Gaining Scale - Business Teaching Series, Season One - Part Two
What underpins learning?
First, let’s clarify the fundamental bases of intelligence that helps the learning process. In Africa’s neo-colonial teaching style, education is largely based on rote learning simply to pass exams and perhaps be an administrator. Education doesn’t help very much in questioning things why things are the way they are or draw patterns, inferences and co-relationships between the nature of things and how they are presented. As a result, there seems to be low investigation capabilities and a rejection of promotion of the uniqueness of an individual. We tend to like the herd mentality (obedience without question).
Some parts of Asia, for example, are different in teaching subjects such as mathematics partly because of the competitive nature of the people but most importantly their exertion of effort to integrate the teaching of science and math into the national lives of citizens. This is so that they can promote rapid social mobility and raise their capability to make/manufacture things.
There are two forms of intelligence:
Fluid intelligence: The ability to solve new problems as they emerge. This mostly appears at a young age. If you are above 20, a fatty substance I have spoken about in several of my lectures called Myelin, coating the Axons or tendrils that carry signals from one neutron to another (brain cell to brain cell), has already begun its down hill journey. The older one gets the less ‘myelination’ takes place and eventually memory loss (almost like a radio not tuned to a station well) sets.
Crystalized intelligence: An individuals’ stock of accumulated knowledge. The reserves of tis knowledge continue to improve till their 70s and especially in a person’s familiar eld. Older people have an advantage in this area as they continue to improve their knowledge base. This is partly why language and memory in familiar elds continues to grow.
How do we use these bases to learn?
Here are two tools from our toolkit to help us develop new learning methods:
1) Develop a sense of Curiosity:
This means the desire to learn and question things and simply not taking them as they have been taught to you, told to you and in fact, re- jecting orthodoxy. Orthodoxy can actually be ‘Kuduumaaza’ for many people. This might be the reason traditional religion like it. Curiosity means seeing (Observing) more where many tend to see less and less.
Let me demonstrate this with a story from one of my favourite authors, the Canadian Philosopher, Malcolm Gladwell. In his 2013 book, David & Goliath –Underdogs, Mis ts and the art of battling Giants, he tells a compelling version of the battle that happened 3000 years in the valley of Elah, in Israel; a battle we have all read about in the book of 1Samuel: chapter 17. He tells an alternative analysis of this battle without undermining and/or compromising the traditional narrative of faith embedded in that battle. In the battle between a shepherd boy called David against the giant Philistine commander, Goliath who measured well over 8ft by some accounts, many of us underestimate David’s capacity and put all down to his faith in the mighty God of Israel. We take away all the other elements in his experience, background and training. Gladwell says, as many of us might know, ancient armies had Infantry (men with spears and daggers), Cavalry (men ghting on horseback. In fact the Greek Alexander the Great perfected this method of ghting some 600 years after the David and Goliath battle) and artillerymen (sharp slingers, bows and arrows teams). David belonged to the latter category and he seems to have been well trained to defend his father’s sheep against bears and lions in the wilderness as the account says in the Bible. Slingers at the time were trained as good marksmen capable of, sometimes, killing birds in ight 150m away. By some accounts, David’s stone, made of Barium Suplhate, a common stone in the valley of Elah which is twice as dense as normal rocks, Gladwell estimates David swung it six to seven times in rotation (meaning it was travelling at 35m per second) and standing within 100 meters of Goliath who was by the way stationary; it must have reached him in about a second. The stone, Gladwell says had a similar stopping power as that of a 45mm handgun, an effective weapon that would knock down a giant of any size.
Gladwell also brings out elements that betray the invincibility of the giant Goliath as normally presented as to us. Goliath seemed to have expected hand-to-hand combat. This was one of the accepted forms of ghting in those days. Two men tussling it out and if one lost and was killed, his side would surrender or run away. “Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to ght and kill me, Goliath shouted we will become your subjects but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us. Goliath continued taunting Israelites when he saw David come down the valley, “Come here and I will give your esh to the beasts of the eld”.
The question is: Why would a slinger, young and agile, want a hand-to-hand ght with a giant? If we take Gladwell’s analysis, David had advantage as an artilleryman not an infantryman that Goliath was. He therefore needed to use the weapon best suited to him, the reason he rejected Saul’s heavy armor. “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” shouted Goliath. But David didn’t have sticks. He only had a single shepherd’s stuff.
Goliath was abnormally tall. There are accounts of strange giantism, for example, exhibited by Robert Wadlow who died in 1940 at the age of 22 and was 8’11ft. Since the 1960s, there have been studies that show these kinds of abnormal giants suffer from a disease called Acromegaly, a tumorous in ammation in the pituitary gland that produces excess growth hormones. The tumor compresses the optic nerve causing impaired vision. This could have been the reason Goliath, the giant, needed a sword bearer to walk in front of him into the valley, the spot he expect- ed a ght. Why else would a giant need a smaller person walking in front of him to show him the way? He probably couldn’t see well. It could also be the reason Goliath was also walking so slowly and expected his opponent to “come closer” so he could see him and ‘tear him’ into pieces. It could also be the reason he was seeing “sticks” when David had one stuff in his hands. Some accounts question
why if Goliath had double vision as Gladwell points out, he didn’t see two Davids instead of seeing only sticks.
Our purpose for this example is not really to question the story but to nd more nuggets than what we have been traditionally told so that they help us build a sense of curiosity about things.
Things aren’t what they look or been told to you; there is more to them. The moral of this story for our session is about being intuitive yet inquisitive at the same time when we approach issues many people take for granted.
We need an open mind if we have to see more of the:
• Hidden market,
• Client needs
• Opportunity within our areas of responsibility, with clear eyes.
Giants aren’t what they seem to be after all. Across the hill with Goliath chanting and howling threats, abuses and challenge, he looked a scary gure sending all the Israelites and their King into panic mode for 40 days and nights. But it took a second look from a young shepherd to try a new method and defeat the giant. The operative word here is new method. Curiosity is what drove David to ask in 1Samule 17:26, “What will be done for the man who will kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (Challenge and Reward). If you read the entire biblical account, you can see both his own brothers and king Saul, somewhat very cynical (in today’s parlance- ‘Wano ebintu bw’ebibeela bwebityo, toyina kyoyinza kukyuusa’) and putting David down because they were all wondering what this kid could do to such a giant. Giants are sometimes a mirage. The very thing that made them huge, says Gladwell, can be the source of their downfall!
Whatever is stopping your building of knowledge, searching and observing deeper how things are, creating in the process positive change and growth, whatever is standing in our way as a people, a team and businesses to learn new things and unlearn old constraining behaviour, is a mirage if we choose to be curious, study harder, ignore the naysayers and stick to a new way. There is always a solution and guess what, solutions don’t always come from the top. They quite often come from people not used to the system and people from below who are regularly ignored by the establishment, whether this is in business or public policy matters. New comers willing to challenge and change things should be taken as a novelty not ostracized. I suppose this is also partly the story of the Uganda Cranes team today with their coach. The continuous push for results along the way yield results.