300 Questions and Fermi Estimates

Toward the end of 2017, I began collecting questions people would like answered. My general goal was to have either 52 questions (one per week) or 300 questions (roughly one per day). I’ve received 25 so far; I’m going to start answering these and see if it prompts more questions for the series.

Some of the questions cannot be easily answered apart from major research projects. Since I don’t have the years to devote to that, I’m planning to provide a methodology for reaching a Fermi estimate: a way of making a “back of the envelope” calculation that gets you “close” to the right answer (generally, within the right order of magnitude, and on the right end of the order of magnitude). While the specific estimated answer is likely not exactly correct, it is close enough to serve for initial strategic planning, and to serve as a “check for accuracy” if one were to do a major research project.

Besides the time required for major research projects, another, more important, reason for doing it this way: in my experience, there is a lot of concern–over-concern, in my opinion–with specificity and accuracy in missions circles. We seem to belabor lists, methodologies, specific numbers (2 billion or 3 billion unreached?), and so on. I’ve seen many instances where this “paralysis of analysis” causes delay of strategy start and strategy implementation.

Hopefully in doing this series we can demonstrate how to calculate estimates that are “good enough,” and maybe even spark a new level of energy.

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