Explore Or Exploit? How To Choose New Opportunities
One big challenge we all face in life is knowing when to explore new opportunities, and when to double down on existing ones. Explore vs exploit algorithms – and poetry – teach us that it’s vital to consider how much time we have, how we can best avoid regrets, and what we can learn from failures.
“Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, was no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day . . .
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.”
Of the multitude of inquiries life requests we answer, "To investigate or to abuse?" is one we need to defy consistently. Do we continue attempting new eateries? Do we continue learning groundbreaking thoughts? Do we continue making new companions? Or on the other hand do we appreciate what we've come to discover and cherish?
There is no uncertainty that people are extraordinary at investigating, as most generalist species seem to be. Not to remain in that cavern, chase that creature, or continue doing it the manner in which our grandma showed us, people owe in any event some portion of our prosperity because of our eagerness to investigate.
However, when is what you've investigated enough? When can you at long last settle down to appreciate the products of your investigation? When would you be able to be substance to misuse the information you as of now have?
Turns out that there are calculations for that.
How much time do you have?
One of the most important factors in determining whether to continue exploring or to exploit what you’ve got is time. “Seizing a day and seizing a lifetime are two entirely different endeavors. . . . When balancing favorite experiences and new ones, nothing matters as much as the interval over which we plan to enjoy them.”
Time intervals can be a construct of your immediate circumstances, like the boundaries provided by a two-week vacation. For a lot of us, the last night in a lovely foreign place will see us eating at the best restaurant we have found so far. Time intervals can also be considered over the arc of your life in general. Children are consummate explorers, but as we grow up, the choice to exploit becomes more of a daily decision. How would your choices today be impacted if you knew you were going to live another five years? Twenty years? Forty years? “Explore when you will have time to use the resulting knowledge, exploit when you’re ready to cash in.”
Sometimes we are too quick to stop exploring. We have these amazing days and magical experiences, and we want to keep repeating them forever. However, changes in ourselves and the world around us are inevitable, and so committing to a path of exploitation too early leaves us unable to adapt. As much as it can be hard to walk away from that perfect day, Christian and Griffiths explain that “exploration in itself has value, since trying new things increases our chances of finding the best. So taking the future into account, rather than focusing just on the present, drives us toward novelty.”
There is no doubt that for many of us time is our most precious resource. We never seem to have enough, and we want to maximize the value we get from how we choose to use it. So when deciding between whether to enjoy what you have or search for something better, adding time to your decision-making process can help point the way.
Minimising the pain of regret
The threat of regret looms over many explore/exploit considerations. We can regret both not searching for something better and not taking the time to enjoy what we already have. The problem with regret is that we don’t have it in advance of a poor decision. Sometimes, second-order thinking can be used as a preventative tool. But often it is when you look back over a decision that regret comes out. regret as “the result of comparing what we actually did with what would have been best in hindsight.”
If we want to minimize regret, especially in exploration, we can try to learn from those who have come before. As we choose to wander forth into new territory, however, it’s natural to wonder if we’ll regret our decision to try something new. “you should assume the best about [new people and new things], in the absence of evidence to the contrary. In the long run, optimism is the best prevention for regret.” Why? Because by being optimistic about the possibilities that are out there, you’ll explore enough that the one thing you won’t regret is missed opportunity.
(This is similar to one of the most effective strategies in game theory: tit for tat. Start out by being nice, then reciprocate whatever behavior you receive. It often works better paired with the occasional bout of forgiveness.)
The accumulation of knowledge
“it’s rare that we make an isolated decision, where the outcome doesn’t provide us with any information that we’ll use to make other decisions in the future.” Not all of our explorations are going to lead us to something better, but many of them are. Not all of our exploitations are going to be satisfying, but with enough exploration behind us, many of them will. Failures are, after all, just information we can use to make better explore or exploit decisions in the future.
Most importantly, we shouldn’t let our early exploration mishaps prevent us from continuing to push our boundaries as we grow up. Exploration is necessary in order to exploit and enjoy the knowledge hard won along the way.
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