The Infinite Probability of Success

16 Jun

The infinite monkey theorem[1] states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

In this context, “almost surely” is a mathematical term with a precise meaning, and the “monkey” is not an actual monkey, but a metaphor for an abstract device that produces a random sequence of letters ad infinitum. The theorem illustrates the perils of reasoning about infinity by imagining a vast but finite number, and vice versa.

This  leads me to roll the following thoughts around in my rock tumbler…

This infinite monkey theorem demonstrates how we could theoretically experience success if we kept up an attempt, forever. Now if success is possible when given infinite opportunity, it begs the question, who has that much time?  I don’t know about you, but as a school administrator, I must rely on a more practical measure.  It’s imperative we look for shorter term gains, rather than hoping  for success via the theoretical and probable accident. The truth is, we don’t have unlimited time to hunt and peck, one unsuccessful keystroke at a time.  We busy educators need results, sooner than later.

When I need results, I turn to research. I turn to the folks in white lab coats who have more theories, time, and money than me. I turn to experts who study and publish work straight from the think tanks.  A great deal of this research tells us that targeted goal setting, coupled with specific, manageable, and tangible action moves us toward success.

So, what’s this mean for us as professionals? We need practical strategy. Some of my favorite goal-setting tips come from the following books:

  • Strategic Acceleration, by Tony Jeary
  • The Power of Focus, by J. Canfield, M. Hansen, and L. Hewitt

In these texts, we glean these strategies:

  1. Clearly articulate one professional goal. Give it a timeline and purpose.  Make sure  the goal aligns with your core values. If not, chuck it, and start over.
  2. Determine why this professional goal matters. Remember, it only has to matter to you. Don’t be swayed by the next best thing. Bandwagons come and go. March to your own professional drum (even when off-beat).
  3. Determine what needs to be accomplished this month,  this week, and tomorrow. Write it down.
  4. Write a daily behavior which will move you one step closer to this goal. Write it in your daily agenda, calendar, or write it in Sharpie marker on your hand. Do whatever it takes to follow through with the behavior. Think about how you will hold yourself accountable for completing this goal.

These simple steps won’t require you to break a sweat, but will require a bit of brain power, which is a good thing in my book. Let’s be purposeful and not rely on the statistical probability that we could create a masterpiece when given an infinite amount of time. We don’t need a theoretical accident, nor typewriting primate, we just need good strategy–one keystroke at a time. Begin by planning, and acting upon, a daily strategy which will  ensure success, sooner than later.  Here’s to making each keystroke count.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.


[1] Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2004, July 22). FL: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved June 16, 2010, from http://www.wikipedia.org

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