Social Exploration at Harvard

This is a reflection on my systematic social space exploration at Harvard during Spring 2015.

Social Theory Preparation:

Major Prep: (Books with massive influence on my models for how to interact with people) Minor Prep: (Books with limited influence)

My goals were fairly simple. I wanted to meet the best students that Harvard had to offer - people who would push me to new heights and be great influences. I was going to find allies and life-long friends. And I wanted to explore romantically. I decided that I should systematize that exploration-exploitation process.

I had assimilated a lot of information on social skills and already had a pretty strong skillset, so this was about execution on models (theory) that I already had, not developing a theory to begin with.

The beautiful thing about meeting a new person is that that first interaction sets the norms for your relationship. With well established friends it’s easy to get trapped in norms that disallow openness and vulnerability, that hide our true selves and replace that with a mask that it’s ‘safe’ to show. Breaking out of that trap is can be much harder than setting new norms with new people.

Optimal interactions look like a meeting with social proof. Being in an environment which proofs you is great, as everybody else is a Harvard student and so is generally extremely open to meeting other Harvard students (this is compared with the general population, or a true stranger). Being in the same concentration, club, house, etc. is usually enough to get a positive reception. Having their friends proof you is an almost guaranteed good reception.

First conversation looks like an non-standard, abnormal but fascinating opening, value elicitation and value alignment (ideally through storytelling), reciprocation induced openness and vulnerability to establish those norms, and then conversation about mutual interests. This is almost always more than enough to secure a future meeting if desired, and is also just fun for everybody involved.

The systematic search for quality relationships was driven by a few major mechanisms:

  1. Set out list of people I wanted to meet/be friends with and intentionally seek them out.
  2. Explore as a matter of habit/lifestyle, piggybacking off of any success.
  3. Join groups of people with values aligned with growthful intellectual relationships (specifically Junto, Data Ventures, Lifehack, Effective Altruism, CS 181, CS 124, CS 186).
  4. Spend default time (working) in environments that have a really high expected value on chance interactions - Ex. Maxwell Dworkin, for higher level CS students and professors.
  5. Talking to Professors and going to events where there are personal interactions with great thinkers.
  6. Heavy Triage on the sadder parts of my social space.
  7. Daily Accountability - Andrew Liu and Wentao Xu kept me accountable to social goals on a daily basis.

The result was the happiest month of my life in February 2015, with seemingly boundless growth day after day. This completely transformed my worldview and emotional life. I know that I would be a much lesser being without it.