Book Review- Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective

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Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Kenneth O. Stanley and Joel Lehman

Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Kenneth O. Stanley and Joel Lehman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read. And I could relate even better because I work in the area of AI like the authors and many of the examples and the final case-study is from this area. Also it’s inspiring to see such deep insight coming from the tool they built called Picbreeder.

The core idea presented in the book is that “objectives” are unnecessary and rather a hinderance while solving “complex” problems. Objectives might be useful for simple problems where it is easy to chart out a path to the goal. However in case of more complex problems where the route to the goal is not known, objectives cause more harm than good.

Next, an alternate model is presented called the novelty search. It finds solutions based on how “interesting” the solution is rather than how close it is to an “objective”. The authors connect this idea to the stepping stones, which is a great analogy. They argue that a complex goal lies somewhere in a hazy lake with a very low visibility. It is difficult or impossible to reach a specific goal in this lake and an objective in this case is like a “broken compass”. However, it is much more relevant to explore the lake by finding new stepping stones based on novelty or interestingness and how many new stepping stones it can lead to. True success lies in exploring the space of the lake rather than trying to reach a specific imaginary point.

Finally, a variety of use-cases are discussed from education, innovation to evolution and AI where a novelty based approach makes more sense rather than an objective based approach.

This book presents an intriguing idea which can literally change the way we operate in life. Sometimes it gets a bit repetitive but overall it drives the point. I highly recommend this book!

View all my reviews

Goal vs Process

In this post, I’ll elaborate on the two kinds of approaches we can have while working on any task– goal oriented approach and process oriented approach. We’ll see what do we mean by these approaches, how these are characteristically different, some interesting examples of both these approaches for the same task and finally if one of this approach is better than the other.

Goal oriented approach primarily focuses on the end goal of the task. With this approach, we try to reach that aim in the easiest possible way. No wonder, we optimize and do whatever least is required to reach the goal using this approach. How something is done– is not as significant as long as we finally obtain the goal. Also two people who have achieved the same goal are similar from this point of view although they might have taken different paths to reach that goal.

On the other hand, process oriented approach focuses on the way of achieving a goal rather than the goal itself. With this approach, we care about how things are done. There is an inherent motivation to do things well rather than just getting things done. With this approach, we are okay if it takes longer to get something done if we are able to improve the process. And when we look at two people who might be at same level, we focus on how they reached where they are instead of where they are.

Let’s take an example, consider a student who is learning a new course. A goal oriented student who aims for an A grade will do what it takes to get that grade. He might not focus on aspects of the course which will not contribute in adding to the grade. On the other hand, a process oriented student will focus on learning all the skills he can from that course. There is an intrinsic motivation to actually learn and know more about a variety of aspects of the course.

Similarly, take a person working on a project at his workplace. A goal oriented person will do whatever he has been told to do, and nothing more. On the other hand, a process oriented person cares about the work he is doing and takes ownership of the project. He does not just stop at doing what he has been told. But goes a step forward and thinks of ways in which the project can be improved by maybe automating something, updating the algorithm of a module etc.

Also, it’s not the case that goal oriented people don’t care about the process and process oriented people don’t care about the goal. It is not just possible but likely, that a goal oriented person follows a process and a process oriented person has some goal. Thus both these aspects go hand in hand. But the approaches tell what we primarily care about while working on anything– is it the end-goal or is it the process of achieving a goal?

In my opinion, mostly it is lot more fun to do things in a process oriented way instead of goal oriented way. In goal oriented approach, we think that we will be happy when we achieve the goal. It is indeed true that we are happy on achieving a goal, but that happiness and satisfaction is short-lasted and pretty soon we are ready to go after another goal. On the other hand, following a process oriented approach, one can be happy of following a particular process and there is also great satisfaction is improving a process. If we quantify the total satisfaction, I’m sure we are lot more happy and satisfied following process oriented approaches rather than goal oriented approaches.

Failures strike much harder in a goal oriented approach. There can be a variety of reasons due to which we might not be able to achieve a goal we planned to achieve. And a goal oriented approach makes it much harder to accept failures, and it is likely that instead of learning from the failures, we might take these failures personally due to our inability to achieve a goal. On the other hand, failures are very different in a process oriented approach. Failures are about a particular process not working well for the task at hand. And there are always other alternate ways to try and different lessons to learn. Thus it is easier to understand, accept and learn from failures this way!

Goal oriented approach is useful in situations where it is urgent to get something done. Sometimes the intense pressure can be useful to innovate and optimize the way of achieving a goal. It can be productive and useful in the short run. However it might be difficult to sustain this approach during the long run.

Goal oriented — Stepping stones || Process oriented — Steering ship

I thought of an interesting analogy of these two approaches. A goal oriented approach is like jumping on stepping stones. We are completely focused on landing firmly on the next stone and then on the next stone and then on the next stone. All our efforts and vision is focused and directed on the stepping stones and everything else in the background is a blur. On the other hand, process oriented approach is like steering a ship. Ofcourse one has a goal to reach but in this case, the primary focus is on how the ship is steered. Also on the journey, one can look at the scenery around, spot birds and fishes and enjoy. It is not a distraction from reaching the goal, but overall a more satisfying experience.

Thus, we can approach the things we want to do in life using either of these approaches. And the same thing can be done very differently using either of these approaches and in turn it can be a very different experience for us. Process oriented approach can let us enjoy and learn during the journey while goal oriented approach can make us strongly pursue the desired outcomes! Finally the choice lies in our hands regarding which approach we choose!

Image Credits:
1. Stepping stones – Background photo created by kjpargeter – www.freepik.com
2. Steering ship – Vintage photo created by v.ivash – www.freepik.com

Road to Success

Idea Credit : Weekly Writing Challenge: Clicking Through the Pages

Road to Success
Image:Stockphoto.com

“Success” has a different meaning for different people. It might mean wisdom, money, recognition, fame and so on. In my opinion success denotes achieving one’s goals. Thus anyone can be successful. Anyone can achieve their aim. Anyone can walk on the road to success. There is no secret of success. Nobody is born successful. Its the qualities and skills which make a person successful.

Now here is a test to check your direction on your road to success. In the end it will also suggest where to improve, in order to increase your chances of being successful. So lets begin –

1. Are you passionate about something ?

Do you like doing something, without which your existence is meaningless ? Is there some skill or hobby which you love doing ? Do you have a goal to achieve in life ? Is there something which you would happily do even if you are woken at midnight ?

If yes goto page 2 otherwise goto page 3.

I

I may not be the smartest person
But i am witty enough

I may not be the most beautiful
But my heart is pure enough

I may not be the most intelligent person
But i am clever enough

I may not always act as expected
But my intentions are good enough

I may not always stand up to your expectations
Because i try to stand up to my standards

I may not always say what you want to hear
But my feelings are always true enough

I may sometimes behave in a childish way
But my thoughts are mature enough

I may not have dozens of friends
But my few besties are close enough

I may not always be a winner
But efforts are always good enough

I may not be perfect
But i am happy the way i am !

Interview Experience at IIIT Bangalore

Edit – I have graduated from IIIT-B. You can find my IIIT-B journey experience here – IIIT-B, My Alma Mater.

My interview for the MTech at IIIT-B was scheduled on May 03rd, 2012. It was mentioned in the call letter to report at the institute by 9AM. So I along with my Dad started early and reached the institute at 8AM. I was given a gate pass at the entrance. The institute is so beautiful. It is surrounded by trees and there is greenery all around. IIIT-B was my first preference to do MTech and after the first glance of the college my decision felt even more correct. Here are a few pics…

Since we reached somewhat early we were told to wait in the campus. Some other students had also arrived with their parents. At 8:30 AM we were called one by one and given the check list for the day. In the check list there were four rows stating Things to be done – receiving check list, biometric test, document verification and interview. After completing each stage we had to get our checklist signed. So my first stage was over in a moment :).

Next I was told to go to room number 160 for biometric test. We were told to sit as per our registration numbers and wait. There were two sections one for people who had got Gate waiver and the other for those who had come through the entrance exam. In the beginning they were calling us one by one. But then they started calling randomly. In the meantime a person came from a bank and told about easy loan schemes for students. Finally my turn came at 10:30 AM. In the biometric test they took a photo and scanned the index finger of both hands. Stage two over :).

Now I had to report to room 133 for document verification. My documents were all ready. I just arranged them in the given order and again waited for my turn. There were also facilities for students to get their documents photo copied if they didn’t have it. My documents were verified. Stage three over :).

The volunteers there said that my turn would come in half an hour so I could take a break. So I waited there and revised my presentation in my mind. I was hungry so my Dad suggested that we should go to the canteen. We went to then canteen and also had a better look at the campus. Some students like me were also there having snacks. We ordered samosas, veg puff and cold drinks. It was tasty. Now I was feeling much better with something in my stomach.

Again I was back in room 133. I interacted with some volunteers. I got to know a lot of interesting stuff about the college. I asked him so many things but I forgot to ask his name :D. At this point I would like to add that the volunteers were very helping and friendly. They will help and guide you in the best possible way and answer all your queries. Finally my name was announced and that my turn would come soon. I was told to move to the holding area where i was told to sit and wait for my turn for the interview.

There were around 7-8 cabins where the interviews were being conducted. I was both excited as well as a bit stressed. A Sir called my name. I had butterflies in my stomach :). That Sir gave my form to my interviewer and moved out. Finally my interview started …

Firstly I was asked to introduce myself in about 2 mins. Sir listened very attentively and asked a few questions in between. Then he gave a short introduction about himself to make me more comfortable (a very good attempt on his part to make the interview easy for me :)). He asked if this was my best Gate score. He asked about my favorite subjects. Next he asked me to give the presentation. At this point he told me beforehand that he would stop me as soon as he got the inputs since there was limited time, so there should be no feelings of disrespect (another superb gesture on his part!). So i gave my presentation, and after about 3 mins he stopped me. I was a bit nervous as i had only given the introduction of my topic. He told me that my presentation and communication  skills were good. Next he asked me why i didn’t join TCS. Also to name a few companies i would like to work with in future. In the end he asked me if i had any queries. I asked a few questions and he gave its answers. With this my interview was over. Stage 4 which was the most tricky stage was complete 🙂 !!!

My interview was superb and went fine. I was sooooo happy! We had lunch at the college canteen which was OK. Next we roamed about in the campus which was simply awesome. Here i would like to mention that there is a small pond with some ducks. Oh ! it was so scenic. I just wanted to join this institute now :)!

Finally the good news came on May 14th, 2012 that i had been selected ! I was very very happy ! Out of 751 people who were interviewed, 150 were selected and i was one of them 🙂 I had always dreamt of this day. After visiting IIIT-B i had a strong urge to be its part. At this point i realized that if we strongly want something and dream about it day and night and also put in the required efforts, then the whole universe helps us in fulfilling our dream 🙂 (I know that it is a dialog of a movie but anyway this is the first time i realized that it is true :)).

Campus Tour of IIIT-B

PS 1 – Today i am sitting and blogging from train and will reach IIIT-Bangalore on July 13th, 2012  to join the institute. Yippee 😀
PS 2 – You can read my journey to IIIT-B for interview here – My First Flight Experience
PS 3 – I have closed comments as i have answered almost all the queries related to this topic. Please go through the queries and my replies in the  comments section and with a 95% probability, you will get an answer of your question as well. Admission is on the basis of Gate score. There is no way i can predict whether you will get admission on the basis of your score. Just see last year’s cutoff and hope for the best. Best of luck !

New Life —> New Beginning

An end and a fresh start.
Bulls eye struck by my dart.
Hope everything goes on well
In these thoughts i constantly dwell.

A new beginning leads to change.
It seems a bit frightening and strange.
Hope to get adapted pretty soon.
Wish everything turns out to be a boon.

A new city, a different culture
All will lead to a bright future.
New connections, new friends.
People on whom i can depend.

I want to learn, i want to grow
In comp science i wanna be a pro
Dream of reaching the unreached height
Ready to do my best with all my might

I promise to always focus on my aim.
Wanna earn fame, money and name.
I promise to be strong & to never give up
Always to view life like a half filled cup

Things have always been good for me
Hope that it always continues to be
Whatever i deserve i want to get
As well as things i haven’t dream’t yet !

Image Credits :
messageofdaday.blogspot.com
crystalcomments.com

A Letter to GOD

Dear GOD,

YOU give me everything that is best for me,
Sometimes even more than i can dream,
But even then sometimes i doubt YOU.

YOU are always there to guide me,
Help me to move on in life,
But i forget this and think i am all alone.

YOU always support me in life,
Whenever i look back YOU are there,
But even then i forget YOU.

YOU are always there beside me,
In both ecstasy and sadness,
But i being selfish, think of YOU only in sorrow.

YOU have a big heart and always forgive me,
And never ever punish me for my misdeeds,
So today all i can say is that “I AM SORRY !”

YOU keep loving and caring me forever,
Give me the power to have faith and trust in YOU,
So that even i can love YOU the way YOU do.

YOU always be there by my side,
Never ever leave me alone,
Because i know i am nothing without YOU.

YOU please keep showering YOUR choicest blessings on me,
And also guide me on my journey of life,
Because i will get lost without YOUR guidance.

YOU give me strength as well as courage,
To face all situations bravely in life,
And direct me so that i can perform my best.

I am always highly grateful to YOU,
Even though sometimes i may forget YOU 😦
In the end i would just say “THANK YOU !”

With Lots of Love & Regards,
Your Child

PS – I hope YOU don’t mind Sorry and Thank YOU
Cause i don’t have any other words to express my feelings for YOU 🙂
I didn’t have YOUR address so i thought i should put this letter on my blog, so that YOU can read it while YOU surf the net.
Also i would be highly thankful and feel blessed if YOU replied my letter.

14 things to learn from a Kite

14th January is celebrated as the Kite Festival also known as Uttarayan in India. Hundreds of kites are bought and made ready  beforehand for the d-day. One can see innumerable kites of various types soaring high in the sky. This festival is specially celebrated with great pomp and show in Gujarat. Since the break of dawn people start assembling on their terrace and fly kites. The weather is also windy and thus favorable for kite flying. Whole day is spent in flying kites. People have breakfast, lunch and dinner on the terrace itself as no one wants to miss a single moment of fun ! People of all age groups from small children to youth and old can be seen enjoying this festival together.

Every festival has something new to offer from which we can learn a new lesson in life. So i came up with a list of 14 points which we can learn from a kite. Here it goes …

  1. It’s difficult to rise but its easy to fall
    It requires energy and strength to rise. Special efforts are needed to do so. But to fall down is easy. Nothing needs to be done. Gravity does its job well. In the same way we also need to put in some extra efforts to reach a higher level. To go with the crowd or to go along the stream is always easy as it does not require any hard work or extra effort.
  2. A kite needs favorable winds to go higher
    If there is no wind it’s very difficult to fly a kite. It is difficult to rise up in the sky. Similarly even we need help and support of others to reach our goals.
  3. A string is almost invisible but guides the kite
    It’s the string which guides and directs a kite, however it’s almost invisible. Similarly we are constantly guided and motivated by our guides and gurus from the backstage. They play an indispensable role. Just like a kite cannot fly without the string even we will be nowhere without our guides and gurus.
  4. A small tail can maintain the balance of a kite
    Every one sees the kite but forgets the tail. It plays a major role of maintaining the balance of a kite. Similarly even in our life small things affect the journey of life and must be given the required importance.
  5. A kite may get cut
    A kite may get cut by another kite. Similarly sometimes we may be defeated by someone who is better than us. But it’s not something to be ashamed of. We can always learn and imbibe a new lesson from every difficult situation instead of running away from it.
  6. Sometimes birds are injured or killed by a kite
    Numerous birds are injured or killed by the kites. Similarly sometimes our behavior may break someone. Lets try to achieve our goals in such a manner that others are not adversely affected by it. As it is rightly said live and let live. So lets not harm others to achieve our objectives.
  7. A kite can fly irrespective of its color or type
    A kite can fly with same efficiency and reach the same heights irrespective of the color of the kite or of the type of material of which it is made. Similarly every person can achieve their aims and objectives irrespective of their religion, caste or creed. So let’s have a broad outlook and not differentiate people on these petty issues. Each one of us is capable of achieving our goals.
  8. A kite can go on higher and higher
    A kite can go on higher and higher up in the sky. Similarly we can reach unprecedented heights. All that’s required is dedication, hard work and most importantly persistence to reach our goals.
  9. A kite by itself is of no use
    A kite can only be a showpiece by itself. It cannot reach the heights all by itself. A kite is able to move up due to the combination of various factors. And a kite must be aware of it. Similarly we can’t do anything if we have a big ego. It’s always a good team that reaches its destination in the best possible way. Lets convert ‘me’ into ‘we’.
  10. A kite may get struck on trees and poles
    After getting cut a kite may get struck on trees or poles. Similarly in life we may face difficult (not impossible) challenges and get struck. But we must know that it’s not the end. With a little bit of extra effort we can overcome any adversity.
  11. Properly designed kite it able to reach higher more easily
    A kite which is properly designed can reach greater heights with minimum efforts. Similarly if we are prepared to face all the situations with ease in life then we can achieve our goals more easily.
  12. Loosen the string to prevent the kite from getting cut
    The string of the kite is left loose so that it may not get cut by another kite. If the string is tight and tense it breaks more easily. Similarly we need to d-stress ourselves. Stress is a big killer and it prevents us from wholeheartedly enjoying our life and hinders in achieving our goals. So from a kite we can learn to let go in some of the difficult situations in order to avoid getting stressed up.
  13. Kites’ success depends on the flier who flies the kite
    Along with the qualities of a kite the success of a kite also depends on the flier. In our case, we are the kite and God is the flier. So in some cases we may give our 100% efforts for a cause but sometimes the final results depend on luck and God. So lets learn to accept it willingly. Some things may happen as destined. But at the same time it also does not mean that we should stop working to reach our goals.
  14. A kite may not return back to the person it belongs after getting cut
    After getting cut the kite belongs to the person who catches it. It no longer belongs to its previous owner. It’s again ready for a new flight. Similarly after facing a difficult situation we change. We are no more what we used to be. We learn from our mistakes. And finally we are again ready to face new challenges on the path ahead.

Satisfaction

A person’s life style and growth depends on satisfaction. Each one of has a different level of satisfaction regarding any particular issue or  about the life in general. And i feel that this level of satisfaction plays a major role in deciding and shaping our future. Well let me elaborate it more so that the picture becomes more clear.

Firstly consider the case, where an individual is very satisfied with the life. He faces life as it comes. He may not have very big dreams or major goals to achieve. And sometimes he may be quite happy and content with his life. Being content is good but not when there is nothing to look forward in life.

Next lets take the case of an individual who is moderately satisfied. He has goals to be achieved and deadlines to be met. He gets satisfied when his goals are achieved. But failures make shake his a bit. However such a person may also lead a happy life. And the most important thing is that he will enjoy the journey of life as well as the pleasure of reaching the destination.

Lastly the case of a person who is never satisfied. He is never happy with what life has to offer. He is always demanding something more and more from life. Such kind of people can sometimes also be grumblers. They find happiness only when the goal is reached. They cant enjoy the journey of life. They are always working harder and harder in pursuit of their goals. However a very good quality of such people is their perseverance. They usually don’t leave things half done.

So i feel these are the types of people categorized on the level of satisfaction in their lives. No one is better than the other. Each type of person has some good and bad qualities. Also the level of satisfaction is defined by our own nature. However moderation is always good.

After reading this, please share what kind of person you are !