Take Risks

Tuesday, August 27, 2013
By: Matthew Doucette

Some random and digressed thoughts about change and risk taking, originating from an email thread with programmer friends:


Should you take risks?

This is similar to asking if you should try and change to the world. There's a quote that tells you not to worry about being unable to change the world as a single person, as most of the world's changes are made by very few people. This means there are a massive percentage of people who try and fail. To accomplish something big you have to try at someting with a low chance of success.

So, do you try or not? I guess that's the question.

This might have been the quote I was referring to:

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

- Steve Jobs

I found the quote I was referring to, below, but wanted to leave the Steve Job quote above. I'm writing this as I go if you cannot tell:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

-Margaret Mead

The math here is probability, and is favored against you. If you are familiar with chess engines vs. poker engines, you will know that pure probability works in chess but a human poker player can destroy a computer poker player running on pure probabilities. For the computer to win it has to try against the odds, and that is my point.

If a 'computer' were to decide to change the world or not, it would always vote no based on probability. Unless two things:

  1. It were programmed with deeper knowledge, so it makes efforts despite failure rates, just like the top poker engines do today, and...
  2. It were programmed with non-individualistic or group thinking, so that it controls a group of individuals and then can play out the odds and win as a group despite the failing of most individuals.

(It's interesting that evolution works using both of these methods.)

Also, it's similar to Paul Graham's Y-Combinator program, where he funds lots of tech start-ups knowing that 90% will fail. That's how Reddit was born by the way, despite Digg already existing and dominating at the time. Now, Reddit lives and Digg died off. Congrats to Paul!

It also reminds me of the logic behind the push for funding science. A government fund wishes to see a direct "A gives B" relationship. If "A" cannot be guaranteed to deliver "B", then the government will tend to not fund "A". This is 'flawed' individualistic logic, as most of the time A will not deliver B. Even worse, sometimes B has not been identified yet!

Neil DeGrasse Tyson put it best when he defended science funding by using the example of how to improve an oven: He said various predictable improvements could be made such as convection ovens and whatnot. However, this line of thinking would never invent the microwave. In other words, a revolution never happens with "A gives B" thinking. And without revolutions, nothing really changes. The microwave came from the communications sector: While using microwave communitcations, scientists realized that bad weather, rain, blocked the signal. The rain was absorbing the microwaves, and a side-effect to that is heating up the water. Realizing almost all foods, even dry foods, have water in them, there's your microwave oven.

Here's a direct quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

"Let’s not just talk about inspiration. Let’s talk about true innovation. People often ask, “If you like spinoff products, why not just invest in those technologies straightaway, instead of waiting for them to happen as a secondary or tertiary benefit?” The answer: it just doesn’t work that way. Let’s say you’re a thermodynamicist, the world’s expert on heat, and you’re asked to build a better oven. You might invent a convection oven or an oven that’s better insulated or one that permits easier access to its contents. But no matter how much money I give you, you will not invent a microwave oven, because that came from another place. It came from investments in communications, in radar. The microwave oven is traceable to the war effort, not to a thermodynamicist."

- Neil deGrasse Tyson, Why exploration matters—and why the government should pay for it

Although I cannot find the video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson speaking about microwaves, I found a video on him that explains the same point:

Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Next Great Scientific Breakthroughs


We have to take risks if we want to accomplish something big, but success is not guaranteed.

I had to throw this extra Neil deGrasse Tyson video in. It's great. Keep dreaming:

We Stopped Dreaming

That is all!



About the Author: I am Matthew Doucette of Xona Games, an award-winning indie game studio that I founded with my twin brother. We make intensified arcade-style retro games. Our business, our games, our technology, and we as competitive gamers have won prestigious awards and received worldwide press. Our business has won $190,000 in contests. Our games have ranked from #1 in Canada to #1 in Japan, have become #1 best sellers in multiple countries, have won game contests, and have held 3 of the top 5 rated spots in Japan of all Xbox LIVE indie games. Our game engines have been awarded for technical excellence. And we, the developers, have placed #1 in competitive gaming competitions -- relating to the games we make. Read about our story, our awards, our games, and view our blog.