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Cargo Cult Learning vs. Guerrilla Learning

David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.””
Malcolm Gladwell, How David Beats Goliath [Emphases Added]

Most — or, at the very least, many — seem to use politics for moral grandstanding and/or feeling bad about.

These people, it turns out, are doing it wrong.

Geopolitics has a surprising amount to teach us that we can actually use in everyday life.

Large, powerful entities are as good at getting things done as elephants are at tapdancing. Their size and internal dynamics destroy their nimbleness.

The bitter irony is that with size and power come respect and prestige, and with these come flattery. If the old adage is to be believed, then the sincerest flatterers are, of course, imitators.

Call it cargo cult learning. We tend to imitate the wrong people. More accurately, we (often enough) imitate the right people, successful people, but at the wrong time. We imitate Neymar as he is now, not as he was when nobody knew his name. We imitate Usain Bolt in 2016, when should be imitating his behavior in, I dunno, 1998.

Those sports analogies are silly. But, hopefully, you get the idea. The point is this: all learning stems from imitation, but you need to imitate the right people in the (or, a) right way and at the right time in their growth path. Wayne Gretzky’s dad taught him and us to skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is. We can sort of turn that on its head and twist it around and say this: we need to look at seeds, not leaves.

Social proof is a trailing indicator of greatness. By the time someone or something — some person or entity — is widely recognized as great, it probably isn’t any more. When he was still alive, he was just Alexander III, too gay to be a good king, too Macedonian to be truly Greek. Or something like that. Probably. LoL.

As Simon Kuper’s book Soccernomics points out (here’s where bring up Neymar finally makes sense) superstar players in soccer and other sports are contracted based on their track records, not their future potential — their future potential is presumed to be a carbon copy of their track record: it’s like buying a stock because it’s rising or because it’s been high before. This makes sense and yet is also stupid; it’s definitely a good enough “first approximation” of behavior (that is, of the value of a player or stock), but in terms of due diligence before spending hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s a terrible way of doing business. By definition, a record lies in the past and the past is literally gone. Result? Pound for pound, stat for stat, big clubs consistently overpay for superstars — especially goal-scorers — and underpay for and underinvest in future potential and non-goal-scoring value-adders.

Any idiot can see “greatness” that’s being advertised to them. That’s not the game. You have to be street-smarter than that. You have to Moneyball it more. The trick is to see the predator (or prey, as the case may be) before results are obvious, not after. Nobody needs a security guard who can tell you were robbed; you need him to be vigilant and act to prevent that crap. You have to see what lies in plain sight but is invisible to others.

Keep your eyes and mind open to new ideas and information. Observe yourself. Observe what you like. Observe what’s working for yourself and others. See through the matrix, see beyond the lies of the education-industrial complexclasses are not going to get you good at a language; they’re made for goody-goody-girls who like busywork and rules and hate fun and games and real results 😉 . Run faster OPDCA cycles — be experimental, constantly trying and improving. Be more hamster than elephant. Do this and you will win most of the time.

Don’t wait for the world to tell you the right answer. It’ll tell what the right answer was decades ago, not what it is now. The real world is like an open-book test…you can look up anything you want, including past exams, but you don’t get the answer key for the current questions. You make that up as you go along. We all do. Funnily enough, you even get to make up the questions. Imagine that.

Big dogs are just underdogs that won a lot. Underdogs win when underdogs break the rules.

That may all seem like a bit of an incoherent mess; to be fair, I haven’t made the effort to connect all the dots for you. But hopefully you’ve gotten something out of it. If so, great! If not, I’ll explain more some other time! 😀

  1 comment for “Cargo Cult Learning vs. Guerrilla Learning

  1. Barca fan
    September 20, 2019 at 11:37

    Neymar is overrated.

    -Barca fan

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