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Two Growth Curves

35 Post author: AnnaSalamon 02 October 2015 12:59AM

Sometimes, it helps to take a model that part of you already believes, and to make a visual image of your model so that more of you can see it.

One of my all-time favorite examples of this: 

I used to often hesitate to ask dumb questions, to publicly try skills I was likely to be bad at, or to visibly/loudly put forward my best guesses in areas where others knew more than me.

I was also frustrated with this hesitation, because I could feel it hampering my skill growth.  So I would try to convince myself not to care about what people thought of me.  But that didn't work very well, partly because what folks think of me is in fact somewhat useful/important.

Then, I got out a piece of paper and drew how I expected the growth curves to go.

In blue, I drew the apparent-coolness level that I could achieve if I stuck with the "try to look good" strategy.  In brown, I drew the apparent-coolness level I'd have if I instead made mistakes as quickly and loudly as possible -- I'd look worse at first, but then I'd learn faster, eventually overtaking the blue line.

Suddenly, instead of pitting my desire to become smart against my desire to look good, I could pit my desire to look good now against my desire to look good in the future :)

I return to this image of two growth curves often when I'm faced with an apparent tradeoff between substance and short-term appearances.  (E.g., I used to often find myself scurrying to get work done, or to look productive / not-horribly-behind today, rather than trying to build the biggest chunks of capital for tomorrow.  I would picture these growth curves.)

Comments (11)

Comment author: RomeoStevens 02 October 2015 01:43:31AM *  16 points [-]

Related: The Valley of Bad X. Learning new skills is especially hard in domains in which your first few attempts are likely to fall far short of your mental picture of improvement or even make you worse initially. I find it helps to explicitly visualize people who I perceive as being skilled in X failing at it over and over again when they were first learning. Rather than think of myself as wanting to affiliate with the end result I think of myself as wanting to affiliate with the process.

Also related: Punctuated equilibrium skill growth vs linear skill growth (ht Ethan Dickinson). You will be especially discouraged if you are expecting linear growth and instead get lumpy growth.

Comment author: richard_reitz 02 October 2015 12:18:52PM 3 points [-]

It helps to explicitly visualize people who I perceive as being skilled in X failing at it over and over again

Some of the greatest value I've gotten out of attending math lectures comes from seeing math Ph.Ds (particularly good ones) make mistakes or even forget exactly how a proof works and have to dismiss class early. It never happened often, but just often enough to keep me from getting discouraged.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 October 2015 11:16:28PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: ChristianKl 02 October 2015 03:46:12PM 4 points [-]

I used to often hesitate to ask dumb questions, to publicly try skills I was likely to be bad at, or to visibly/loudly put forward my best guesses in areas where others knew more than me.

Do you actually lose status in your social groups by doing those things? Showing vunerability is often better for building connections with other people than looking cool.

Comment author: gucciCharles 02 September 2016 01:20:19AM 0 points [-]

To what degree does this hold. Yes, in certain cases showing vulnerability is endearing.

But imagine an anxious person that obviously struggles to talk to you, that forces herself to interact even though she's not very good at interactions. In this case the vulnerability isn't endearing at all. I've witnessed people in such situations and the result was non-edearing.

On the other hand, I think of a friend that has high status but always makes himself vulnerable, giggles and blushes. In his case vulnerability causes endearment.

I'm not claiming to know which essential feature separates the 2 cases. I am however explaining why the general 'vulnerability endears' is context specific. I does not seem to be the vulnerability, at least on its own in isolation, that causes the endorsement.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 02 October 2015 10:38:47PM *  3 points [-]

How long since you first drew these graphs? Have you since considered where you are standing on the graph? Does the graph look (or rather feel) like you initially thought?

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 03 October 2015 09:26:02PM *  1 point [-]

I think so, roughly, although it's not like I have anything like metrics. (It's been 5 or 6 years.)

Comment author: gucciCharles 02 September 2016 01:21:01AM 0 points [-]

And where on the graph would you put yourself now?

Comment author: Raziel123 03 October 2015 02:26:14AM 1 point [-]

That's actually a really good question, I'm looking forward to that answer too.

Comment author: pianoforte611 04 October 2015 02:47:45PM 2 points [-]

hesitate to ask dumb questions, to publicly try skills I was likely to be bad at, or to visibly/loudly put forward my best guesses in areas where others knew more than me.

Something else that is in this category for me - bringing up personal conflicts and trying to resolve them as they happen vs ignoring them and having them eventually blow up. It feels bad to bring up conflict but letting it simmer is so much worse in the long term.

Comment author: LessWrong 02 October 2015 01:54:22PM -2 points [-]

I used to often hesitate to ask dumb questions, to publicly try skills I was likely to be bad at, or to visibly/loudly put forward my best guesses in areas where others knew more than me.

Eh. Pretty much stereotypical for nerdy people. It's an obsession with being right.

I would imagine plenty of users here would share the same sentiment.