"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Artificial Intelligence–Nobody Cares Whether You Have The Real Thing Or Not

Brad Nichols had a very ordinary mind – nothing unique, special, or remarkable but serviceable, handy in tight spots but never up to strategy or grand plans.  Brad was no more limited than of the other millions Americans whose intelligence fell under the hump of the bell curve and who managed life without making much of a difference one way or the other.  He was never frustrated by his limitations because of course he didn’t know any different.  The bland, featureless, and routinely predictable life he negotiated must be the only one, the one everyone experienced. 

America is all about upward mobility, progress, and success; and Brad did at times wonder if his clerkish life was really all there was.  Couldn’t he have at least a taste of glamour if not a full meal? A ride in a cigarette boat? A woman a few years younger than his wife?

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How, he wondered, could he possibly give the reins a shake, speed up to a canter without worrying too much what lay ahead?

This of course was a familiar conundrum.  Who didn’t want to change their life, after all, if only some gussying up, a little living beyond one’s means, or looking good even though the tux and sedan were rented?

Everyone has a special intelligence, students are told in kindergarten. If you have trouble coloring within the lines, then you probably have a sweet voice or can jump high or run fast. There is no such thing as one intelligence – the cognitive one that figures out equations, deduces and infers – but many intelligences; and the trick is simply to find out which one you have.

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Brad was far too old to have benefited from this particular educational reform, but yet he didn’t need special attention to conclude that although he would never make any headlines as a mathematician, he must have some other abilities which would make people at least look his way if not stand up and take notice.

It was only by accident that he found that what he thought were minor talents – charm and a special glibness – were in fact significant.  People tended to listen to him because he paid attention to them, and because he responded so eagerly to their ideas and sentiments.  It made no difference that he never offered anything new, original, or insightful in his responses.  Just showing concern seemed to be enough. 

Surprisingly only to him, Brad found himself with a lot of friends who wanted his company and his counsel.  The more his advice was solicited, the more openly and easily he spoke; and the more he counseled  his colleagues and associates, and the more they appreciated his solicitousness, the more friends he had.  Before long, he was known as one of the most caring, insightful, and intelligent men on the shop floor.

It mattered to no one that his job could have been done by anyone, that his education had been third-tier, and his professional prospects almost nil.  It was Brad the human being that counted, and because of his special intelligence – uncanny personal insight – all else was overlooked.

At least for the time being; for it was not long before his colleagues assumed that it was only modesty and self-effacement that was behind his rather stagnant career.  He could have moved up quickly in the ranks of the corporation but demurred because he was not willing to subscribe or promote the bottom-line ethos of the company; nor to collude with senior management in a trireme mentality of work employees until they collapse on their oars.

When he did in fact move up because his superiors had taken notice of his calm empathy and rallying nature, his colleagues assumed that he had done it righteously; and that he would never compromise his ethics or his compassion. 

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Brad was a natural at middle management.  His presentations to the Executive Committee were enthusiastically endorsed and supported.  Even in an environment where budgets, win-rates, and competitive edges were all-important, Brad was welcomed.  As he had done all his life, he simply turned others ideas and suggestions into much more than they ever were; and he did it with such modest enthusiasm and genuine respect, that he was irresistible. 

The Executives were never disappointed because they avoided directing any technical questions Brad’s way – overhead percentages, profit margins, and the like – and asked for his opinion on softer, but critical management matters.  Staff morale, for example, job satisfaction, and just rewards and recognition.

Because of his singular talents – a peculiar empathy and a smooth, silver tongue – he became the Tony Robbins of his industry.  He told people what they wanted to hear, and flattered them to no ends.  He neither belonged in HR – that department was as bureaucratic and ink-stained as any – nor in Corporate Development, nor even in Public Relations, all positions considered by management. 

Instead they gave him a special title and position – in fact and very clearly if indirectly in his job description, he was indeed a lay preacher worth every cent of his salary to keep the peace among restive employees, convey the image of a a concerned, modern corporation to shareholders and deter the liberal press.

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Brad’s personal life was no less rewarding.  He was particularly successful with women because women need to be listened to and taken seriously; and Brad was a natural master.  This is not to say that he was indifferent women’s grievances about boyfriends, intrusive parents, abusive bosses, and idiot landlords – he was just not that interested.  Of course the degree of interest mattered far less to these young women than any interest, especially from a man who took them seriously.

He was so engaging, respectful, and patient that few women complained when he left them.  He, again with no agendas or forethought, made each woman feel that she had been the very best, the most accomplished, fulfilling, beautiful, and alluring woman on the planet. 

In fact, this was not far from the truth; for Brad had no high expectations of women or of anything for that matter.  He was a very satisfied person, satisfied with just about anything.

It just goes to show that perhaps the Cooperative Learning, Multiple Intelligence advocates are right after all.  People being what they are – needy, desperate for attention, respect, acknowledgment, and love – it doesn’t take much to satisfy them.  They will do all the heavy lifting.  Anyone with even the most modest abilities – not unlike Brad Nichols – can get ahead despite themselves if they understand this. 

Brad was lucky.  There was not one devious bone in his body.  He came by his simplicity naturally. Listening, as casual and unengaged as it might have been, was second nature.  Speaking smoothly, directly, and compassionately was a God-given talent.

Others have to work to achieve Brad’s success. It is hard to completely fake interest.  You can indeed fool most of the people most of the time, but with some you have to be ingenious; and the search for ingenuity always causes missteps and stumbles. In other words charm and a silver tongue will get you almost everywhere, but you still have to watch out for the odd pothole.

None of this is an indictment.  People are not so much gullible as needy; and if they buy the occasional snake oil they cannot be blamed.  If they are less rational and reasonable than some may wish, they compensate by true belief – belief in causes, preachers, and the well-honed compliments of men like Brad Nichols.  They are not to be dismissed for their lack of intellectualism.  On the contrary, they should be welcomed into the big tent as much as the super-smart, super-rich, and super-talented; if for no other reason that there are tens of millions of them, all waiting to meet a Brad Nichols before they die.

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