Medley 255: Creativity, Education, Peer Groups, Leverage, Desk Setup, Competition, Synthesis...

This is the Monday Medley, a newsletter that goes out, you guessed it, every Monday. I republish it here for sharing and referencing, but if you'd like to sign up you can do so right here:

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Happy Monday!

Last week I published an updated version of my "Personal Leverage" article on Almanack.

I also posted an expanded version of the "SchrΓΆdinger Claims" section from last week!

Alright, on to the Medley.

The World of Creative Problem Solving

πŸŽ“ I rediscovered this article on "Creative Problem Solving" last week and it got me thinking about ways we can improve education.

2️⃣ What the article points out is that problem solving comes in two types:

  • Rule-based problem solving
  • Creative problem solving

πŸ“Š Rule based problem solving is knowing how to take a formula and apply it to a known situation. Like understanding how to put numbers into a spreadsheet then run the required functions on them.

πŸ‘©β€πŸŽ¨ But creative problem solving is difference:

"Creativity is knowing what to do when the rules run out or there are no rules in the first place. It is what a good auto mechanic does after his computerized test equipment says the cars transmission is fine but the transmission continues to shift at the wrong engine speed"

🧠 And as the authors point out, we never really teach kids how to do that. We teach them how to do something, then give them a problem that requires that exact knowledge. They never learn to identify when to use that knowledge:

"In the workplace, solving a problem usually involves two steps. First, parse a messy set of facts to determine what technique applies. Second, execute the technique. In the classroom, problem-solving is often defined as the second (rules-based) step and the first step is ignored. I firmly believe that an algebra student needs to know how to solve a system of two equations and two unknowns. But once the student is in a real job, she won't be paid to solve the equations by hand a computer will solve the equations. Rather, she will be paid to recognize when a two-equation system is a good way to answer some complex question."

πŸ‘¨β€πŸ« Part of the problem is that since education is so structured there's no time to learn how to ask "what do I want to know?" And even entertaining the thought "I don't want to learn this" can get you in trouble, or at the very least, poor grades.

❓ So students learn not to ask their own questions. They just spit up answers to whatever problems are put in front of them.

βœ‹ But unless we want to raise a bunch of drones, we should want kids to learn how to ask their own questions and seek out answers to them. It sounds like Synthesis is trying to do that, and it will be interesting to see what other innovations come up in the space.

The World of Peers

πŸ‘­ The next interesting question I have with education is around peer groups. According to research it seems like the peers you're surrounded by in school have a significant impact on how well you perform during and after school.

🏫 As a parent, once your kids go off to school you have much less influence over them. So trying to positively influence who they end up getting surrounded by is extremely important if you want to positively impact their future.

πŸ“ This is probably a better argument for sending your kids to elite or private schools than the education quality. Even if the education quality were the same, being around other kids who were able to get in will probably help your kid do better intellectually.

😨 But there's also an obvious downside: As Dan Wang points out in his article "College as an Incubator of Girardian Terror," competitive schools are awful for kids mental health with how directly they pit kids against one another.

"Its hard to construct a more perfect incubator for mimetic contagion than the American college campus. Most 18-year-olds are not super differentiated from each other. By construction, whatever distinctions any does have are usually earned through brutal, zero-sum competitions. These tournament-type distinctions include: SAT scores at or near perfection; being a top player on a sports team; gaining master status from chess matches; playing first instrument in state orchestra; earning high rankings in Math Olympiad; and so on, culminating in gaining admission to a particular college."

πŸ€œπŸ€› So how could we get the benefits of being around smart motivated peers, without the insane competitiveness? Having a wider range of ages might help. If you're not all in the same narrow age band, there's going to be less competition.

πŸ‘¨β€βš–οΈπŸ‘©β€βœˆοΈ Fewer means of evaluation could help, too. Not having explicit grades, ranks, or future metric (e.g. job they get) to index on as explicitly would make a difference. Obviously everyone would go get a job, but if you can show them there's more to life than finance, consulting, law, medical school, and software, they might be less competitive amongst one another.

πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ But at the end of the day it's probably hard to get the best of both worlds. If you get a highly motivated accomplished peer group, you're going to feel competitive with them. If you don't get that, you're not going to be as motivated or inspired to do your best work.

πŸ’­ As usual I don't have any answer here. But it's interesting to think about.

The World of Working Outside

πŸ–₯😎 I gave up on finding a good existing outdoor desk setup and just brought my whole desk outside.

β˜”οΈ So far it's working out great, I spent basically all of Friday and Monday outside, and it survived the first rain storm.

πŸ‘Œ It remains to be seen how it will hold up in a serious storm, or what it will be like in the summer, but it's a great start!

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