70% of us think about starting our own business

I recently read in a book that “out of a 100 people, 70 will want to start a business, 15 will actually do so in the next few years, and only 5 will succeed on the first try.” (from the book bounce! by Barry Moltz) I hadn’t realised that so many people were actually thinking about entrepreneurship — fully 70% of us!

Not too long ago, I went to Wilson’s house after I received an SMS from him asking to meet me. I gladly accepted his invitation after I learned he had wanted to see me about a business idea — I am always ready to learn more about business opportunities. Though his idea turned out to be less stellar than hoped for, we had a good long chat on all sorts of things. Having spent the better part of the last four years in New Zealand, he was full of interesting stories and provided a wonderful alternative perspective on life.

But of all the talk that happened that day, the thing that stuck with me the most was his remarking that he was amazed at how entrepreneurial Singaporeans were. During a gathering with his friends not too long ago, he noticed that many of the topics revolved around business opportunities and how one might exploit them. He contrasted this with the laid-back attitude that he perceived many New Zealanders to have.

I, however, found his statement surprising. I always found many Singaporeans to be all-talk-no-action, and even then, talk about business seemed rare for me. Most of my friends do not talk about business, with the exception of Wilson himself and Zixuan. I suppose the statistics I mentioned at the beginning of this post has allowed me to see a truer picture, then, that there actually are plenty of people who think about starting their own business, even if it is only 15 out of a 100 who finally will.

I hope that I will be a part of that 15. It’s something I’ve been dreaming about for a long while now. And it’s feeling more and more concrete as the days go by.

The Relationship Between the Infinite Monkey Theory and Evolution

I recently read an article refuting the infinite monkey theorem: that if you have lots of monkeys hammering away on typewriters one of them will eventually reproduce one of Shakespeare’s sonnets through pure chance alone. What the author was really refuting was the theory of evolution (some writers having used the infinite monkey theorem to back up their claims that evolution can occur by chance, and not by intelligent design. How can something so “design-like” occur by pure chance alone?)

The author explains his findings through many calculations, and eventually arrives at the fact that though possible, the chances of such a scenario is so small that by saying that something will “eventually reproduce” is so unlikely that using it as a analogy to evolution is akin to saying evolution’s not possible at all. But though the calculations are generally mathematically sound, the premise behind them are suspect. There’s been a misunderstanding on the author’s part on how evolution works.

In his example, the typing monkeys had to get all characters of Shakespeare’s sonnet right one time through — there was no room for error. Even if the monkey got 499 out of 500 of the characters right, a mistake on the last character would reset the monkey back to square one.

But evolution does not work like that. Evolution takes things one step at a time. At every step, changes that are fitter (more adaptive to survival) survive, while those less fit die off. So if we go back to the typing monkey example, after a monkey types the first character, if it is the same character as any of Shakespeare’s sonnets it survives, if it is not contained in any of Shakespeare’s sonnets it “dies” and the monkey continues on to its next random character, which is then once more matched against one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

This process is iterated until a full Shakespearean sonnet is typed out. What role does chance play in this? Lots, as we’ll find out.

Imagine that the monkey sits down at a typewriter. It randomly hits a key and that key turns out to be the letter “W” — that’s down to chance. Does any of Shakespeare’s sonnets start with “W”? If there is, then the next character that will be most fit to survive will be the one that matches the second character of all Shakespearean sonnets that start with the letter “W”. Every other character will die off, but the first character remains because it is has adequate survival skills (e.g. the very basic survival mechanism is that it matches the first character of at least one of Shakespeare’s sonnets).

So the first character that the monkey types practically determines which sonnet will eventually be typed out, but the very first character is totally down to chance.

The Monkey Typewriter Fallacy

I recently read an article refuting the infinite monkey theorem: that if you have lots of monkeys hammering away on typewriters one of them will eventually reproduce one of Shakespeare’s sonnets through pure chance alone. What the author was really refuting was the theory of evolution (some writers having used the infinite monkey theorem to back up their claims that evolution can occur by chance, and not by intelligent design. How can something so “design-like” occur by pure chance alone?)

The author explains his findings through many calculations, and eventually arrives at the fact that though possible, the chances of such a scenario is so small that by saying that something will “eventually reproduce” is so unlikely that using it as a analogy to evolution is akin to saying evolution’s not possible at all. But though the calculations are generally mathematically sound, the premise behind them are suspect. There’s been a misunderstanding on the author’s part on how evolution works.

In his example, the typing monkeys had to get all characters of Shakespeare’s sonnet right one time through — there was no room for error. Even if the monkey got 499 out of 500 of the characters right, a mistake on the last character would reset the monkey back to square one.

But evolution does not work like that. Evolution takes things one step at a time. At every step, changes that are fitter (more adaptive to survival) survive, while those less fit die off. So if we go back to the typing monkey example, after a monkey types the first character, if it is the same character as any of Shakespeare’s sonnets it survives, if it is not contained in any of Shakespeare’s sonnets it “dies” and the monkey continues on to its next random character, which is then once more matched against one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

This process is iterated until a full Shakespearean sonnet is typed out. What role does chance play in this? Lots, as we’ll find out.

Imagine that the monkey sits down at a typewriter. It randomly hits a key and that key turns out to be the letter “W” — that’s down to chance. Does any of Shakespeare’s sonnets start with “W”? If there is, then the next character that will be most fit to survive will be the one that matches the second character of all Shakespearean sonnets that start with the letter “W”. Every other character will die off, but the first character remains because it is has adequate survival skills (e.g. the very basic survival mechanism is that it matches the first character of at least one of Shakespeare’s sonnets).

So the first character that the monkey types practically determines which sonnet will eventually be typed out, but the very first character is totally down to chance.

Changing Jobs for More Money

“Leaving for money” is, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review on career moves, called “Managing Yourself: Five Ways to Bungle a Job Change“, one of the major mistakes people make when deciding between jobs.

Though not too extraordinary a finding in itself (surely you have heard people say, “it’s not all about the money” when explaining their choice of a job), there is an interesting fact about money mentioned in the article. It seems that executives thinking about a job change often rank money fourth of fifth in order of importance, but when it comes to making the decision, money becomes the most important! (How’s that for the case that we are rational creatures?)

Too strong a focus on money makes us neglect doing proper research (incidentally another major mistake pointed out by the article’s authors), and the increase in pay may not quite offset the opportunity costs associated with the move. The authors quote an example of an executive who switched jobs for an extra $10k, but realised that giving up the network he built in his previous job wasn’t quite worth it.

On a personal level, I’ve heard of plenty of people earning more than me who have had to endure (much) longer working hours (sometimes for purely political reasons), horrible working conditions (including abusive bosses), and hate the jobs they do (monotonous, tedious work and the like).

Even though I’m not quite earning as much as I would like, I do realise I’m blessed for what I must say is a very decent job I mostly enjoy with pretty decent pay. If I do decide to leave one day, it won’t be just for the money. Or at least I hope it won’t. I just hope I remember that when the time comes.

On Writing What I Want

I have a habit of regularly asking myself what I want in life. I’d write it down and put it away, only returning to it when the next time I thought about writing it came about. I find Google docs very useful for this exercise, but I digress.

It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t written my “what I want” list for quite a while. I wrote one up and uploaded it into Google docs, and while there thought that I might as well go look through what I had written previously.

My previous list was dated about three months ago, or about Oct 2009, and the list before that was dated Aug 2009. I looked through both of them, and what struck me was how different my Jan 2010 list was from my Oct 2009 one, and how similar it was to the Aug 2009 one.

I suppose I should really explain what I mean by “similar” or “different”. It simply refers to the themes of each list. Without going into too much (confidential) detail, my list in Jan 2010 was geared strongly toward the achievement of material ends, while that of the Oct 2009 talked much about the renouncement of chasing after material ends.

It’s like a peak and trough of material susceptibility – one moment I’m a mercenary chasing after material wealth, the next I’m an ascetic renouncing material goods; a few moments later, I’m a mercenary once more.

I cannot say for sure what all this means, but it sure gives me something to think about.

Mistakes Weight-Watchers Make

An article appeared in today’s Mind Your Body section of The Straits Times which listed down a number of mistakes that weight-watchers make. Of the seven mistakes they listed, here are the ones I personally found worth highlighting:

Weight watchers mistake #1: Underestimating how much you have eaten — the newspaper quoted a study by Dr Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, that found that people who went for the “supersize” or (in Singapore) “Up-sized” portions of fast-food meals tended to underestimate the amount of calories they were consuming by more than half.

The thing is, so much literature on the nutritional value of food (and their caloric values) is focused on a small subset of the world’s available food: namely western cuisine (and even then we’re mostly only enlightened on fast-food, a sub-subset of this). What happens is that even though many of us Singaporeans know fast-food is bad for us, we’re still ignorant about the host of other delicious local food available everywhere. Chicken rice, roti prata, nasi lemak — oh, sedap! — do we really know how many calories we’re consuming?

Weight-watchers mistake #2: Overestimating the calorie-reducing effects of exercise — I must admit, I’m guilty of this one. Exercise doesn’t consume as many calories as we often think it does. If walking up the stairs seems difficult, it’s often not so much a sign of that we are burning many calories as it is a sign of our deplorable fitness levels. Many people who exercise tend to think they are “entitled” to eat additional calories for the day, often eating more than they used for their exercise. What’s even worse, exercise tends to make you hungry, causing you to eat even more.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for exercise. Exercise can help you burn calories hours after you’d stop. And by doing strength-training, those muscles you build will help consume many more calories than your fat does.

Weight-watchers mistake #3: Eating too many different foods — the more variety the food in front of you contains, the more you will tend to eat. It’ easy to underestimate how much you’ve eaten when all you’ve had is a “little” of each. A little bit of everything, when everything is a lot, is still a lot.

Weight-watchers mistake #4: Not weighing yourself often enough — it seems that people who weigh themselves every day lose more weight than those who don’t, at least according to Dr George L., author of Break Through Your Set Point. The reason given is that “people who watch their weight are more likely to closely monitor their eating and exercise behaviours and regain control of their diets quickly if they gain weight.”

I hope you find this list of mistakes weight-watchers make useful. Pass it on if you do, here’s the shortlink: http://wp.me/pmxz-qW

Rediscovering the Joy of Running

Taking the unfamiliar route today, I felt a familiar tingling feeling on my skin: goosebumps! Whenever goosebumps appear on my runs, they are almost always accompanied by a surge in energy and enthusiasm, and this time it was no different. I picked up my pace and ran like I hadn’t run in ages: I had a spring in my step, and I felt good… really good.

This feeling took me by surprise as I hadn’t felt it in such a long time in any of my training runs. For the past few years, training runs have always been a chore; I often felt lethargic, sleepy even. I had carried out casual investigations into its cause (I used to love running, why don’t I now?) I thought it might have been the food I was eating; the time I was running; or perhaps the shoes I was wearing. I experimented eating different food; running at different times; and changing my shoes; but nothing worked. I resigned myself to my new lethargic running fate.

Then came the goosebumps. This is it, I thought to myself. The reason why I was feeling lethargic all of this time, was due to the damn same old running route I kept using!

By breaking up my routine, running starting becoming fun again. I actually enjoyed my run for the first time in ages.