Weekend Reading: Intellectual Humility, Scoping, and Gboard

August 31, 2019 • #

🛤 Missing the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Honest postmortems are insightful to get the inside backstory on what happened behind the scenes with a company. In this one, Jason Crawford goes into what went wrong with Fieldbook before they shut it down and were acquired by Flexport a couple years ago:

Now, with a year to digest, I think this is true and was a core mistake. I vastly underestimated the resources it was going to take—in time, effort and money—to build a launchable product in the space.

In the 8 years since we launched the first version of Fulcrum, we’ve had (fortunately) smaller versions of this experience over and over. Each new major overhaul, large feature, or product business model change we’ve undertaken has probably cost us twice the time we initially expected it to. Scoping is a science itself that everyone has to learn.

In Jeff Bezos’s 2018 letter to Amazon shareholders, he discusses the topic of high standards: how to have them and how to get your team to have them. (As a side note, if you don’t read Bezos’s shareholder letters, you’re missing out. Even if you’ve already read all the business and startup advice in the world, you will find new and keen insights there.)

Bezos makes a few interesting points, but I’ll focus on one: To have high standards in practice, you need realistic expectations about the scope of effort required.

As a simple example, he mentions learning to do a handstand. Some people think they should be able to learn a handstand in two weeks; in reality, it takes six months. If you go in thinking it will take two weeks, not only do you not learn it in two weeks, you also don’t learn it in six months—you learn it never, because you get discouraged and quit. Bezos says a similar thing applies to the famous six-page memos that substitute for slide decks at Amazon (the ones that are read silently in meetings). Some people expect they can write a good memo the night before the meeting; in reality, you have to start a week before, in order to allow time for drafting, feedback, and editing.

🏛 Ten Ways to Defuse Political Arrogance

David Blankenhorn calls for a return of intellectual humility in public discourse.

At the personal level, intellectual humility counterbalances narcissism, self-centeredness, pridefulness, and the need to dominate others. Conversely, intellectual humility seems to correlate positively with empathy, responsiveness to reasons, the ability to acknowledge what one owes (including intellectually) to others, and the moral capacity for equal regard of others. Arguably its ultimate fruit is a more accurate understanding of oneself and one’s capacities. Intellectual humility also appears frequently to correlate positively with successful leadership (due especially to the link between intellectual humility and trustworthiness) and with rightly earned self-confidence.

⌨️ The Machine Intelligence Behind Gboard

A fun technical overview of how the Google team is using predictive machine learning models to make typing on mobile devices more efficient.