Disciplined Curiosity04 Aug 2017
I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time.
I’ve struggled to find a balance between (1) using tried & true methods and (2) better & more efficient methods.
Get’er Done or Reinvent?
By nature, I’m a highly curious person and love discovering new ways of thought and procedure. In my professional life, I work as a software engineer. Much of my working day is spent asking how and where my team can reinvent how we accomplish yesterday’s work and tomorrow’s promises. At home, I experience the same catch-22 situation. For meal planning, do I scour the internet for the a wonderful meal planning app or just write out my weekly meal plan and shopping list on a plain piece of paper?
I continually feel like I’m caught between the desire to be curious and the need be practical. It often feels like a zero sum game; either do the mundane but needed work now or search and fantasize about better ways to get things done.
Perhaps you also feel similar pulls towards two different spectrums I’ve mentioned.
Responding to the Tension
It’s helpful to observed that I’ve painted this as an extreme spectrum. Execute or reinvent. Honestly, it’s about as black & white as extremes come. Yet, reality is more nuanced than I often perceive it. Innovation can happen in small improvements that compound on each other. I’d coach myself that “change” takes effort so it’s helpful to budget for small, incremental changes that are sustainable.
It’s also helpful for me to remember that my curiosity for better solutions is good. I want to keep it alive. I want to cultivate curiosity into a honed discipline.
Here is a rough draft of a framework I came up with to develop the discipline of disciplined curiosity.
I think there are different types of curiosity. Each has it’s pros and cons, which help me decide when & where is a good time to activate that type of curiosity. Said in other words, there is a season for everything.
Spectrums (possible values: low, medium, high):
- Discovery. The freedom to chase down an idea down a rabbit hole.
- Impact. The significance of the idea in question being reinvented.
- Completion. The importance of coming back with a working idea or solution.
Different Types of Curiosity:
Learning for Learning’s Sake. Search hacker news, podcasts, “getting started with X”, technology specific articles (quantopian trading, tensorflow NLP or image processing, etc).
Topical curiosity. Survey ideas/things within a category of thought. What are the newest JS frameworks? How are companies thinking about flat organizations? How’s writing about the Warren Buffet “value investing” philosophy, what’s being said about it today? How is philantrophy being reinvisioned today?
Comparative analysis. How do I X with Y? How do I implement a worker pool in Ruby, Java, Go, Elixir/Erlang, Rails, Django, Heroku?
Practicing within Learning Contracts
Learning Contracts (from here on out, LCs) are a planning structure that I have found to be very helpful. The motivation is to define where I want to apply my curiosity so that I can harness it, not just be blown around by it. LCs are time bound and specific following the SMART goals genre of thought.
I’ve broken up items into one of the categories:
- investments: places where I spent time/effort/resources
- understanding: ideas I can easily describe in my own words
- accomplishments: things I did
If you’re planning to read a book, work with a friend, or attend an event/conference as a apart of one of the LC items, go ahead an add that detail as a comment.
To give you a better idea of what a LC looks like, here’s an example from my 2017: Aug-Oct LC.
Weston’s 2017: Aug-Oct Learning contract Topics: screen scrapping, product marketing, launching a product, learn about how to create jobs Friends to share with: Caleb G., Jake S., and David W. Items:
- accomplishments: finish the screen scrapping agent for HTD project
- understanding: explain how I setup js-enabled selenium to scale
- accomplishments: apply to the Kaggle Open Source Data competition with the India data
- accomplishments: find 5 other possible grants for the HTD project work
- investments: send executive level summary to IJM about project
- understanding: explain the history of India over the last 100 years
- accomplishments: launch https://india.humantraffickingdata.org site
- investments: attend 5 contractor focused events (meetup.com groups, webinars, conferences, etc)
- accomplishments: launch https://www.freelance-reactjs.com
- understanding: where and how are people looking for remote software dev work from India, Philippians, and Russia
- investments: develop a list of 20 questions that I want to ask about how to create jobs
- accomplishments: finish these books
- Not For sale (social justice + economics)
- The Lotus Effect (social justice + economics)
- Refactoring (software)