Inventing on Principle by Bret Victor

Bret Victor is an interface designer and computer scientist. In January 2012 he delivered a speech titled Inventing on Principle at CUSEC (Canadian University Software Engineering Conference) in January of 2012.

If you’ve done any kind of programming (even at a basic level), you’d be blown away by the demos Bret shows in his talk.

It’s perhaps one of the greatest talks on design, creativity, and how one should decide the work which is worth doing. Bret spends an hour advocating for a career built not on a craft or a process, but guided by a principle. In the process, he explains his own guiding principle, looks at examples from history, and lays out the case for discovering one’s own guiding principle.

Every minute of this video was worth the time.

Click here if you can’t see the video below.

 

The following transcript is sourced from Github.

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What’s Your Bicycle for the Mind?

When it came to painting a picture with words, Steve Jobs was a genius. In this video, he describes computers as bicycle for the mind. Here’s what he says —

I think one of the things that really separates us from the high primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.

And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.

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The Non-Obvious Parts of Training

Michael Schumacher is widely regarded as the greatest Formula One driver of all time. He holds following records —

  • Most World Championship titles — seven times
  • Most Grand Prix wins — 91 times
  • Most number of fastest laps — 77 times, and
  • Most races won in a single season — 13 times

You could call him the Sachin Tendulkar of racing. Which brings me to the fact that Tendulkar himself has been a long time fan of Michael Schumacher. In 2002, Sachin met with Schumi. Both being sportsmen, they must have exchanged a few notes about keeping fit.

Sachin came back astounded with the amount of time that Schumi devoted to just one part of his body: the neck. “He exercises it for one-and-half hours. Can you believe it?” he marvelled.

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Edison’s Muckers, Jeff Bezos, and Decision Paralysis

Excerpt from the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Most people in an organization aren’t in charge of formulating strategy; they just have to understand the strategy and use it to make decisions. But many strategies aren’t concrete enough to resolve a well­ established psychological bias called decision paralysis. Psychologists have uncovered situations where the mere existence of choice, even choice among several good options, seems to paralyze us in making decisions.

Barry Swartz in his book The Paradox of Choice has covered the idea of Decision Paralysis in detail.

Heaths write —

Every organization must make choices among attractive options: Customer service versus cost minimization. Revenue growth versus maximizing profitability. Quality versus speed to market. People development versus the needs of the quarter. Mix together lots of these tensions—an atmosphere full of potential opportunities and risks and uncertainties and incomplete information—and you’ve got a recipe for paralysis.

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Look What I Avoided for You

Excerpt from the book Antifragile

Consider this need to do-something through an illustrative example. In the 1930s, 389 children were presented to New York City doctors; 174 of them were recommended tonsillectomies [surgically removing the tonsil, a small bell shaped piece of organ hanging inside your throat]. The remaining 215 children were again presented to doctors, and 99 were said to need the surgery. When the remaining 116 children were shown to yet a third set of doctors, 52 were recommended the surgery…note that a death occurs in abo ut every 15000 such operations…every child who undergoes an unnecessary operation has a shortening of her life expectancy.

When you medicate a child for an imagined or invented psychiatric disease, say, ADHD or depression, instead of letting him out of the cage, the long-term harm is largely unaccounted for.

…the doctor who refrains from operating on a back (a very expensive surgery), instead giving it a chance to heal itself, will not be rewarded and judged as favourably as the doctor who makes the surgery look indispensable, then brings relief to the patient while exposing him to operating risks, while accruing great financial rewards to himself.

It’s an underlying human tendency to say ‘Look what I did for you’ than ‘Look what I avoided for you.’

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