Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Making Stuff Manageable Part 1: Introduction

I don't mean to brag, but a lot of people have asked me how I am able to break down large amounts of information relatively quickly. Yeah, I was always the guy that was able to cram the night before the test and generally do a good job. Go ahead—hate me for it, whydoncha?

At any rate, the first time somebody asked me this, I didn't think anything of it, as I figured they were trying to butter me up for something else. But as more and more people kept asking me about this fairly unique skill, I started to think about the reasons why I was able to do so.

After thinking about it for a while, I determined that it wasn't really correlated with intelligence—I've known extremely intelligent people that work very hard and aren't able to figure things out before a test. Likewise, I've known a few slackers that are able to go into a test with a three-alarm hangover and do extremely well. Though there is probably some measure of natural intelligence involved, I'm not entirely sure it's a driving force except on the extreme fringes (i.e. the supergeniuses or drooling mouth-breathers).

That revelation got me thinking: if intelligence isn't the determining factor, then there must be some process that people develop in order to process information extremely quickly. Because this process is multi-step and way too much for a single post, I've decided to break it down into a series of posts. How many, you ask? I haven't really thought that far ahead, okay! Just bear with me here, and you might even learn something.

The primary rule to remember when trying to make things easier is that not all information is equally useful or valuable. I was a tutor in college, and a peer advisor in law school, and you would not believe some of the questions I got about arcane bits of trivia tangentially related to the topics the kids were studying—horrible questions about minute passages in dissenting opinions, laborious summaries of paragraphs upon paragraphs of minutia about topics that the professor had explicitly stated would not be on the test—it was like some people were deliberately trying to make things harder on themselves. What they hadn't learned at the time (and what I tried to impart to them) was that learning to separate the valuable information from the trivial is the truly important skill. What is unfortunate is that our current broken school system (more on that in a future post) has substituted tests and memorization for teaching kids how to think, so many people haven't been taught how to separate out the valuable from the worthless. Kids just simply aren't learning how to think anymore. I don't know about you, but this is extremely frustrating to me.

What makes it even more maddening is that correcting years of training can take a while. Not necessarily years, but probably months. For a lucky few, it may be weeks or (if you really dedicate yourself to it) days. There will be triumphs and setbacks, but at the end of this series, you will have hopefully learned a valuable skill that will be useful in whatever job you enter. So even though I may hop in and out of the series a bit, have patience and keep up with these posts as they are published. Hopefully I will make it worth your while.

Questions? Comments? Wondering when we get to the good stuff? E-mail me at Follow me on twitter @djgelner.

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