Professionally Navigating Unfamiliar Spaces

Connections & Building Intuitions:
  1) BREADTH-first search of a field or community: conferences. If you can’t go to all the ones relevant to you, then try and find a good journalist that does (for both content and indirect relationships). Journalists are a hack. Most of the awesome techies only go to conferences if they are speaking because it makes for the most efficient sorting function. Going in person is ideal because of the benefit in building relationships through conversation, and the assessment of the people.
  2a) DEPTH-social: For in-depth knowledge of a community, my favorite approach is to talk at length with a couple of community leaders, prominent intellectuals, or super-connectors.
  2b) DEPTH-written: white papers > blogs: obviously this is a crude generalization, but I find that most all blogs that I value write in the form of an essay (i.e. ‘an attempt’), where-as white papers are more of a systematic approach with a purpose. over time, reading both can help cultivate intuitions of different spaces.  for example, I want to build an intuition for navigating the space of big data 4 social development in low income countries. The approach that I started to take towards the end of last year was to read all the white papers I could find on it, and try and focus on their use cases with the hopes of being able to pattern match in the future. I also read the World Bank’s white paper on Poverty Traps because DataKind has started doing machine learning for GiveDirectly to try and classify the poverty trap in scalable ways (the most interest space to me write now). Always make sure to have a goal when you are reading a white paper[1], or else you won’t get anything explicit out of it, and its lack of relevancy will keep it from soaking deeper into your intuition.
on a day-to-day, try to be around as many people in the specific space that you are interested in as possible, and try to have the value of social exchange come from exchanging the best memes. its all just about trying to collect the best memes, and high-entropy/relevant collisions are helpful.
Tools:
  1) use workflowy to organize all the information you collect. map. your. brain.
    -my workflowy for Organizations: https://workflowy.com/s/FdeeeJrUkX
    -my workflowy for tech4good resources:https://workflowy.com/s/olAw09Xmc3
  2) bookmark file systems are super useful.
[1] some different goals for reading white papers (needs expanding): (1) understand the current state of an ecosystem. reading an orgs use cases in white papers can be a non-glossy way of understanding their implementation. reading in the context of other orgs can help to understand the current state of an ecosystem. (2) technical use cases to help train intuition for what is currently possible. The inverse should be a motivator for orgs creating these technical use cases: choose projects that are sharable and generalizable to other humanitarian efforts. (3) domain knowledge specifically related to intended future project.
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