Category Archives: Principles

Validated Learning

Principle

Approach to product design that is iterative, depends on short development cycles, and views product / feature creation as a bottom-up response to obstacles that arise when customers use the product rather than a top-down implementation of a long-term plan.

Explanation

” In the Lean Startup model, we are rehabilitating learning with a concept I call validated learning. Validated learning is not after-the-fact rationalization or a good story designed to hide failure. It is a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty in which startups grow. Validated learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects. It is more concrete, more accurate, and faster than market forecasting or classical business planning. It is the principal antidote to the lethal problem of achieving failure: successfully executing a plan that leads nowhere.” (38, Lean Startup)

Source

Lean Startup by Eric Ries

 

Life’s Preference for Stasis

Principle
Life prefers stasis. Evolution is not the natural state of life; conditions must be adverse for the continuation of life before it evolves. Without obstacles to its continuation, life will not evolve.
Explanation
“It was Williams who first pointed out that a huge false assumption lay, and indeed still lies, at the core of most popular treatments of evolution. The old concept of the ladders of progress still lingers on in the form of teleology: Evolution is good for species, and so they strive to make it go faster. Yet is stasis, not change, that is the hallmark of evolution. Sex and gene repair and the sophisticated screening mechanisms of higher animals to ensure that only defect-free eggs and sperm contribute to the next generation – all these are ways of preventing change. The coelacanth, not the human, is the triumph of genetic systems because it has remained faithfully true to type for millions of generations despite endless assaults on the chemical that carry its heredity. The old ‘Vicar of Bray’ model of sex, in which sex is an aid to faster evolution,  implies that organisms would prefer to keep their mutation rate fairly high — since mutation is the source of all variety — and then do a good job of sieving out the bad ones. But, as Williams put it, there is no evidence yet found that any creature ever does anything other than try to keep its mutation rate a low as possible. It strives for a mutation rate of zero. Evolution depends on the fact that it fails.
     Tangled banks work mathematically only if there is a sufficient advantage to being odd. The gamble is that what paid off in one generation will not pay off in the next and that the longer the generation, the more this is so — which implies that conditions keep changing.” (63, The Red Queen)
Source
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Life-Dinner Principle

Principle
The evolutionary incentive for predators to catch their prey is greater than the incentive for prey to get away from predators. While it is true that the prey’s life is literally on the line in the evolutionary arms race between predators and prey, the predator must catch prey to survive. Prey may survive merely being stronger, and therefore a worse target, than the rest of its kin. A predator, on the other hand, will die if it never catches prey. A world in which the prey’s survival capabilities exceed the predator’s abilities is a world in which the predator doesn’t exist. Consequently, if a predator exists, its capabilities must exceed that of its prey.
Explanation
“Richard Dawkins and John Krebs raised one argument derived from arms races to the level of a ‘principle’: the ‘life-dinner principle.’ A rabbit running from a fox is running for its life, so it has the greater evolutionary incentive to be fast. The fox is merely after its dinner. True enough, but what about a gazelle running from a cheetah? Whereas foxes eat things other than rabbits, cheetahs eat only gazelles. A slow gazelle might never be unlucky enough to meet a cheetah, but a slow cheetah that never catches anything dies. So the downside is greater for the cheetah. As Dawkins and Krebs put it, the specialist will usually win the race” (68, The Red Queen)
Source
 
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Principle of Accumulation of Design

Principle
The vast majority of what consider to be a ‘designed x’  is an accumulation of designs that came before that ‘x’. This stands in contrast to the belief that an ‘x’ needs a be produced by a more designed ‘x’. This principle is the foundation of bottom-up design.
Darwinian Explanation
 
“Darwin’s contribution is granting the premise of the Argument from Design… Watches and other designed objects don’t just happen; they have to be the product of what modern industry calls ‘R and D’ — research and development — and R and D is costly, in both time and energy. Before Darwin, the only model we had of a process by which this sort of R-and-D could be done was an Intelligent Artificer. What Darwin saw was that in principle the same work could be done by a different sort of process that distributed work over huge amounts of time, by thriftily conserving the design work that had been accomplished at each stage, so that i didn’t have to be done over again. In other words, Darwin had hit upon what we might call the Principle of Accumulation of Design. Things in the world (such as watches and organisms and who knows what else) may be seen as products embodying a certain amount of Design, and one way or another, Design had to have been created by a process of R and D. Utter undesignedness — pure chaos in the old-fashioned sense — was the null or starting point.” (68, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Psychologist Richard Gregory: “Time’s arrow given by Entropy — the loss of organization, or loss of temperature differences — is statistical and it is subject to local small-scale reversals. Most striking: life is a systematic reversal of Entropy, and intelligence creates structures and energy differences against the supposed gradual ‘death’ through Entropy of the physical Universe” (Gregory 1981, p. 136)
Source
 
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection

Principle
The false belief that a tool that provides some benefit provides more benefit than harm in the aggregate.
Explanation
“The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection: You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.” (186, Deep Work)
“You might reply that value is value: If you can find some extra benefit in using a service like Facebook — even if its small — then why not use it? I call this way of thinking the any-benefit mind-set, as it identifies any possible benefit as sufficient justification for using a network tool in more detail…
     The problem with this approach, of course is that it ignores all the negatives that come along with the tools in question. These services are engineered to be addictive — robbing time and attention from activities that more directly support your professional and personal goals (such as deep work)…The use of network tools can be harmful. If you don’t attempt to weight the pros against the cons, but instead use any glimpse of some personal benefit as justification for unrestrained use of a tool, then you’re unwittingly crippling your ability to succeed in the world of knowledge work” (186-7, Deep Work)
Source
Deep Work by Cal Newport

Teleology

Principle

Explanation of the purpose of phenomena, beyond efficient, formal, and material causes. It is the directive principle or goal behind a phenomena.

Explanation

A teleological explanation: ” A teleological explanation is one that explains the existence or occurrence of something by citing a goal or a purpose that is served by the thing. ” (24, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)

Source

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Comparative Advantage

Term

“The ability of an individual or group to carry out a particular economic activity (such as making a specific product) more efficiently than another activity.” (Oxford Dictionary of English)

Investopedia explanation

“The essence of this law can be illustrated with a simple example. Imagine that you are a skilled cabinetmaker as well as a gifted painter. It takes you a day to build a cabinet or a day to paint a picture. In the local economy, paintings sell for $400 and cabinets go for $350. Your neighbor also shares the same skill sets, but it takes him a day and a half to build a cabinet and three days to complete a painting. You have an absolute advantage over your neighbor in both areas, so you should try to outproduce him across the board, right? Wrong.

Here’s why: If you flip between painting and cabinetmaking over a six-day work week, you would produce three paintings and three cabinets worth $2,250. If your neighbor embarked upon the same work schedule, he would produce one painting and two cabinets worth $1,100. There would be a total of four paintings and five cabinets produced: a total of nine production units. If, however, you were to choose to focus on painting, the area where you have the greatest comparative advantage and the most profit, and leave cabinetmaking to your neighbor, something magical would happen. You would produce six paintings worth $2,400 per week, while your neighbor would produce four cabinets worth $1,400, bringing the total to 10 production units. In real terms, both you and your neighbor would be richer for specializing – and the local economy is one production unit the better for it.” (Investopedia)

Source

Investopedia

Laplace Determinism

Principle

The present is the cause of the future and the effect of the past. If one were capable of calculating every effect of every cause, he would be able to understand and predict every effect in the universe.

Explanation

“It fell to Pierre-Simon Laplace…to take Newtonism to its logical conclusion. Laplace argued that the present state of the universe was ‘the effect of its past and the cause of its future’. If an intellect were powerful enough to calculate every effect of every cause, then ‘nothing would be uncertain and the future like the past would be present before its eyes’. ” (17, The Evolution of Everything)

Source

The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley

Skinner’s Superstition Effect

Principle

When an animal is given a reinforcer at randomized time intervals and the reinforcer isn’t associated with any action within the animal’s control, the animal will sometimes begin to associate a particular behavior with the reinforcer despite the behavior being entirely unrelated to the delivery of the reinforcer.

This was first discover by B.F. Skinner when the pigeons he’d been feeding at randomized time intervals begin to develop superstitious behaviors had happened to associate with the delivery of food. The pigeons superstitions persisted despite their behavior having no actual impact on the automatic food delivery mechanism.

Source

‘Superstition in the pigeon’ (Wikipedia)

Cultural Veil

Term

Also known as a ‘Cultural Shield’.  It refers to culture’s ability to protect humans against the threat of existential chaos.

Explanation

“One of the major functions of every culture has been to shield its members from chaos, to reassure them of their importance, and ultimate success” (Flow)
Source
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi