Outside-In or Inside-Out?

by Matthew Turco
October, 1997

Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins talk about how much of the personal development ideals designed to enhance your life over the last few decades was born of an outside-in perspective. The idea is that something external can make you happy. Buy a new car. Achieve something. Earn a new title. Adopt a new personality trait. And so on.

Yet if this approach works at all, it is temporary. Usually, it just backfires.

The same can be said about technology. While it isn't hard to marvel over the technological advancements over the last few decades, we have paid a price for these advancements.

dependence - sit down with a child doing advanced mathematics. He'll likely use his calculator for everything, including the easy arithmetic. When asked to do anything in his head he'll look at you with a puzzled look as if to say "How old are you? We don't do it that way anymore."

specialization - there is so much to learn that one can't "learn it all", thus we choose our specialized function and do it to the best of our ability to the exclusion of all else

obsolescence - if the function we choose can be downsized or eliminated altogether through technological advances, we're back at square one

local optima - the division of labor is getting so divided that even rudimentary knowledge in any other field is "too much to ask" of our employees. We have engineers who haven't a clue what marketing is, marketers who can't read an accounting balance sheet, accountants who can't spell "research and development", etc. To top it off, the boss is also clueless in every field he hasn't personally worked in and when he asks questions regarding performance, he gets the same answer from each department "We're fine, it's the damn ______ department that can't find their ass with both hands.

All this was supposed to be fixed with technology, not made worse.

This is not to say that the emperor has no clothes. Quite the contrary. Computers do make our work more efficient. But the learning curve to use (and troubleshoot, and fix, and maintain) the technology keeps growing and growing.

The new version of every software program is always more complex. After all, who's going to pay for an upgrade if there aren't any new features. So every new word processor, spread sheet, database, etc. comes complete with a manual almost as large as the program itself. This is progress?


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Before taking advantage of all the marvels created with the "outside-in" approach, we should first learn to use the equipment we have to the best of our abilities. No, I'm not talking about that 286 PC fossil in the attic. I'm talking about your brain.

In manufacturing production, you learn to always focus on the bottleneck of your production line. That's where the money is. Increase throughput of the bottleneck and the whole line increases output.

For example, if your line consists of five machines A,B,C,D,E, and all the inventory in stock-piled up behind machine B, what good will it do you to increase the production of machine D?

Imagine some slick salesman meeting with you telling you that he can DOUBLE the output of machine D. He tells you that instead of handling $10,000 worth of widgets a day, you'll be able to handle $20,000. Impressive? Sure, if machine D is your bottleneck. But since it isn't, you won't see a dime of increased output.

Now apply this model to the brain. The supporters of "education" completely miss the boat with this one. Thousands upon millions upon billions of dollars are being spent improving employees' and independent individuals' "education". But what does this mean? It means they sit in the same style classrooms as when they did in high school. It means they are being taught using the same inefficient didactic teaching methods we've been using for decades. It means the same "cram for the exams" studying habits that worked so poorly the first time.

What is the real bottleneck here? Is it "education" meaning just more data and maybe a few idealistic models created by PhD's who haven't been in the field in twenty years? Or is the real bottleneck learning how to learn? How much of our potential is being tapped? If we were all running near the maximum capacity of our minds, I would agree that the next place to look is formal education.

But the empirical evidence runs quite the contrary. We're not even close to utilizing what's between our ears. Image streaming and photoreading are just the tips of enormous icebergs that most people refuse to even consider, let alone learn to tap.

Not that the incentive system in place is encouraging us to do any better. We're still giving the most money to school systems that perform the worst. There's no accountability in handing out diplomas - if the child still can't read by grade 12, it's now society's problem and not the school's. If you try to test the children, you get sued for discrimination. And if you're the best teacher in the world, you still get paid less than some tenured asshole who only got into teaching to avoid the Vietnam draft.

What do we do? We circumvent the system, create our own network of people who are looking for a better way, and help each other help themselves. Then we help others.

And for God's sake, let's leave government(s) out of it this time.

©1997 Matthew Turco


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©1996-2004 Matthew Turco unless otherwise noted

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