Does It Pay To Be Pragmatic?

How do you decide what information is worth learning and what information can be discarded?

At least once a week, usually toward the end of the week, I have this thing with clients where I will ask them if they’ve learned any interesting facts. These could be something they learned from reading articles, interesting tidbits they’ve picked up in conversations with other people, or completely random facts they just happen to know for some reason or another. The actual information they share isn’t too important. (But always interesting!)

Then, as is only fair, I will also share an interesting fact that I too have learned. Sometimes I share facts that I learned from other clients. Sometimes I share my own. For example, here are some facts I’ve shared with clients over the past couple of weeks:

Bats are incapable of creating enough lift to fly off of the ground. They have to already be on something high that they can jump off of. If they get stuck on the ground, they have to find something to climb up in order to jump off.

Due to two interesting facts from anatomy and math—Wolff’s Law and the Cube-Square Law—we can explain why larger animals move so slow compared to their smaller cohabitants. (And why the gigantic dinosaurs of the past moved incredibly slow.) They simply don’t have the strength to support their body mass at high speeds.

This information seems so random, would it ever actually be useful to know? This question is the foundation of pragmatism, a philosophical position that weighs the usefulness of information by its practical application.

I was helping a friend with a paper for a philosophy class once where she had to write about pragmatism, and whether information that couldn’t be readily applied to any real-world scenario was worth learning and retaining. That’s quite an interesting question: should you be concerned with learning information that can’t help you immediately improve any part of your life? My response to this is simple:

Heck yes it’s worth it.

As humans, we have the capacity to draw connections between ideas where previous connections didn’t exist. This is our ability to be creative and to connect the dots of seemingly unrelated ideas to generate new ideas—some of which lay the foundation of solving the worlds most complex problems.

You may never be able to predict when this dot-connecting moment happens, but you can’t make these connections if you don’t have any dots. The dots are all the seemingly random pieces of information you’ve retained in your brain. This information could stem from science, math, social sciences, history, and your own real-world experiences. The ability to make these connections can lead to new ideas.

Personally, this has helped me write different articles and has influenced my unique approach to training clients. Ideas such as:

  • How a simple observation about my driving habits led me to connect game theory strategies toward helping people navigate healthier eating in social situations.
  • How a book I read for entertainment about catching serial killers gave me a new framework for understanding the behavior of my clients.
  • How a seemingly random sociological theory about crime prevention, the broken window theory, helps clients establish growth-producing, yet seemingly mundane, habits into their life.
  • How an observation about my ice cream eating habits led to an article about helping people build the most effective diet for their preferences.

Even a fact as seemingly random as a bat’s inability to take flight from the ground can, at the very least, provide an inspiring metaphor for working through tough times. After all, the bat works so hard to claw it’s way up the wall, only to lose this progress as it jumps off. And yet, it’s this drop back to the floor that gives the bat its ability to fly.

You may feel like everything is falling apart, even after clawing and working so hard to get where you are now. Yet, it may be just the moment before you’re able to fly. Stay the course. (See, don’t you feel all inspired and goose-bumpy?) 

The truth is you can’t possibly know if or when information will become relevant or when you’ll create these connections in your mind. However, the more dots you have available the more likely these connections can be made.

So go, friend, and learn as much as you can about everything that interests you. In the meantime, I will continue to ask for random facts and will continue to provide some interesting tidbits of my own, all in an effort to create the most exciting game of connect-the-dots (in my head) ever played.

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