Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Smarts vs. Street Smarts

Okay, before we start out, I'm hoping to blog a bit more to get my thoughts down 'on paper'. It's good to practice writing, and it's also nice to reflect upon how I used to think. Everything I say, I more or less believe to be true, unless I say so. However, the information I present may not actually be true, may be true only at this given moment, and is always subject to change. I can be wrong as much as I can be right, but my goal is just to stimulate minds to create something new or to improve on something that already exists. I will try to use media where I can, but it's not guaranteed. And no, I don't want to be a writer. I only intend to write for an hour, so the blog may stop abruptly for no reason :)

(Source sodahead.com)

The topic at hand is “book smarts vs. street smarts”, and which one is better. Before we go anywhere, I'd like to tell you where I personally come from and hence, my bias. I'm actually leaning toward school. I like school, but I have done good and bad in school. Back in elementary and high school, I was always a decent student. I followed the rules and stuck to the programs, and I came out quite normal ordinary. However, I have also had a taste of sport, which I can argue fits into ‘street smarts’, as there are many experiences I have gained in sport that I would not be able to learn in school. So…darn it… maybe I’m BOTH.

Being nerdy is such a terrible stereotype, and due to popular shows such as “The Big Bang Theory”, I think it continues that trend. I don’t really consider myself a nerd, but there are some things that can easily swing me into that category: I very rarely read fiction; I read research papers; I enjoy science; I am still in school after 10 years (*not proud, but… kind of proud :P); I enjoy video games, comics, anime; I will go on debates with Mormon’s on the street; I overcoach all my students… and the list goes on. I like detail, I like learning… it’s exhilarating to learn something new that you can apply to your practice (although it’s another thing to learn something you’ve done wasn’t true). Regardless, yes… maybe I’m a nerd.

However, I do a lot of things outside school. Even things I read may not be related to school at all. School doesn’t teach you everything; school CAN’T teach you everything. But, you can learn from anywhere, and there is no better (and usually crueller) way to learn by experience. Experience makes a big difference, and I would highly credit my badminton ability in Canada based on experience alone. Hard work, proper technique, high intensity training, and strength & conditioning help as well, but that is more accessible to all players, should they be looking for it. There are many things I have learned through experience that I would have never dreamed of, so there should be much credit to experience as well.

Street smarts? Well, I don’t really like that term so much. I think it’s more based on attention, and our attention is limited. Consider the person texting on her phone while walking on the street. Where does the attention go? Even listening to music with headphones will reduce your attention because your mind is half listening to music. Even if you have a really good idea and start brainstorming, that would probably stop you in your tracks. According to Daniel Kahneman (author of “Thinking, Fast and Slow”), that engagement of System II (um… making that effort to think) may stop you from walking, or at least slow you down. Next time you’re walking somewhere, try calculating 28 x 56 in your head.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, because you will make a mistake. Hopefully it doesn’t do too much damage, but there is always that possibility of being wrong. I personally feel I am wrong more than I am right, regardless how you see me as an athlete or a person. I have made poor choices, sometimes because of a lack of foresight; sometimes because of misunderstandings; sometimes because of bad luck. I refer to luck as simply the turn of the events happening, and reflecting on them in hindsight. For example, if roll a die and guess the right number, I would say that I’m lucky, because I would be correct 1/6th of the time. Basically, with luck, I don’t expect things to be repeated for similar results. Regardless, the experience itself can be a learning one, and it hits you in the face much more if you are wrong. It’s also possible to be wrong due to luck, so a proper reflection can help you determine whether you want to make the same choice again later on. It’s funny how a bad experience can turn us away for a very long time.

So, you’re probably asking yourself, “Toby, what are you rambling about in your blog today?!” Well, I’m hoping to address the stereotype of “book smart vs. street smart” in that I personally believe that you should be BOTH. And here’s why:
  • Experience is key, but if you don’t have a good foundation of knowledge, then you have no way to move around from your experience. Experience is based on perspectives and one person’s perspective can be different from another’s, even if it is on the same thing. By seeking outside input or evidence (e.g. research), one can grasp a better perspective on how things really are. However, this can still be skewed or incorrect. For example, a certain diet may work for you (eg. Paleo, Atkins, IF, etc.), but someone else may have found a benefit from eating the EWCFG (Canada Food Guide). Before you go criticizing each other, it may be best to consult other perspectives first, but that’s still not guaranteed to help all the time. Sometimes it is what it is: “If it’s right for you, AWESOME! But don’t expect it to be the same for everyone else.”
  • School is tough, because there are many things that are not taught in school. For example, how to study. I’ve actually studied how to study, as nerdy as it sounds, but I’ve basically tried many different methods, including Method of Loci, which involves some crazy memorization tricks (I actually used it and could memorize a deck of cards, although that won’t make me very much money unfortunately). However, when I ask other people how they study, sometimes they give me ideas, sometimes they give me ideas that I probably won’t even bother to try. I do not like studying in groups, but I know people who thrive in that environment. I found that I learn more asking questions and getting answers to them, but that may not be the same for everyone. Although this is not always true, I found that there are many times where it’s best to learn the perspective of your TA’s and professors, and regurgitate their thoughts back to them (despite what they tell me in wanting my perspective). I have learned from Daniel Kahneman’s book (haha, another shameless plug) about the “Halo Effect”, where answering your first essay question well may influence the marker to give you the benefit of the doubt later on. Not for everything, but it’s worth a shot if you need it.
  • Experience is riddled with “Survivorship Bias. Basically, it is trying to learn from successful people. However, it wouldn’t make sense because if everyone started learning the things that successful people do, then that would average out the level of success, and in the end, we would be where we started, although at a higher relative standard. If that didn’t make sense, I will use my example of training in Calgary for badminton. I was able to play the Alberta Series tournaments and attain prize money which helped fund the way for a lot of my training and traveling. However, if other players wanted to do the same and made the competition harder, there would be less to go around for all of us. Perhaps I was only able to make it as far as I could because I was the only one in the system. Another way to put it is that if we fully funded a couple of players/teams in Badminton Canada, instead of the entire National Team, the results may be better. I could publish a book on how to make the Olympics for Badminton in Canada, but it’s just a personal story; just a simple anecdote; just a simple experiment with sample size n=1. If 2 people tried to copy it, it wouldn’t be sustainable for both of them. I suppose there was a lot of luck involved. Another example is about making money off the stock market. Sure, there are winners, but there are a lot more losers: where are there stories? In an episode of “Hustling America”, a UK television show starring Alexis Conran, he mentioned Las Vegas, in which the city in all its glory was built from the many people who lost their money. But before we end, we can make a counterpoint for experience, where learning from someone else’s bad experience may be a worthwhile thing to do.
  • Another problem with school is that it can be so broad. In elementary school, I had to learn French, Religion, and Music. I also did PE (which I thoroughly enjoyed). In Grade 4 I learned about classical music, latin-root words, and Greek mythology. Do you know why the “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader” TV show is so difficult? It’s because they just memorize facts… mundane, useless facts with such a broad range than doesn’t really relate to anything else. That’s where it gets difficult. Regardless, school needs to cater to a large population, so it has to be broad. As we get older, we get more specific: for example, in undergrad we can choose our faculty, and then we can choose to specialize even further in graduate studies. I like to think of it as a pyramid, where you are building your base first, and slowly narrowing that focus as you go higher. As you can see, a solid foundation will help you climbing up. If you are purely experience based, you would have a narrow base and you would be stacking it up on itself, kind of like stacking pop cans on each other. Some people may be successful, but for most, they can collapse and they would have to start again. Consider an entrepreneur with no degree. However, with that said, if you keep your base too broad, you won’t ever get very high.

(Source: sodahead.com)

Well, that actually marks about an hour, so I will proofread things a bit and I guess we’ll call it a day. I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog and I will do my best to continue blogging a bit more in the future. Comments are always welcome, except for spam (I get a lot of that actually), and I welcome other thoughts on the matter. Maybe I can learn something :)

Until next time!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting perspectives, thanks very much for posting.

    ReplyDelete