How do you approach big problems? You know, the ones you feel – at first glimpse – can never be solved? After you ge over the shock, how do you go about tearing down the mountain? On the other hand, what do you do when confronted with a big project at work? Perhaps liaising with a Fortune 100 company at the C-level to get a contract? Do you treat it differently than working with a local entrepreneur?
Of course you do. You have to. Don’t you?
Apparently, Berkeley High might be cutting out its science labs in order that the massive ethnic gap in its students grades might be levelled. I think these teachers are missing something. The move comes with the aim of diverting resources toward helping “underachieving” students get up to snuff; their studies say that black and latino students are doing poorly, and the science labs only benefit white students. I can’t help but wonder if this is an indication of educational idiocy, or if they’re playing to their audience. It’s hard to tell until the work gets done.
But we’re used to bureaucracy doing this sort of thing. It feels external. Often, we’re unaware of treating things differently because of size, because the prejudice is so ingrained it’s mental furniture. If you go shopping for a TV, you probably want a big one, the biggest you can afford, right? Who cares that if you’re sitting six feet away, a 37″ screen is just on the high end of useful for viewing – that 60″ plasma just screams take me home.
It doesn’t always work in a good or productive manner, but we tend to treat anything bigger than our estimates as better when it’s a perceived benefit, and worse when it’s a perceived threat. I should know – I’m 6’2″ tall and fairly large. My friends treat me as localized security, because without more than five seconds exposure (I’m the goofiest person I know, most days) on the face of it, I look big and threatening. Useful? No. Clothes cost half again as much as they do for anyone else, I hit my head on everything including some doorframes depending on my shoes, and I’m vastly out of shape. Still think being 6’2″ and having a football player’s frame is better than whatever shape you’re in?
As a proving converse argument, I had a friend in school who was 5’10” tall and less than a hundred pounds – and still more threatening than me. Is scale still impressive, putting these descriptions side by side?
One of the things we need to be able to do to combat these clouding assumptions is change our paradigm away from immediate impression toward utility. Often these are one and the same, but in the ever-more-convoluted twenty-first century, we can no longer afford to let first impressions count for anything if we’re given evidence the impression was imperfect. Minds are like parachutes, they work better when we let them open.
Another thing we need to get better at is making sure we’re aware of where scale is of any benefit. I’ve got less than three hundred people following me on Twitter, for example, but those I’ve connected with (and if you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re one of them and know where to find me there) are awesome people, well worth following – and well worth promoting on my part as well. Does this make my stream less valuable to the world than @Scobleizer‘s constant ReTweet storms?
If the small fish is connected to the right big fish, does the small fish need to grow?
Photo by jurvetson