Procrastination vs Planning. Chaos vs Order. Risky vs Safe. When thinking about the future (an area of massive uncertainty), we must constantly confront such a spectrum. How should we go about making decisions in such a world?
On one hand, we can make the decision early and attempt to reduce uncertainty, asserting a sense of structure and assurance. Budgeting exactly your spend for the month to reduce financial uncertainty. Booking a flight early to reduce cost uncertainty. Scheduling a meeting to reduce time uncertainty. Completing schoolwork early to reduce stress uncertainty. Deciding your career in high school to reduce satisfaction uncertainty. In general, these decisions are seen as safe, risk-averse methods to live a less stressful and more “stable” life. In a world where control is easily attainable and predictability abounds, this can be a valuable approach.
The analogous design pattern in Computer Science is called Eager Loading. This is generally defined as executing a computationally expensive task as early as possible so that you have the resulting data or solution readily available if needed. For example, loading data from all sub-pages of a website as soon as the user enters. In a sense it’s like data insurance - you are mitigating the risk that someone will request expensive (in terms of time) data that isn’t currently available. This design pattern is great when you know how a system is going to work beforehand. However, this approach front-loads the expensive task in the hope that it will be properly utilized. In an uncertain world, this may bog down a process for data that may never be used, meaning the early computation might have been wasted.
The opposite design pattern is Lazy Loading (or Lazy Initialization). From Wikipedia:
This is a more iterative approach as a system can learn what is needed on a case-by-case basis and can adapt more probabilistically to data requirements. This approach also speeds up the the front-end of a process because nothing is loaded until it is strictly needed.
Adopting Lazy Loading as a more general mental model, what does that mean for optimal decision making as a whole? I’d argue that in an increasingly complex world, lazy loading becomes increasingly valuable. But also, I think it allows for an increase in creativity and independent thought. Let’s explore:
The Lazy Loading (On-Demand) Economy
In the past couple decades, technology in a way has disrupted the eager loading paradigm. Instead of scheduling a ride or waiting to hail a taxi, you can call an Uber whenever you choose. This allows for more flexible schedules that don’t have to be anchored to transportation. Instead of booking hotels months in advance, use HotelTonight. Then you could choose a destination on-the-fly as you are comfortable in the moment. Instead of planning and buying movie tickets ahead of time, hop on Netflix only at the instant you so desire. With an increase in speed owing to technology, we can make decisions only when they are immediately pertinent, and spend the rest of the time as we choose. As more things become lazy (Imagine cost-effective on-demand flight booking, social events, college admissions, etc) we enjoy an increase in choice and a lower likelihood of post-decision regret.
This concept of lazy loading existed far before computing - our minds and bodies are remarkably efficient when we need them to be. I remember in school after transitioning to a more lazy (loading) mindset, I was able to complete my work in less time than I did when incrementally working towards something (This may be more of a flaw with the education system itself but I digress). With a time constraint, I was forced to spend it efficiently. Physically, the fight-or-flight response kicks into high gear in the midst of an imminent threat in a lazy fashion. Would you want an increased heart rate, constricted blood vessels, tunnel vision, and a relaxed bladder to be the default “just in case” something bad happens? The body knows that resources are more efficiently deployed in a lazy fashion.
Letting the mind wander without committing purposeful action is usually seen as lazy but can elicit an extremely creative response. Take aimless wandering, meditating, and a long shower for example. There was no effort on the front-end taken to determine a path or agenda for thought, and concepts are explored only as-desired, when they happen to pop into your head for instance. This way the mind has much room to explore connections that otherwise would not have been made if they were planned. Creativity itself seems to necessitate lazy loading.
I think the lazy loading mindset is a fundamentally positive one; it means you have to have faith in some system to achieve a positive outcome and trust in your on-the-fly decision making skills. Without this trust, it is far more intuitive to hedge the risk by creating structure beforehand. Obviously, there are also situations in which it is definitely prudent to act in an eager, planned fashion but I try to minimize that structure as much as I can. My (currently) preferred alternative is to explore new situations on-demand and then iterate once feedback occurs.