Smart, not harder

Smart, not harder.

In 11th grade, my AP chemistry teacher grilled this into our heads. She was all about finding clever ways to achieve the same results. I can recall that her exams generally appeared hard to answer – it would seem that for each question a page’s worth of work was needed to come to a final answer. But then she’d only prove us wrong (naturally since she wrote the test), after each exam she’d go over the question and solve the problem in 3 steps max. I mean, seriously, she just made it so obvious. Here’s the silly thing – all of her questions were ALWAYS designed this way. Yet each time we tackled a question, we’d used the hardest approach, but in hindsight that each problem always had two ways to solve it: a smarter way, and a harder way. It took a while before I realized that the approach to solving a problem matters more than the process of solving it. The process is after the fact. The solution is there when the best approach is determined.

Granted, tests are generally high in stress and we don’t have much time to complete the test – which then leads us to use the first approach that comes to mind without putting too much thought into it, in which case is almost always the harder way. The same approach applied to many tests I took in college. I remember on a Operating System midterm, I received full credit on a question because I drew one line to the right picture. There was a smart path and hard path, luckily I managed to find the smart path.

It’s as simple as this: we have to start convincing ourselves that things don’t always have to be overly complicated in order to to succeed. Of course complication is subjective; what is hard to one person may not seem so bad to another. But that’s really the point, isn’t it? When you find something that isn’t so hard to you, but yet is difficult for others, it means you’ve found something that you’re really good at, but many others are not. In which case, wouldn’t it make sense to focus on what you’re good at? Because there’s a better chance you’ll figure out a smarter and more clever way of doing it.


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