Eric Krueger

Exploring vs. Exploiting: Find the Right Balance for Success

1-minute read | last updated 2 months, 1 week ago

explore_exploit

The path isn’t always clear. (Photo by DALL·E 3)

When you start a new activity, you should have an initial exploration period. Your knowledge of the system is incomplete (or misleading) and exploring lets you find what works. We do this naturally most of the time.

At some point (after you find what's working) you should pivot to what is working best - that’s the exploit. Exploit has a negative connotation; but in this context, it means: “keep doing what works”.

This is the part people get wrong. They explore when they should be exploiting (and vice versa). Proper balance depends on whether you’re winning or losing. Once you start winning, it's important to exploit even though there may be better options, because if you spend all your time exploring you never rack up any wins (or have significant success). So:

How you define “winning” is up to you. It could be recognition, a monetary threshold, a sense of personal gratification, or just finding a satisfying perspective.

But once you are winning, still aim for something around an 80/20 or 90/10 exploit/explore tradeoff. Explore sometimes but otherwise exploit, exploit, exploit. This ensures you continue to win while simultaneously allowing you to surface new/better opportunities and methodologies (that’s what Google does).

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