Jan. 30, 2020

plan for the unplaned

Planning is not executing. That a bitter realization, well, after many similar realizations.

In another day, I heard on the podcast that budgeting a task should double the time you estimated to do. For me, that buffering would be even 10 times more. Ten times is used as an exaggeration for the estimation of how long does the task takes plus the procrastination. The latter is a kick in the nuts because how much time I have always underestimated my inertia weighting in.

For short, I planed to get some articles of electronic tutorials out by the end of April, 2018. I had a strip back to my home town during the end of April. I did not do much on writing. During May 2018, I was preparing for a grant opening which did not happen. The preparation included capturing videos, making edits, thinking about multimedia and interaction.

Here is a quick fast forward. The articles finally posted to Instructables.com on July and August. Some of the tutorials will be reproduced on this blog as well. No video or multimedia project are done by the August.

At that time, before finally pushed the publish button, I soothed myself that I will learn something if the I miss the deadline. Continuous learning is one of my excuses to pat myself in the back when I got stuck. Alternatively, I wrote a small blog entry, got something else done, got haircut and let move on.

To this point, let discuss about learning and how learning and planing shares some traits.

I am a big fan of learning and continuous improvement, and I think most of people have a positive attitude in learning and improvement. In another word, people welcome such change, especially parents to their child. Those stories of learning are going to twist and turn depending who is actually doing the work, and how hard to get a change, and how much time has passed. And yes, when nothing is getting done, the bitterness and disappointment surfaced. And that is a short description why some people, myself included, just hate learning. It is difficulty to gauge to progression of self learning. Deadline, homework, mid-term exams are some reasons why formal learning brought its effective. They measure to progress by some indicators.

Here is another critical point. Learning is the process, and we do not always love to see the progress. But let me seasons the frustration with learning in a positive tone. One is we have different expectation. And when we seems cannot match up the outcome with the expectation, we give up. We throw hands in the air and come up with the conclusion that that learning is tough, and it is not for me. That failure to measure up happens more often, and with outsiders seem to cast a negative to the frustration with a statement like “this task is not for you, maybe you should be some level that more apt to you”. That is simply not constructive.

The other competing reality is the priority. Learning is one way to get what we want. Some learns because of the assumption that eventually they will reach to some level of achievement, to know how they are, to show the world what they can do, and that can bring to happiness too. Some would thought to get other people to do or to hire, rather to learning themselves. Learning is one way to mobilize the resources, and at the end of the day, getting something done matters. The means can be flexible.

There is another challenge to measure the progress of learning. Some people weigh in the success of final project as the outcome, and others measures the progression. Let make this point concrete.

Let say you plan go to A and B, and you plan to get there by X days. Measuring outcome only considering you achieve the goal when you reached the point B no later than X days. There is nothing wrong to sketch your plan that way, but you put a lot more weight to very narrow ends. There is a lot of things can go wrong that stray your success or the way you frame your success. And if you are not perseverance enough, you will not meet the goal, to the reach the point B before the deadline. Then the doubt sets in. You probably invents some reasons such as getting to the point B is overreached or it was a wrong direction to go from A to B, or I should go from A to C as the alternatives or even I should plan to take other transportation instead. You doubt your efforts, you cast yourself in hopeless shadow. That is not a good beginning of a lifetime learning.

There another option is have the same goal to reach the point B, but you grade the pace of traveling rather or the progression rather than reaching destination. You looks at odometer, and figure out that you need to travel with at Y speeds. You either knowing that you are on track or behind the schedule. You then can adjust your speeds, or change your means of travel to make sure that you stay on course with the schedule.

I prefer the second approach, because I can measure my progression. May be, I am not able to the B point before X days, but I can see the weather was not good in the last day, so I will plan another time. Or because the road is not the same as the starting, so I need to plan more time to the end. Knowing what made me not success the previous rounds is the my way to moving forward.

Now, theory asides, tracking the progress is practical and useful than the rate the final outcome, but then why most of the time would like to measure the outcome instead, and ignoring planning. One reason is splitting one big task into smaller pieces does consume your mental energy. You need to invest much more to know what could be in between your goals and your execution, and then plan for contingency. Playing with unknowns is not the game for many people because it requires to know the the possibility and probability of the unknowns. And somehow, you give the unknowns a higher priorities.

Mental energy at any given point is a scare resource, so we don’t want to use that energy unless we absolute needed to. For example, after many tries to go the B place, we failed. Then we need to walk back and buy a map, and buy an odometer, run simulation, optimize inputs to find the best course. That is an extra resources we don’t want to spend. So we take the shortcut, we are overconfident on stuffs could go wrong, and throw out the idea of more details of planning because after we maybe don’t need them. That certainly is a waste if we don’t need to use.

Planing with overconfidence and no contingency is a sure fail.

It is easy to get into other people’s opinion about learning. After all, learning is a big and important area that everyone including individual, organization, and nation would like to be good at. The latter will focus more on the efficiency of implementation.

So why starting here, and now my story is definitely sideways. Yes, that the competition of interest. I started typing this with the goals to dumping out my thoughts, and ending up writing more about the underlying process, with is more like learning.

There is another point about learning is on the discussion of fast and slow thinking, or autonomous and deliberate brains. Learning should be compared and contrasted with doing. When one knows how to get something done, or know the outcome with sequences of tasks, that is a doing. Some job description will clearly spell our “hand-on experience” as suppose to know, understand or expertise with a particular area. Learning should be see as the process of figuring out how to get the end and the required resources. One unexpected class of outcome is to know that during the learning, we may not get the clear goals, and what we learn from that process is knowing that there is limitation. We cannot get to the goals by the resources we have. The latter is important me when I look at the frontier problem. I don’t have the feasibility of doing something, so I have to learn and evaluate more, and the outcome of that is to know if the possibility to do it. Framing question that way would means there is going to be extensive process to evaluate the path way, a maze exploration, perhaps.

So using the deliberate brain, or the new brain which is the major volume of your brain. In biological view, that process is energy extensive, and slow, and uncertain, and require collaboration with other parts of your brain. So yes, it is make sense that our brain try to run the chunk first, a defined pattern to reduce energy consumption, it is faster, and let your new brain in slow demand. Trying figure out if this would require extensive brain power, or this was done by some else is the choice one has to made, so that they can select run option. Don’t invent the wheel would be fall into this categories. This is not to bracket the innovation, but rather to be efficient on using other chunk knowledge that some one else confirmed that works.

So what these lines have to with planning vs. execution?

Planning requires enormous amount of mental energy and commitment to spend that expensive and scare resource. Planning is slow, difficult to measure the progression. Execution is fast, but blind and simple, based on the experience and not much in-flight reflection. So one executes one thing, it is not the same as doing it right.

After all, the plan for the unknown, even when we kinda of getting a rough estimation still take a longer time than we give out best estimation. A good planner provide the contingency and a iteration of re-planing once the reality changed.

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