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!

2013 Review

2013 has been a wonderful year for me. Now when i look back, i feel as if it just zoomed away. I learnt new lessons, met new people, increased my friends circle. Some of major highlights of the year 2013 which i can recall are as follows –

  • It has been a year of learning. 2013 was the last year when i studied formal courses of M.Tech at IIIT-B.  Learnt many new and interesting concepts. Some of them actually left me amazed ! Worked with many Profs. Did some interesting projects. Gave the last exam !
  • Took the decision of doing thesis instead of internship in the final semester of M.Tech. It has been one of the best decision i have made. I am enjoying every moment of the work i am doing. This is the most amazing work i have ever done ! Hope to get some new and interesting results. Looking forward to the next six months of research. I have realized that doing what we love, can give us maximum happiness, maximum satisfaction.
  • A year of firsts – I did many things for the first time in 2013. Tried new things, had new experiences. The ones that i can recall now are as follows – Watched the first 3D movie (Frozen, it was amazing !), attended the first conference, published the first paper, presented first poster (at Open House), first time went on a tour without parents, first birthday away from home (but also one of the best), first time traveled in a metro, got my first job …
  • I gave the best gift to my parents on their 25th marriage anniversary, a “Gold Medal” for being first in B.E. in the Computer Engineering department of Gujarat Technological University (GTU). The best thing was that my convocation was on their anniversary day (19th Jan). Mom and Dad, I am proud to be your daughter. It is because of you both, i am, what i am today 🙂 I know thanks is too small a word but still, thanks a lot for everything !!!
  • Increased my friends circle. Our gang of girls increased from 5 to 7. It has been a great support system. A family away from home. These are people whom you can call even at 2 AM to talk. I will miss our long mid-night walks and then sandwiches + fruit juice in canteen, our shopping trips, our study sessions together, our meals in canteen. Thanks a lot guys for being there ! Lets all be friends forever 🙂 This year brought us all closer and bonded us even better. I also realized that it can be very difficult to wave goodbye to your close friends.
  • This was the year when most of the festivals were celebrated away from home. Be it lighting up the hostel on Diwali, or the colorful fun with colors on Holi or the beautiful flower rangoli on Onam or the most awaited three-day long Spandan-The Sports Fest at IIIT-B or the ethnic day celebrations. Celebrating festivals can be fun with friends.
  • I have always believed that its better to be alone than to be with people who don’t match your values and ethics. I have been an introvert in some ways, and never initiated conversations with strangers for example while travelling or at other public places. Thus i have a small close-knit friend circle of a few close friends. I have always enjoyed my own company and hence i can say with full confidence that being alone can be also be fun ! However, this year i have also realized that making friends can be easy if the wavelength of the other person matches yours.
  • This has been a musical year for me. Thanks to the SpicMacay events at IIIT-B, other performances and lots and lots of YouTube musical videos, it has been an enchanting and euphonious year. I am planning to learn a new musical instrument next year. I will update about it later. Music is food for soul. It has the magical power to transcend us to a new different world. Music can refresh the brain even after a long and tiring day.
  • This year for the first time a visited a home for physically and mentally challenged girl child, Swanthana. All i can say is that, i was completely moved. Our problems, our setbacks, our challenges, our sorrows are nothing, yes believe me NOTHING once you see their life. But still they SMILE (and it can bring tears in anyone’s eyes). To read my full experience, click here.

I am looking forward to 2014. I hope it is a great year full of new ideas, new experiences, new lessons, new friends and new learning. Wishing all of you a very happy and prosperous new year 2014 ! May all your dreams come true. May you get all that you deserve and more !