What Do You Do When Things That Are Obvious Are Also Wrong?


Friday, 8.48pm.

Sheffield, U.K.

I’ve been having a few thoughts about the purpose of this blog.

Why do I write it? What’s the point? What am I trying to do or sell or achieve or become?

The sensible answer, the one that is most Zen, is that writing is a practice. A practice like meditation or learning to play an instrument, or running. When you’re doing it, there is just you and the words and nothing else really matters – not the world, not readers. You write for you.

A different answer is that some of us just have to write – we just do. Anne Lamott, in her book Bird By Bird, writes about famous writers and why they write – because they want to, because they’re good at it – because God made them that way. Whatever works for you.

And then there is another reason – sometimes it’s by writing that we figure out what we think. And it’s by reading other people’s writing that we learn new things. And this whole writing and sharing thing just helps us all get better at dealing with the world around us.

Because… not everything we think is true is.

Like I found out today.

The kids, let’s call them A and B, were arguing over a toy. B had the toy all day and A wanted it now. So, one grabbed it from the other, the dispossessed screamed, there were tears and fighting and lots of noise.

All very normal really.

So, what would you do to make things right? Well… get them to share perhaps? Read both the riot act and tell them that they’ll each get it for a set amount of time and that’s that. Get the timer out and on.

I’ve done that before. Several times.

But, there has always been something odd about the result of this approach. They don’t seem too happy about it. A, in particular, has always been really unhappy about using a timer.

And I wondered why – surely it’s the obvious and fair thing to do – what other way would you go about doing this?

So, I typed these words into Google “why don’t some children like sharing toys using a timer” and came up with a blog article by Heather Shumaker called Throw Away your Timer: Why Kids Learn More when they Don’t “Share”.

Here’s what happens when you tell a child to give up a toy that he or she is playing with because the timer has gone off.

You’re forcing them to give up something when they’re not ready to do so. The good act of sharing that you’re trying to teach is associated with feeling bad as they lose something when they’re not ready.

It’s obvious really. You’d feel cross if someone took something away from you before you were ready to give it up. It’s like being mugged. Hardly a pleasant experience.

Heather says that what you should do is let the child that has the toy keep it until he or she is done with it. Wait till they are ready to give it up willingly as they move onto playing with something else.

The other child will need to learn to wait – and that doesn’t feel great either. Waiting – or deferred gratification – is, however, one of the most useful skills you can teach your child.

That’s the basis of the marshmallow test where kids that could wait when they were small went on to achieve much more later.

So, rather sceptically, I tried this approach. Kid A, who hated timers, was happy with this and let B play with the toy – although a little sad and convinced B would never give it up.

Ten minutes later, however, the two were sat playing happily together and A had the disputed toy.

So… in this experiment this approach worked. And it worked better than the sharing approach which seemed like the obviously correct way to proceed.

So back to the purpose of this blog.

The articles are about stuff that is interesting – to me anyway. Sometimes it’s management, sometimes it’s marketing, sometimes it’s about parenting skills.

There’s a lot of pressure in this world to be defined, to have clean edges, to be very specific about who you are and what your brand is all about.

But the real world isn’t like that. It’s messy and there are weeds and cracks and all kinds of unstructured, undefined and generally messy things.

IBM on LinkedIn said something like 80% of all data will be unstructured by 2020. Well, duh, the vast majority of data must be unstructured now. Think of all the words ever written and films and poems. Structured data is probably a minority of what’s actually out there.

Life is complex and obvious things are not always right.

And I think this blog is just one way to help me figure things out.

And if I’m lucky, like Heather’s article, it might help other people if they happen to have a similar question one day.


Karthik Suresh

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