What are some uncommon ways to work smarter instead of harder?
Answered by: Hannah Yang,studied at Yale University (2018)
Back in middle school, I had a teacher who often disguised his lessons as games.
One time, he split the class into groups of six, and gave each group a sheet of grid paper. Then he took out a box of extra large candy bars and plopped it onto his desk for all to see.
“Today, we’ll be playing an advanced version of tic-tac-toe,” he said. “Your goal is to get four in a row on a five-by-five grid. Does everyone understand what that means?”
We nodded hungrily.
“Okay,” he continued. “Within your group of six, three of you will form a team that takes turns drawing X’s, and the other three will form a team that takes turns drawing O’s. If your team draws your symbol in four squares in a row - up, down, or diagonally - then your team wins a candy bar. Those are the only rules. Cool?”
Another enthusiastic nod.
“Great. I’ll give you five minutes, starting… now.”
My teammates and I turned to face our opponents, racking our brains for strategies to prevent them from getting to four in a row. We had a real sweet tooth for those candy bars. We were ruthless. We were at war. When we emerged victorious, we glowed with triumph.
Then, when the five minutes were up, our teacher asked every group to describe their results to the class.
Most of the games had ended in an impasse, with both teams blocking up each other’s crucial squares until neither of them could win.
Some of the games had ended in a victory, like mine. In those groups, either the X team or the O team had won a candy bar and split it into thirds.
And then there was one group, in the back of the classroom, where the six students were happily munching away at six candy bars.
As it turned out, the teacher never mentioned that only one team could win each game. When those students realized that it didn’t have to be a competition, they’d simply agreed to share the board. The X team drew four X’s in the first row, and the O team drew four O’s in the second, and just like that, both teams had won.
They also realized that the teacher also never specified how many times a team can win. So they kept on drawing four X’s and four O’s, until they’d received a pile of candy bars and didn’t have any room left on their grid.
The teacher then asked us to take a step back and think. Where in our lives, he asked, are we fabricating competition, when we really could be working together? Where in our lives are we assuming there’s some obstacle that doesn’t necessarily have to be there?
Even after seven years, I still live by that concept. It’s one of the reasons why I make study groups with my classmates, instead of treating them as competition. It’s one of the reasons why I celebrate the successes of other candidates in my field, instead of vying to outshine them.
Thank you, Mr. Broderick, for all the lessons you taught us - many of us still use them today.