Posted September 10, 2008
A book I read recently helped me finger out why school can be so irritating at times.
The book is entitled Weird Ideas that Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation. One of its “weird ideas” is that companies should hire slow learners. Not stupid people but slow learners of the organization’s code. A code is, the author explains, “a company’s ‘knowledge and faiths,’ its history, memories, procedures, precedents, rules, and all those taken-for-granted, and often unspoken, assumptions about why things are supposed to be done in certain ways.”
He goes on to say that most companies hire “fast learners” who quickly learn to do things the “right way” and see things much as others do in the company. But companies that do innovative work need a different kind of worker, one who won’t get “brainwashed into thinking just like everyone else. They need people who avoid, ignore, or reject ‘the heat of the herd…'"
How do you find this sort of person? One suggestion he made is to hire smart people with bad grades. He says research has shown that many creative geniuses—including Edison and Darwin—were poor students.
Creativity researcher Dean Keith Simonton points out: “To obtain high marks in school often requires a high degree of conformity to conventional ways of looking at the world and people.” People who get good grades are often fast learners of social cues. By contrast, smart people who get bad grades are listening to their inner voice, doing what they believe is interesting and right. Simonton observes that “one of the reasons creative talents often dislike school is that it can interfere with what they really want to know. When faced with the choice of reading a good book or studying for an exam, the extracurricular but still instructive diversion may win out.” [italics mine]
School irritates me because I’m often told by teachers to do things and learn things I don’t think are valuable. I have strong opinions about where I’m going and what I need to know to get there. When demands from school align with my own interests, things go well. But when they clash, school loses out.
One of my guiding principles is maintaining control of my own destiny. I cede control of my experiences only to those with whom I have an unusual amount of trust. The trust threshold a person must meet before I’m willing to give up control varies upon the importance of the activity but for learning especially, it is very high. There is nothing more important than what I know, what I think, and especially how I think. My thoughts are my destiny. And when I let someone influence my thoughts, my destiny partially becomes theirs. And there are very few teachers indeed with whom I want to share destinies.
Kyle Mathews lives and works in Berkeley building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter