eno writer

013 - rolling dice

When a person gets sick, there is often a clear chain of actions you can trace back to the origin of the sickness. You can see how if you (or another person) had acted a little bit differently, the sickness could have been avoided and everyone would be much healthier.

Personally, I find this line of thinking very stressful and like to consider things in a different way. Historically I have gotten sick about twice a year. Therefore, in any given month, I have a one in six chance of getting sick. When I actually get sick, it will appear to be from some direct chain of events, but that is a red herring. Some chain of events similar to the one that occurred always has a one in six chance of happening in a given month. I just hit upon a bad dice roll.

This is great because it makes me spend much less time thinking about how to not get sick, freeing up precious mental capacity to think about other important things, like word processors.

Of course there are things that can be done to alter the probability of getting sick. For instance, you can send your kids to a school riddled with mucous laden children every day. I personally have done this and observed that the chance of my child getting sick in a given month increased to about one in two. It's a coin toss.

I actually have three kids, so I'm tossing three coins every month. That means, on average, every month at least one child in my house is sick. What's worse than that is when one of them gets sick, there seems to be a one in two chance that another member of the family contracts the same illness. So we end up with a chain reaction of sickness.

All this means that my natural one in six chance of getting sick in a month is considerably augmented. If you are good at math you can probably crunch all these numbers and figure out my new probabilities. Anecdotally, I have had five discrete illnesses in the past four months.

I have found that this way of thinking maps onto far more things than we might think. Take these blog posts for instance. Some of these posts are higher quality than others. In my assessment, that tends to correlate with how much they are shared. In the extreme case, one post charted on HackerNews briefly and I saw a huge bump in traffic for a couple days (big thanks to the person who posted it!).

There are a few different equations at play which I want to step through one by one. Let's take the first one:

  1. Given my writing process, some percentage of my blog posts are "good".

This is a nice piece of mental gymnastics that takes some of the stress off of writing a post. I can imagine being paralyzed by fear that my next blog post would be bad and never posting again. Instead, I recognize that only a portion of them will be "good", and one of the key ingredients to getting "good" posts is to just keep rolling the dice every Friday with a new one.

Next equation:

  1. When someone reads a post that is "good", some percentage of the time they subscribe for future updates and some smaller percentage of the time they share it.

When I first started the blog, very few people read it. Even if all my posts were "good" it's still a dice roll on whether they will share it. I could very well write a "good" post that would get absolutely no traction. At the same time, if after 12 blog posts I was not seeing any increase in subscribers/reads/shares that might be a sign I need to go back to equation #1 and work on my writing process.

  1. When someone sees a shared post, some percentage of the time they read it.

This is where things get interesting. The output of step 3 is the input for step 2. And the output for step 2 is the input for step 3. It's kind of like a good version of the chain reaction of sickness in my house.

My key insight here is I really needed to bootstrap this process and get a chain reaction going. This has been an impetus for me to go out of my comfort zone and share my posts more actively. The sooner this chain reaction gets going and the longer it runs for, the better.

There is one major difference between my blog post example and the sick kids example though. With myself and my kids, I know the probabilities. I have historical data and can figure out what the probability of someone getting sick is. With a new venture, you don't know any of the probabilities. You have no history! It's entirely possible that my blog posts have a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of charting on HackerNews and I just won the lottery. Or it could be that they have a 1 in 5 chance of charting and I am just very unlucky. Depending how you flip it, it's either incredibly motivating or incredibly demotivating. Only time will tell.


Note: One of the most surprising things has been the number of personal notes I've received complimenting me on the blog. The rate of this occurring has been astonishing and it has been very motivating for me to keep writing every week.

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