One of the most interesting conversations I had in University was with the Dean of Education, a man by the name of Bruno Hicks (I swear that was his real name), about homework. The connections I’ve made between this and my business life are MANY. I don’t know if I’ve ever met an educator, or anyone for that matter, whose opinion I valued more than Bruno’s. But on this particular topic, I thought he was crazy. Here I was, sitting in a classroom, learning to be a teacher and the Dean of Education was telling me that…homework is stupid.
Let me walk you through it, for those who aren’t familiar with the theory. Bruno wasn’t saying that ALL homework is stupid but rather than the sort of homework that we typically make students do is stupid. He was talking about things like practice questions. Imagine for a moment that you’re teaching subtraction to young students. You give them a worksheet to take home and practice their subtraction skills, right? Why?
Let’s start with someone who REALLY knows how to subtract. They get the theory entirely. They understand the ins and outs. They can visualize the problem well and they’ve got it. Why do they need to repeat their work over and over again? You would expect, from those people, a success rate of about 99.9%. But you’re boring them, probably making them like math LESS than when they started the assignment.
Ok, but what about people that DON’T understand subtraction? Surely THOSE people are helped by practicing the craft of subtraction? They’ll get it eventually right? Well, maybe they will but doing the questions wrong, without any guidance, over and over again is not going to be how they get there. If you don’t understand a concept, the sort of “practice questions” that we have students complete do nothing to help gain an understanding of HOW to fix the problem.
So, obviously it would help those people in the middle who SORT of have an understanding? Those are the people this sort of activity help, right? Still no. It turns out that if you’re trying to figure things out, repeating the same type of work over and over again can actually be MORE confusing. If you’re struggling with the “why”, getting an occasional answer wrong and an occasional answer right just further confuses the issue.
So why do we give kids homework? Well, for starters, we don’t know how to do anything different. We don’t know of another method in most cases. But probably more common is the idea that “that’s how it’s always been done.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is no statement in the entire world that enrages and angers me more than, “that’s how it’s always been done.” I don’t CARE how it’s always been done. THAT’S how we make things better. By doing them differently.
But there’s a bigger lesson here as it relates to business. Stop beating your head against a brick wall. If something doesn’t work, do it differently. If you can’t figure something out, ask for help. There is ZERO inherent value in the struggle if you don’t ever get the solution. Sure, you might figure out a unique way of solving problems that you never considered before but while you were doing that you lost eight customers because you were too busy trying to figure out the answer to your problem and you stopped paying attention to things that matter. Any good teacher will tell you that learning how to find and use resources is FAR more important than learning answers. I don’t know how many times I tried to explain to a teacher that, “in real life, I’m going to be able to look this up. So why can’t I look it up now?”
Learning is incredibly important. I would say that a willingness and ability to learn is probably the single greatest attribute in a human being. I’m not joking. It’s huge. BUT, we need to stop putting such an emphasis on the struggle. Skip the struggle. Get the answer quicker. And then do something with the answer.