Everything Can’t Be Correlated

22 Feb

 There’s a real tendency in modern times to correlate everything.

My ex-girlfriend was a devout vegan the entire time we were together, then we broke up and she turned into a meat-eater.  Could you say I was responsible, somehow?  By correlation did I turn her away from vegan-ism, somehow?

Of course not.

Yet people still draw inferences, as if there is a real reason for every single thing.  As if two things don’t just occur in succession, ever, without an underlying reason that relates them.

There is only one thing you could say about these things: Things change, sometimes coincidences happen.

"nonsensical infographics" by Chad Hagen

“nonsensical infographics” by Chad Hagen

We tend to give more credit to correlation than it deserves.  Correlation doesn’t work like people assume.  How does it work to our benefit?  Does correlating mean your desired outcome is more likely to come true?

Not really.  Especially with people.  Someone comments on your work and says they like it.  Does that mean they will like all your next work?

Someone says something nasty about you on Twitter, for some reason or another.

Can you correlate your way to the reason they posted a nasty comment?  Not really.

People do things for no reason, sometimes for no reason that even they could put into words.  The limbic system sends them a feeling and they turn it into an action.

Does having a lot of fans mean everything you make is good?  Does your work suddenly going viral mean you’re set for life?  Does getting on a record label mean you’re going to earn a living?

The closest correlation that actually works that I can see is the one between quality work and time spent working on a strength.

I say strength, not talent: Talent’s inherent, in a way.

And talent alone does not make great work.

Strength comes from putting time into an area that you have talent in.

You can’t rest on your laurels because you are naturally talented.   Putting out that half-done work that could be better but you’re in a hurry so you put it out.

You can write a song every single day and still come up with clunkers regularly, just ask Jonathan Mann.  But you’ll also hit upon some great songs, among a bunch of mediocre ones.  And the more you do it, the more clunkers and mediocre things you’ll have, but you’ll also have a bunch of great songs, too.  It’s numbers.

But even the 10,000 hours rule doesn’t mean quality or getting paid. You still need a sense of what is good and you still need to hustle.  (You will learn a ton about making stuff in 10,000 hours, though, and that’s priceless.)

I’m not correlating doing one thing every day with quality, either.

I don’t work that way, personally.  I’d get sick of it, I’d get bored with one thing, and don’t tell me “That’s because you don’t really love it,” or “You haven’t found the thing you want to do.”

Finding one thing is not my recipe for success.  My definition of success is not everyone else’s.

I have found “it,” as in ‘the thing that I love’.

Turns out that for me, its not “it” but ”them,” as in all of my interests.

7 Responses to “Everything Can’t Be Correlated”

  1. Js.One March 4, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    Very true. I think as a default my brain detects connection that probably aren’t there, especially with this kind of thing.

    Definitely gettin’ those hours in though. However, it still doesn’t make something not materializing the way you want it any less frustrating.

    • Joshua March 12, 2013 at 11:03 am #

      Js One – I think I know what you mean, when things don’t materialize the way you “want” them to. I am an idealist, so I like to believe that eventually one can reach a point with creating where they are so super tuned-in to their own feeling and intuition that they make the thing they *need* to make every time, without concern for it matching any pre-conceived idea of how you want it.

      Yet I suffer from my own idealism when creating, too, which makes me spend a lot more time perfecting things than I need to, I think.

      I am trying to get comfortable with putting the stuff I just throw together out there, instead of hiding it like I am used to doing.

  2. Amit Amin March 11, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    Hah! You’ve hit on cognitive fallacy #1. The tendency to over-correlate is at the root of SO many problems in the world. That’s how our brains were designed, for simpler times and for lots of less data (as in 1000′s of times less data).

    I thought you might be interested – entirely by coincidence, yesterday I read one of the seminal research papers behind the modified 10,000 hour rule (The Cambridge Handbook on Expertise and Performance) – its 900 pages so not the most friendly reads. Anyhow, different fields have different hour rules (# of hours of practice needed to reach expert ability). Most normal career paths follow the simple rule (10,000 hours).

    More difficult fields sometimes require more time – elite musicians and PhDs, for example, require as much as 15,000 to 20,000 hours of deliberate practice. Not that I was trying to discourage you ;)

    • Joshua March 12, 2013 at 11:25 am #

      “elite musicians and PhDs, for example, require as much as 15,000 to 20,000 hours of deliberate practice. Not that I was trying to discourage you”

      Amit –thank you for recognizing how much time musicians put in to music. I’m not saying I’m an “elite” musician, but I have mentioned before that those of us who’ve been doing it for ten or more years have put in about as much time as a brain surgeon does into their area of expertise.

      The musicians reading this site will definitely thank you for recognizing that.

      And the 10,000 hour rule kept me going for awhile, when Bob Lefsetz (a famous music writer) first mentioned it, and he, like you mentioned above, recently has said “for artists making music, it’s not about the 10,000 hours…” So don’t worry, I was already discouraged, haha!

      Just kidding. I’ll never stop making music. ;-)

      Anyway, glad this post hit on some themes you are interested in!

  3. shreen June 14, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Talking about the tendency to over-correlate, Joshua you would love a book called Thinking Fast and Slow. He talks about this issue in depth.

    • Joshua Lundquist June 14, 2013 at 11:24 am #

      Rad! I just went and grabbed it off of Audible, was looking for something good to throw my credits at. Any other book recommendations you have I’d love to hear! Thanks for reading, Shreen!

      • shreen June 14, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

        Cool let me know what you think of it! Lots of books I can recommend, but like a typical scanner they’re of wildly divergent topics. Think I’ll have to make a “have read and highly recommend” Pinterest board. ;)

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