Quod natura non dat...

...Salmantica non prestat, says the old Latin proverb. If you have been born without talent or skill, don’t hold any hope that training and education (in reference to famous Salamanca’s university) will turn it around. I’ve only used the famous expression in a sarcastic way, to make fun of someone. I don’t even think it is true… sort of.

Josh Waitzkin was a child chess prodigy. His early years are reflected in the film Searching for Bobby Fischer. What is less known is that Josh, overwhelmed and tired of the environment created around him, broke out with chess, retired, and started practicing Tai Chi as a way to evade from the storm. Soon he moved from the meditative practice we all know from seeing people at parks to the lesser known martial art: Tai Chi Chuan. The interesting turn of the story comes when Josh, devoted to the practice of the martial art, ends up winning the World Championship! (And this is a huge thing in Taiwan.) What a life! And bear with me… he did all this by the age of 26!

He wrote a book at that age. He argues that he’s no chess or martial arts prodigy. He claims that he’s mastered the art of learning (hence the name of his book, that you should buy immediately.) In the deconstruction of his method he elaborates his thoughts on the genetics vs development debate, which I’ll synthesize next.

Developmental psychologist Carol Dweck introduced two theories of intelligence: entity and incremental. Entity means you are born with an intellectual capacity; incremental means your capacity is developed over time. I know you will be tempted immediately to blend the two and come up with a perfect balance, but bear with me because even if intellectually that makes sense, our behaviors and reactions end up signaling messages around us that we, in reality, are more inclined to one of the two. Josh reflects in the book on the influence of parents in relation to the young chess players. Some parents will play hard the game of: ”you are a natural!”, “wow, this kid is gifted, what a talent! We’ve heard this a thousand times. Josh claims that children educated under that perspective (that they are gifted) are among the best players he’s ever had to play with, but, when defeated, will either collapse of take an enormous time to rebound. Makes sense, the kid will think he’s reached his limit. That was it, I’m gifted but this other kid is more gifted than me.

On the other hand, some parents will overplay the incremental approach. This is the famous: ”No worries kid, the most important is that you participated. You’ll do better next time. Bullshit (Josh claims.) Winning is what matters, even if participating is great, we play to win. Parents that overplay this card kill competitiveness from children and that prevents further development. Josh shares how their parents balanced the two messages very effectively, always making clear that losing sucks, but embracing the idea that, precisely because it sucks, every defeat must be analyzed to prevent the same mistakes again.

Josh writes in his book: ”The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.” I find this inspiring and true according to my own personal experience. If you are not uncomfortable, if you are not struggling, if you are not in pain, you are not growing. Isn’t it a terrible prospect? Not at all. There’s nothing more satisfying than the feeling of overcoming, even if it means that 80% of your time you are suffering.

So Salamanca, I won’t give up that easily.

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Personality tests

I’m reading the wonderful book Principles by Ray Dalio. It deals with the very personal views and practices of the legendary hedge fund manager, applicable to life and work. The book is full of insights and I certainly recommend you go and buy it right away. You´ll probably be shocked the extreme rational approach to decision making, including a somewhat scary computer aided process where he argues that in a few years we will be delegating most of the heavy lifting of our personal decisions to machines, based on algorithms we will control and program. He argues: only the people that will be fluent in computer programming will be competitive in that future. Ok, I’m on the good track then.

But while the previous point deserves a post on its own, it is the approach to people management that I wanted to highlight in this one. In Dalio’s company, Bridgewater, people go through up to 4 different psychological tests in order to profile them (for the curious: Myers-Briggs, Workplace Personality Inventory, Team Dimensions Profile, Stratified Systems Theory.) Each person’s profile highlights her inclinations, strengths and weaknesses. Those profiles get printed on cards (like baseball trading cards he says) and are publicly available to everyone. The result is a very granular management of people based on what they like and do best. Teams are assembled to mix the skills required. Sessions are held so people with different profiles learn to deal with one another. As I mentioned, a super rational approach to decision making.

I compare this approach to other reductionist. People get evaluated using one number, which reflects whether they are excellent, good, normal, mediocre or weak. That’s it. At Bridgewater, for instance, people get profiled on whether they are: creators, advancers, refiners or executors. There’s no expectations that people can do the 4 well. In the most habitual reductionist approach, people’s performance will end being a blend of everything and nothing in particular. We average everything, just as it happens in school, and end up being mediocre in our management.

This more granular approach seems more human to me, as people find their natural space in the organization, getting entrusted with responsibilities that fit them properly. By missing out this granularity, we tend to alienate people that do not have a CEO type broad range of skills. This is obviously bad for the person and for the company. So this is not only more human, but more productive too.

My wife’s school has started to apply (within the constraints of law) a similar approach, endorsing the multiple intelligences paradigm to teach. This model is founded in the fact that intelligence cannot be reduced to a number (famous IQ) but is a combination of different intelligences (logic, linguistic, kinetic, musical, … wikipedia can help you know more.) By acknowledging this and approaching teaching from different angles, every kid gets to fit in some of them and does not alienate. Sounds good to me.

I couldn’t resist doing the Myers-Briggs test and found the results sort of obvious but enlightening still. My type is INFP for those curious. I can recognize the natural strengths of the type in me: bias towards opportunities, catalyst of new ideas, willing to understand people and lovers of creativity in general. More interesting perhaps, is to be aware of the drawbacks: too idealistic may not land the ideas into actions, too emotional in decision making, too detached from facts and reality. It gives you a hint on who should you partner with to be effective, what stresses you out, and what strategies can you adopt to deal with that. Useful stuff.

I understand this approach is still too reductionist, but better than what we have today. No matter what, it makes you think about yourself and how you deal with others, which is a good thing in any case. I believe this direction only makes sense. We spend weeks profiling IT tools before we make a decision on which one to choose but we pick people for a job because ”that guy is good”. I’ll be looking for ways to endorse this idea when assembling teams in the future.

See you next week.

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Back

Back again from a couple of weeks off. I spent one week in NY. I enjoyed the city from 2 different perspectives. From the eyes of someone who had never seen it (!), Ester, my wife. And from the eyes of someone who spent 3 years there as is obviously in love with it, Carlos.  I can only thank them both for letting me rediscover such an amazing place.

I’m sharing just a couple of shots: 

 

Lincoln Center is a fascinating space at night. 

Lincoln Center is a fascinating space at night. 

Loved MOMA. Big Time. 

Loved MOMA. Big Time. 

There’s a distinct atmosphere (and hamburgers) in NYC restaurants. 

There’s a distinct atmosphere (and hamburgers) in NYC restaurants. 

I also took the opportunity to change my broken iPhone, by the way. And I did something unusual. I downgraded it. I changed my iPhone 6 Plus for an iPhone SE (yes, the small one that resembles the iPhone 5 with upgraded internals.) As the guy in the Apple Store said: “You don’t see this jump very often.” You know I want to limit the exposure to tech, so it felt like the right move. So far (just 2 weeks) I love it, but it´s hard to know if it is just because is the last new thing I have or I genuinely do prefer it. Anyway, I’m back to using my phone one handed. I’m back to not noticing it in my pocket. The iPhone Plus looks absurdly big now. I’m surprised about the number of things you do with your iPhone where the size of the screen is no big deal: listening to music, reading WhatsApp’s, or even email triage. For those where the screen is a key factor (reading a book or writing) I use my iPad (which I use constantly and is clearly the main reason why I can downgrade safely to a smaller phone.) The Lincoln Center and restaurant shots up there were taken with my iPhone (and edited in it with VSCO, grain is artificial.)

I love holding this phone, which tells me the industrial design is beyond that of the last iPhones. It has become a small treasure for me and I’ve discarded completely the idea of buying an iPhone X (saving in the process around 700€.)

Small wonder. 

Small wonder. 

Anyway, I keep working on solosequenosenada.es and this week a new cell is open, under the title night. It may be as dark (and perhaps as beautiful) as the title suggests.

Enjoy the week and we send you our best regards. From “Damusha & Estef”.

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