Week 6 – I see stupid people

M. Night Shyamalan has had one great movie, everything else has been but a pale imitation.

His movie’s central conceit is that there is a child that can see dead people, and that the dead people don’t even know they are dead.

It turns out that this is true not only of dead people but also of stupid people.

Yup, stupid people surround us and they don’t even know that they are stupid. And we’re all stupid about something …

First read this wikipedia entry:

Basically what it says is that before you can start teaching someone you need to know what their level of cluelessness is.  Once you establish the clueless level, then and only then can you start teaching someone how to be less clueless.

For example, the paper says for the truly clueless

  1. You think you are doing much better than you were
  2. If I show you the right answer you’ll think you are doing it right or even better than you are.
  3. If I ask you to grade your work after you’ve seen the right answer you’ll think you did better than you actually did.
  4. And you can’t recognize skill when you see it…

That’s right folks, stupid people are arrogant SOBs who think they have a clue. The world actually does work that way.

We can all wear this t-shirt:

I see stupid people shirt

Or put another way, I suck at cleaning the house. But I think I am pretty good at it. And I think I am doing a much better job than I am. When I am shown a clean house, I think I am doing an even better job than I actually am. But the reality is, well, I suck at cleaning the house and the house is not clean…

What I think my cleaning has produced:

What it may have actually produced:


What the paper doesn’t discuss is that the teacher and student may have a huge semantic gap. For example, when talking to some folks, I will assume that the person understands why a distributed system can not have a communication channel that hides failures. And start from that point. The person I am talking to may have no clue about why that is true and be confused or worse think they understand. And we can spend hours talking past each other…

Or my favorite, true, story:

World famous computer scientist professor teaches matrix operations to a class.

Student: Why does addition work one way and multiplication the other way.

Professor: Because Matrices and integers are a ring

Student looks funny

Professor: Because integers have the ring property as do matrices

Student still confused…

Professor: Well the ring property is something that matrices and integers have in common

Problem was that the professor had no appreciation that the student had no clue as to what a ring (mathematical object) is.

So what to do?

  1. Teach people from first principles — have to find the basis
  2. Build from that.

This does work surprisingly well.  But it does have some funny moments like when I talk to people … Conversations will begin like this:

How much software have you written? Do you know what X or Y is.. And then once the starting point is established the conversation can begin.

So how does this apply to my training. The level of cluelessness I have is quite amusing. And it’s also amusing to see the semantic gaps I have. The good news is that having been on the other side of this equation I at least am able to recognize some of it. Which is why I will ask questions about specific words… Like … for example … what is a cool down?

The process of becoming less clueless is what I like to call Climbing The Clue Ladder:

  1. Believe you are greater than you are. Read instructions and information and be confused. The problem is that the information is saying “Matrices are a ring” And you have no idea what a ring is … And unlike the student, I don’t even realize that the key word is ring…
  2. Start to learn about the technique basics and realize where you are clueless. For example – my mechanics of my stroke are wrong. I am rotating my shoulder. After staring at the video and doing more research I realized what I was doing wrong and that the arm extension wasn’t a rotation but a movement of the arm in the way the joints allowed. I could go on and on. I had stared at videos for many hours, read information but my cluelessness had to diminish to the point where the information began to bridge the semantic gap.
  3. Look at video and start to pick up on things you never even noticed were there.
  4. Progress…

This a fun process that I am enjoying… Climbing the Clue Ladder is fun.

Leave a Reply