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Scott Adams on How to Get a Real Education (wsj.com)
269 points by mvs on Apr 9, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

Regarding "Attracting Luck": it sounds like a value-free bromide, but it really does work. I'm not a social butterfly by nature, but I force myself to go out and network. It blows my mind how effective that is, because there exists someone with the ability to give you what you want just by saying "Yeah, sure" and that is 1000000000x more likely to happen after you have asked him for it in person versus happening spontaneously. (Ditto hearing, e.g., "You do SEO consulting? What a coincidence, we need that. Send us a proposal." , "You made what? That's interesting. I have someone you should get a coffee with.", etc)

  Why do we make B students sit through the same classes as their brainy peers? 
Not to be too literal here, but the B students are not necessarily less brainy. In college I was everywhere from a D student to an A+ student; it took the competition with my peers to bring me up to that level. Without being with the "brainy" students I had no chance of becoming one.

I saw a UK based study a while back which said that 30% of students were in the top 10% of their class at some stage during their school life, but weren't in the top 10% when they finished school.

The idea of a fixed pool of "A" students is a false one.

That said I think that we should be teaching all students most of the topics he mentioned.

That's an ongoing debate with things like gifted-student programs as well, especially at the earlier stages of education. The pro is targeting students with material suited to their pace, so there aren't students going much more slowly than they could on the one hand, or being overwhelmed on the other. But the con is that the giftedness-segregation itself might produce a self-fulfilling prophecy, as students not in the gifted track aren't challenged with the advanced curriculum, and also lose the benefit of interaction with some of their bright peers.

So, arguably to fix this we should improve our methods of gifted student identification? versus not having a special education program at all.

I was a gifted student, and I did not start off that way, I was not until high school that I gained entry to the higher level classes and I had to fight tooth and nail to get into them because my grades in the regular classes were Bs not As. It took a few of my teachers arguing with the administration to get me into the program where I excelled, and my grades got better, but because of the blind spot you describe it was almost impossible.

Boredom will make A students D students.

This was my thought as well. By "B student" does he mean "students who got B's" or does he mean "students of mediocre intellect and industry"? Those are different sets of people entirely.

I know people smarter than I am who graduated (or dropped out of!) college with abysmal GPAs-- like 2.5, which is a disaster following U.S. grade inflation. I also know intellectual mediocrities who were good at playing the system despite mediocre effort. My sense of Mr. Adams is that he had A potential but probably got B's and C's because he had other projects. That's the good case of a "B student": someone who got mediocre grades because he was working on other things. They should be considering entrepreneurial pursuits. But I wouldn't want to see the average U.S. college graduate (fairly lazy, intellectually mediocre, able to meet college's low minimum demands based on socioeconomic status rather than merit) managing a large, complex company. Hell no on that one, sir.

'This was my thought as well. By "B student" does he mean "students who got B's" or does he mean "students of mediocre intellect and industry"? Those are different sets of people entirely.'

"Assume good faith." The piece makes more sense as the latter, and it certainly doesn't break the argument. I don't see any good reason to impute the first one to Adams. (Not that you did.)

It's obvious that it's not easy to separate who is who, but it's equally obvious that the B crew does exist.

I think what is being said is that since only the top few academic performers get the A label,by design, the remainder should get extra non-academic (here, enterpreneurial ?) skills to level-up when they get out in the real world.

Surprisingly, almost everything Adams talks about is what is learned at the worst schools in the drug game. Obviously not for everyone because (a) it's illegal, (b) often violent, and (c) not generally well-regarded. But at least there's precedent for this type of education of the B student.

What exactly are you referring to by the "drug game"?

Drug dealing, especially in the inner city. You could find most of the skills he talks about learned by dealing drugs. You want to learn things like Learn Persuasion, Attract Luck, Find the Action, Combine Skills, Fail Forward, then look at drug dealing.

The only skill that doesn't strongly apply is Write Simply, although it does to an extreme -- in the sense that the less you have written down the better off you are.

LOL, extralegal collegiate entrepreneurial escapades...

Students of entrepreneurship should learn the art of persuasion in all its forms, including psychology, sales, marketing, negotiating, statistics and even design.

Scott Adams just shared with us the ideal framework for an entrepreneurial curriculum. But more importantly, the article reinforces the fact that the whole is far greater than the sum of these parts, especially in the context of an entrepreneur.

I succeeded as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world. The "Dilbert" comic is a combination of all four skills. The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That's how value is created.

As an aside, this makes a compelling case for the pursuit of a co-founder with complementary skills.

Or to have the complementary skills yourself.

"Combine Skills. Fail Forward. Attract Luck. Conquer Fear. Write Simply. Learn Persuasion."

Sorry, but that "education in entrepreneurship" curriculum just looks like a list of skills absolutely anyone should pick up in the natural course of life and career. I understand the need for a useful, technical education, but sometimes I think we overestimate how much useful, technical skills can be gained from classroom instruction v. the real world. This is an argument against mainstream college education as much as it is for a challenging, classical liberal arts degree..despite what Adams writes.

There is something about the do-or-die pressures of entrepreneurship that really drives the lessons home compared to trying to get an A in your mandatory Sociology class.

Yet, correct me if I'm wrong, but Adams is advocating an entrepreneurship class. If all he's aiming for are the skills developed in entrepreneurship, why make it a class at all?

Good article. The combining skills was the best part (you're more likely to be marketable by combining several skills than by trying to become a world-class practitioner of one in particular).

I found this bit disturbing though

' I pointed out that my friend—the soon-to-be-fired bartender—was tall, good-looking and so gifted at b.s. that he'd be the perfect leader.'

It's pretty true, though.

What Scott Adams doesn't mention is that while you can learn entrepreneurship on the fly, learning about the classics, literature and art is a social experience. I've met lots of successful individuals who seek out high-culture trophies of validation (expensive art, season tickets to the met) -- many times only as overcompensation for their lack of understanding of the liberal arts in general.

I think that education is continuous. We are trying to squeeze all learning, all education, and all wisdom in first 25 years of life. That is just wrong.

I find it interesting that Adams mentions a MBA rounded out his entrepreneurial experience. From his descriptions of his business escapades in college, it seems like he was a well-rounded, experienced entrepreneur already. The only value from the MBA that I can think of would be the corporate perspective.

Favorite quotes from the article:

Students should be taught that failure is a process, not an obstacle.

Luck finds the doers.

Simplicity makes ideas powerful.

What made the article worth it were the real life stories he shared to make a point. Would love to hear some similar stories. Any HNers have any good ones that they'd like to share?

> Luck finds the doers.

Audentes fortuna iuvat - Virgil.

I'd heard it as "Audaces Fortuna iuvat".

Wikipedia once again impresses with an article on the subject:


Adams shares the most common view nowadays that school is either supposed to prepare you for your 'carrier' or make you an academic.

In fact school is here to increase your wisdom to the fullest before putting in you in risk to gather experience.

This is relevant to any student. And explains why sometimes B students (as marks) succeed at business - they may not been better memorizers, but have the knowledge to make better choices and use this knowledge.

How do you decide you are a B student ? Standardized testing? Then another no-good John Q Idiot will write a blog post on another seemingly important rag like the wsj or fox news about how this entrepreneurship curriculum is the next incarnation of some mega-corporation fascism + US gov racist intentions and blah blah blah.

IMO, it is not to be taken litteraly. I mean, you won't make a test and, based on the results, teach math to the top performers, and entreupreneurship to the others.. it doesn't make sense.

I think that the "B students" know who they are: they are the students who are not so fond of math / physics / litteratures, etc.. but have other interests in life.

The idea is not to force these guys to learn entrepreneurship, but rather not to force them into studies that don't fit their qualities and potential. Most of them would be glad not to attend the hardcore math class and instead do something useful that interests them..

Simply not having an interest in science or math already makes you a B student in those areas, since no matter how good you may be at them, eventually you'll hit a breaking point where the material is much harder than you can manage without having already practiced and honed all the previous material to a certain level of mastery.

I think the term "B-student" is just an effective way to identify to the reader students who wouldn't do well in math or science for any reason, whether environmental, motivational, or natural. That is, it brings about a connotation of someone who is smart enough to succeed at most things, but who can't compete head to head with students who specialize in a specific academic field.

It's hard to define, but the term's usefulness comes from its general connotation and the associated imagery, not its definition.

I think the takeaway here is that these individuals, whatever you call them, should focus more on learning skills that will allow them to compete laterally by creating opportunities for themselves and others rather than learning to be superficially cultured or trying compete for existing opportunities head to head with others who are more specialized and talented in their respective field.

I believe he's deriving "B student" from "B school"

"B school" == "Business school"

You're mistaken. The context makes it clear that he is speaking about students who get a letter grade of "B".

This article reminds me of something that I would read while waiting for my copies at Kinkos. It's generally vague and would contain very little substance.

he gave examples from his real life

His examples were about him essentially manipulating rules to his favor. I do not think they contain much substance and would only be beneficial in Wall Street and politics.

He saw opportunities, sometimes embedded within problems, and worked them to his favor. This is what he's referring to when he speaks of the learned skill of transforming "nothing into something", and it's a skill that obviously applies to business.

"Politics" plays a role in pretty much every social interaction. Even though I'm just an introverted programmer, I find myself in dozens of situations every month where following the basic observations he makes have helped me succeed.

Ah yes, Scott Adams, the great expert on education.

Last I checked, he was somebody who made a semi-funny cartoon. Why are we listening to him for education advice?

I think HN is filled with great advice from people that are not experts in a particular field, but nonetheless have gained some kind of insight usually through experience.

I have a general rule not to heed advice unless the advisor can back it up with some kind of personal experience. This excludes maybe 99% of financial advice, which I think is a good thing.

Your criticism might be relevant if he was putting forward a comprehensive plan to reform the education system, but he is just trying to give another perspective on what the goals of education should be.

I do not object to Scott Adams giving his perspective. I do not object to the contents of his piece. I'm wondering what the heck it's doing on HN.

The only reason this got any traction is that he happens to make Dilbert. His is not a particularly rare and/or valuable insight, and nothing in there makes it different from millions of other armchair education reformers.

I expect more from HN links. My mistake for making a snarky comment instead of spelling it out properly.

Does that make his advice wrong?

Disagree with what he says, not who he is.

Posting an ad hominem attack doesn't make for a valid argument...

Pointing out that someone who is not an expert in a particular field is not an expert in that field is not 'ad hominem'. That is a 'true statement'.

When you have a complicated system, and a non-expert comes in with a plan, then it's appropriate to dismiss it without overwhelming support. The burden of proof is on the non-expert. Expert time is too valuable to waste debunking every hobbyist solution.

You see this on a small scale in mathematics, with professors getting incorrect (and frequently laughable) 'proofs' or outstanding unsolved problems or problems that have been proven not to have solutions.

because he writes good

Because he writes well.

Harsh and myopic...

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