90% of problems are recommendation and adaption problems

Want to improve your memory? Start a business? Fix your dating life?

The chances are that out of the thousands upon thousands of books and blogs out there on each of these topics there are already several that will tell you all that you need. I’m not saying that this will immediately solve your problem—you will still need to put in the hard yards of experiment and practise—just that lack of knowledge will no longer be the limiting factor.

This suggests if we want to be winning at life (as any good rationalist should), what is most important isn’t creating brilliant and completely unprecedented approaches to solve these problems, but rather taking ideas that already exist.

The first problem is recommendation—finding which out of all of the thousands of books out there are the most helpful for a particular problem. Unfortunately, recommendation is not an easy problem at all. Two people may both be dealing with procrastination problems, but what works for one person may not work for another person. Further, even for the same idea, it is incredibly subjective what counts as a clear explanation—some people may want more detail, others less, some people may find some examples really compelling, others won’t. Recommendations are generally either one person’s individual recommendations or those which recieved the highest vote, but there probably are other methods of producing a recommendation that should be looked into, such as asking people survey questions and matching on that, or asking people to rate a book on different factors.

The second problem is adaption. Although you shouldn’t need to create any new ideas, it is likely that certain elements will need more explanation and certain elements less. For example, when writing for the rationalist community, you may need to be more precise and be clearer when you are talking figuratively, rather than literally. Alternatively, you can probably just link people to certain common ideas such as the map and territory without having to explain it.

I’ll finish with a rhetorical question—what percent of solutions here are new ideas and what percentage are existing solutions? Are these in the right ratio?

UPDATE: (Please note: This article is not about time spent learning vs. time spent practising, but about existing ideas vs. new ideas. The reason why this is the focus is because LW can potentially recommend resources or adapt resources, but it can’t practise for you!).