Discover more from The Ruffian
So baby listen carefully while I sing my comeback song
The Ruffian is back after enforced absence, due to reasons. This week: how to learn, the intelligence of footballers, and why The Beatles were folk-rock.
REPEAT AFTER ME
This is one of the best articles I've read about learning. It's by Barbara Oakley, author of a hugely popular online course on learning techniques. One reason the 'multiple intelligences' idea - still quite popular in schools - is pernicious is that it encourages people to stay in their lane: you're either a 'math' person or a 'words' person. So if you find maths hard, you may as well give up. Oakley hated maths and science when she was a kid; now she's a professor of engineering. In this piece she talks about that transition, and takes aim at another fashionable theory: that teaching should focus on conceptual understanding. In fact, repetition and practice are essential in order to truly grasp complex concepts. Learning maths or science is a lot like learning a sport.
I know that in the age of analytics it can seem as if football is being over-intellectualised, but in some ways it's not intellectualised enough. It is an inherently cognitive game. There are twenty-three moving parts, including the ball, and they move in unpredictable directions. Every moment of every game is a unique situation; you can't learn what to do in any given moment in advance. So while technical skill, physical strength and speed are all very important, it also takes a huge amount of mental processing power to make good decisions at the right moment. Footballers aren't necessarily very good at articulating the mental skills they deploy, but when they are, it makes for fascinating reading. Here's an amazing interview with Xavi, one of Spain's greatest midfielders: "Intelligence is the ability to react and adapt to a problem that has never been encountered."
FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT
One of the reasons there's been no Ruffian recently is that last week I travelled to Istanbul to give a talk on curiosity to a conference of HR professionals. I've been once before and seen some of the must-see sites. This time, when I wasn't working, I did some aimless wandering, actually my favourite mode of tourism. Istanbul is a fabulous, various, rumbustious city and I would strongly recommend a visit to anyone who hasn't been. There is much excellent food to be found. I ingested so much lamb that by the end of my stay I felt quite ovine myself, happy to do little except sit, chew, occasionally bleat for more. I was struck, on this visit, by how male the city's street life is. Everywhere I turned there were groups of men taking coffee together, smoking, playing chess, or just sitting together in sullen companionship. Men loading bags into a van or performing some mysterious task like sawing a wooden palette in half. Men, many men, tending to municipal gardens. I don't know what to make of this but I leave it with you.
FACE TO FACE
The book I'm currently writing (or meant to be writing) is partly about the skill of having difficult conversations under pressure. One of the things I'm interested in is the density of information we communicate and absorb when we're face-to-face - the stuff that's beyond words or even body language. We under-estimate non-verbal communication, and so assume that electronic communication is easier than it is. This fascinating study finds that "productivity is higher when face-to-face communication is possible, and this effect is stronger for urgent and complex tasks...and for high pressure conditions."
At the airport, before my flight, I bought Mojo's "The Beatles Early Years" special edition, like the besotted fanboy I am. It includes includes some fascinating quotes from Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, who cites The Beatles, and especially She Loves You, as the inspiration for his brand of electrified folk-rock. Some songs are just so familiar that it's impossible to see how strange and new they once seemed. She Loves You was not a normal pop-rock song. It used weird, folky chord changes: that descending line from G to E minor on 'Yeah Yeah Yeah', the change from G to B minor in the verse. Describing it is one thing, but to hear it afresh I recommend this fantastic solo acoustic guitar rendition of the song by Laurence Juber (once a member of Wings).