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05 2012

Balancing As An Everyday Skill

Syndicated from: balance-AND-results

Recognizing the core issue of balance in all situations makes it easier to see balance in your own work and life. Things are rarely either/or, but contain parts of both opposing views. Looking for this in every situation becomes second nature with practice as with any skill or habit. Every newspaper has articles that demonstrate this. Pick any political issue and you’ll find two ‘sides’ on what to do. The best solution almost certainly recognizes there are valuable aspects to each. The best inevitably will have to incorporate and resolve the differences. Yet people literally go to war to force their views as superior and the only answer. A recent example – an article on the issue some governments are debating – whether to legislate university fees lower for engineers and science students and higher for arts, social science studies and similar pursuits. Some businesses would hurry to agree, but it’s rare that any single article captures the balance between opposing views that would actually clarify the debate. News tends to be sold on conflict and one way to increase its appeal is to highlight the good in one view and the stupid in opposing arguments. This advocacy approach can be overt or veiled, but it is more saleable than efforts at balanced opinions. Balance often seems to become too complex for the average reader to wade through. That needn’t be the case. To the case in point: we very much need more engineers and scientists than we’re currently turning out if we are to keep up with China (where a massive push toward engineering courses is in full swing) and India (where sheer size of population means more engineers than we graduate). Unfortunately engineering and science involve ‘tough subjects’ like math and physics (more math) – challenges that scare lots of people. Moreover we rarely see engineers or scientists portrayed as rich and famous. Even though computer science might be an exception, the emphasis is often on MBA training rather than engineering. So proponents of encouraging more science and math can be persuaded that by making it were cheaper to take these ‘needed’ programs and more expensive to duck into ‘easy’ subjects (those without math), all would be solved. That’s like assuming that all you have to do to hire and retain the best employees is pay more – a false theory that’s now been widely debunked in business circles, though not nearly widely enough. Many readers easily get caught up in the debate over which subjects to favor rather than looking at the broader picture. On the other side is a growing contingent who not only wish to defend the arts, but who recognize that the argument for differential fees is fundamentally flawed. As usual one ‘side’ of the argument tends to have a tougher time making its case simply because the arguments are lengthier and less tangible. It’s so easy to imagine cost will be the deciding issue for a significant number of students. However, there are a number of downsides. An emerging argument is the fact that more businesses are hiring with a growing emphasis on ‘communications skills and the ability to handle people, team work and “soft skills.”‘ MBAs and engineers don’t have quite the lock on the job market as before or at least once hired they don’t have such a smooth path to the top of their fields unless they have these other skills that are fostered in arts and social science programs specifically. Then there’s Richard Florida’s argument that the greatest creativity builds where artistically creative people gather. With lots of works spinning off from his recently updated, perennial book, The Rise of the Creative Class, and a sky-rocketing emphasis on the need for innovation, including in technology and sciences, it doesn’t seem wise to turn out exclusively engineers. Moreover commentary about China strongly suggests they have plenty of engineers, but are limited by not enough flexible managers – people who see beyond just numbers. Of course, one can argue Google, staffed largely by engineers, has overcome this… and so the debate continues – which is it? Either/or! There are bound to be exceptions that confound a search for simple clarity. What’s mostly obscured in the on-going debate is that it would be best if students got some of both. We need people exposed to the softer sides of issues who can communicate more effectively on the complexities we face, but we also need people to get over the idea that math is so tough they have to choose programs that contain none of it. We’re back to the puzzle no one wants to tackle, which is how to encourage students from an early age to see their options wide open, not limited by artificial and hasty conclusions about what’s ‘hard’ or ‘easy.’ Some of the best scientists had a hard time with math, but realized that overcoming their challenges was a rewarding experience, not only financially, but in terms of the sort of lives they wished to lead. It will be interesting to see if TV shows like Numbers and CSI have stimulated the interest in science studies for larger numbers, but much of the work has to be done at home. We know kids take to technology like computers with tremendous ease while their parents and grandparents watch in amazement and ask them for advice. Surely that ought to make it clear that with the right teaching methods and rewarding outcomes, subjects like math and science can just as easily be mastered by the majority of youth if we find the right ways to do it. My own experience growing up was that math was so simple once I decided to learn it for myself, the way kids today learn computers, rather than put up with the rote teaching at school, I could do virtually all my homework in class and save time to read, to challenge other parts of my brain, at home. I went on to enter engineering school only to find the same dull rote exercises at a higher level and so switched to social science for more rounded studies of human behavior and more interesting challenges. I never got to study business or statistics, both subjects I learned on my own via reading and the odd night course after I was working. Both proved invaluable along with school and university studies for the jobs I eventually excelled at. If asked what I would have left out, what was of no use, I couldn’t answer. We use all we can absorb. Math really is easy at levels that are practical for most of us, like using computers, but somehow we make it seem difficult and frighten off multitudes who forever after suffer from a gap. It shouldn’t be either/or, but both/and – and it can be! Cost and monetary rewards really aren’t the biggest issues – balance is. Pick an issue and learn to look for it… and you will find yourself richer by far in the long run. Bookmark and share this post More »

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