Filters and bottlenecks

Lots of processes have filters: a certain proportion of the time they fail at that stage. There are filters in the path from dead stars to booming civilizations. There are filters in the path from being a baby to being an old person. There are filters in the path from having an idea to having a thriving business.

Lots of processes also have bottlenecks. These look similar, in that many things fail at that point. For instance the path to becoming a Nobel Prize winner is bottlenecked by there only being so many Nobel Prizes ever year. Rather than a fixed fraction of people getting past that barrier, a fixed number of people do.

It’s worth noticing if something is a filter or a bottleneck, because you should treat them differently often. Either way you can increase the fraction reaching the end by widening the filter or bottleneck to let more past. But for the filter it might be worth doing this at any other stage in the process, whereas for the bottleneck it is pointless at all earlier stages. You can’t get more Nobel Prize winners by improving education, but you might get more thriving businesses.

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  • Carl Shulman

    “For instance the path to becoming a Nobel Prize winner is bottlenecked by there only being so many Nobel Prizes ever year. Rather than a fixed fraction of people getting past that barrier, a fixed number of people do.”

    One nitpick about the Nobel Prize: the average number of scientists sharing the Nobel Prize increased substantially over the course of the century, perhaps in recognition of the increased number of people doing quality work (or perhaps reflecting the increased need for teams and expensive equipment in solving tough problems).

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

      More than a nitpick, your issue is. It points to the real lesson: don’t assume that because something has bottleneck characteristics it doesn’t also have filter characteristics. 

      The OP would have worked had Katja provided an example where there have been failures to distinguish. Otherwise, emphasizing a distinction without real corrective potential is likely to reify it.

  • http://profiles.google.com/axa.maqueda Axayacatl Maqueda

    General achievement (thriving bussiness) is filtered, status (nobel prize) is bottlenecked?

  • Hasayake

    Articles on Overcoming Bias are really deteriorating in quality.

    • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

       Loss aversion. Robin can’t part with a successful blog when it needs to be closed.

      • http://profiles.google.com/axa.maqueda Axayacatl Maqueda

        indeed, we all know the best way to better a thing is to destroy it =) 

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        indeed, we all know the best way to better a thing is to destroy it =)

         

        What does =) mean?

        Anyway, what we should all know is that whether something should be bettered or destroyed can’t be decided a priori. 

        I’m trying to look at it from Robin’s perspective rather than my own. The blog continues to supply positive externalities; I’m not complaining. But for someone who wants to have impact, like Robin, it makes sense to remember that ends receive great emphasis when people evaluate the success of an endeavor. Petering out is a bad strategy. (Even Luke Muehlhauser understood that and closed his atheism blog soon after it began to deteriorate).

    • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

       Also, note that the “voting” system doesn’t reflect declining quality. One obvious unnoted preclusion: insufficient sample size (voting readers).

      • Hasayake

        I am aware that the “voting” system doesn’t reflect declining quality. I am not using it as a yardstick.

        I was just speaking from personal experience. For many months now I have found the posts on OB to be rather banal and uninsightful. It is nice that the team here seems committed to posting new entries on a daily basis, but I appreciate quality much more than quantity.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        I wasn’t disagreeing. I agree and take your point as a given. Real quality is the “yardstick”; the voting system is what comes up short.

  • JW Ogden

    Filters and bottlenecks is a great thing to consider because somethings are more bottleneck like than they should be.  Entrance into nursing school and Medical school come to mind.

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