As a data scientist, I am intrigued by data science books and some of the most fascinating are books that offer new perspectives on seemingly mundane things. One of the books I read for my company’s book club, Algorithms to Live By, did just that. The book’s writers, Brian Christian, a renowned author, and Tom Griffiths, a cognitive scientist, use computer science theories and algorithms to explain everyday experiences, and I found the following five points to be especially applicable to my work life. The authors explain:
1. Why hiring the right person is hard
The optimal algorithm for selecting the best person from a group only has a 37% chance of success, and therefore, a 63% chance of failure. It is no wonder that hiring is such a challenge; the odds of choosing the right person are against you - even under optimal circumstances.
2. How to most efficiently dress for work
It is most efficient to organize your closet based on frequency of use, with frequently used clothing in easy-to-reach places, and it is even more efficient to pull out your outfit the night before. I have certainly found that such closet organization and pulling out my outfit in advance helps me be less rushed and regularly on time for work in the morning.
3. What to do before an office move
The common computer science explore/exploit dilemma can model human behavior. For example, you’ll “explore” the area you’re in while you have time, trying new local places. Before moving to a new location, however, you’ll “exploit” the results of your exploration by revisiting your favorite places. Recently, our office moved to a different neighborhood, and I found myself using the days leading up to the move to “exploit” my favorite restaurants, enjoying their food for a final time.
4. How to have a good work-life balance
Selectively choosing not to do certain activities is very important for the effective completion of other activities. I often work long hours, requiring me to maximize my time outside of work. Choosing to not engage in certain activities, such as watching television, allows me to accomplish other life activities I prefer, like working out, giving me the sense of a good work-life balance, despite working a lot.
5. How to get coworkers to understand what you want
Not directly communicating your thoughts places the cognitive burden of inferring your thoughts on others. Asking others to infer your thoughts, however, is unfair because a mind trying to infer the workings of another mind is inherently at the limit of its capabilities. (You can’t read someone’s mind.) This explains why direct statements seem to prompt my colleagues to give me the answers I’m seeking and why vaguer statements tend to lead to unnecessary exchanges. I’m definitely going to stick with direct statements now!
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