Explore / Exploit

Quick question: when it is time to select a spot for a special dinner would you rather return to an old favorite restaurant or take a chance on a new place that no one has been to before?  This choice is an example of a classic decision making challenge known as the Explore / Exploit trade off.

algorithmsIn order to discover new and exciting things in life, we have to be willing to explore options.  This will naturally result in some failures, but the treasures out there waiting to be discovered can be worth the effort.  However, once we have found a great resource it is tempting to keeping going back to the well to get as much of it as possible.  In the book, Algorithms to Live By, the authors sum up the trade off in this way: “Exploration is gathering information, and exploitation is using the information you have to get a known good result.”

In general, the research shows that at the beginning of a given time frame it is much better to focus energy on exploring.  After the halfway point it makes more sense to exploit the good stuff you have found.  I recently used this logic with my daughter on a trip to the Legoland theme park.  I encouraged her to try out as many new rides as possible on the first day of our visit, and then use the second day to go back to the rides she enjoyed the most and do them as often as she could.  It made for a very enjoyable experience as she braved new exciting roller coaster experiences, but still had time for her old calmer favorites.

So don’t be shy, go out and explore!  However, plan to enjoy the fruits of that exploration by saving time to exploit your favorites.

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