Hey Everybody, You Do Use This Math Stuff.

Just the mention of math might make you want to close this browser in favor of sunnier skies. But what if I told you that math can help with all kinds of things, like how I—a back-end web developer—wrote this blog?

First. Math is the discipline of staying with a problem long enough to solve it.

Writing doesn’t come naturally to me, I’m a self-proclaimed numbers nerd. But I have something I want to say, so I’m going to figure out how to do this. One rewrite at a time. All the wrong ways first. Each daunting word after the next, as I attempt to untangle my thoughts and restring them nicely so you can follow along.

I need a Red Bull.

Second. Math teaches you how to think structurally.

For this blog, you need a beginning, a middle and an end. You need a hook—math can teach me how to write? I don’t believe you. Tell me more.

The middle should serve up some evidence to back up my claim. Math can help you in all areas of life? Even writing a blog? Show you, you say? Fine, here’s your middle.

A Cal Berkeley professor and researcher named Alan Schoenfeld observed students working on a math problem. Most of them gave up quickly and asked for the solution.

But a woman named Renee didn’t give up. (Just like I’m not giving up on you, reader.) Renee worked at the problem for 22 minutes. She poked and prodded and tried different variations until she figured out the correct answer on her own.

I’d hire Renee tomorrow.

Author Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote about Shoenfeld’s research in his book, “Outliers,” hypothesizes that the legacy of wet-rice farming factors into why Asian universities excel in math, compared to literally every other country on the planet.

In case you haven’t grown rice in awhile, I’ll fill you in. Growing rice is a laborious job. It requires constant attention. And farm equipment that’s typically used in the West to make life easier doesn’t work in the steep and narrow rice fields of Asia. There are no shortcuts.

Third. A higher IQ or quality education isn’t a predictor of whether you’ll be a math wiz.

In another study, researchers found that one of the most reliable predictors of whether a student will be good at math isn’t their IQ or the quality of their education. It’s in their willingness to complete tasks thoughtfully.

In this study, students were given a questionnaire. Those who rushed through and skipped some of the questions performed consistently worse on math exams than the students who carefully completed the questionnaire.

Fourth. To be good at math, you don’t need Albert Einstein’s genes. You need his tenacity.

Nobody had E=MC2 scribbled on a cheat sheet. Imagine what it took for him to keep chipping away at the unknown without the ability to turn to a teacher, a book or a helpful colleague and say, “I give up, show me the answer now."

And not least. When you strengthen your math skills, you strengthen your brain.

According to Ryuta Kawashima of Tohuku University, math does more to grow your brain than turning up the music, listening to text read aloud and playing video games. Swapping Mario Kart for algebra sounds dry, I know, but stay with me.

Even the most basic addition and subtraction strengthens your brain—left and right hemispheres. It’s similar to how lifting weights builds muscle.

Think about it.

Imagine what it takes for web developers, like me, to build complex digital structures from absolutely nothing. Throw in advanced pricing grids, tax structures, algorithms, password security, data organization, data modeling, code readability, hand me another Red Bull.

Imagine what it takes for UX designers to develop patterns and deliver a cohesive and easy-to-navigate user journey. Two roads diverged in the woods, and the UX specialist takes the one that literally nobody has traveled by.

For art directors to dream up new ideas without reaching for a design annual when they hit a block. Stop. Put that annual down. Walk away slowly. Stay with the problem instead.

And imagine what it’s like for copywriters to develop messaging for websites that are structured modularly, building the words on a page like legos.

But somewhere between the days of Sir Issaac Newton and your high school math class, it became cool to be bad at a subject anyone can master. And that could teach us all about the value of problem solving, structural thinking and perseverance.

As for this blog, I hope you like my fifth rewrite.

Written by Jason Rogers on August 16, 2019


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Jason Rogers