Effective Exploration

An article about 50 Software Defined Radio projects hit hackernews on (2024-03-17), and it sent me down the rabbit hole of old links and ideas.

In the dilemma between explore vs exploit, how can you make your explorations as effective as possible? The "Make 50 of Something" marathon exemplifies the idea that you want to pack as much exploration into the smallest possible time. Scott Young mentions a few more techniques in his recent article on the infinite library problem.

To explore effectively, you have to navigate a space as quickly as possible. You need a map of the territory, even if the map seems crude and vague.

Make Space

Its important to make the space to explore in the first place. Scott Young has some advice:

Build financial security through lifestyle changes and exploiting what you already know

Avoid busy work. Cancel meetings and engagements that you don't value and that you cannot explore or exploit

Have a drama free social life.

Find a time on your calendar to create and explore, block it off, and guard it maniacally. Paul Graham's Maker vs Manager schedule concepts help.


When you do have the space to explore, how do you use it?

Use textbooks or compendiums first. Get the lay of the land. If you want to learn more about quantum physics, internet listicles may be low value. A text book will expose you to more, and more quickly, than a bunch of hastily read internet articles.

Use project-based learning.
- make 50 of something as quickly as possible
- Commit to spending 30 hours on something to see if it holds your interest. Abandon if not.
- Use tutorials or other guided methods to experiment in the space. I like projects like Linux from scratch, for example

Find the experts; do what they did. If three of your favorite musicians recommend a particular method, try it out for yourself.

Embrace serendipity. If you've been reading books on Anglo-Saxon and Viking warriors, what is the opposite? Use a tool like Break your bubble to find books unlike what you're exploring. Open up some time for the weird and unexpected.

Explore in public. Find a community of experts or other explorers and talk about what you're doing, why, and how. You might get important feedback that nudges you in a direction you hadn't expected, or avoid a dead end that many before you have trod.