Friday, June 21, 2013

This explains everything

Want to know everything? I do. So I just finished reading an interesting book of 150 essays (2 or 3 pages each): "This explains everything" which is more or less a production of the contibutors to the equalling interesting 

This book purports to answer the Edge's "annual question" for 2012 seeking elegant theories about how the world works. And so readers explore quantum physics, evolutionary biology, the origins of the universe, and a myriad of other theories of how we think and live, communicate and decide, and how artists do their thing.

Of course, I was on the watch for stuff that would pump up project management. To that end, I found a few things to ponder, to wit:
A system that makes no errors is not intelligent.

Perception requires smart bets called unconscious inferences.(p. 55).

Inexactness challenges causality. As Heisenberg observed: “Causality law has it that if we know the present, then we can predict the future. Be aware: In this formulation, it is not the consequence but the premise that is false. As a matter of principle, we cannot know all determining elements of the present.”(p. 79).

“Culture is the precipitate of cognition and communication in a human population.” Sperber’s two primitives— externalization of ideas, internalization of expressions— give us a way to think of culture not as a big container that people inhabit but as a network whose traces, drawn carefully, let us ask how the behaviors of individuals create larger, longer-lived patterns.(p. 113).


... as time becomes worth more and more money, time is seen as scarcer. Scarcity and value are perceived as conjoined twins; when a resource ... is scarce, it is more valuable, and vice versa. So when our time becomes more valuable, we feel as though we had less of it. (p. 193).

(a) “Deterministic” doesn’t mean “predictable”; (b) we aren’t good at intuiting the interaction of simple rules with initial conditions (and the bigger point here is that the human brain may be intrinsically limited in its ability to intuit certain things— like quantum physics and probability, for example); and (c) intuition is not a quasi-mystical voice ... but a sort of quick-and-dirty processing of our prior experience (p. 211). 

Collingridge dilemma— the idea that there is always a tradeoff between knowing the impact of a given technology and the ease of influencing its social, political, and innovation trajectories. Collingridge’s basic insight was that we can successfully regulate a given technology when it’s still young and unpopular and thus probably still hiding its unanticipated and undesirable consequences— or we can wait and see what those consequences are, but then risk losing control over its regulation. Or as Collingridge himself so eloquently put it: “When change is easy, the need for it cannot be foreseen; when the need for change is apparent, change has become expensive, difficult, and time-consuming.” (p. 255).

And, I found a few others that PMs might appreciate:
To have a good idea, stop having a bad one. The trick was to inhibit the easy, obvious, but ineffective attempts, permitting a better solution to come to mind.(p. 303).

Most of us develop a biased temporal orientation that favors one time frame over others, becoming excessively oriented to past, present, or future. Thus, at decision time for major or minor judgments, some of us are totally influenced by factors in the immediate situation: what others are doing, saying, urging, and one’s own biological urges. Others facing the same decision matrix ignore all those present qualities, focusing instead on the past: the similarities between current and prior settings, remembering what was done and its effects. A third set of decision makers ignores the present and the past and focuses primarily on the future consequences of current actions, calculating costs vs. gains. (p. 317).

Check out these books I've written in the library at Square Peg Consulting