Systematic Lucky Breaks

Many peo­ple can point to sig­nifi­cant events that im­proved their lives in a pos­i­tive way. They of­ten re­fer to these as “lucky breaks”, and take it for granted that such events are rare. But most of the time “lucky breaks” don’t need to be un­com­mon-you can of­ten re­verse en­g­ineer the rea­sons be­hind them and cause them to hap­pen more fre­quently. So when a one-off event ends up con­tribut­ing a lot of value, you should sys­tem­at­i­cally make it part of your life.

Ex­am­ple 1: in June the Less Wrong—Cam­bridge com­mu­nity held a mega-meetup with sev­eral peo­ple ar­riv­ing from out of state. Since sev­eral of us had to stay up un­til 2AM+ in or­der to meet with peo­ple, we de­cided to have a game night that evening, which I held at my place. The game night was ex­cel­lent-plenty of peo­ple showed up, we all had a lot of fun, and it was a great way to so­cial­ize with sev­eral peo­ple. Since it went so well, I started host­ing game nights reg­u­larly, even­tu­ally con­verg­ing on one game night ev­ery two weeks. This was a phe­nom­e­nal move in many ways-it let me meet a lot of in­ter­est­ing peo­ple, deepen my con­nec­tions with my friends, quickly in­te­grate with the Less Wrong com­mu­nity, and just in gen­eral have a lot of fun, sim­ply by tak­ing one thing that worked well and mak­ing it sys­tem­atic.

Ex­am­ple 2: a while back I was given an as­sign­ment to set up a scal­able an­a­lytic ar­chi­tec­ture to al­low data sci­en­tists to iter­ate faster-a pro­ject where I had no idea what to do or how to start. In des­per­a­tion, I reached out to sev­eral peo­ple on LinkedIn who had ex­pe­rience with similar pro­jects. Some of them re­sponded, and the ad­vice I got was in­cred­ibly valuable, eas­ily shav­ing months off of my learn­ing curve. But there is no rea­son for me to only do this when I am com­pletely des­per­ate. Thus I’ve con­tinued to reach out to ex­perts when I have new pro­jects, and this has al­lowed me to avoid mis­takes and solve new prob­lems much more quickly. This has sig­nifi­cantly im­proved my learn­ing speed and made a qual­i­ta­tive differ­ence in how I work. I no longer dis­miss po­ten­tial ideas sim­ply be­cause I have no idea how to im­ple­ment them-in­stead, I now talk to ex­perts and figure out roughly how difficult those ideas are, which has al­lowed me to solve sev­eral prob­lems I would have dis­missed as un­fea­si­bly difficult be­fore.

Ex­am­ple 3: a few years back some of my friends in the tech in­dus­try men­tioned that Ma­chine Learn­ing was be­com­ing a trend, so I took two weeks to learn the ba­sics. A few months later the “Big Data” boom ex­ploded, and I was able to get a job as a Data Scien­tist at a sig­nifi­cantly higher salary do­ing more in­ter­est­ing work. Even though my Ma­chine Learn­ing knowl­edge was pretty rudi­men­tary, I was able to get the job be­cause de­mand com­pletely ex­ceeded sup­ply at that point. In short, this was a lucky break that greatly ad­vanced my ca­reer. To sys­tem­atize this I sim­ply con­tinued to keep an eye out on big trends in tech­nol­ogy. I’ve read Hacker News (which is gen­er­ally half a year or more ahead of the main­stream), kept in touch with my friends on the ap­plied side of academia (which feeds use­ful tech­niques into the in­dus­try), and just gen­er­ally kept talk­ing to a lot of peo­ple in or­der to keep up-to-date. This has been use­ful again and again, al­low­ing me to fo­cus my learn­ing on the most valuable skills right as there was mar­ket de­mand.

In short, one of the fastest ways to im­prove your life is to look at things that already made a big differ­ence be­fore, and cause more of them to hap­pen.