Q&A 096

Published on:
January 25, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

Today's episode focuses mainly on learning. Learning about yourself and your modus operandi, its consequences for learning itself, AI rocking traditional education methods and finally a mindset approach to learning and executing faster. Learning might be one of our favourite aspects of growth in life itself. Enjoy!

🐚 Introvert

Being an introvert myself, the following introduction to a YouTube video caught my attention:

"In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated." [hyperlink to video added by us]

Though this TED-Talk is a relatively one-sided reasoning why things should change in favour of introverts, I believe it is worth watching. Even though I dislike labelling, I cannot ignore the fact that it sometimes helps to use certain classifications to bring the conversation forwards. It's the balance that I'm interested in.

As between 35-50% of the population can be classified as introvert, it doesn't hurt to have a good look at what kind of environment they thrive in. Susan Cain, being herself a true introvert and noticeably uncomfortable on stage, gives some striking examples how our society, educational systems and work environments are mostly geared towards extraverts. Just think about open plan offices, the focus on working in teams and sitting in groups at school.

Susan ends her talk with a call to action that essentially boils down to creating a better balance culturally. Taking into account that for quite a number of people solitude matters. A lot. At the same time, she calls for the 'introverts' to speak up and be honest about your needs. As she puts it: "open your suitcase".

The talk made me wonder why we have organised a lot of things seemingly 'just for the extraverts'. It is known that human beings, when operating in groups, tend to easily and almost automatically copy the behaviour of others. This may explain why there is tendency towards group work. Could another explanation perhaps be our tendency to focus on goals, results, making everything measurable? Maybe that's why I've never liked S.M.A.R.T. goals!

🎓 School

To see introvert and extravert children in action in a classroom situation, have a look at this very interesting documentary by the Polish director Emi Buchwald. The first lines of the description nicely capture the main theme:

"Learning can be enriching and even thrilling, sure. But it can also be confusing, tedious, exhausting, and any combination thereof. And, [...] this is especially true when it’s foisted upon you against your will, as it tends to be for many schoolchildren."

The children get an assignment to study and memorise a rather philosophical poem in a couple of days. It is immediately obvious how this pretty hard task is handled in various different ways by the kids. The task also involves discussing and analysing the poem together with the parents or caretakers. This leads to a view on how the parents act in different ways and the influence that has on the atmosphere and the content of the discussions. Some remarks by both kids and parents are quite deep and insightful. It shows the huge capacity of learning to bring us together, learn and grow.

The documentary also shows what a great impact this assignment can have on the stress levels of some of them. Obviously, reciting a poem by head to a group is not for everyone.

It is a great case-in-point how we are all different and how difficult it is (possibly: impossible) to find common ways to learn, work and play. Understanding how somebody ticks and how to deal with that might be the most important trait to learn. It's a life-long-learning exercise.

📝 Essay

A few episodes back, we highlighted the 'adjustment costs' that our newest AI tools would bring. In the past couple of weeks, the first fruitless clashes have already started to emerge in the education system. As brought to my attention by Fred Wilson, the NYC Department of Education has banned ChatGPT from its networks and devices as an effort to keep 'the essay' alive as a way for teachers to assess student progress.

Fred digs up a story about a slide rule his father gave him once; a tool he used for many years until calculators emerged. Once the new tools entered the stage, educators wanted their students to keep using slide rules for many years, before eventually embracing the use of calculators. He proposes a fast embrace of the newer AI tools:

"I think a better approach would be to require students to use ChatGPT to write an essay or at least help write an essay and then have the students compete to see who can leverage this technology to create the best essay."

Seth Godin's reaction goes even further, lauding the demise of the essay entirely:

"Good riddance. There’s not a lot of evidence that getting good at writing book reports or regurgitated essays under typical high school conditions leads people to success or happiness later in life."

Switching to a Sal Khan model is his proposed remedy. Lectures at home, classes are for homework.

"In a school that’s privileged enough to have decent class sizes and devices in the classroom, challenge the students to actually discuss what they’ve read or learned."

The anti-authoritarian in me kind of cheers to see new technology driving a nail in the coffin of systems that are overdue for an upgrade, but the road will surely be bumpy. Let's keep envisioning the long game while being on the ride!

🏄‍♂️ Feel

Because I switched from Pocket to Readwise Reader as a read-it-later tool recently, I bumped into tons of stuff I saved 10 years ago, which is a fun experience. It's a little time capsule showing the stuff that I was interested in or keeping me up at night.

One 2013 article from Peter Bregman drew my attention, as its subject -procrastination- is something I still feel I haven't mastered yet. The quintessence of the article is how our fear of feeling something unpleasant is often preventing us to take action.

The author came to insights on the matter as he saw early morning surfers at the beach, each of them ending their rides with falling down, but loving the experience every time. He then asks himself:

"So why don’t we live life that way? Why don’t we accept falling — even if it’s a failure — as part of the ride?"

I immediately thought of Andrew Huberman's dopamine masterclass and the ways to trick your system into loving the friction of doing hard things. I also remembered Nathan Furr's lessons on 'reframing' as a way to tackle anxiety under uncertainty. Peter Bregman advocates a similar strategy.

"Have that difficult conversation. Listen without defensiveness when your colleague criticizes you. Name the elephant in the room. Get rejected. And feel it all. Feel the anticipation of the risk. Feel the pre-risk cringe. Then, during the risk, and after, take a deep breath and feel that too."

Embracing the emotion without judging it - like in meditation - seems like the timeless recipe again. I'll see what I can cook up.

That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own. Or get an impression of everything else we shared in our renewed, searchable archive.

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Have a great week!

Quinten & Alphons