Sunday, May 10, 2009
Unfortunately, we aren't supposed to blog about the education project, so I had to take that part of the post down.
The most frequent question that I have been getting from friends/family is: what is it that you are doing? If I revealed all of what I’m doing in one post, I would have nothing to write about next week, so I will start with the basics here and expand on it later.
I am living in Accra, Ghana, and working for an organization called Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) (www.poverty-action.org). I have been here for two months now, and am signed up for 22 more. IPA is a research organization, and I am running two “field experiments” in public policy, one about education and one in small/micro enterprise business management. The idea behind field experiments is basically that, with a rigorous methodology, you can test different policies/programs to find out if they actually work the way you think they should. They are a whole lot of work, so they are usually only done with big programs/questions.
Friday, May 1, 2009
I would like to write about what it is that I am actually doing, and hopefully share some interesting anecdotes. I promise that I will get to that soon. First, I can't help but comment on David Brook's new column
A good friend described David Brooks to me this way: "He has peculiar talent for introducing incredibly interesting ideas, then completely misinterpreting them. That is, until about January 2008, when I suddenly started agreeing with everything he writes."
Unfortunately, Mr. Brooks reverted back to his old ways around January 2009. The latest article basically rehashes in more florid language the 10,000 hours argument that Malcom Gladwell popularizes in Outliers. The theory is that the very top performers aren't better because they're better -- they are better because they practice more. In Outliers, Gladwell tells a story of elite violinists and says that you can predict which are the best simply by asking how much they practice.
The problem with this is that it's completely wrong. I'm not saying the best don't practice more. They do. But that's not the right question to ask. The right question is, why do they practice more? If you asked the "mediocre" (but still excellent) violinists if they had ever gone through a period in their life where they were practicing as much as the elite violinists, they would probably say yes. They didn't sustain this level of practice because they weren't getting as much out of it as the future elites. It is not simply practice that predicts success, but good practice. The best are better because they get more out of practice, which makes it worth it for them to practice more.
Genius exists, but it takes both extreme genius and extremely hard work to be elite.