August 2, 2018

More Information is Not Always Good

A few days ago, I was debating with my co-workers Alice and Bob about whether or not having more information is always benefical to a person. I’m not going to be able to express their thoughts with high fidelity, so I will only express mine here.

Having more information does not allow us to make better decisions. In fact, a lot of the time, we can benefit from having less information. A few examples that we discussed included the infamous story of George Dantzig (shown in the intro of Good Will Hunting), who walked into class late one day believing that the two questions he saw on the board were homework questions. Only later did he discover that the two questions he solved for homework were famous unsolved statistics questions.

If he hadn’t walked into the classroom late that day and heard that it was a famous unsolved question, he wouldn’t have even attempted solving the question.

Another example that came up just the other day was when I was working on updating a software program at my internship. My mentor told me that I would have to complete overhauling a machine learning model before the upgrade could be completed because of incompatible dependencies. Because of my mentor’s authority and perceived knowledge, I didn’t give what he said any second thought and just accepted it.

However, Bob wasn’t told this and because he wanted to use some features of 1.8 pretty badly, he tried to upgrade it to 1.8 anyway. In this way, without the information given to him from a person in a position of higher power first, he never gave a second thought about trying to upgrade it himself. Lo and behold, we didn’t actually need to touch the machine learning model before the upgrade and the request was merged late last night.

As you can see, statistics such as how unlikely it is for you to start a company and bring it to IPO can only prevent people from succeeding. The best way to go about this is to have an optimistic you-can-do-it attitude and try your best to ignore the pessimistic facts.

Notes: This isn’t really about making better decisions, it’s more like bringing up a point that it’s not always a good thing when you get told to do something because that may make you limit abilities.

© Wesley Tian 2019

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