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

25670869. sy475
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

One must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

When others are thinking of buying a house,
We think about the next big research idea!
When others are buying big flashy cars,
We prefer to cycle around in our green campus!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

When others are going abroad for vacations,
We wonder where the next conference we present, would be!
When others have holidays, they take a break from work,
When we have holidays, we get more things done!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

While others are busy with their 9-5 (rather 9-9) jobs,
We too are busy in our lab, but for as long as we want.
They are doing what they are told is to be done,
While we tinker around thinking what else can we do!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

Others come back home, exhausted after the day,
Even we are tired after a hectic day (or night).
But they hit the bed, and immediately fall sleep,
While we keep on thinking before we finally sleep!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

Others might have a well-defined plan of getting things done,
While we go around trying new stuff one-by-one.
While others can be successful, by heading the road more travelled,
We are expected to take the road less travelled.
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

Research requires a different kind of aptitude to life,
Where things that matter to us vs others, might be a contrast.
And that’s okay, as different people roll differently,
Anyway, life is not a rat race, although rats want it to be!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

Being a researcher, is a lifestyle decision and choice,
It requires different values and preferences.
We cannot turn on and off being a researcher over the day,
It requires a constant hum in the background, in our brains.
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

Research requires a fire to know and find out more,
To think, reason and argue and then let our ideas roar!
To doubt what everyone believes to be true,
To innovate new stuff from endless brew!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

We value innovation, over a fixed static technique,
We value uncertainty, over knowing how exactly things are going to be!
We value our freedom, over high-paying hierarchies,
We value exploration, over exploiting the known!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

We face failures and rejections, every now and then,
The one experiment we present was a result after many that failed.
These successes and failures are a part of our usual routine,
We learn the knack to make progress, however hard things have been.
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

The role of a researcher is hard!
Sometimes, literally requiring our blood, sweat and tears!
At the same time, it is one of the most satisfying roles!
Where self-growth is one of the most!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

PS – In the image above, researchers are like the few branches growing their own way as compared to all other branches of the bush!