Muscles are built from two types of fibers-- fast twitch and slow twitch. Slow twitch fibers fire slowly, but are more efficient with oxygen use, making them suitable for the long punishment of a marathon. Fast twitch fibers don't use energy as efficiently, but they fire faster, making them good for sprinting.
Brains aren't made of muscle, but as I've observed how different people work, I've come to think of people as having either fast twitch or slow twitch brains. Neither fast nor slow twitch muscle fiber is better than the other, but knowing which one you have can be useful.
I have a fast twitch brain. When I see an opportunity or problem, I immediately begin working on it with very little planning. I course correct as I go, which occasionally means starting over, and will finish before the slow twitch brained person would. However, my solution is likely to be hacky and have some rough edges.
Todd, on the other hand, has a slow twitch brain. He takes more time to plan what he's about to do, and executes more methodically. When he's done, his solution will be clean and polished and probably won't need to be revised, like mine might.
Having both styles on the same team has been an advantage when working on SETT. A typical workflow would be me starting something immediately and roughing it out. When it's done, it's functional but not perfect. Todd then polishes it and puts in the attention to detail that I don't have. When I have to get something perfect by myself, I tend to make many passes, incrementally improving it each time, rather than doing it thoroughly once.
If we did things my way, SETT would come out buggy and incomplete, but if we did it Todd's way, it might never get done. By combining two different brain types, we can work efficiently.
Knowing what kind of brain type you have also enables you to customize learning to your own style. When I learned Kanji, I blasted through 2000 of them in two months, with imperfect retention. If I had to take six months and get each one perfect before moving on, I would have become frustrated and maybe given up.
Now I'm learning violin. My approach to it has been to give myself challenging pieces and learn them sloppily at first, then refine as time goes on. If I followed the Suzuki method, or some other method designed for slow twitch brains, I wouldn't have progressed as much or enjoyed the process. If a slow twitch brain person tried to learn the way I'm learning, they would probably feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed.
It's not the type of brain that you have that is important, but whether or not you tailor your use of it to its natural inclinations. Work with people with the other kind of brain. Learn in a way that's conducive to your brain type. School is overwhelmingly tailored to slow twitch brains, which is why otherwise smart people like me do poorly in it.
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I like the ideas expressed in this post- they reflect an intuition about the way that people work that I share, and that I think is very plausible.
What I would warn against is couching it in pseudo-scientific terms. The first point is the analogy with muscle, of which there are many, many kinds (Cardiac, Smooth and at least four types of Skeletal muscle). That's just a small note of caution against using a phrase like "Muscles are made of two types of fibers". Generally, though, the analogy stands, so maybe I'm nit-picking. This wasn't really what bothered me.
What bothered me was talking about the "type of brain" a person has. Without doing any research, it's not reasonable to say that the way you work is down to the type of brain you have. There could be other explanations.
Reducing it to the neurological is almost fatalistic, in this case. Maybe you're just bad at being patient, and could improve that skill with practice. Maybe it really is because of what your brain is fundamentally like. Who knows?
It's actually really important with violin to choose music you enjoy both learning and hearing that is also a reasonable technical challenge - not too hard, like the Brahms concerto. So very, very important to gain confidence and self-belief by playing well as you improve - not to mention playing in front of others, sharing your music.
Thanks for the blog - I'm trying to improve at being a self-motivated starter and it helps, Geoff in Philly
When Vonnegut wrote his semi-autobiographical stories in /Timequake/, he talked about writers being either bashers or swoopers. Bashers take their time on every word the first time. Swoopers write a version 0.1 as soon as they can, and revise and revise until everything is perfect.
This may carry over to your programming style. Paul Graham says he types his essays in the same way he makes his programs: he cranks out a crappy version 0.1 as soon as he can, and then he goes through and revises it.
A new book is out by nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman called: "Thinking Fast and Slow". Kahneman did a lot of research and also used a lot of his colleagues work. While I am not sure that I can agree with all of his conclusions, he does point out some interesting things.
While I believe fast thinkers and slow thinkers have a place, to me, the combination thinkers are the ones that actually get things done in the real world. They tend to be the leaders.
Most children start off as fast thinkers. They are impulsive and usually don't get things done. As they mature, they move more toward slow thinking. How far they move, as they mature, is what determines how impulsive they tend to be. The vast majority of us lie somewhere in the middle, with a tendency to be impulsive on some things and reluctant on others.
You are more in the middle Tynan, with a tendency of fast thinking. But, you get things done when you need to.
Hi Tynan, I agree that school is largely tailored to people who tend to have a more patient demeanor. However, it seems to me like there are ways to hack your experience of school and learning to make them more tailored to a fast twich learner. I am an engineering student and I have been finding recently that a lot of my courses are available for free online through projects such as MIT Openware. This has been giving me the ability to go through the classes at a very quick rate without having to go at a slow twitch pace.
I think that the claim that school cannot become a fast twitch activity is too limited. At least at a University level there are ways to pick up the pace, and hopefully now that the KhanAcademy is becoming popular this flexibility will start to appear in high schools too.
Thanks for the post!
I fing your analogy useful but incomplete.
By you analogy I have a fast twitch brain in terms of how fast I think,
much I get tired, and how much I achieve in the long term related to the
short term considering the performance of others. But I also think fast
twitch brain can produce understanding; when I understand something,
not only at a functional level, but a deep level, I discover that what I
understand is much more simple than what I thought it was, or more
complex, but composed of simpler pieces than what I could have imagined
before. Before understanding deeply I think making more effort, and
taking more time than what I need after understanding deeply. This must
have a relation with energy and oxigen. It's possible that this
increase in efficiency doesn't put it up to par with the slow twitch
brain, but maybe it does, if used correctly.
This is interesting. Looking at my own way of doing things, however, I can't really identify one dominant mental/brain style. Sometimes I'd jump right into something and some other times I would plan (almost indefinitely) before taking any action. Or maybe I'm just remembering some particular cases right now, I'll put some more conscious attention to this.
You're spot on that there is a general distinction in mental styles. I'm like you in that I just jump in head first and figure it out as I go. While you're right that it's good to have both types in a startup, having at least one fast twitch brain is a necessity if you want to stumble upon something truly unique.
Then again, maybe if you're too fast twitched, you may end up lost in a world of pretty lights and shallow stimulants.
As far as I was concerned, she was perfect. She was at least as smart as I was, was a dancer and had the body to prove it, and had a smile that could disarm the national guard. Let's call her Julie.
So, like an earthworm stalking it's prey, I put my usual game on her. Since my last flowchart was so popular, I've made another one to show you how I dealt with the ladies back then:
Nedless to say, things went slowly. We hung out nearly every day for the last couple months of our Senior year summer vacation. Like many guys, I was totally oblivious to her attraction for me. One morning Julie came over really early while I was still sleeping, and squeezed into my twin bed with me. I woke up, and assumed that she must be tired - it didn't even occur to me that she might like me. Finally on the last week of that vacation she said to me,
The following interview and links to resources are by Spencer Greenberg, a mathematician, quant hedge fund manager, and overall man on a mission to spread practical rationality into the world. His GiveGetWin Deal, “Decision Making Mistakes, Avoiding Bias, Challenging Beliefs, Evidence — How Do We Know It’s True, and What To Do About It?” will be 60 minutes including a class and Q&A designed to make you better at key decisionmaking in life. Use it to earn better, spend better, and live better. Here’s Spencer —
Clearer Thinking by Spencer Greenberg as told to Sebastian Marshall
I’m a mathematician by background. I focus on the mathematics of machine learning, trying to get computers to learn from data to make accurate predictions. I founded a quantitative hedge fund that uses machine learning to invest in the stock market: it learns as it goes, and updates itself as it learns from the data.
I also founded the Clearer Thinking Project with the goal of getting people to challenge their own beliefs, improve their decision making, and avoid bias. The original inspiration for this work comes from cognitive science, where over the last few decades scientists have discovered numerous ways our brains mislead us when we’re making decisions.