Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Favors from a Crowd

Ale told us how his friends often ask for school related favors, e.g., what is English homework for tomorrow, on Facebook. He normally lets others respond, but today he woke up and saw a question for which he knew the simple answer. So he quickly answered it. When is it better to ask entire groups for things as opposed to specific individuals? A few rules of thumb we came up with:

- If the request is very easy to address and it is time sensitive, asking a group often works best. It is likely that someone will see it soon and be willing to answer it.

- If the request is a complex or difficult one, it is often best to ask a specific individual. Why? If you ask a group then nobody feels that they have to help you because you are not asking them specifically. But if you ask your friend William "can you please pick up my math homework today" William knows you are counting on him and will at least let you know if he can't do it - in which case you can ask someone else.

- In some circumstances you can separately ask multiple people. This makes the most sense when it helps to have several people helping. For example, if you need a recommendation for a music teacher, getting multiple recommendations would be a good thing. On the other hand you wouldn't want more than one person trying to pick up your homework!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thinking Outside the Box

Cindy & I came back from a trip early Sunday morning. We knew the Bay to Breakers were that morning but assumed we would be able to get from the airport to our home. But as we entered the city we realized we simply couldn't drive home. The race cut the city in half and would do so for the following 4+ hours. I started to think about what to do for the following four hours... Check into a hotel, hang out in a park... Cindy then suggested that we drive to the point of the race closest to our house, park the car, cross the race on foot, take a taxi home, then go back to pick-up the car later. We did exactly that and it worked perfectly. Why didn't I think of that??? It is such a better solution than what I was thinking. My problem is that I was thinking inside the box. My box was my car and I wasn't considering separating from it. How do we catch ourselves from thinking inside boxes? Whenever the answer to a problem is not good stop and identify your constraints. Then reassess whether the constraints are real or artificial. Suggest "crazy" alternatives and ask "why not?". Your crazy suggestion might not be viable, but a variation might.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Little tips that make a big difference

Last week I learned to ride a foil kite-board. The first day I tried I could not even get started. As soon as I tried the board would tilt and prevent me from getting on it. Then a fellow kiteboarder gave me a simple tip: hold the board perpendicular to the water and get started while the board slowly becomes parallel to the water. With that approach I got going right away! I've had similar experiences learning other things: something seems very difficult until someone gives you a trick or tip to do it more easily.

When learning something new and difficult, look for tips from those who know how to do it. But be careful about who you ask. Most people, particularly the experts, don't know (or can't communicate) the "trick". Often it is those who learned recently who remember what made it happen for them. Also, the trick is not always the same for everyone, so you might need to get several until you find the one that works for you. And, if you see someone struggling to learn something you know, tell them what what the trick is.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bad Habits

Paco spoke to us about bad habits and how learning something incorrectly can make it harder to master than not learning it at all. He gave us the example of learning a piano piece incorrectly and then even though you find out the correct way of playing you keep playing it wrong. I agreed and suggested the importance of thinking carefully about how you first learn things that might be (or clearly are) important. For example, 90+ percent of olympic gold medalists in sailing learned to sail in a particular sailboat called the Optimist. I believe that is because this is a boat that teaches kids good habits for sailing. There are other sailboats where kids might learn to sail but they might generate bad habits and negatively impact their future sailing abilities.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Giving Up

One of the boys is having a hard time with one of his school subjects. He felt he had "blown it" this school and would do a better job next year. Cindy and I told him there was no reason to write the whole school year off (for this subject). There are still seven weeks of classes - which is plenty of time to turn things around. Besides, if he wants to do a better job next year he should start now, so that he starts next year with positive momentum.

In the car I spoke with the boys about when to give up and "write things off" and when to keep trying. We used several sports analogies: a soccer match that is going very poorly. If you have another match afterwards you might want to save some of your energy for the next match, so it might be smart to give up on the first match. But if not, you are probably better off trying your best until the end of the match. Even if the score is desperate, you might learn something or at least change the momentum of the game and end in a good note. This might also be a good situation to try something new, take some risks. Besides, you never know... I recently was in a kite race which seemed hopeless. I considered withdrawing but didn't. Then some of the racers in front of me tangled and I ended up doing well.

We also spoke about arbitrary constraints. For example, deciding to retake your diet "next week" because you already blew it "this week". What do the days of the week have to do with dieting? There is no benefit to wasting additional days and starting again next Monday.