As humans, we're constantly trying to optimise for success and make the most of our time. But have you ever stopped to consider the role that time itself plays in our actions and decisions?
I’d propose two types of time to consider:
1. Finite time, which is within our control and the realm of near-term planning, and
2. Infinite time, which encompasses externalities and events that are out of our control.
The infinite monkey theorem demonstrates the potential power of infinite time – if a group of monkeys were to type randomly on a keyboard for an eternity, they would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare.
But infinite time also carries risks.
Robert Weinberg is the director of the Ludwig Center at MIT, and one of the world’s most renowned cancer researchers.
He said something that shocked me: "If you live long enough, you will get cancer.”
Upon review, it makes sense.
Your body produces millions of cells every day, replicating your “source code.” It’s a fine science, but it’s not perfect. The longer you keep the replication machine running, the higher the odds you’ll eventually run into a glitch you can’t easily fix.
On a long enough time horizon, possibility, probability, and predictability gradually converge.
So, how do we approach our work and prioritise our actions in light of an uncertain future?
One way to do this is to arbitrage finite time and prioritise development based on how quickly we can become "dangerous" in our chosen fields.
For example, if you're considering learning to code, don’t just consider the time investment required but also think about the timeframe within which you'll be able to start utilising those skills.
The barbell approach to risk management, proposed by economist and philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb, involves taking on two extreme positions – one with a low level of risk and one with a high level of risk – rather than a moderate position with a medium level of risk.
You must strike a balance between short-term planning and long-term optionality.
By taking on a small amount of extreme risk, you can maximise your potential for gain and minimise the potential for loss.
In the near term, focus on offence and optimise for finite time.
In the long term, be on defence, leveraging infinite time to prepare for the unknown.
By embracing this dual approach, we can make the most of both our time and our potential.