The value of shortcuts

In business, "There's got to be a better way to do this" often has a profitable answer. Electricity is a shortcut for people who are used to burning oil lamps all the time. Laundry machines are shortcuts for people who previously hand washed their clothes. Facebook allows you to get to know people well without actually talking to them very much. These innovations have helped cut down the amount of time spent on household chores. Academia does not encourage taking shortcuts, indeed, teachers frown upon taking shortcuts. Teachers don't like it when students use Cliff Notes or brag about their grades even though they did none of the reading. Does doing all of the required work for a course correlate with receiving a good grade? Yes, but if there's a way to earn the same grade (and learn the same amount of material) while spending half as much time on it, I would probably do that. One example is fixed-time programming - you say "I'll try to find a solution within 30 minutes" to a programming problem and if you don't find it, you let the problem go, or try an easier approach. My CS teachers don't talk too much about how to code more efficiently, even though our time as students is valuable. The academic disdain for shortcuts probably springs from the fact that acquiring a credential like a masters or a Ph.D requires a fixed investment of time, which enhances the quality of the signal provided by higher education. Naturally teachers want their students to do the same, "put in the hours" so to speak. But ask people like Cal Newport and they'll tell you to ditch the workaholic approach to school, because there's an easier way that gets better results. This is not to be confused with doing half-assed work or turning in a first draft of a paper. H/t to Josh Siegel.

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