Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tools for Titans #38 : The value of "I Don't Understand"

Luis Von Ahn is a computer science professor and the CEO of Duolingo, one of the more efficient ways to pick up a new language.

His section has two key ideas :

a) The value of "I don't understand"

Luis had a Phd advisor who kept insisting that he did not understand what Luis was trying to say when he was developing the CAPTCHA system. Eventually, it was revealed that his advisor was simply employing a tactic to get Luis to think deeper about the problem he was facing with.

Blogger Scott Young is an advocate for a learning approach known as the Feynman Technique which basically forces you to explain concepts that you learn in plain English. If you find that your ideas are expressed in jargon, it is possible that you really do not understand the material yourself.

The kay to mastery to is to be be able to explain something to an untrained lay-person. This is something which I should aspire to on this blog although we're still quite far from that ideal.

b) Build startups outside Silicon Valley

The second idea is that Luis prefers to build startups outside Silicon Valley. By sticking to areas like Pittsburgh, the companies which Luis run tend to have a lower turnover rate as he wants to be the only game in town.

Generally if you go for a strategy like this, you will also face a lower concentration of tech professionals so I am not too sure whether it will always work in practice. It might have the benefit of attracting folks who are into lifestyle design as one of the negative issues faced by places like Silicon Valley is that the cost of real estate escalates faster than average income growth.

Which is why a Singapore rentier should always subtly support government initiatives in Ayer Rajah Crescent because while the direct beneficiaries are engineering and technology professionals, the real beneficiaries are the owners of real estate.




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