Beating the Logic & Creativity Out of You

I remember in 2nd grade when our teacher was teaching us how to do math I raced ahead and was doing lessons for today, tomorrow, and next week. The teacher rewarded my efforts by yelling at me and ripping up the pages from the book and giving me a 0 on that homework.

In fourth grade we would play around the world with math flash cards where you raced to say the answers, and I would literally go all the way around the classroom without losing. I won so much that the other kids would boo when I won and cheer if I lost. In 5th grade I scored well on some state examination test that they had me take a college level entry exam. I beat most college-bound high school students in math before I entered junior high school.

Between 7th and 8th grade we moved.

Somehow in 8th grade they put me in slow learners math. Maybe they were trying to balance the number of students in each class? While in slow learners math the teacher handed out these obscure word problem tests a few times a month. Every time we did them I would either tie with the winner or beat all the kids who were taking algebra.

There were other topics where I sucked. Anything to do with spelling fail. Writing? Not so good. Foreign language? No conozco! Typing - absolutely brutal.

All these years later I use the math and logic to make money writing words, and matching words up in patterns that algorithms like. But what more would I have done if I didn't waste 6 years of my life in the military? Maybe I wouldn't have fell into marketing, but it is almost impossible to do anything online and willfully remain ignorant to marketing. If you have any level of curiosity you will stumble into it (especially if you have any ambition and lack capital).

But education is to set up to beat the creativity out of you, punish outliers, and turn you into a debt slave consuming drone. You should respect authority, even if ill gained.

If students were any good at applying math & critical thinking to the real world there would be riots in the street.

Online critical thinking isn't typically appreciated either.

Social media makes one-liners great, so plan on including a few of them, and plan on some of your words being taken out of context and used against you.

Any form of criticism is defined as being linkbait or an attempt at capturing attention. As the web continues to saturate and it becomes more like the real world it will only get more absurd.

We are no longer in an “Information Age.” We are in the Age of Noise. Falsehoods, half-truths, talking points, out-of-context video edits, plagiarism, rewriting of history (U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, for example), flip-flops, ignoring facts (Cheney and torture for example), neatly packaged code words and phrases, media ratings focus, dysfunctional government (fillibusters have more than doubled, but most don’t realize Republicans are blocking everything), mainstreaming fringe causes….I could go on and on.

Is it any wonder why so many who are struggling with kids, jobs, rising medical costs, etcetera have such a tough time wading through all the crap?

There is only so much attention to go around. Anything you don't know = grab the ugliest segment of the market + embellish it & state that is what the entire market is. Easy. Anyone who is an SEO is a spammer who illegally hacks websites trying to sell overseas pharmacy drugs and rank for misspellings of birtney spaers. All domainers are cybersquatters & brand hijackers. Affiliates only push scams that use reverse billing fraud.

But when you go back to the math and think about it, the bottom 80% or 90% of ANY market usually isn't very exciting (or profitable, especially if you are a cog). It has been commoditized and doesn't reward creativity. It is doing the things at the fringe - the 1% where you have an artistic flair of brilliance which is seen by some as wizardry that produces profound results. It often backfires, at least off the start:

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. -
Arthur Schopenhauer

You get beat up for a while and the market tests you (sometimes for years), but eventually it takes notice:

Through this experience, I learned an important lesson: When in doubt, make your product more compelling. All of Fog Creek's affiliate marketing ideas, coupons, discounts, direct-mail pieces, catalog ads, and everything else we spent time on -- none of this was as good a use of our time as simply doing what we loved best anyway: creating useful software.

Published: March 1, 2010 by Aaron Wall in marketing


March 1, 2010 - 2:55am

I too was an around the world Champ :) Great post; I agree creativity is something that is often punished and that is a huge problem. Watched a comedy today called Visioneers with Zack Galifianakis (the fat dude from The Hangover) that was about a future where basically everyone is just a cog in a giant corporation and everyone basically exists just to do what the company says. This drives people crazy and they literally start spontaneously blowing up. Kind of funny, pretty weird, and sort of relevant.

March 1, 2010 - 3:02am

If you liked that you would love Idiocracy. :D

March 1, 2010 - 3:33am

Thanks. I needed a "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore" rant.

March 1, 2010 - 4:39am

Thanks for the great post. My parents started my private school after seeing the miserable failures of the public education system in my town.

A lot of my public school friends get stuck into the "9-5" security mentality and think I'm crazy for going on my own.

March 1, 2010 - 2:03pm

The beginning of your post rings true for me as well; being way ahead of others in math at an early age, and being treated and molded into just another brick in the wall.

March 1, 2010 - 2:50pm

"Don't let school get in the way of your education" - Mark Twain.

March 1, 2010 - 3:22pm

This Hugh MacLeod's seems appropriate for this post...

March 1, 2010 - 10:06pm

One of my favorites :D

March 1, 2010 - 4:31pm

Oh man....I feel you on this one Aaron. In elementary I'd flunk an exam b/c I wrote it mirror-invertedly (not intentionally). In the 7th and 8th grade Id almost flunk at math and physics my parents got a tutor for me who'd quit (despite getting along well with me) saying I seemed to be actually very talented at maths/physics and already understood the material just fine still got D's and F's...then I almost failed French class for a few years, until I took a liking to it (had already taught myself English at home - where i only had C's in class despite already speaking it well enough to be mistaken for a native speaker by other native speakers online...) taught it myself within a year and ended up being the only student getting straight A's in french for the last two years (obviously immersion was a better learning style for me than whatever is attempted at school)......

the theory always was I made too many sloppy mistakes (in my (dont know the word right now) in elementary it reads "Patrick makes too many careless mistakes that could be prevented if he worked more thoroughly"

So I subconsciouly must have taken that advice and ran with it....and by the end of high school I was a detail freak seeing every little detail other people would miss (compensation mechanism on roids you could say).

Now Im in college and because of that compensation mechanism - being too thorough and detail-oriented (and trying to actually understand the material - I just cant get that "flaw" out of my system) I cant keep up with class w/o "studying" 24-7 (at least my grades are good..).

I'm really wondering what the point of this rote learning championship is supposed to be (memorize ridiculous amounts of material as quickly as possible, but please dont try to really understand it or youre gonna fall behind).

I remember a blog post by seth godin mentioning that the education system wasnt like this before the industrial revolution and that school/college sort of equals a factory. I think he's right on point...

Btw, you dont only have a problem with spelling but with foreign languages as well? (just curious)

March 1, 2010 - 10:03pm

I didn't do too good in Spanish. About the only area where I excelled were typically like math + science driven...and programming. Really wish they would have taught PHP instead of basic or pascal back then...but that just shows how old I am :D

March 2, 2010 - 5:32pm

I programmed a TON in basic in elementary lol, I often think back to that stage of my life thinking "wow, how much easier many things would have been if those internet forums had existed back then"

EDIT: forgot what i really meant to say - when I grew up everybody always thought logical ability & ability at language learning were completely unrelated...sort of like this guy is good at maths, but not at languages, that girl excells at languages, but not at maths, etc.

However when I ended up majroing in French in high school (in germany we have to pick 2 majors at the end of high school..for the last 2 years), to my surprise half of the students in the french major were majoring in maths also lol.

And..personallyI always sort of thought that grammar was very similar to logical/analytical stuff. I always thought that's why French came so easy to me. back then I thought languages were my thing and I considered learning chinese or japanese, but had to come to the conclusion that chinese might not come easy for(to?!) me at all, b/c being great at understanding grammar isnt really the difference-maker (which is extremely important in french i'd say), but understanding and distinguishing certain tones is (I suck at listening comprehension).

Anyway...I always thought understanding the grammar part of a foreign language and logical/analytical stuff such as programming or maths were very very related.

Interesting to see I might be totally wrong about this lol.

March 2, 2010 - 1:38am

If I could have one wish, it would be that everyone who wanted to learn was schooled in HOW to educate themselves.

Hint: you don't learn from the passing web, and you don't learn alone. You don't learn about the failings of the public school from Seth Godin, just as you don't learn American politics from CNN or business strategy from Joel on Software. Maybe you THINK you're learning, but IMHO you should take that as a sign that you've forgotten (or maybe never really learned) how to educate yourself.

Learning requires study and the basis of study is an open mind and an appreciation of critical thinking. Ever try to "hurry up and be creative"? It's not possible... nor is is possible to become educated by reading what passes by on the web.

March 2, 2010 - 8:18am

I just had a very interesting conversation today about my nephew who's currently in Military school in VA, 16 yrs old and off the charts in terms of intelligence level.

His father and mother split at age 8, father doesn't really keep in touch and his mother lets him get away with a lot of misbehavior in terms of his interactions with people, he hears a teacher say something thats incorrect and he blatantly tells them their wrong. I asked, is he ever wrong when he calls out a teacher, answer was no, he's almost always right but it's the manner in which he calls attention to it.

So I've been in the military, wasn't crazy about it really, didn't like the "standardization" or the limits placed on how successful I could be. As an entrepreneur, it certainly felt more like prison but I learned a lot of things that I'd never learn elsewhere.

My thought was to write to my nephew, yes actually send a letter and hopefully engage in a meaningful and insightful exchange that doesn't need to be so confrontational or immediately disputed by either side. My thoughts were by perhaps asking for his help, he's very good in mathematics, so I could send him some data, let him do some analysis based on what I would like that data to look like if I were to make changes to certain things.

Its been awhile since I've had any calculus, but it seems that there were some very good business calculus problems that I could use real world numbers on and give him a real application for what he's learned.

March 3, 2010 - 1:17pm

I didn't do too well at math. Or English. Wasn't that good at science or social studies either. Thank God by the time Jr high came I was starting to learn a little about sales and marketing and learned that selling the teacher on sleeping with me went a long way in getting a better education :-)


March 4, 2010 - 2:46pm

Man, that one is too close to home today. Perfect.

I think I would have been OK at school if I went more often, or cared even a little bit. I coasted through high school looking for drinks, sex and smokes, just being a kid. A pretty shiftless, immature kid. When I went to college (at 30), my head was in a better place, and I used good grades to get free money. Made me encourage my own kid to do the same, which seems to have worked out pretty well.

But I have personally never seen the value in being everyone else. I simply can't do it - not in my DNA. It has been a little frustrating along the way, seeing others seem to find a level of acceptance I could never reach. But as I aged and I learned what my strengths were, I learned that this inability to toe the line is my strongest asset. Duh.

Love the point about "HOW to educate yourself" too, and these personal stories being shared - great stuff to start my morning here. If we had more teachers willing (or simple enough) to go the extra mile like massa's, we'd all probably have liked school a whole lot more. Thanks all.

March 24, 2010 - 6:32pm

"Gillian is not sick - she is a dancer."

The beginning of this post reminded me of this TED talk by Ken Robinson: School kill creativity of which I've been a fan for a long time, now.

The problem with school is that it's created to make of out happy, creative and out of box thinking people a new legion of good workers. I would be very happy if my former educational program had any real life solving problems classes - like logic! It hadn't. That's because every educational system on the world has the same problem - it's sick and needs to be fixed and we are fixing it for about 100 years now with no effect. There is something fundamentally wrong with it.

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