Thoughts after reading “Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned”

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In June 2023, I put the book “Why Greatness Can’t Be Planned” on my to-read list, and I didn’t finish it until the National Day holiday in October. This book was written by two OpenAI researchers, and the main theme is the title.

The book contains a total of eleven chapters, covering 200,000 words. The next two chapters are case studies of natural evolution and artificial intelligence. Personally, I feel that Chapters 9 and 10 inspire me the most and are also the most exciting parts of the book. The previous content can be regarded as foreshadowing.

Does the author want everyone to abandon their goals?


Why greatness cannot be planned means that great achievements cannot be achieved by plans and goals. But can great achievements be achieved with plans and goals? The author believes that it is possible. The objects discussed from beginning to end in this book are lofty goals. It does not mean to eliminate all types of goals in the world. For example: houses still have to be built according to drawings, and software should be designed according to established specifications.

This is the first point that needs to be clarified. If you have the mindset that “the author wants to completely abandon goals and plans”, it will seriously affect the reading experience.

What is the author’s advice?

Become a treasure hunter.

Based on the first point, if one day we become the leader of a great project, how will we lead the implementation of this great project? If we don’t use the traditional approach of “goals + plans”, what does the author suggest we do?

The only thing to consider is, after giving up the belief that we can control our destination, what principles should we follow and how can we put them into practice? The answer is to become a treasure hunter.

All we need to do is become a skilled treasure hunter. To do this, we must learn to look for clues.

And novelty is the most promising clue to the future. In the world of robotics, novelty can drive new discoveries without setting any overall goals. But things are different in the human world. Human pursuits are more complex and flexible, and everyone has a different understanding of novelty. The novelty you understand is actually different from the novelty I think. The one common thread shared by all is fun .

The relationship between interest and novelty is that as some ideas become less novel, their interest will also decrease. To date, no computer program has matched the human instinct for fun. So when something strikes us as interesting, the treasure hunt can begin.

Partial excerpt

  1. Goals are the backbone of our culture, but they are also the cage that limits our potential.
  2. Not everything in life requires an objective goal.
  3. Measuring success by a progress bar toward your goals is likely to lead you astray. The disconnect between how our world ideally works and how it really works is something we should really be concerned about. Many things cannot be achieved simply through hard work.
  4. Instead of worrying about where we are going, we can compare where we are now to where we have been.
  5. The greatest innovation processes succeed precisely because they are not trying to go anywhere in particular. By this logic, we need to give up the false sense of security that comes with goals and instead embrace the unknown, wild possibilities.
  6. The ways to evolve into bacterial-like life forms, no matter how many, are limited. This is why if nature is to continue evolving, increased complexity is an inevitable outcome. But these increases in complexity are not arbitrary. Rather, they reflect properties of the world in which evolution takes place: the appearance of eyes, for example, represents the presence of light in the universe, ears symbolize the presence of vibration, while legs and lungs are proof of the presence of gravity and oxygen respectively.
  7. The underlying motivation that drives the evolutionary creative engine is not competition, but the search for diverse ways to do the same thing. (Note: This matter is survival and reproduction)

at last

It is the innovation chain linked one stepping stone after another that makes the greatest “goal” possible. When we were children, we all wanted to be scientists or astronauts, but all the school taught us was how to get 100 points. After graduation, society taught us how to make money to buy a house and a car. The dream of becoming a scientist or astronaut was long forgotten. .

Since the “goal” set by the theory of evolution for everyone is survival and reproduction, then after completing this, isn’t it extra money to explore more?

The results of exploration not only satisfy your innate curiosity, but also provide one more possibility for the entire human species. Therefore, one is tolerance of the diversity of others, and the other is the courage to explore the unknown.

October 6, 2023

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