Two orders of magnitude thinking April 9, 2021 cliffski So… I just watched the neuralink video with the monkey playing pong, if you havent seen it already, watch this: Now you picked your jaw up off the floor, lets think about how stuff like this can even happen, and what we can learn from how things have got to this point… The main takeaway here is not that neuralink have managed to vastly accelerate progress in the field of curing paralysis (or I guess…working around it), but the approach they are taking. They often talk about some seemingly minor things in their presentations: There is no visible scar on the monkey. The device is charged wirelessly using a baseball cap! The surgical equipment that puts the implant in is very fast, and should be a very simple procedure (relatively). This is a BIG deal, because its what we might call two orders of magnitude thinking. This seems to be something that Elon Musk does all the time, and I think its amazing and worth learning from, regardless what field you work in. When you look at spacex, neuralink and tesla, the thinking behind the company strategy is absolutely different to the strategy behind every other company I am aware of, because its this: Don’t work out how to go from where we are to the next thing. Work out the ultimate impossible goal, even if its 100x harder, then make direct plans for that, regardless what it takes. SpaceX is the clearest example. All other rocket companies had an idea that they would try to make a rocket as good as, or better than the current examples. maybe slightly cheaper, maybe slightly larger, maybe a slightly bigger payload. If they were really ambitious, maybe double the payload, or half the cost. The spacex solution was not along those lines. It was ‘given we need to establish a self-sustaining colony on mars, whats needed to achieve that?’ and the ridiculous answer that comes back is 100% reusable rockets, that land, refuel then take off within an hour. Looked at from the POV of NASA, thats absolutely insane, yet they get closer every year. reusable rockets (at least 1st stage reusable) are now a reality, in fact the norm, and totally reusable rockets should be perfected within a year. Nobody would even begin to attempt this, if they took a standard “where do we go from here” approach. Neuralink is another example. They are not trying to push forward current tech regarding solutions for the paralyzed. They are thinking ‘how do we make a neural lace from the Iain M Banks novels’, and then working on the tech, the infrastructure, and the processes required to make that a reality. Elon musk wants every human on earth to have the option to have a brain-computer interface. It has to be safe, invisible, affordable, routine. This seems impossible and yet…here we are… Tesla is a third. They were not aiming to make a few electric sports cars for rich jerks. They were aiming to completely transform the entire car industry. Thats why they moved as fast as possible from the roadster to the model S, to the 3, to the Y and soon to an even cheaper model. This is the plan all along, not even secretly, its been posted online years and years ago. And now? not just building one insanely big factory but two, at the same time, Not aiming to boost sales by 5 or 10% but 50-100% each year, every year, because *thats what it takes* to achieve an impossible end goal. So how does this mindset help anybody reading this? Its a mental trick. And it works. I use a lot of mental tricks. I used to have a slide in talks I gave showing the troops in a landing craft at the D-Day landings. These are people I visualize when I’m stuck, or feeling slack, or demotivated. I put myself in their position and compare whatever relatively trivial challenge I have to theirs. This mental trick is different, and probably less harrowing, but its similarly effective. This mental trick is in thinking backwards. You do NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES frame your decision making, your motivation, or your plans based on where you are now. Thats irrelevant, whether it be money, location, knowledge, whatever. You totally ignore where you are now, and work backwards from where you absolutely HAVE to end up, in the timescale of your choice. You plot backwards, writing down the decisions that must have been taken, the action that must have taken place in order to explain how you ended up achieving your goal. So for example, you want to make a comfortable career out of indie game development. Thats fine, but work out what that looks like and go backwards. Maybe in your country that means earning a reliable $200,000 a year before tax. Ok, fine, whats needed in terms of sales for you to do that reliably? how does that gross up to give a figure before steam/apple/googles cut? How much more is needed to account for hardware/software/subcontractors etc? Do not compare where you are, to whats needed at the end goal, because if you do, you will give up. its natural. The trick is to assume its already happened, and that you have no say in it. Maybe when you progress back and back and back from the $200,000 a year in 5 years to today, you realize you need to ship a game that sells 5,000 copies THIS year. without fail. Maybe that will take you 2000 hours to make this year and you have a full time job. So thats maybe 8 hours a day you need to find every day this year. How is that even possible? The point is, it doesn’t matter, you have to assume it is possible, and then everything else is irrelevant. Maybe you work on your game every lunch hour, and every morning before work, and late into the night every night for a year, and thats how you do it. Maybe you remortgage the house, sell the car, sell a bunch of other stuff and take a six month sabbatical instead? Your circumstances dictate the path. The point I’m trying to get across, is that if you work backwards, taking extreme measures to achieve your goals starts to feel justified, understandable, and expected. If you work forwards, the same actions seem obsessive, extreme, even insane. 99% of people reading this will think I’m nuts, and that nobody should be that obsessed with work. Thats absolutely fine, its aimed at that 1% who keep failing to achieve big goals and need a trick to help them do it, and absolutely want that goal enough to do whats needed.