Think Education

Faster is not always better

Pause and think: No need to hurry

Pause and think: No need to hurry

A good friend of mine, who works for an investment bank in the U.S., was looking for another job. Given her impressive credentials, she was called by leading firms across the globe. She was very excited when a firm in India also expressed keen interest in her. She got through seven rounds of gruelling interviews, that included a five-hour online exam.

The recruiter, who was coordinating her interviews with the firm, was fairly confident that the job was a shoo-in for her. There was only one more hurdle to cross which was an interview with the head of the firm. My friend thought it went smoothly and was awaiting a job offer as she wanted to move closer to her parents. However, she was in for a blow when the recruiter said that the head of the firm also thought she was good but since she hesitated on one of the questions, the firm was not offering her the job.

I was aghast when my friend recounted this anecdote to me. I know every nanosecond counts for Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps. And, every millisecond is also precious on standardised tests like CAT and GRE. But since when has pausing to think or even catching one’s breath before answering gained bad press?

Yes, we do live in a culture that values speed and efficiency. We also live in the age of brevity where a tweet receives more attention than a longer or more considered piece of prose. While we elevate short and snappy sound bytes, we are downplaying our ability to slow down. To pause. To think. And reflect.

Thinking matters

Educators have long realised that the human mind houses different` types of thinking skills, some of which require speed and precision, while others benefit from a more measured and deliberate response. That is why traditional examinations — not the standardised variety — include an array of questions that tap different cognitive faculties.

A typical paper involves a set of questions that require short, succinct answers. Then there are a few questions that stretch a student’s application and problem-solving skills. Finally, a few thought-provoking questions make a student mull through a thorny problem or issue by reflecting on it for a while. Of course, the time constraints of an exam limit the duration of pondering, but nevertheless, the essay questions tax a different skill set from the shorter, snappier ones.

Unfortunately, modern exams and interviews veer towards venerating byte-sized, quick-silver responses. Even television debates are biased in favour of people who deliver punchy one-liners as opposed to those who give more thoughtful and nuanced answers. While we must definitely hone razor-sharp minds that can think on the spot, we should not forget to cultivate and respect the art of reflection.

In fact, the title of Daniel Kahneman and Amor Tversky’s bestselling book, Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow captures the two main different styles of thinking that we need to foster. System 1 includes fast, automatic and intuitive responses, while System 2 demands conscious attention and deliberation. As the two systems compete for limited attentional resources, we need to ensure that we exercise both types of thinking. We need to remind ourselves that faster is not always better. And that hesitating on a question may actually indicate a more mature and measured thinker. As English philosopher John Locke puts it, “Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.”

The author is Director, PRAYATNA. arunasankara@gmail.com


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Printable version | May 17, 2022 2:07:40 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/education/faster-is-not-always-better/article19776497.ece