All We Have Are Hammers, and Everything Looks Like Our Thumbs

I’ve started a blog for pieces that are longer than typical Medium posts. I’ll be posting excerpts from the blog here; what follows is the first part of the inaugural post about personal development and how we choose to measure ourselves.

“When we talk, we communicate with our whole bodies.”

Virgina Satir wrote that in The New Peoplemaking, her book on family systems and childrearing. It sounds obvious in hindsight, but it is often not explicitly transparent to people. (In fact, this can be said for most of The New Peoplemaking.)

What makes something obvious? As I see it, the closer you are to realizing an insight, the less new information you’ll need to come to the realization, and thus the more obvious it will be in hindsight.

But more importantly, Satir’s pearl of wisdom can be generalized to something that also sounds obvious but is easy to overlook: whatever we do, we do it with our entire being. Our entire being reflects itself in how write, how we sing, how we think creatively, how we walk, how we dance and how do the dishes or mow the lawn.

In other words, when we solve problems, when we work, whatever we do as part of a job, we do so with the entirety of who we are. Yet the society in which we lives focuses on people with strongly developed “parts.” By and large, our approaches to the job interview process, to selecting individuals for admission into schools, or for grants, or to filtering startups into accelerators relies on assessing how certain aspects of a person, (or company) have been developed.

Admittedly, this tendency was stronger in the past when people took aptitude tests that were scored by IBM machines. But still to this day there is much hubbub about how students fare standardized tests like the SAT which is a rough proxy for IQ. And IQ would be one “part” of a person; measuring it doesn’t come close to measuring the whole person.

We ignore the other aspects of who we are at our peril, in at least two ways. First, an over-emphasis on filtering for IQ has led to plenty of trouble and a whole lot of wasted effort based on imprecise concepts. Second, there is an opportunity cost — by ignoring the other aspects of existing as a human being, we have a society where people can be rewarded for developing parts of themselves at the cost of the whole. So situations where people wind up using advanced degrees in chemistry to make fast-food more profitableare not uncommon.

There are, however, some alternatives.

Click here to continue reading about alternative considerations for thinking about people as well as the two interdicts of personal growth .

Data Scientist. Writer. Humanist

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