The Grind

Grind: Verb — Grind out; to play tightly and win consistently; playing in a manner that minimizes variance.”
Definition from

Romance sells.  Whether it be the boy wonder who makes millions playing poker, or the fearless founder who makes a billion dollar company from nothing.  The romance, the allure, the dream of making it big from the drab boring existence of the average sells.  And why shouldn’t it?  Everybody wants to be rich; everybody wants to be famous; everybody wants to believe that they are part of the select few that can achieve what has alluded millions before them.  And perhaps some of them can, but unfortunately most of them won’t.  And it’s not because they haven’t read all the books, haven’t listened to all the experts, or haven’t had the innate talent that is needed, but rather they won’t make it because they don’t know how to grind.

Grind doesn’t sell.  Grinding is boring.  Grinding isn’t fun.  Nobody dreams of grinding their way to the top — which is exactly why you rarely hear about it in best sellers.  Only those who have been through the grind really understand what it takes to get to the top; they also understand why so many fail.  There’s one kind of grind I’m familiar with and it deals with research (poker really isn’t my thing).  Sometimes I’m in awe of the breakthrough idea of other researchers that generates a 10x speed-up, or a 5x memory reduction, but what’s hidden from my view is the magic that made it happen.  After being in graduate school for a while, I think I’m starting to get it.  It works like this (for my sub-field):

  1. Get/refine idea.
  2. Write code.
  3. Run some experiments.
  4. See how it fails miserably (and hopefully learn something from it).
  5. Rinse and repeat.

That’s it.  (Occasionally, I get a massive performance increase but usually that only happens when there’s a bug in my code.)  What I usually end up with is something totally different than my original idea (or at least perversely mutated).  And because of this, the performance usually improves.  Of course this is all hidden when someone just seems that I have a top publication on my CV.  What people miss is the excessive number of iterations I go through to figure out a good solution to the problem.  What they miss is the grind.

It’s surprising how much you can learn from poker.  Unfortunately, most endeavors don’t have such clear cut rules.  But a good lesson we can learn is that no matter what mountain you decide to climb, grinding is the best way to get to the top.