Most? Based on what?

It's easier to believe that when the person saying that grew up in a system where there was no effective penury, where serious economists/experts used to say (and still do) "relax, not everything is a zero-sum game" (which it's how I imagine most of the Western economies/societies view themselves, i.e. as non-zero sum games).

But I for example grew up in a society (Eastern Europe before 1989) where my dad had to wake up early at 4.45 or 5AM in order to go the State-owned grocery store, hoping to catch one bottle of milk for child-me out of a limited supply of 100 or 200 bottles (or something like that). That was a hell of a "zero-sum game" (you wake up early and you're lucky, you get a bottle of milk for your kid out of a limited supply, you don't, your kid is out of milk). As such, it's very difficult for me (and close to impossible) not to view the other people as potential adversaries.

In other words, viewpoints like the one you suggest ("everyone else is not an adversary") most probably come from a position of privilege, i.e. of having grown up in a society which afforded itself the luxury of not having everything as a zero-sum game.

I don't think you should assume that someone is intending to be positive towards you.

But you should assume that someone, in their own mind, thinks they're doing the "right thing".

If you assume people are evil and are motivated by wanting to pursue evil ends, then you're going to have a bad model for predicting them.

Everybody at that store wants to get the milk because in that situation, that's what feels like the right thing to do, all things considered. They're not getting up at 5am to ensure you DON'T have milk. If there weren't milk shortages, they wouldn't be buying it up just to spite you.

Everyone is picking the best option on the internal menu that they see in their mind.

You're right. Those environments exist. Most of us who can sign onto HN and post comments are not in those environments. If you still act like you are, you'll be left behind by your peers who cooperate with each other, treat their superiors as partners, and give generously to those who need help.

It's simple game theory. The prisoners dilemma has multiple equilibria, but you don't find the optimal one unless you take the less rational choice once in a while.

> It's simple game theory. The prisoners dilemma has multiple equilibria, but you don't find the optimal one unless you take the less rational choice once in a while.

I also agree it's simple game theory, but ignoring the HN audience for a moment you're probably assuming that the non-zero sum situation will still continue to hold at a society-wide scale for large parts of the world (at least for the "former" Western world).

The present covid crisis has proven that to be false, what with countries/states members of the same political union (the EU, different US States) fighting for limited medical resources in the early stages of the pandemic. We'll probably end up in similar scenarios if and when the climate crisis will worsen, reducing the availability for resources for many of us.

Interesting point. So what should I do now : treat anyone not from western democracies as an adversary ?

Positive intent is a somewhat subjective term. I prefer the term good faith.

Assuming good faith does have two downsides. Firstly, handling in good faith isn't the same as handling in your best interests. Secondly not all people are handling in good faith, and some collectives are subject to selection bias.

> assume positive intent.

I feel like this is somewhat related to Hanlon's Razor:

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

Maybe the guy driving like an asshole and making a sudden lane change is actually unfamiliar with the area and noticed a bit late that their lane ends or is becoming an exit/turn-only lane.

I like this one, and I read a good follow up for that one on HN recently:

Never attribute to stupidity what can be adequately explained by opportunity costs.

(Hope I'm not butchering the quote)

Sometimes I have the feeling that, at the very extreme ends of each spectrum, stupidity and malice converge and become indistinguishable.

Sometimes, I would spent time trying to understand if someone was "asshole" or "idiot", the distinction being whether or not they understood the negative effects of their actions. I've recently decided that it didn't matter because I deploy the same polite mitigation strategy for both.

Meh. I think you can assume the average person is casually well-meaning. You can't assume the average person is trying to help you with all/most of their actions.

I don't think you can assume the average person is honest/transparent. You can't assume the person you're negotiating your salary with is going to tell you if your offer is much too low. You can't assume HR isn't going to lie about the reason the fired somebody. You can't assume the company will give you any heads up if they're thinking about firing you.

A lot of people offering "feedback," especially public, especially if it's negative, are just angry venters. And this goes both directions E.g. Glassdoor.

Not saying it's good to have a chip on your shoulder about any of this, but it definitely shouldn't be swept under the rug.

You're totally right. I believe step 1 to understanding these things is understanding that other people aren't out to get you. They're out to help themselves. Once you've got that down, the rest comes naturally over time.

On the internet, everyone assumes bad faith. Like the kid staring at the native american guy, not everything is intended to be malicious (and so he successfully sued CNN for defamation). I think there's a theme of "Person supports X" and every commentator who is predisposed to disliking that person, twists X into the worst possible form.

The kid (wearing a MAGA hat who happened to be in Washington, D.C. from Kentucky to attend an anti-abortion rally, with his school.)


Also, the suit with CNN was settled out of court without any disclosure of terms on either side. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/cnn-settles-l...

I like what you said. One thing I'd add is: if you're not assuming positive intent, at least assume ignorance. Classic Hanlon's razor https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor

This has advantages even in situations where you are sure the counter-party has malign intent. You can suspect someone, yet still speak and act in good faith. The worst case is your suspicions were correct and now they think they have you at a disadvantage, but the best cases include them lowering their guard and being more forthright, or even your suspicions proving unfounded.

This is generally true when you're not a minority, unfortunately, that trait is (almost always) decided when you're born.

> At best, you're an NPC in their game. Many of them probably even want to help you, because you are another person in the world, and that feels good.

Oh man, I learned the opposite lesson that changed my life: Sociopaths and psychopaths will not help you because you are not a person in their world but an object that either helps them achieve their goals and can be discarded when your usefulness is expired, or you are an obstacle that needs to be destroyed. Helping you doesn't make them feel good, and they can sleep just fine at night after destroying your world because they have no semblance of empathy.

Yes, there are people like that. Identify and avoid them. They won't help you win, and in most cases, over long time frames, will not win themselves.

Most of us (non-sociopaths) don't get to choose our enemies though. They choose us.

Honestly, I think the majority of us don't have any enemies at all. We might imagine we do, though.

Everyone has enemies but might not know it yet because their enemies don't have the power to act on their malevolent desires.

This seems like paranoia

Paranoia is thinking that lizard people are spying on you.

Find common instances where people regularly abuse power: child abuse, terrible bosses, emotional abuse of a spouse. The most common denominator is that people hurt others because they can, and those who couldn't will claim that they choose not to.


What you're describing happens, but it's not rampant. Paranoia isn't lizard people, it's simply ascribing blame out of fear where it may not exist.

I think that's bad advice. Enemy is too strong of a word, but there are conflicts of interest between you and your teacher, your boss, your team members and even your parents.

What's best for you is not necessarily what is best for them. They may help you to achieve what's best for both of you, but not what's best for you alone. Those are often not the same things. Assume people are acting in their best interest, not yours.

> Assume people are acting in their best interest, not yours.

This. And even people that actually cares about you, could be wrong due to biases, beliefs, etc.

I guess it depends a lot on the type of environment you were raised.

I agree with this, it's much better to collaborate or collude when possible. The one exception is that corporations are absolutely my enemy.

From my father:

No matter how correct you are, you won't get anywhere by making the other person feel stupid.

He gave me this after we went together to a conference on communication and I found the presenter to be making some rather doubtful statements. I asked questions and tried to break the presenter in the QnA session and when I didn't get what I wanted, I left. I was 15 at the time. So, I forgive myself but still cringe hard whenever I remember it.

This advice had and continues to have a really long lasting impact on me (especially in getting me out of my incredibly arrogant stage in life) and my relationships with people. I can still be critical of things while maintaining respect for the other person's context and intelligence. I've found that also helps a lot in disconnecting ego amidst a debate.

On similar lines, the anecdote at the beginning of this speech - https://www.princeton.edu/news/2010/05/30/2010-baccalaureate... -changed my life too. Since then I’ve been trying to follow - it’s harder to be kind than clever.

So many cringe-inducing interactions where I was a total jerk just to come off as the smarter guy. Feels awful and I strive to not behave like that anymore. This quote serves as an anchor.

I didn't expect that story to be from Jeff Bezos. It is so at odds with the way we hear low-level Amazon employees are treated.

It's been a few years since I read it but one of the early topics in How To Win Friends And Influence People is on a similar track to this:

You can't make people do something. They have to want to do it (unless you're the big boss ruling through fear).

I've found it's much more productive to present information or an argument so that the other party is not made to feel stupid and is willing to accept it.

Even then it helps not to expect people to change their mind right there. Especially in the case of relatives with weird ideas, it can be helpful to not go into a discussion with the explicit aim of them seeing the problems right now but to just plant a few seeds.

I've seen it quite a few times that after a few days we talked about it again and they had shifted their opinion to be more in line with the presented evidence without ever really acknowledging it.

I just finished this book and it has a profound impact on me. I have taken detailed notes so I have an easy access to it. https://themihirchronicles.com/bookshelf/how-to-win-friends-...

"A man convinced against his will, Is of the same opinion still"

― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

You can't force people to agree with you by making them feel stupid, they'll resent you.

Nick Carraway, is that you?

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, " just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

Along the same lines: Just because someone doesn't know something, doesn't mean they know nothing.

We all come across information in different orders at different times. If you jump to the conclusion that someone is not worth your time because they didn't know something you know, then you might not engage with an otherwise good person.

> No matter how correct you are, you won't get anywhere by making the other person feel stupid.

I came to the same realization some time after an incident at Uni...

In a Uni class I tried to correct the lecturer about some Unix/Solaris? feature using my Linux knowledge and when he wouldn't agree, I basically ignored everything he taught for the rest of the class.

I think it was maybe something about file systems and IIRC I looked it up after (realizing what a dick I was) and I found that I was indeed correct, but I still feel bad about the way I acted to this day.

Although, in my defense, earlier in the class I had to show a whole bunch of students how to exit Vi/Vim so as you can imagine, I was already starting to feel like some kinda Unix god at that point.

I think both of you failed to learn from each other there. He had an opportunity to learn from you but refused it. For me, every person presents an opportunity to learn, but I maintain a filter for each person because there are varying levels of bullshit and presence of a little knowledge about certain things. I consider it one of my talents that I can quickly and effortlessly gauge these levels for people and discover what it is I can learn from them and what I definitely can't learn from them.

> So, I forgive myself but still cringe hard whenever I remember it.

This has actually resonated with me as advice in its own right. I have wasted a lot of time worrying about past mistakes that I have made, wishing I could change the past etc. I'm not so bad for it now, but still struggle sometimes and worry myself with what people think of me now remembering what drunk (and sober) me did at university 10 years ago (and at other times in my life). This line has helped reframe it a bit in my mind: it's ok to still cringe at how I behaved and forgive myself for it - the former does not rule out the latter.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

— Maya Angelou

I struggle with this a lot, and am super aware that I do this. It's NEVER my intention to make someone feel stupid, but I think the way I say things comes across that way.

I have a hard time correcting it, or even knowing what / how to say things differently upon reflection.

My current iteration of figuring this out is maybe things I think are important to criticize (or give my 2 cents on) aren't as important as I think they are.

It's tough.

"Premature optimization is the root of all evil"

More and more, I'm realizing this applies more broadly than just for code. Abstraction is a form of optimization and shouldn't be done before the space has been properly explored to know what abstractions should be built. Standardization is a form of optimization and shouldn't be proposed until there's a body of evidence to support what's being standardized.

Failure to validate a product before building it? Premature optimization.

Build infrastructure without understanding the use case? Premature optimization.

Build tools before using them for your end product/project? Premature optimization.

This advice comes in different forms: "Progress over perfection", "Iteration quickly", "Move fast and break things", "Don't let perfection be the enemy of good enough", etc. but I find the umbrella statement of not prematurely optimizing to encompass them all.

> Build infrastructure without understanding the use case? Premature optimization.

Hence my issues with micro services and Kubernetes/containerisation (by default.)

I've always hated the fact people simply jump onto these technologies and methodologies as if they're automatically the right solution because everyone is talking about them. What they don't understand is that they're optimisations.

You build a monolith and put it on one machine to begin with. No load balancer. Just a single EC2 instance with snapshots. As the customer count grows and demand increasing you scale it out...

Now you're on two EC2 instances and might want to consider using RDS. You have an ALB and you're using ACM to offload TLS certificate management. More customers come along and the monolith begins to slow down, so you optimise the application this time...

Now you have the most successful/popular parts of your application split out into separate components but still using the same database. You're still just running Docker on a few EC2 instances though. You don't need orchestration yet. But now your customers start demanding more features and changes on a more frequent basis. Also your customer count is rising more and more. You're now ready to scale out and re-architect things again...

Now you've got 80-85% of your monolith split out into separate components, in Docker images, and you're using Kubernetes to orchestrate the whole thing because you need to iterate and deploy parts of the software on a near daily basis.

Taking it slow and keeping things simple in the beginning allows you to focus (from a systems perspective) on stability and security, which are much easier when you have a monolith and two EC2 instances. As you need to iterate faster and more often you increase the complexity of the network to meet the needs of the development team. It becomes much harder to secure and manage, but the trade off is worth it.

That's how you optimise your infrastructure over time.

The only situation in which I would contradict my self on this point is if you're developing a product that you know will need micro services and K8s to begin with AND everyone on the team has extensive experience implementing an application in that manner.

Why people start at the K8 end state is twofold, fashion and a lot of younger people don't look at highways and see they started out as either single lane tarmac or dirt roads that were remade in place. There's a lot more talk these days about refactoring complex systems. But its really a job for senior engineers or young folk who have time for it (Like the new grads who complain about being dumped on legacy systems :) ). When you're jumping from framework to framework and shipping features, sitting back and considering things is really tricky, and the inertia to build from scratch but also have 20 years of refactored improvements delivered makes jumping on K8's and the magic that brings seem like a no brainer.

I really, really like your metaphor of the dirt roads remade in place. It’s fascinating to look down at the sidewalk in NYC and know that it was farmland only a few centuries ago. We know the aphorisms: Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we don’t always think them through.

At work, when a new person joins our team, it’s fascinating (in a non-cynical way) to hear “why are we using a dirt road here instead of a highway? Wouldn’t that be more efficient?” It’s fun to imagine the implications of such a project, and it’s a great opportunity to give perspective on the traffic flow of customers, developers, operations.

Could we build a highway there? Yes. But usually, it’s a better allocation of our finite resources to do some maintenance on the existing highway. Sometimes, we actually need to take highways apart and replace them with something more informal, since their maintenance costs more than they’re worth.

Something tangential this reminds me of is the concept of “Desire Lines”: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desire_path. The work of an SWE can be summed up as the identification and “improvement” of desire lines. If you build a highway, but it’s not on a desire line, you’ve just wasted a lot of energy!

With many apps, you can completely bypass kubernetes entirely and just use something like elastic beanstalk or heroku for scaling (just by adding more nodes behind a load balancer).

I invested several days setting up my product's backend on Elastic Beanstalk. After several weeks, I learned that Elastic Beanstalk is not reliable.

Then I spent several days learning Kubernetes and gave up when I learned that it is overly complex and mostly undocumented.

Then I wasted a week using Packer to build EC2 AMIs and deploy with terraform and run with supervisord. I learned that Packer is slow and Linux package repositories are unreliable. Both of these things could prevent me from deploying an emergency patch. Also, there are no reliable tools to clean up old AMIs generated by Packer.

Then I spent several weeks learning Docker and migrating my product's backend to that. Docker's APIs and tooling are hard to use but at least they're reliable. And I can run the same binaries in production and on my dev machine.

Throughout this process, I frequently looked at Heroku and then remembered how much they charge. I just can't bring myself to spend $500/mo for their ops automation. Perhaps I'm being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

I find it strange that you believe that Elastic Beanstalk is not reliable... That hasn't been my experience at all.

My company has been using it to host our production infrastructure for over a year and a half now, and it has been performing excellently. Our site reliability over the past year has been somewhere around the 99.99% range (and few outages we did have were not related to Elastic Beanstalk in any way).

We have our site hosted in multiple redundant physical locations (AWS regions), with a load balancer routing requests between multiple nodes.

We do about 10-20 deploys to production on a daily basis, with zero downtime. Any time there is a deployment, the code is automatically deployed in rolling batches, and the nodes aren't added back to the load balancer until they pass their health checks.

With many apps, you can completely bypass kubernetes entirely and just use something like elastic beanstalk or heroku for scaling (just by adding nodes).

You're right, but it's worth reading the rest of the paragraph:

"We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time: premature optimization is the root of all evil. Yet we should not pass up our opportunities in that critical 3%." -- Knuth

Knuth was trying to say you shouldn't guess. If you think you will get a performance gain, but you're not sure where or how the performance is going to suffer, hold back. But if you know you're doing something that is normally bad and you can fix it, it's OK to get on with it.

Your final paragraph makes me think we're both on the same wavelength here, but I think it's worth remembering that Knuth was not saying "never optimize until you have to"

All fine and well, just consider that Donald Knuth was talking about shaving off some cycles by carefully selecting machine instruction.

Donald Knuth, the same guy that got upset about being forced to use 64-bit pointers in a binary compiled for x86-64 even in programs where he would've been just fine with a 4GB address space.

He didn't exactly mean to say "omg wtf computers are so fast just use create-react-app", but that seems to be the general reception.

You're prematurely optimizing donald knuth out of the algorithm.

I'm at a big slow non-tech corp and as much as I would prefer "move fast and break things," I can't see it working here. "Move fast" becomes "hurry up and wait" as you end up being dependent on another group's input (10-20 people total get involved, 3-10 meetings) to move forward on something. You end up trying to over-plan because it lets you schedule things to happen in parallel. Everything has to be a huge depth first search because being on the wrong track can cost months and even be fatal. By the time you figure out it won't work, you're way behind schedule and restarting would take another 10+ meetings to coordinate. You have to exhaustively evaluate every path beforehand because it's so slow to right the ship, at an institutional level.

Well, yeah. You guys should stop doing that.

“Move fast and break things.” wasn’t advice given to every individual at every company. It won’t work if you’re the only person doing it. It’s the mantra from the top down for the whole company.

> Failure to validate a product before building it? Premature optimization.

I largely agree with your comment, minus this. Unless everything after the initial idea for a product is an "optimisation" - which is quite a claim - building something shouldn't be lumped together with optimising it.

My point is that it seems like you're attributing more to this idea than is fair.

Its a stretch of the original meaning, but a good one I think.

Building a product before a good indication it is the right thing to build is prematurely optimizing a business.

At any level of a project, it is important to do things in the right order, to avoid wasting unrecoverable time and effort on work that never needed to be done.


- Programs we wanted to write so badly that we invented computers along the way.

- Programs we realized we could write & benefit from once familiar with computers and their capabilities.

Infrastructure shouldn't be totally clueless about anticipated use cases, but it shouldn't be too subservient to them either.

I would also add to that: adopting tools before you need them. Premature optimisation.

Too often I see people adopting tools just because it's the latest fashion or because they've seen their friends use them. But do you actually need them? The need should come first. For two reasons. First, you might simply not need that tool, so why not keep your life more simple and make it easier for developers to work on your project? Second, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Grow your project first, decide what tooling you need later. Otherwise you'll be constrained by the limitations of your tools. Some projects will need completely custom tooling, many won't, but you won't know until you get your teeth into the damn project.

Yeah, I just wish the quote were "folly" instead of "evil".

This is good when you have infinite time. The converse is putting an end date on all of your tasks.

Building a body of evidence to support a standard, but never building the standard because there's always more to do and everything has decayed into a mess of different forks by the time the deadline appears.

Spending time to investigate the use case and requirements change. You're further down the road with no infrastructure to show for it, a changing deadline will take you out.

Building tools as you need them works fine if you have an infinite project.

Planning work with a limited time-frame means you are required to 'prematurely optimize' everything. With perfect understanding you don't hit those problems. You're trading a lack of understanding that comes from revelation and analysis with spending time on process to compensate. Neither understanding or spending time are perfect, it's unsolvable, they are separate categories.

I was thinking “premature action ...” covers it, but it doesn’t properly match the stuff in your last paragraph.

The way I usually put it is “level and division of effort should match and be informed by the level of knowledge”, but that also doesn’t cover “move fast...” properly, because some people take that to mean “I don’t know enough, so I should move slowLy” whereas often it should be “I don’t know enough so I should experiment quickly”

"The difference between over-engineering and under-engineering is that you can fix under-engineering."

I agree, but I think it's overrated as wisdom as it's circular reasoning. Of course doing anything too early is bad, because it is by definition.

Proof of value vs Proof of concept.


A decade of success against steep odds later, I ran into the high school teacher who I idolized and who helped me actually achieve something. Most teachers tolerated me or insulated the rest of the classroom from me. But he put in the effort to get me engaged with something that got me to sit down and try. I was excited to show him what his work had helped me accomplish. He had two things to share with me:

1. He doesnt remember me.

2. That he felt I was smarter than him, hearing what I was working on.

It hit really hard. And when I recovered it made me realise that all relationships are ephemeral if you aren't there to foster and cherish them. There's also a lesson in there I'm trying to parse. About how I always saw him as this brilliant teacher. But he's just a guy.

But it's also much more than that - he's not just a guy, he's one of just a few guys that put in the effort to do their job well and honestly. And that positive daily effort had profound effects on the lives of people he cared about. (And conversely, those that did not put in that effort did not create profound and positive wakes).

And that idea can be paid forward. There are plenty of times one doesn't get to go back and thank their mentors and those that inspired them. But that practiced and daily support of others really can lead to outsized positive effects - that we might not ever hear about.

And if you step forward with the idea - the more people that work to support others in their daily routine, even without obvious immediate benefit, the more those wakes can become entire waves that lift everyone upwards.

It's so true. I started mentoring a robotics team and I doubt I'll remember most of the kids. But wow it's so soul filling to watch them learn.

Paying forward is such a powerful concept. I know where I am being fairly successful is due to tons of people to whom I may not pay back, but doing the similar helpful gesture to other people is so empowering. Hopefully the link never breaks.

To me this is completely okay and a heartwarming success story.

Sure there is the alternate history where you stayed in touch and he still remembers you and cherishes the relationship…

But it’s also wonderful that he impacted you so strongly and positively, yet has taught so many students that he doesn’t remember you specifically. If he did this for you he likely did it for other students too and we are lucky that we have him as a teacher in our world.

It also reminds us that though we know ourselves to be human with very human limits, we can still pay forward the kindness and guidance we received to the next generation.

I've had a similar experience with a professor. We used to chat about more advanced topics after class and he seemed really happy that I took an interest in his subject.

Some years ago I was giving a recruitment talk at the university and I bumped into that teacher. I greeted him like an old friend. He said "Oh, you were in my class?" as he hurried off. It hurt and I felt so silly for it.

On the other hand, I've had elementary school teachers approach me with a smile while I was in my late twenties.

I would imagine the job of an elementary school teacher is primarily to have a relationship with their kids and teach what general skills they can, whereas a university or even high school teacher is pulled in more directions (curriculum, standards, research, admin, etc.).

Sounds like he actually is a brilliant teacher. Keep in mind he has probably taught several hundred other students since teaching you, which is well above Dunbar's number. He might have had a similar impact on many of them, and he probably invested a lot of time, thought, and energy into his teaching for that to happen. Maybe he just doesn't have a good memory for former students.

He's much more than just a guy -- in many ways he was the vehicle for your own success. Just because he didn't recognize you later, or his intelligence is less than yours, doesn't take away from the other unrecognized qualities that helped lead your life to this moment as if by destiny. He's very special; I hope you recognize and appreciate the strange gift in this.

Well, it's sad that he could not remember you ; but maybe his mind was already full caring about his current students - whose life he's going to change too - that would be cool, he ?

Great that you could "pinpoint" someone that had a such a profound effect on you. Do you think there's anything in his behavior that can be "stolen", to try and have the same effect on other people down the line ?

I think the real lesson here is you never know exactly how profoundly you're going to impact someone, especially young people. What was just another day for your teacher, helping one student in an endless stream of students, was a life-changing formative experience for you.

You might feel like some guy, but be someone's brilliant teacher.

I am going to cheat a bit and give you three things that have had a lasting impact on me:

First is this quote from Lincoln, "I hate that man. I must get to know him better".

This has helped me shed biases and prejudices that stop me from liking someone on the first few interactions. Instead of shunning them, I seek to know them better, in the hope that I see past the veil and reach out to the actual human on the other side. This ties in nicely with Stephen Covey's quote, "We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour."

Second thing that has stuck with me is this zen-koan about a disciple having a tough time forgiving their master for a sin [0]. The koan ends with the thought that the disciple who's holding on to resentment, disapproval, outrage, disappointment, grudge is really the one who's in distress and enduring the punishment and not the master. It is really powerful, at least to me. If I liberally tie it to the 'broken windows theory' [1], it explains to me why such resentments over time aren't simply good for me, personally, despite how few the broken windows may be, they need to be fixed.

And the third is producer v consumer mindset [2]. Do not consume excessively, refrain from stifling the production line with tendency to consume all day, every day.

[0] https://medium.com/@soninilucas/two-monks-and-a-woman-zen-st...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3555237

Thank you for that Lincoln quote. I went to a very diverse University (Upstream, Red Team) and one of the hunches I've walked away with is that at the core of prejudice is a missing friend on the other side.

> the core of prejudice is a missing friend on the other side.

By far the best concrete example of that is Daryl Davis: https://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinc...

> Upstream, Red Team

Forgive my ignorance, what does this mean in this context?

It's the battle chant of Rutgers University :-)

I really loved that quote, but are you sure it is a Lincoln quote?

A Google search leads to this page.

"I don't like that man. I must get to know him better."

-Abraham Lincoln

Close enough

My opinions are not mine and they are holding me back.

Give multiple and opposing views equal respect and disdain at the same time. Treating a thought as your own, as an opinion "you hold" greatly holds you back from a great deal of valuable perspective. Of course you surely hold some world-view and gauge things from that position but try to cultivate more of these positions as if you were someone else.

Don't get your sense of self so wrapped up in all the thoughts and ideas that flit about in your brain. You will surely be a different person in 1, 5, 10, 20 years and may well have a completely different perspective then.

There is very little original thought, mostly there is just repetition and re-contextualization of the same old stuff. That is not a bad thing but you should really divest yourself from being emotionally wrapped up in opinions (yours or others) and treat them as the conclusions of research papers with small sample sizes.

Now when you converse with someone, stop thinking about "your" response, and just listen, really listen to what they are saying and try to really understand where they are coming from so you can integrate that into your thinking.

As an addition, your opinions are mostly formed from the information you have and haven't been exposed to. It's easy to come to a conclusion if someone feeds you specific facts you can verify. But there may be other facts that can change the perspective that are not so easy to verify.

We don't have perfect information, so clinging to a perspective is bound to create some sort of conflict when you are exposed to valid information that may change your perspective. Either you discount and ignore that information, or you are forced to abandon your identity and get emotionally hurt(which can be a good thing if it causes growth and maturity).

I think you may mean "My opinions are not me", or "I am not my opinions" gives you the space to separate your identity from your thoughts, giving you the freedom to change.

No, that’s something very different. The point GP is trying to make is that most opinions people hold on things are not actually their own formed conclusions, they are just regurgitations from authorities they trust.

This happens excessively in politics. Suddenly a huge chunk of a political faction will have the same “opinion” on a complex topic they have no day-to-day interaction with or previous educational coverage. When you try to dig deeper on these topics people hold such fervent “opinions” on, it turns out that it’s just a restatement of what they heard from a friend/talking head.

I heard similar phrasing used by one psychotherapist that I admire, "I am different from my wishes" and "I am different from my (past) behavior". He once said jokingly that if someone realizes that, he can give them a "60 year warranty on their mental health".

What I also find interesting is that this idea is rather old, it can be found in Christianity, for example, where "devil is tempting you", that is thoughts and wishes you have might not be your own (but from some demon tempting you). It may sound a bit silly in modern times, but it boils down to the same idea.

I like the related Marc Andreesen model, have strong opinions, weakly held. To get anywhere new requires some degree of (probably misplaced) confidence in what you're doing. The key is balancing that with the ability to apply new information to your model, possibly even doing a 180 on what you believed was true.

I learned this a few years ago. The phrase I still remember is "your idea is not your identity" (probably from this article[1]). This completely changed my mindset and the way I communicate.

Not sure where I've read this about originality, but the idea is "there is no such thing as original thought, only original perspective"

[1]: http://lanceschaubert.org/2017/02/22/my-idea-not-my-identity...

One thing that’s been super meaningful for me is the notion that if you don’t put something into words, either in speech or in your head or on paper, you don’t know anything about it, even if it’s a feeling or a belief or an intuition deep within you that you’ve held for as long as you can remember.

The act of simply putting a thought into words makes it immediately obvious to you if you really understand it or not, and if not, where your blind spots are.

If the thing you’re concerned with is an unresolved problem or a question, simply articulating the problem or the question can make the solution or the answer obvious. Just going through the process of putting it into words, one way or another, and being sure you’ve settled on the most concise and accurate description of it you can muster, will often make so many things that were hazy obvious, and can reveal to you areas of haziness in your own thinking that you may not have been aware of.

Rubber duck debugging is one result of this. Rubber duck debugging is based on the observation that by the time you’ve explained your bug to someone, often times you figure out your next steps before they even respond. Just articulating your problem in the form of a question asked to someone else will sometimes reveal the answer to you.

I once heard something along the lines of "to learn to express yourself properly is to learn to think". Sometimes our understanding of something is a muddle of unstructured thoughts and hunches. To express yourself properly you need to organize these. After you did that, things are often much clearer.

This works surprisingly well. I think to also pays to master a language for the same reason to be able to articulate thoughts precisely to self and to others.

Tangential: https://fs.blog/2012/04/feynman-technique/

Well, it's been said the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

But you're right. Just making a presentation for nobody is a great way to learn something on many levels.

The idea that your mind is not you.

That "thinking", as a process, is just a tool of your body, just like eyesight, for example.

Listening to meditation and mindfulness practitioners like Jon Kobat-Zinn and Eckhart Tolle, I found it absolutely groundbreaking, for myself, to realize that the mind is an instrument that needs training and tuning, and sometimes can lead you astray, and can't be trusted unconditionally.

Disassociating from my mind and understanding that my thinking is not my being has helped me in innumerable ways.

The other more Daoist end of this spectrum is that your mind and body are you. Through the power of will you control both of these.

As a long time meditator the "I am not my body, I am not my mind" mantra has always bothered me. I am both of those and will shape both of those in my image. Dissociative practices will not bring me closer to my goals.

The comparison to eyesight is strange too. If your eyesight is poor you can not really train it to be better. Through regular meditation practice, and practice in other areas (self-discipline) you can absolute shape your mind and change your thought patterns.

We know there are colors of light the eye can't see, consider there are true things the brain can't think. Your brain has tricked itself into believing its a universal understander. It's not.

In such practices your mind and body are 'not you' they are just the expression which can be materially perceived, as a shadow of the 'greater you'. It's less obvious in Abrahamic traditions as they use different words, but it's there as well.

A 'life-changing insight' can just be figuring that one out, which is odd because it's conceptually simple enough a child could totally get it. For some people it's innate, for some it's a 'revelation' for some they never get (or even try to get) that perspective.

While there are obvious flaws with the analogy (like any analogy), I think the comparison with eyesight (or touch, etc.) is about making people think of the mind as more of a sensory organ. One that gives you input that may or may not be useful to you, rather than as something that defines you.

I don't really see that as a dissociative practice, but more as the prerequisite for being able to start on the long term journey of challenging and changing your thought patterns.

From my perspective, thoughts are the sensory experience of 'my mind moving'. Similar to arm movements - when you move your arm, where does the motion come from?

I'm reminded of a time in my childhood when I realized that I could consciously direct my eyes without turning my head. I was struck with wonder at the time, having not known such a thing was possible, because nobody told me. I still remember it vividly by the impact it had on me. The more I converse on this topic, the more I see people considering the mind as I had considered my eyes prior to my childhood realization.

The point I'm trying to get to is that I believe the dichotomy of mind and the body is a false one. I think the abstraction level of 'mind' is different from the level of 'body'. It should rather be 'mind' and 'arm' and 'eye' (and etc.).

The command of these in concert is somewhere outside of my perception, or so deep inside of it that I am blinded by its normality. Calling something we can't perceive by the name of something we can, I think, is magical thinking and folly. Why are my thoughts this way? Because my Mind. Why do planets orbit stars? Because Science. Why are we alive? Because we have élan vital.

Looking at it this way, the impossibility of controlling thoughts is lifted. When thoughts are solely something that happen to you, the very notion of controlling them except indirectly is incoherent. But re-framed, I can train my mind as I would train skill or form in body.

I know that I can't play the cello with any skill, as I am now. If I try, it will grate on the listener and cause more displeasure than pleasure. It's not an inherent failing of mine, simply that I haven't devoted the requisite time and energy to train myself in it. But it does define me, at least in part.

Would that skillful thinking was perceived the same as skillful cello playing. Instead, educational institutions must suffice to verify that you have the tools (in the form of knowledge, or acquired frameworks), but say little of skill achieved. Imagine a 4 year cello playing course in which a passing grade is earned if you but present a cello at the end.

I think that if this concept is fully integrated, outcomes would be better. If the mind is viewed as an intangible thing that blasts thoughts in your general direction, from where can it be improved? I know my body can be improved, by strenuous exercise. I know my skill at cello can be improved, if I simply practice. But my mind? If I'm hamstrung by its conception as a pure source, I'll forever stay at whatever minimal level is required to survive. And that's a tragedy.

This went a little off into conjecture-land, but I think I'll leave it for the time being.

tldr: imo minds are limbs, not monitors

You describe thoughts as if you are in receivership of them, like a mom receiving a work of art from her child.

I can direct and focus my thoughts beyond their capacity to perceive the world, like channeling attention and sculpting potential words when I am typing out this comment. I can direct myself to imagine worlds that never existed and solve problems in the future, which requires directed thought.

Your mind is trivially easy to improve, conceptually. Focused improvement on a hard skill will drag your mind along. Deciding to get better at cello will require you to learn higher concepts of music reading, fine motor skills and playing in a band that will form a structure in your mind. That will make thinking and directing thoughts in new directions much easier. It's much easier to ask someone to imagine what it's like working in a construction team building a shopping mall when they know how people work together in a band, compared to a blank slate that knows nothing. That imagination can be used to prune off bad ideas and thoughts that go nowhere.

The educational institution that is supposed to be good at this is the humanities. Philosophy will train you to express your mind through language at such an articulated level that you will know yourself better and be able to navigate a very wide array of arguments with precision. Thus giving you a much better source of material for your mind to sculpt it's thoughts with.

The mind simply has to be pure to sort signal from noise, that's a fundamental part of what it does. The mind is also incorporeal, it has the least matter. The higher you think, the less quantities of properties and details you can focus on. Their totality is summed up as categories that start doing all that heavy lifting for you in implied abstractions. Keeping track of hundreds of different sized numbers and the properties of each item you are counting in one holistic picture is difficult. Purifying that into abstractions and relations between them is incredibly powerful.

Do you centre your being on the spine, rather than the mind? Framing and receiving the output of the mind is what a lot of people do and I hazard a guess the ability to balance the difference between quantities and directions is a lot easier when you hang that task on the spine, with limbs that protrude out from it.

But does the dog have a buddha nature?

This is especially useful for those of us who have grown up thinking of ourselves as smart and becoming very identified with intelligence as personality. It can lead to anxiety disorders because sometimes rumination and thinking harder just can't help explain things. Listening to nature and letting it happen to us is such a sweeter ride than trying to carry around a simulation of everything.

Related : you are more what you do than what you think. What you think mostly comes from what you do, and that determines who you are; act more, think less. Do things, don't overthink it.

This reminded me of Revealed Preference Theory[1], which is about observing consumer choices, but the idea is broadly summed up as "It is not what you say, it is what you do that reveals what you want." or who you are.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revealed_preference

This whole thread is great. It's amazing how many people seem to be gaining the same inner wisdom I've found, of disidentifying with the mind, yet feeling more whole with all of who I am in the moment.

This has echoes of Stoicism, as well, which teaches that emotions and feelings, to a large extent, are not under your control, but are fleeting impressions created by your mind. How you think about and act upon those impressions, though, is under your control.

I have an exercise I like to do when I experience pain, which is to tell myself that this sensation I'm experiencing is just a signal in some nerve. It does not actually hurt me in any way. Interestingly, this usually makes the pain a lot more bearable.

I don't have a quote handy but one idea I'm partial to is that that mind is not one. It's a noisy group of sub-minds all clamouring for attention, with different goals.

Do you think your premise is arguable? If yes, is it defendable?

Alan Watts has a ton of stuff on this

Nick Cave, on writer's block:

"My advice to you is to change your basic relationship to songwriting. You are not the ‘Great Creator’ of your songs, you are simply their servant, and the songs will come to you when you have adequately prepared yourself to receive them. They are not inside you, unable to get out; rather, they are outside of you, unable to get in."


As an aside, that is also why he declined[1] the MTV Best male artist nomination back in the 1990's. The short of it is "my muse is not a horse".

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqdX-aglsXU

That's interesting considering it sounds to me that he approaches songwriting like work rather than something he has a lack of control over: "He gets up early, goes to work in his office (a flat connected to his house in Hove), does an honest day’s work, returns home in the evening to his wife and kids, and starts out again the next day."[1]

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/music/2008/feb/23/popandrock.fea...

I don't see any conflict, personally.

In the linked article, he goes on to say that songs "are attracted to an open, playful and motivated mind". To cultivate that, you need to show up.

This reminds me of Sam Harris's guided meditation app. One of the common questions raised in the guided meditations is whether or not you can observe the part of your mind that is generating your thoughts. His suggestion is that you can't--the thoughts come into consciousness on their own; you can observe the thoughts as they come and go, but you can't observe where thoughts come from. Like the sensation of breathing, of temperature, or of pressure, thoughts enter consciousness as if they were an external stimulus.

Its like we don't have access to all the conscious regions of our brains. Who knows, what evolutionary pressure might have locked us out of there, who know

The other side of the coin being we haven't developed access to it yet. Either way, an interesting perspective, thanks!

I actually started using that meditation app because Nick Cave recommends it in one of the Red Hand Files too.

Either way, he's amazing. So few can get to the point that the songs come to them. Celebrate him for that, then.

I cannot fathom how this metaphysics would help me at all.

And I’m both religious and a film major/screenwriter.

Maybe the flowery words obscured the message for you.

If it helps, I first came across the quote in a blog post by Austin Kleon[0], an author, talking about people who say they have a book in them.

"I never feel like I have a book in me. I always feel like there’s a book around me. It’s like I’m a planet and there’s all this space junk orbiting me, and all the junk starts smashing together and forming book chapters. My job is to grab that stuff around me and shape it into something."

[0]: https://austinkleon.com/2019/06/06/its-not-inside-you-trying...

That does make sense thank you.

It might be more helpful to call it a metaphor. Metaphors can be powerful for reframing one's thinking, dropping limiting assumptions, even reorienting how the body relates to a habitual activity.

Thank you for conveying the power of metaphors. You did that very well. I’m familiar with this line of reasoning. I also happen to be autistic so, while I have no trouble with the semantics, these kinds of metaphors usually have little effect on me.

I think productivity rewards focus - deeper focus on discerning the fine details of a problem and actively diving and driving.

Creativity rewards sort of the opposite. It's like letting your gaze wander and see what's around you. Capturing the ideas that fly by like butterflies in a net, and being their steward.

Try doing a side-project based on a whim and then expand it as butterflies collect.

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