Discrete and continuous jobs

Earlier today, while contributing to a spectacular discussion about ambition on a mailing list that I’m part of, I realized that my CV basically translates to spectacular performance in entrance exams and certain other competitive exams, and not much otherwise. This made me think of the concept of a “discrete job” – where you are evaluated based on work that you do at certain discrete points in time, as opposed to a continuous job where you are evaluated based on all the work that you do all the time.

A good example of a discrete job is that of a sportsman. Yes, a sportsman needs to work hard all the time and train well and all that, but the point is that his performance is essentially evaluated based on his performance on the day of the game. His performance on these “big days” matter significantly more than his performance on non-match days. So you can have people like Ledley King who are unable to train (because of weak knees) but are still highly valued because they can play a damn good game when it matters.

In fact any performing artist does a “discrete” job. If you are an actor, you need to do well on the day of your play, and off-days during non-performing days can be easily forgiven. Similarly for a musician and so forth.

Now the advantage of a “discrete” job is that you can conserve your energies for the big occasion. You can afford the occasional slip-up during non-performing days but as long as you do a good job on the performing days you are fine. On the other hand, if you are in a continuous job, off-days cost so much more, and you will need to divide your energies across each day.

If you are of the types that builds up a frenzy and thulps for short period of time and then goes back to “sleep” (I think I fall under this category), doing a continuous job is extremely difficult. The only way that it can be managed is through aggregation – never giving close deadlines so that you can compensate for the off-day by having a high-work day somewhere close to it. But not every job allows you the luxury of aggregation, so problem are there.

Now, my challenge is to find a discrete job in the kind of stuff that I want to do (broadly quant analysis). And maybe give that a shot. So far I’ve been mostly involved in continuous jobs, and am clearly not doing very well in that. And given my track record in important examinaitons, it is likely I’ll do better in a discrete job. Now to find one of those..

10 thoughts on “Discrete and continuous jobs”

  1. Well said. Perhaps the way out is a job where you work…. say, alternate days. Thats not exactly discrete, but its getting there 🙂

  2. What are you saying?!! you have the perfect potentian discrete job! A few kick ass trades and your year and career is made!!! the rest of the days you can chill or lose a bit even…

    1. well, it depends on how much freedom you have to trade what you want to. if there are other pepoole who demand you do a particular kind of trade, you can’t do much

  3. musicians, actors etc do not really have a discrete job. You sample their job discretely, but most professionals rehearse before a performance.
    The difference could be that one kind of job requires very high quality of output at short bursts, whereas the other kind requires a steady kind of output. The output from the second job is more robust (long term output is independent of off day failures), and hence can be preferred. But some jobs (like research) benefit from sporadic stud performances. But even in this scenario (research), continuous fight is required to bring stud insights to fruition.
    -SK ex narmad. (got routed through bhaand’s blog.)

    1. that’s what i mean. the “clients” sample the job discretely, and the “server” knows which samples will be taken. so helps.

  4. I don’t think professions are continuous or discrete; the rewards might be. Most have continuous rewards, very few have discrete ones. Your past performance indicates your success in working (continuously) towards that big/discrete pay day. If there is no big/discrete pay day, you find it difficult to remain motivated.

    I have found the year-end I-bank/Trading bonus model resolve this issue for similar folks. Else, have fixed salary/rank goals for every year and start knocking those targets off.

    You might feel that’s exactly what you don’t want to do. But look deeper. You’ve had max fun when you’ve been part of the rat race and then beaten the hell out of competition. Why should it be different at work? So, do your continuous job (as you define it) and set reward targets that significantly big/discrete than the regular ‘continuous’ targets of peers and exceed them. That’s what you seem to be really good at. Else, this search of discrete job et al will continue forever.

    1. hmmm
      interesting stuff

      yeah – as i mentioned in an earlier comment, it’s about “sampling” and you get rewarded for certain samples of your work.

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