Mental Models July 31, 2020

Luck surface area

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    Great concept, thanks for sharing Mark!

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    This summary has been misled by a significant mistake in Jason's diagram (bold added).

    Original incorrect drawing of Luck Surface Area

    that's exactly what you would expect with a name Luck Surface Area, because an area is a square. In this case the length of one side is the amount of doing and the length on the other side is the amount of telling. The Luck Surface Area is the doing times the telling. So, if one of them is zero you're not going to be very lucky. However, if both of them are high, if you're doing a lot of good work in public, a lot of people can see what you're doing and it's done in a way that they can understand the value in it, then you're just going to get lucky in a lot of ways.

    You only have so many hours in the day (or the week or the month) and doing comes at the expense of telling (and vice versa). You cannot "make them both high."

    See for what the diagram should look like:
    Actual Luck Surface Area

    Figuring out the right or “getting close to” the right ratio for the task in hand is a complicated problem. Not many people consciously think about how much telling and doing is needed for a specific task. Here are a few factors consider:

    1.Relative Skill at Telling and Doing If you enjoy doing but are less comfortable communicating with others you may need to spend more time on communicating (which involves is not only telling but listening). The reverse is also true.
    2.Minimum block of time needed What is the minimum amount of time needed in one setting or period to be minimally effective at communicating or doing. Development tasks typically have a setup time and benefit from few or no interruptions for concentrated mental effort. A morning spent recovering the context on a coding project is not a long enough focused effort to make progress.
    3.Biological Rhythms Consider the times of day and days of the week when you are most productive at doing. If they conflict with times that others are available for a conversation you will need to balance working at a lower productivity vs. a lack of progress on outreach and communication.
    -Death March / Unsustainable Effort You can make more time available to telling and/or doing by cutting back on sleep, time spent with family and friends, exercise, and other activities that are important to your overall health and well-being. Most projects look more like marathons than sprints: avoid the temptation to work at an unsustainable pace unless it’s truly to sprint against a short deadline or to respond to a bona emergency.
    4.Schedule Time and Look at Results as Much as Efforts. It’s useful to schedule both your doing and your communicating tasks and to keep track both of time spent and results achieved. If others are excited about what you are creating but development progress has stalled it may be prudent to slack of on further communication efforts and focus on getting something ready to ship. Conversely if people are not really aware of what you have already developed but you want to make it “more better” before you start talking about it you may be falling into a “100% doing” trap.
    5.Cluster Short Tasks for “Housekeeping” Time Blocks Conversation and written communication can benefit as much from uninterrupted time as writing code or designing hardware. You may benefit clustering a set of short tasks into “housekeeping” blocks of time where an interruption only loses a small amount of time because you are restarting a small task.
    6.Life Is Not School: Show Work in Progress Not Just Finished Work It’s OK to compare notes with others. It’s more valuable to get early review feedback on a draft of an article or a sketch for an interface than to perfect it in isolation only to have early readers or early prospects point out flaws that would have been visible much earlier in the process.

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      This summary has been misled by a significant mistake in Jason's diagram (bold added)

      It's great you blogged about this and extended Jason's model and I've read it before, but I don't think it's fair to call the fact that it includes just two variables a mistake. Sure there are limits regarding time, ability, etc, but his basic insight that "doing" and "telling" have a synergistic effect in growing one's luck surface area is true.

      You only have so many hours in the day (or the week or the month) and doing comes at the expense of telling (and vice versa). You cannot "make them both high."

      I met Jason back when I lived in SF and he did "make them both high". He built a semi-professional soccer team from scratch that dominated its league and scrimmaged with a pro team, built a huge portion of Uber's early infrastructure, started what's arguably the most effective math program for middle and high school students in the world... and told people all about every one of those things over 300+ episodes of the TechZing podcast.

      You can make an argument that neither component was absolutely maxed out, but both were much higher than for the average person.

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        Jason Roberts offers a useful two parameter model in his original formulation:
        Luck is Doing x Telling

        The amount of serendipity that will occur in your life, your Luck Surface Area, is directly proportional to the degree to which you do something you're passionate about combined with the total number of people to whom this is effectively communicated.
        Jason Roberts in

        I took Jason's formula of L = D * T and made one additional assumption: we all have limits on the amount of time we can spend on our startup.

        Your limits may be greater than mine, and from your experiences with Jason you believe his limits exceed those of Chuck Norris.

        He has still has limits.

        Given that, he needs to balance is Doing and his Telling to maximize his luck. He, like all of us, need to avoid focusing too much on either Doing or Telling or he will not have increased his luck as much as if he balanced his investment.

        And that's likewise true for other mere mortals who want to launch a startup: they need to balance their Doing and Telling.

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          You've extended the model to take more things into account and there's value in that!

          There are also some other complexities that would make an even more complex model. For example the doing and telling equation might not be linear.

          Maybe it's more like D^2 · T, so the optimum is to do quite a bit more doing than telling. Or maybe some people gain motivation and energy from telling, thus increasing instead of decreasing the amount of doing they can do. Jason seems like that.

          I don't think any of us can say with certain what the exact formula is and it likely varies from person to person!