The Entrepreneur Forum | Startups | Entrepreneurship | Starting a Business | Motivation | Success
  • Sell-Me Saturday is Now Live!

    Have something to sell? Like to post a video from your YouTube channel? Want to promote your design service? Recommend a company? SELL-ME SATURDAY is your opportunity to self-promote whatever you'd like within the realm of entrepreneurship on one central thread... and at no cost. Go There
    Note: Indiscriminate SEO backlinking to questionable material is not allowed.
  • Join 50,000+ entrepreneurs who are earning their freedom and living their dream.

    "Fastlane" is an entrepreneur discussion forum based on The C.E.N.T.S Framework outlined in the two best-selling books by MJ DeMarco (The Millionaire Fastlane and UNSCRIPTED®). From multimillionaires to digital nomads to side hustlers who are grinding a job, the Fastlane Forum features real entrepreneurs creating real businesses with one goal in mind: Freedom— both financial and temporal.

    Download (Unscripted) Download (Millionaire Fastlane) Register
    Registering for the forum removes this block.

GOLD! A physicist's guide to learning hard things

lucasb

New Contributor
Jun 5, 2018
13
6
17
It could be simplified by asking 5 times at least WHY? (the 5 because Japanese) to everything that is not as we want, we produce discomfort, or have an unwanted effect.
Following the logic of cause and effect, each unwanted effect (malaise) has its cause, and the more we delve into the cause, the more undesirable effects we will eliminate.
It is a great method of continuous improvement, Eliyahu Goldratt established it with the book THE META, for manufacturing, but then the book THE DECISION took it to the whole in general.

Sorry for the writing, I'm using a translator.
 

Don't like ads? Remove them while supporting the forum. Subscribe.

Iggy Irianto

New Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Nov 6, 2018
8
16
18
Great post @lowtek !

I can relate for getting sidetracked and trying to understand everything before starting the problem solving. I would get too overwhelmed and nothing gets solved (or took took long).

To summarize, what I get out of this is:
1. Encounter problem
2. Stop. Analyze.
3. Write down whys and break down into incremental (achievable) steps, say stepOne, stepTwo, and stepThree.
3a. What do I already know?
3b. Which step can I solve already with what I already know?
3c. Found that I can solve stepTwo with my current knowledge because it is marginally close and doable, I just need a little reading at documentation and tinkering.
4. Acquired stepTwo knowledge.
5. Which, from remaining steps (stepOne and stepThree), can I solve with my knowledge set?
... repeat until stepOne, stepTwo, and stepThree done.

If stepThree is not solvable, break stepThree into subSteps until I can build up knowledge to solve them.

If I have NOTHING, then start from beginning.

Finally, put stepOne, stepTwo, and stepThree together to achieve solution.

I must also add, my personal opinion, that the ability to filter knowledge - which is useful and which isn't is useful. Not all knowledge is profitable. It's neat to know everything about something, but if I can build what I need without irrelevant knowledge, why would I waste time?

Thanks again for useful post! Gonna check out some of posts about Feynmant techniques!
 

Siberia

Surprise
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Speedway Pass
Apr 30, 2016
300
596
252
Siberia
So I was responding to a thread, and realized that one problem I see with some folks, newbies in particular, is that they lack a systematic methodology for teaching oneself. This isn’t surprising, as it’s not really a skill that we’re taught early in life. Realizing this, I figured I would share what I have learned about learning difficult things, over the years.

Of course, the scripted dogma is that we must go to school for 4 years, rack up a mountain of debt, and hope that we'll have marketable skills at the end. For STEM fields, this actually isn't a bad bet, but since most people don't major in useful things, it turns out disastrously for the majority.

I actually see some parallels between that scripted dogma and some of the posts here. Some folks will do extended learning challenges, work through dozens of tutorials, or seek out mentors to hold their hand... Perhaps it's the case that some people really need these constructs and arrangements, but I believe that there exists a better way to teach oneself.

Full disclosure: I guzzled the scripted dogma for the first thirty years of my life. I loved undergrad so much that I did a 5th year as a victory lap. Not willing to enter the real world, I then went on to a masters program and ultimately a PhD. However, from the ashes of these potentially ruinous decisions came an invaluable skillset that benefits me to this day: the ability to learn new things with minimal guidance.

Much like we have the CENTS framework for evaluating business opportunities, I believe there exists a mental framework for teaching oneself new skills.

What does it mean to learn something, really? I argue that learning means internalizing information in a way that allows you to apply it to new problems that are only marginally similar to previously encountered problems. After all, if you only know how to solve one problem, you’re not really a problem solver, you’re a robot.

Central to learning is having a solid mental model of cause and effect relationships. This is necessary because the world we live in is causal. To illustrate, let’s consider a simple example.

Let’s suppose you’re selling a widget on your website. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume that the widget is something people actually want. You’ve got some traffic, but only 1% of it is converting. You want to increase the conversion rate, because you have big baller dreams of lambos and lavish nights out in the big city. Problem is that with that 1% conversion rate you’re barely making burger flipper money, so hyper cars are out of the question, let alone hiring someone to fix the landing page. It’s on you to solve this problem. How to do it?

Most people will approach this problem by reading blog posts, books, or listening to podcasts on conversion rates. They will think they’re taking action, and assimilating knowledge, but in reality they’re wasting time. There are two reasons for this:

1) This delays the feedback loop between taking action and receiving results, thus obscuring the relationship between action and results.
2) It’s often event focused rather than process focused. Consuming prepackaged information often obscures the why of the solution.

The correct approach to learning how to increase conversion rates is this.

Clearly state the problem; the more precise and detailed the better.
Make a guess about what things you can control contribute to the problem
Formulate a plan for iteratively testing each of these possible root causes. Test most likely cause first, if possible.
If necessary, seek out information that tells you how to address each possible root cause.
Execute the plan.
Repeat until solved.

So if your conversion rate is only 1%, you could guess that the following things contribute to that low rate:
1) the page loads so slowly that people leave before it finishes
2) The color scheme makes peoples’ eyes bleed, so they can’t find the buy button
3) The copy reads like it’s written by an overseas scammer
4) The perceived risk is too high

These are just a subset of the possible reasons, and indeed a combination of them could be the problem.

We’ve already stated the problem, so that’s good.

Our analytics indicate loading speed could be an issue, and indeed any of the other 3 could be the problem so we have no choice but to test them all.

Brute force it is.

We therefore start at the top, load speed could be an issue. We then specifically seek out information regarding improving load speed issues on our site. Execute on that information immediately and observe the results. If the loading speed improves but not the conversion rate, then it’s on to the next thing.

We know nothing about color schemes, so we spend some time reading some information about it. After some careful consideration, we settle on a pre selected palette of colors and revamp the site. Observe the results, and move on if necessary.

We don’t know much about copy, so we pick up a copy of Cashvertising and skim the book looking for content that would be helpful. When we’ve found it, we implement it immediately. Observe the results and move on if necessary.

To fix the perceived risk, we can reach out to the 1% that have bought our product and ask for testimonials. So we look up some information on how to craft such an email, and boom send it out. We can also implement a money back guarantee, if we haven’t already.

After implementing all these things, we’re left with a vastly improved site. If the conversion rate doesn’t budge, we merely repeat the process. Come up with additional root causes and systematically test them, looking up information you need along the way.

So to summarize, this is how you rapidly learn new things:
Isolate a problem
Guess the root cause of the problem
Address each root cause in turn
Acquire any new skills to solve that specific problems
Repeat until you’ve got your lambo

This is in contrast to the approach of “oh gee, I have a poorly converting site. Guess I need to read a bunch of stuff on how to improve conversion rates… oh gee, guess I need to know web design, and copy writing, and … oh I’ll just give up”.

This is not to say that reading general business books doesn’t have its place, but I think this is primarily useful for those who are already in motion and can take the 1 or 2 nuggets from a book and apply it to their business straight away. I don’t believe there is large utility in reading for those that are not in motion.

In subsequent posts I’ll talk more about finding underlying principles, and expand on how I’m learning difficult things in my own journey.

“Learning to learn” is the fundamental skill that unlocks all doors, especially when you are in front of the so-called experts or specialists of a subject that explain everything to you ... because it's so! Instead a good creative entrepreneur can answer ..... and why not !!!
 

Tony Tong

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Dec 9, 2018
28
46
25
25
Singapore
Some really great replies here... I'm so glad that people are finding value in the content.

Apologies for taking so much time to get to part 2 of this thread. I've been overwhelmed with other things, so I haven't made time for this ... until now.

What to do when everything fails - appeal to principles

Story time...

My graduate work was in a field broadly called spintronics, which is using the electron's spin (as opposed to charge, in electronics) as a unit of information. My work in particular fell under the category of nano magnetics, meaning that we used advanced fabrication techniques to make magnets that were on the scale of tens of nanometers. We subjected these magnets to external magnetic fields and microwave radiation and observed their behavior.

Much like the magnet in a compass, these nano magnets would spin around the external field, and in that process they would emit microwaves in the GHz regime. By subjecting them to external microwave fields, we could synchronize them to resonant frequencies and observe some really fascinating behavior.

It was pure science, so not really engineering related. All these phenomenon occurred at 4 degrees above absolute zero, and disappeared at liquid nitrogen temperatures, so you won't see the tech in a device any time soon.

The process to fabricate these devices was quite strenuous. It required around 10 hours of highly focused and highly skilled labor, and the fragility of the devices ensured that mistakes meant that you wasted the entire days' effort. I worked along side my professor, as I was the only student in the lab. He was known for firing people who didn't want to put in the work, and I guess I passed the test. I got to see first hand what it takes to push a project from idea to completion and it was this set of experiences that I believe have set me up for success, but I digress...

During October of 2010, suddenly... the process stopped working. Every device we made was dead. We couldn't even pass a current through the devices (the resistance was in the mega ohm regime), which would have given us some basic information to diagnose the source of the problem.

To say this was "not good" was an understatement. This was our livelihood. Our only avenue of research. If it didn't work, we had nothing.

Anxiety set in.

Keeping a cool head, we followed the process I outlined above: what could be the possible root causes?

We made a list and spent the next two weeks working non stop, tweaking every step of the process.

Slowly.

Methodically.

But there was no respite to be found. Each change was only met with more failure. None of our mental models were correct. We had skewed all the variables to such an extent that at least a single device should have worked. Yet ... nothing.

Panic sets in. How could we get back on track?

One night we sat down exhausted. It was almost midnight; we had been fabricating all day and were met with more dead devices, yet again.

My mind began to wander... when did all this start anyway?

"A couple weeks ago", my professor replied.

I began to stretch for reasons... and came up with one of my most brilliant insights in grad school. I realized that the weather had recently changed. We went from warm and humid, to cool and dry.

What happens in dry air? Static discharge.

"I've got it. It's not the process"

"What, then?"

"It's static. We're killing the devices as we test them. It may be imperceptible to us, but even a tiny jolt to a nanomagnet is like a lightning bolt."

Ding ding ding. We have a new mental model to work with.

The following day, we revert back to the old process and instead of keeping the samples in a plastic container, we put it in an aluminum boat. A literal Faraday cage. We added grounding to our soldering station, and voila....

Success. The devices live, our overall success rate improved relative to the baseline, and we can move on with the science.

We had made the assumption that the process was killing the devices, when in reality it was our testing procedure.

So what's the moral here? The moral is this:

When all else fails, and you have exhausted all possibilities, something you have assumed is false. This is a foundational principle of problem solving (which is really learning).
Love how systematic this thought process is.

In my own language, I think of this as operating from "first principles" where you behave based on understandings of cause and effect, and meticulously go through each possible cause like how a detective scrutinises each witness for factual conflicts.
 

evanascent

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Aug 5, 2018
13
24
22
Thank you for writing about this; this is exactly the kind of thing I've been looking for. What you describe sounds pretty much identical to the way my dad teaches math--this way of thinking should absolutely be used in business as well!

I also like that you address the role of reading business books--I agree that it adds the most value alongside action... it's easier to approach action when you have a specific system in place for approaching inevitable problems.
 
Last edited:

ChrisV

Platinum Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Speedway Pass
May 10, 2015
1,963
3,404
772
Islands of Calleja
Lol, This post is hilarious

For the sake of argument, we’ll assume that the widget is something people actually want. You’ve got some traffic, but only 1% of it is converting. You want to increase the conversion rate, because you have big baller dreams of lambos and lavish nights out in the big city. Problem is that with that 1% conversion rate you’re barely making burger flipper money, so hyper cars are out of the question, let alone hiring someone to fix the landing page. It’s on you to solve this problem. How to do it?
This is in contrast to the approach of “oh gee, I have a poorly converting site. Guess I need to read a bunch of stuff on how to improve conversion rates… oh gee, guess I need to know web design, and copy writing, and … oh I’ll just give up”.
I was actually thinking of starting a thread yesterday, but after reading this post I think I'll just talk about it here for now. I think this is one of the biggest things people struggle with. I know I did.

My biggest business obstacle has been perfectionism. I’d want to learn, learn, learn everything so I can put out something some jaw-dropping product that flies off the shelves and really touches people’s lives.

It was never fear, it was never laziness. It was just perfectionism.

But I’ve learned the hard way that this isn’t the best approach. Or even a very good one.

Okay analogy... let’s say you’re building a house. You have nowhere else to live. Your best bet is to just build a shitty house, then gradually upgrade it as time goes on and you have the time/resources. Right?

In retrospect, not taking that approach was my biggest mistake. I would take so much time making the perfect doorknob. Then the perfect window.

Great.. now I got a F*cking doorknob and a window. Maybe they’re big/beautiful doorknobs and windows, made by a now skilled doorknob artisan.. but it’s still a F*cking doorknob. Better to have a shitty house than a perfect doorknob. It’s also pretty tough to live in a window, no matter how beautiful.

The same with business. JUST MAKE SOMETHING. I see this all the time. You have to put your skills into practice. Doing things creates muscle memory. Make some bullshit that you’re not proud of and just get it done. Just make something that people will buy, even if it’s not the the end product you want. You can upgrade later. Besides just having something people can actually buy, Learning = doing. Book smarts and Street Smarts have to go hand in hand. Just put something out. It’s like when people make wordpress blogs. They spend a gazillion hours getting the theme perfect, but they have no content! People will read decent content with a shitty theme. They won’t look at a beautiful theme with no content. People come to blogs for articles, everything else is garnishment.

I think it’s a matter or prioritization. Look at your bucket of rocks, and remove the biggest ones first. You’ll have time to handle all the pebbles later. When you’re building a business, don’t perfect every last thing. Put up a shitty website. A shitty logo. Don’t spend a penny on business cards. Just get yourself a minimum viable product and upgrade/learn as you go. You’ll learn 10x more by doing than by reading. Which isn’t to say that reading isn’t important, it’s to illustrate that both have their place.

Seriously... without doing, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Memory fades quickly if you don’t put the things you learn in to practice. @lowtek and I both program. So when you’re programming and want to learn a new skill, for programmers it’s common knowledge that the best way to learn by taking what you’ve read and immediately putting it into practice. You need the neural pathways to form and crystallize or you forget it. Evolution has created a brain that is extremely skilled at conserving resources. If our ancestors learned something that was used right away, the brain would tag it as ‘important’ and give it priority storage in the brain. If not, why even waste valuable neural connections? It’s why you forget a lot of the stuff you learned in college that you never put into practice. But someone who’s a biologist who actually uses what he learned on a daily basis it going to have an amazing memory of what he learned in college.

Anyway:

How to succeed at business (or anything): Read, Do, Read, Do, Read, Do, Read, Do

How to stay stuck in business(or anything): Read, Read, Read, Read, Do, Do, Do, Do.​

By the time you start doing, you’ve already forgotten 70% of what you’ve learned. You gotta put the things you’ve learned into practice. Like, immediately.

Great post.
 
Last edited:

OUTofFRAME

Contributor
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Aug 6, 2018
23
39
25
34
Florida
So I was responding to a thread, and realized that one problem I see with some folks, newbies in particular, is that they lack a systematic methodology for teaching oneself. This isn’t surprising, as it’s not really a skill that we’re taught early in life. Realizing this, I figured I would share what I have learned about learning difficult things, over the years.

Of course, the scripted dogma is that we must go to school for 4 years, rack up a mountain of debt, and hope that we'll have marketable skills at the end. For STEM fields, this actually isn't a bad bet, but since most people don't major in useful things, it turns out disastrously for the majority.

I actually see some parallels between that scripted dogma and some of the posts here. Some folks will do extended learning challenges, work through dozens of tutorials, or seek out mentors to hold their hand... Perhaps it's the case that some people really need these constructs and arrangements, but I believe that there exists a better way to teach oneself.

Full disclosure: I guzzled the scripted dogma for the first thirty years of my life. I loved undergrad so much that I did a 5th year as a victory lap. Not willing to enter the real world, I then went on to a masters program and ultimately a PhD. However, from the ashes of these potentially ruinous decisions came an invaluable skillset that benefits me to this day: the ability to learn new things with minimal guidance.

Much like we have the CENTS framework for evaluating business opportunities, I believe there exists a mental framework for teaching oneself new skills.

What does it mean to learn something, really? I argue that learning means internalizing information in a way that allows you to apply it to new problems that are only marginally similar to previously encountered problems. After all, if you only know how to solve one problem, you’re not really a problem solver, you’re a robot.

Central to learning is having a solid mental model of cause and effect relationships. This is necessary because the world we live in is causal. To illustrate, let’s consider a simple example.

Let’s suppose you’re selling a widget on your website. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume that the widget is something people actually want. You’ve got some traffic, but only 1% of it is converting. You want to increase the conversion rate, because you have big baller dreams of lambos and lavish nights out in the big city. Problem is that with that 1% conversion rate you’re barely making burger flipper money, so hyper cars are out of the question, let alone hiring someone to fix the landing page. It’s on you to solve this problem. How to do it?

Most people will approach this problem by reading blog posts, books, or listening to podcasts on conversion rates. They will think they’re taking action, and assimilating knowledge, but in reality they’re wasting time. There are two reasons for this:

1) This delays the feedback loop between taking action and receiving results, thus obscuring the relationship between action and results.
2) It’s often event focused rather than process focused. Consuming prepackaged information often obscures the why of the solution.

The correct approach to learning how to increase conversion rates is this.

Clearly state the problem; the more precise and detailed the better.
Make a guess about what things you can control contribute to the problem
Formulate a plan for iteratively testing each of these possible root causes. Test most likely cause first, if possible.
If necessary, seek out information that tells you how to address each possible root cause.
Execute the plan.
Repeat until solved.

So if your conversion rate is only 1%, you could guess that the following things contribute to that low rate:
1) the page loads so slowly that people leave before it finishes
2) The color scheme makes peoples’ eyes bleed, so they can’t find the buy button
3) The copy reads like it’s written by an overseas scammer
4) The perceived risk is too high

These are just a subset of the possible reasons, and indeed a combination of them could be the problem.

We’ve already stated the problem, so that’s good.

Our analytics indicate loading speed could be an issue, and indeed any of the other 3 could be the problem so we have no choice but to test them all.

Brute force it is.

We therefore start at the top, load speed could be an issue. We then specifically seek out information regarding improving load speed issues on our site. Execute on that information immediately and observe the results. If the loading speed improves but not the conversion rate, then it’s on to the next thing.

We know nothing about color schemes, so we spend some time reading some information about it. After some careful consideration, we settle on a pre selected palette of colors and revamp the site. Observe the results, and move on if necessary.

We don’t know much about copy, so we pick up a copy of Cashvertising and skim the book looking for content that would be helpful. When we’ve found it, we implement it immediately. Observe the results and move on if necessary.

To fix the perceived risk, we can reach out to the 1% that have bought our product and ask for testimonials. So we look up some information on how to craft such an email, and boom send it out. We can also implement a money back guarantee, if we haven’t already.

After implementing all these things, we’re left with a vastly improved site. If the conversion rate doesn’t budge, we merely repeat the process. Come up with additional root causes and systematically test them, looking up information you need along the way.

So to summarize, this is how you rapidly learn new things:
Isolate a problem
Guess the root cause of the problem
Address each root cause in turn
Acquire any new skills to solve that specific problems
Repeat until you’ve got your lambo

This is in contrast to the approach of “oh gee, I have a poorly converting site. Guess I need to read a bunch of stuff on how to improve conversion rates… oh gee, guess I need to know web design, and copy writing, and … oh I’ll just give up”.

This is not to say that reading general business books doesn’t have its place, but I think this is primarily useful for those who are already in motion and can take the 1 or 2 nuggets from a book and apply it to their business straight away. I don’t believe there is large utility in reading for those that are not in motion.

In subsequent posts I’ll talk more about finding underlying principles, and expand on how I’m learning difficult things in my own journey.
Thanks for your great tip. Would this method also be available to find what I want to do for the future? Cuz looking for this is a kind of hard things for me.
 
OP
OP
lowtek

lowtek

Platinum Contributor
FASTLANE INSIDER
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Summit Attendee
Speedway Pass
Oct 3, 2015
1,499
4,753
1,130
37
Phoenix, AZ
Thanks for your great tip. Would this method also be available to find what I want to do for the future? Cuz looking for this is a kind of hard things for me.
As in what business to pursue? I think the CENTS framework is probably a better guide.

I intended this to be a how-to for learning things on the fly, in the most effective and efficient way possible.

How would you apply it towards finding a business idea?
 

lucasb

New Contributor
Jun 5, 2018
13
6
17
It could be looking for why a business or venture does not sell enough. Each because it is a cause to solve, and the deeper we go digging into the causes more possibilities of a solution to overcome (business).

Goldriatt treats it to the subject in the book: Necessary but not enough ... which is the following of THE META. Micheal Gerber also in one of his books talks about that every industry has a fundamental problem that does not solve its customers.

The idea is to find the causes of why the client does not buy, list them meticulously and then look for solutions. There may arise business ideas
 

Gepi

In it to win it
Speedway Pass
Jul 3, 2018
112
150
151
Germany
Thanks! I was stuck on a problem I was putting of and of because of the "trying to build a scyscraper from nothing, now"-syndrome. Too much at once equals nothing at all gets done.
All of you, and especially @lowtek for starting this thread:
THANKS!
The clear and well-formulated process was received and is being implemented right now.
 

MJ DeMarco

Administrator
Staff member
EPIC CONTRIBUTOR
FASTLANE INSIDER
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Summit Attendee
Speedway Pass
Jul 23, 2007
28,816
97,907
3,751
Fountain Hills, AZ
Bump, needs some new comments for the new year. ;-)
 

Don't like ads? Remove them while supporting the forum. Subscribe.

GIlman

Still Gilman
FASTLANE INSIDER
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Summit Attendee
Speedway Pass
Oct 16, 2014
278
1,322
419
44
Wow, great thread. Don't know how I missed it before.

You really boil down very succinctly this process. It's funny because I never really though about my own "process" before, when people asked me how I had started my companies, and some of the crazy things that have happened along the way, I always just thought of it as being prepared, start something and keep moving forward, and good things will fall in your lap.

You really nailed what the core behind success (mine included) actually is. For whatever reason I had just always done this method without ever really thinking or realizing I was doing it. So I can vouch 100% for the validity of what you are documenting here.

Admittedly, I do read a ton, including audio books when I'm driving or doing mindless things. But I also do a huge amount of very in-depth research as part of that reading, I identify problems and then learn as much as I can possibly learn to solve them. You gain a very useful deep dive skillset that helps you grow and improve yourself along the way. It's not always useful to know a lot of facts, it is hugely useful to know how to actually DO a lot of things.

It really is that simple. Thanks a ton, I will be sharing this with my kids because you really simplified something I always struggled to explain to them -
 
Last edited:

ZF Lee

Platinum Contributor
FASTLANE INSIDER
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Speedway Pass
Jul 27, 2016
1,995
3,485
776
21
Malaysia
Bumpty dumpty, especially for the new folks here.

Decided to revisit this thread while revising my Habit Stacks as inspired by Atomic Habits.
 

B. Cole

In thine hand is power and might.
FASTLANE INSIDER
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Speedway Pass
Mar 5, 2017
588
1,789
552
38
East Coast
Some really great replies here... I'm so glad that people are finding value in the content.

Apologies for taking so much time to get to part 2 of this thread. I've been overwhelmed with other things, so I haven't made time for this ... until now.

What to do when everything fails - appeal to principles

Story time...

My graduate work was in a field broadly called spintronics, which is using the electron's spin (as opposed to charge, in electronics) as a unit of information. My work in particular fell under the category of nano magnetics, meaning that we used advanced fabrication techniques to make magnets that were on the scale of tens of nanometers. We subjected these magnets to external magnetic fields and microwave radiation and observed their behavior.

Much like the magnet in a compass, these nano magnets would spin around the external field, and in that process they would emit microwaves in the GHz regime. By subjecting them to external microwave fields, we could synchronize them to resonant frequencies and observe some really fascinating behavior.

It was pure science, so not really engineering related. All these phenomenon occurred at 4 degrees above absolute zero, and disappeared at liquid nitrogen temperatures, so you won't see the tech in a device any time soon.

The process to fabricate these devices was quite strenuous. It required around 10 hours of highly focused and highly skilled labor, and the fragility of the devices ensured that mistakes meant that you wasted the entire days' effort. I worked along side my professor, as I was the only student in the lab. He was known for firing people who didn't want to put in the work, and I guess I passed the test. I got to see first hand what it takes to push a project from idea to completion and it was this set of experiences that I believe have set me up for success, but I digress...

During October of 2010, suddenly... the process stopped working. Every device we made was dead. We couldn't even pass a current through the devices (the resistance was in the mega ohm regime), which would have given us some basic information to diagnose the source of the problem.

To say this was "not good" was an understatement. This was our livelihood. Our only avenue of research. If it didn't work, we had nothing.

Anxiety set in.

Keeping a cool head, we followed the process I outlined above: what could be the possible root causes?

We made a list and spent the next two weeks working non stop, tweaking every step of the process.

Slowly.

Methodically.

But there was no respite to be found. Each change was only met with more failure. None of our mental models were correct. We had skewed all the variables to such an extent that at least a single device should have worked. Yet ... nothing.

Panic sets in. How could we get back on track?

One night we sat down exhausted. It was almost midnight; we had been fabricating all day and were met with more dead devices, yet again.

My mind began to wander... when did all this start anyway?

"A couple weeks ago", my professor replied.

I began to stretch for reasons... and came up with one of my most brilliant insights in grad school. I realized that the weather had recently changed. We went from warm and humid, to cool and dry.

What happens in dry air? Static discharge.

"I've got it. It's not the process"

"What, then?"

"It's static. We're killing the devices as we test them. It may be imperceptible to us, but even a tiny jolt to a nanomagnet is like a lightning bolt."

Ding ding ding. We have a new mental model to work with.

The following day, we revert back to the old process and instead of keeping the samples in a plastic container, we put it in an aluminum boat. A literal Faraday cage. We added grounding to our soldering station, and voila....

Success. The devices live, our overall success rate improved relative to the baseline, and we can move on with the science.

We had made the assumption that the process was killing the devices, when in reality it was our testing procedure.

So what's the moral here? The moral is this:

When all else fails, and you have exhausted all possibilities, something you have assumed is false. This is a foundational principle of problem solving (which is really learning).
This resonates with me big time, my product development adventure has been nothing but this. Every new version of the product completely messed up other parts that were working, and I’ve overcome all obstacles exactly how this thread describes. Also reminds me of an early conversation/lesson from my mentor, a very successful product developer.

His company invented a particular medical testing strip. The manufacturing process was so simple and efficient, that several years worth of strips could be made, packaged and stored for distribution in just a few days.

A few years later, when it was time to manufacture more strips - failure. The strips didn’t work. It drove him and his team crazy, going over and over the process, materials, chemicals, everything. With their backs to the wall, retracing their steps over and over, they began to ask themselves, “What was different back then? What really changed?”

They realized that the first batch was made in February, when ambient humidity is typically extremely low. They were attempting to manufacture with the same processes in the summer, with humidity levels higher, even in a climate controlled factory.

Once they retraced their steps and figured this out, they tried replicating the super dry February manufacturing conditions - and were met with success. A new few million dollars worth of strips that worked.

Thanks for the awesome thread @lowtek! Undoubtedly one of the most valuable I’ve read, rep+.
 

Einfamilienhaus

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Feb 8, 2019
48
87
115
Most people will approach this problem by reading blog posts, books, or listening to podcasts on conversion rates. They will think they’re taking action, and assimilating knowledge, but in reality they’re wasting time.
Great value in this post!:bullseye:

As a total newbie I always have the feeling not knowing enough of the same topic. Especially reading create an illusion to know excactly everything and how to handle which situation.

But.

The truth lies in your actions.

It's crazy. But you don't have only focusing on your business and product. But also on your personal behaviour. Ask yourself: Is my behaviour productive or not?

Maybe the product itself is not always the problem. Or the idea. Maybe your Behaviour how you create this product is the source of failure. I don't know. I have to find it out. Cause the true source of success is action!

Thank very much for this self knowledge!
 

Valhalla

Bronze Contributor
FASTLANE INSIDER
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Mar 6, 2019
118
152
145
Thank you for getting this bumped to the top, brilliant post. I went through a similar thing in learning to learn with minimal guidance and count that as one of my assets today. However, I fall into the trap of wanting to know "everything" about a topic before taking action when action would have taught me much more than all the books combined.

You've highlighted a process which is remarkably similar to decision making models used by airline pilots. The one I was taught and use is the acronym CLEAR
C-Clarify what the problem is.
L-Look for solutions
E-Evaluate your solutions
A- Act
R- Review your decision, don't be afraid to tweak or change your mind if it's not working.

Important thing for me making business decisions is to get to A, it's so easy to get bogged down in the first 3 and this post has helped me see from a different perspective. Thanks again
 

Jsoh

Bronze Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
May 16, 2019
55
108
117
California
So I was responding to a thread, and realized that one problem I see with some folks, newbies in particular, is that they lack a systematic methodology for teaching oneself. This isn’t surprising, as it’s not really a skill that we’re taught early in life. Realizing this, I figured I would share what I have learned about learning difficult things, over the years.

Of course, the scripted dogma is that we must go to school for 4 years, rack up a mountain of debt, and hope that we'll have marketable skills at the end. For STEM fields, this actually isn't a bad bet, but since most people don't major in useful things, it turns out disastrously for the majority.

I actually see some parallels between that scripted dogma and some of the posts here. Some folks will do extended learning challenges, work through dozens of tutorials, or seek out mentors to hold their hand... Perhaps it's the case that some people really need these constructs and arrangements, but I believe that there exists a better way to teach oneself.

Full disclosure: I guzzled the scripted dogma for the first thirty years of my life. I loved undergrad so much that I did a 5th year as a victory lap. Not willing to enter the real world, I then went on to a masters program and ultimately a PhD. However, from the ashes of these potentially ruinous decisions came an invaluable skillset that benefits me to this day: the ability to learn new things with minimal guidance.

Much like we have the CENTS framework for evaluating business opportunities, I believe there exists a mental framework for teaching oneself new skills.

What does it mean to learn something, really? I argue that learning means internalizing information in a way that allows you to apply it to new problems that are only marginally similar to previously encountered problems. After all, if you only know how to solve one problem, you’re not really a problem solver, you’re a robot.

Central to learning is having a solid mental model of cause and effect relationships. This is necessary because the world we live in is causal. To illustrate, let’s consider a simple example.

Let’s suppose you’re selling a widget on your website. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume that the widget is something people actually want. You’ve got some traffic, but only 1% of it is converting. You want to increase the conversion rate, because you have big baller dreams of lambos and lavish nights out in the big city. Problem is that with that 1% conversion rate you’re barely making burger flipper money, so hyper cars are out of the question, let alone hiring someone to fix the landing page. It’s on you to solve this problem. How to do it?

Most people will approach this problem by reading blog posts, books, or listening to podcasts on conversion rates. They will think they’re taking action, and assimilating knowledge, but in reality they’re wasting time. There are two reasons for this:

1) This delays the feedback loop between taking action and receiving results, thus obscuring the relationship between action and results.
2) It’s often event focused rather than process focused. Consuming prepackaged information often obscures the why of the solution.

The correct approach to learning how to increase conversion rates is this.

Clearly state the problem; the more precise and detailed the better.
Make a guess about what things you can control contribute to the problem
Formulate a plan for iteratively testing each of these possible root causes. Test most likely cause first, if possible.
If necessary, seek out information that tells you how to address each possible root cause.
Execute the plan.
Repeat until solved.

So if your conversion rate is only 1%, you could guess that the following things contribute to that low rate:
1) the page loads so slowly that people leave before it finishes
2) The color scheme makes peoples’ eyes bleed, so they can’t find the buy button
3) The copy reads like it’s written by an overseas scammer
4) The perceived risk is too high

These are just a subset of the possible reasons, and indeed a combination of them could be the problem.

We’ve already stated the problem, so that’s good.

Our analytics indicate loading speed could be an issue, and indeed any of the other 3 could be the problem so we have no choice but to test them all.

Brute force it is.

We therefore start at the top, load speed could be an issue. We then specifically seek out information regarding improving load speed issues on our site. Execute on that information immediately and observe the results. If the loading speed improves but not the conversion rate, then it’s on to the next thing.

We know nothing about color schemes, so we spend some time reading some information about it. After some careful consideration, we settle on a pre selected palette of colors and revamp the site. Observe the results, and move on if necessary.

We don’t know much about copy, so we pick up a copy of Cashvertising and skim the book looking for content that would be helpful. When we’ve found it, we implement it immediately. Observe the results and move on if necessary.

To fix the perceived risk, we can reach out to the 1% that have bought our product and ask for testimonials. So we look up some information on how to craft such an email, and boom send it out. We can also implement a money back guarantee, if we haven’t already.

After implementing all these things, we’re left with a vastly improved site. If the conversion rate doesn’t budge, we merely repeat the process. Come up with additional root causes and systematically test them, looking up information you need along the way.

So to summarize, this is how you rapidly learn new things:
Isolate a problem
Guess the root cause of the problem
Address each root cause in turn
Acquire any new skills to solve that specific problems
Repeat until you’ve got your lambo

This is in contrast to the approach of “oh gee, I have a poorly converting site. Guess I need to read a bunch of stuff on how to improve conversion rates… oh gee, guess I need to know web design, and copy writing, and … oh I’ll just give up”.

This is not to say that reading general business books doesn’t have its place, but I think this is primarily useful for those who are already in motion and can take the 1 or 2 nuggets from a book and apply it to their business straight away. I don’t believe there is large utility in reading for those that are not in motion.

In subsequent posts I’ll talk more about finding underlying principles, and expand on how I’m learning difficult things in my own journey.
GOLD. Thanks for this perspective. Everybody needs to read this post.
 

Siddhartha

Pleasure Operator
FASTLANE INSIDER
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
Speedway Pass
Mar 30, 2019
164
202
155
Going to echo the sentiment here: Thank you, this is great.

Doing something first, then trimming down to pain points, then seeking specific information seems like a much better way to invest time than burning a week or more on books and youtube videos.
I'm still internalizing this since I personally love to read and have spent the last 4 years learning how to become a more efficient "employee" that puts everything on hold to "get better" as opposed to just doing something and adapting when the need arises.
 

Don't like ads? Remove them while supporting the forum. Subscribe.

Last edited:

Hyperion

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
I've Read UNSCRIPTED
May 28, 2019
25
22
17
This is awesome! I'm one of those people who spend too much time trying to learn via books, videos, etc. Anyone with action paralysis needs to read this and just start, even if it's something small (positive feedback loop). Yes, I am talking to myself. Thanks a lot for this info. Very helpful.
 

Create an account or login to comment

You must be a member in order to leave a comment

Create account

Create an account on our community. It's easy!

Log in

Already have an account? Log in here.



Don't like ads? Remove them while supporting the forum. Subscribe to become an INSIDER.

Post New Topic

Please SEARCH before posting.
Please select the BEST category.

Post new topic

Fastlane Insiders

View the forum AD FREE.
Private, unindexed content
Detailed process/execution threads
Monthly conference calls with doers
Ideas needing execution, more!

Join Fastlane Insiders.

Top Bottom