Monday, April 25, 2011

Practical Knowledge

I've just finished reading the book, "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. And just like any of my other readings, I always take important notes. So I've highlighted a lot of good points in the book. Actually, there's so many that's worth keeping and sharing.  But there's one part that has struck the head out of me and feel the urged  to write about.  And that's about  "Practical Knowledge."  Something that I've been trying to explore in my mind while reading.  For the reason that, it's the thought  that explains a portion of me.

In chapter 4 - The Trouble with Geniuses, Malcolm Gladwell wrote the case of Christopher Langan.  The man whose IQ measured one ninety-five, more than that of Einstein's one fifty.  And as described in the book -  "too high to be accurately measured."  Malcolm then delved into the life and history of Chris Langan, and cited a better understanding to why inspite being a genius, he still ended-up unsuccessful in life. He compared him with another genius named Robert Oppenheimer, who was equally bright like Chris Langan.  The difference he pointed out between the two  was their  family background which became the defining factor why  Oppeneimer became by far more succesful than Langan.

Through Malcolm's study of their backgrounds, he was able to give a very interesting explanation to these two genuises, and why they both ended-up on the opposite sides of success.  The theory of psychologist Robert Sternberg was the one he noted to make his point strongly convincing.  And here's what it says on the book:

"... To Sternberg, practical intelligence includes things like "knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect. " It is procedural: it is about knowing how to do something without necessarily knowing why you know it or being able to explain it. It's practical in nature: that is, it's not knowledge for its own sake. It's knowledge that helps you read situations corectly and get what you want. And, critically, it is a kind of intelligence separate from the sort of analytical ability measured by IQ. To use the technical term, general intelligence and practial intelligence are "orthogonal": the presence of one doesn't imply the presence of the other. You can have lots of analytical intelligence and very little practical intelligence, or lots of practical intelligence and not much analytical intelligence, or - as in the lucky case of someone like Robert Oppenheimer - you can have lots of both.

So where does something like practical intelligence come from? We know where analytical intelligence comes from. It's something, at least in part, that's in your genes...IQ is a measure, to some degree, of innate ability. But social savvy is knowledge. It's a set of skills that have to be learned. It has to come from somewhere, and the place where we seem to get these kinds of attitudes and skills is from our families."*

I remember when my sisters' and I were in high school, everytime somebody in school would know that I was  related to either one of them, they'd say, "..so you're the sister of ____?" And when they'd introduce me to other girls, they'd say the same thing - "..she's the sister of ____"  Yes, it was clear that I didn't have any distinctive identity in school but the "sister of ___."  And this could either be my older or younger sister.  This was because my two sisters were straight A's students and both of them were popular in school for being top achievers. While I, on the otherhand, was the "forgettable" one.  The one who lived in the shadow of the sister.

I considered myself a shy and average type of student in school.  While my sisters were marching up the podium several times to receive awards and medals, I was out there having fun and mocking with friends. I didn't care if my grades were B's.  For as long as I didn't have failing grades, I was ok with that. What I'd love to do was to spend the day hanging out in the library checking out all the books in circulation, or chitchatting with friends on the school grounds.

When we all went to university, my sisters' still continued to collect A's and even became scholars and cum laude, while I was still the same content student just getting by with  fair grades.  I never got jealous or bitter though with what my sisters achieved academically, even if my parents would brag about them profusely to every friends and relatives.  I would just be on the sideline listening and waiting to be called  - "...the sister of ____", and in return I'd show them my cheekiest smile.

Today, I already have my own identity.  I don't live in the shadows of my sisters anymore.  Though I've never been an A student or a scholar/cum laude, I'm equally successful as my sisters. Success in my definition as having a comfortable and secure life(that includes monetary). Like,  I get to purchased my own car and home with my own earnings without seeking financial assistance from my parents or sisters.  I'm living the kind of life I've always wanted to have. And whenever I look back, I keep wondering how I get here knowing that I've never excelled in school- that I'm always the shy gal who's just cool with a fair mark. But there's one thing that's prominent in me though,  I love taking risks and meeting challenges.  If at times I feel awkward, I choose a character to get by a situation. I don't know, but I just know how and when to deal with stuff.

There are also few people I know  from school who's just average student like me, but now I'm surprised to hear how successful they are in their own chosen field.

So should I say that we all have one thing in common? That we are not geniuses but still smart ones; that probably we don't have (or have less) analytical knowledge, but we have more "practical knowledge."

When I analyze it, I believe the theory is correct and Gladwell has explained it very well. What he has just missed-out here is the correlation between "common sense" and "practical knowledge" which I think has the same nature and degree of relevance.  And which can provide more reasoning why some low-key people are smarter than the highly educated ones... But about the assumption that we get it from our family,  that part for me is a little bit shady and needs more thoughts.

*"The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2", pp 101-102, OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell