Exploration vs. Exploitation—Why You Should Know How To Do Both

# 95 on my 99 Life Tips–A List is: Learn when to explore and when to exploit. Know how to do both.

I first heard the concept of Exploration vs. Exploitation in the 2016 book by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths called Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions.

Briefly, exploration involves the discovery of something new.

Exploitation involves mining a previously discovered pleasure to extract more pleasure.

Both have their uses. Both are valuable to a life well-lived. A good life consists in large part in the enjoyment of good experiences. Those experiences must first be discovered. Once found, a determination is made about whether it should be tried again.

We are each living on borrowed time. Time that is ticking away. Do we explore? Or exploit?

Back in the time when we could safely venture to do something as dangerous as eat in close proximity to total strangers in a restaurant, did you prefer visiting different restaurants or going to a favorite? Once there, did you like to try new items on the menu or did you order the same thing every time regardless of how tempting another selection might be?

When contemplating a vacation, (another on the list of past dangers) do you yearn to see a place you’ve never been, or do you crave the experience of a familiar beach, bar, and scenery?

The authors of the book suggested that the younger one is, the more likely the scale will tip towards exploration. I think they’re right and that this is part of why the young have had a much harder time with Covid isolation.

This seems obvious, right? The younger one is, the more every new experience is virgin territory. Our younger selves don’t know what is worth exploiting. But, I think the inverse may also be true. Youth causes exploration, sure, but exploration also causes one to remain youthful (in outlook at least). Each new thing, even a new idea, is something tried out for the first time. It hearkens back to the time when every thing we tried was new. 

On the other hand, exploitation is a key component of a contented life. I am not interested in a life I feel the need to escape from once or twice a year to go and live for a week or two the way that I really want to be living. What kind of life is that?

I want to craft a life surrounded by books, music, coffee, wine, bourbon, foods, a best-friend-who-is-my-lover; a life that can be exploited each day for the simple pleasures that are just as rich at the hundredth or thousandth tasting as they were the day I discovered them.

I’m the guy who finds a restaurant and eats the same thing on the menu each time. Now, I may like 20 restaurants, each for 20 separate things; but I can’t thing of a single restaurant where I’d be interested to try 20 different things from the menu believing each one would be as good as my favorite thing, the selection that keeps bringing me back, the one I exploit.

How about you. Do you prefer exploring or exploiting more? Has that balance changed as you’ve aged? Time’s a wastin’!

1 thought on “Exploration vs. Exploitation—Why You Should Know How To Do Both”

  1. Pingback: Invest In Yourself Without Apology – 4 Simple Ways : Greg Proffit Writing

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