2018-04-30 productivity

# Shift gears when the initial approach yields little information

Humans crave what it is predictable, and as a result, have a default tendency to `incrementally iterate`. That is, in order to optimize toward a better outcome, we slightly tweak what we’re doing now. Incremental iteration is highly `linear` in nature: we expect predictable and regular improvements in the output based on changes in the input.

In the most basic sense, I imagine this as a single variable of which we can do more or less. For example, we may vary how much we spend on advertising in order to find the optimal amount which maximizes profit:

Since this is a single input dimension, we can also visualize it as a line (or vector):

So spending more or less on advertising would simply be moving along the line. Again, this is how most of us improve our decision-making by default.

What I’m curious about is when we question that default option. What if we didn’t incrementally iterate? What else could we do?

Well, we could approach the problem from an entirely different perspective. We could `orthogonally iterate`. Instead of moving along the initial vector, we could explore solutions along a completely orthogonal vector.

By adding a dimension such as “PR spend,” we may find that we’ve opened ourselves up to completely new opportunities and potentialities. In this example, we may be able to unlock a higher level of profit than we could have by using the single dimension of “advertising spend.”

Not only can we vary our PR spend exclusively, we can vary both our PR spend and advertising spend. Varying two dimensions in the `parameter space` yields a three-dimensional `surface` along which we can find a new global maximum.

The point here is that we may unlock new local maxima as we veer off the trodden path of a single input dimension. Orthogonal iteration allows us to explore new peaks across multiple dimensions.

What would happen if we changed our default to iterating orthogonally? What if, after every failed iteration of a marketing strategy, financing strategy, product strategy and so on, we did not tweak but rather radically switched gears?