Saturday, November 26, 2011

I Don't Do Math - Accepting False Limits

Seth Godin (Marketing Expert) has this: Accepting false limits and you'll probably guess that I'm about to throw out "I Don't Do Math", but bear with me.

I will never be able to dunk a basketball. This is beyond discussion.

Imagine, though, a co-worker who says, "I'll never be able to use a knife and fork. No, I have to use my hands."

Or a colleague who says, "I can't possibly learn Chinese. I'm not smart enough."
This is a mystery to me. A billion people have learned Chinese, and the failure rate for new kids is close to zero. If a well functioning adult puts in sufficient time and the effort, she'll succeed.

The key to this disconnect is the unspoken part about time and effort and fear. I agree that you will never ship that product or close that sale or invent that device unless you put in the time and put in the effort and overcome the fear. But I don't accept for a minute that there's some sort of natural limit on your ability to do just about anything that involves creating and selling ideas.

This attitude gets me in trouble sometimes. Perhaps I shouldn't be pushing people who want something but have been taught not to push themselves. Somewhere along the way, it seems, I forgot that it's none of my business if people choose to accept what they've got, to forget their dreams and to not seek to help those around them achieve what matters to them.

Not sure if you'll forgive me, but no, I'm not going to believe that only a few people are permitted to be gatekeepers or creators or generous leaders. I have no intention of apologizing for believing in people, for insisting that we all use this moment and these assets to create some art and improve the world around us.

To do anything less than that is a crime.
Not exactly.

There's a huge difference between the picture above (girl being told she isn't good enough, pretty enough, fat enough, skinny enough, smart enough, slutty enough) and a girl making an honest self-assessment of her abilities.  There's a big difference between giving up too early (accepting FALSE limits) and accepting true limits.

Not everyone seems to be able to do math as well as I can. I can't draw or paint as well as my uncle. My uncle can't drive (and doesn't need to) and certainly can't do math. My grammatical sense is better than that of most teachers, if I can believe what I read and hear on the Internet.

I know scads of folks who "can't do algebra" but who consider themselves successes, engineers who could never understand related rates or scale factors, artists who understand percentages and accounting but not much more, actors who couldn't write to save their lives, and scientists who can't speak to an audience or write coherent sentence without endless rewrites and help from their significant other. White Men Can't Jump ... but that didn't stop him from playing basketball and pretty damn well.

The California teachers who signed a letter saying that students should not be required to pass algebra 2 as a graduation requirement are probably spot on with their assessment of the kids' abilities and completely off the mark when it comes to assessing the political and academic climate. Eighth grade math seems to be about the least you can learn and still have a shot at claiming yourself a success in life.

"I don't DO math" should be an incentive rather than an excuse, I know, but I also have to accept that not everyone is going to be "proficient" in this topic or any other. We need to tell them "Do your best and don't let the stupidity of youth drive you to deny an ability that you may develop in a field you haven't got a clue about yet" but we also must accept that not everyone can be good at everything.

Even math teachers.

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