Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dog Is to Mouse As To...

I caught an interesting article today about how human intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, seems to be increasing with time.

This begs the important question about whether people are 'actually' getting smarter, or if their world is just adapting them better for things that IQ tests would measure.

If you asked people to talk about how a dog relates to a mouse, there are more people today who would say "they are both mammals" (the supposedly 'right' answer) than would say something like, "You use a dog to catch a mouse."

How, exactly, is that second answer 'wrong'?  I would say that it isn't, and I think there's an important principle at stake here.

I'll concede that intelligence probably falls along some sort of curve, while adding that 'intellectual curiosity' is somewhat correlated -- but NOT perfectly correlated -- with intelligence.  However, context matters.  A lot.  

Look at an MBA program.  There is a heavy, heavy dose of Microeconomics, Accounting, and Statistics.  I feel incredibly lucky that I was "flagged" as not having an Econ background undergrad, and therefore required to take a Microeconomics class this past summer.

That class helps me all the time.  It's easy to follow along, and even jump ahead, when you *sort of* know what's coming.  At the very least, when you're already familiar with things like consumer surplus, producer surplus, and price elasticity, you don't waste any mental energy wondering what some new term means, and consequently fall behind...just as the Cold Call Reaper reaches out with his sickle.

As for Stats, I studied enough over the summer to find my way around a normal distribution and most of the probability stuff we've seen so far (and yes, I realize it's only September).  Kinda sorta ditto for Accounting.

Still, more is better.  If it's "intuitive" to you whether you should first square differences from the mean and THEN weight the numbers by probability, as opposed to weighting by probability and then squaring distances from the mean in order to calculate a variance/standard deviation, then I'm guessing you've already taken some Stats.

One thing I've heard quite a bit during military training is that in pressure situations, people always revert down to their lowest-level, most-basic reactions.  That's why some of the training seems repetitive or redundant...that's the whole point.  A magazine change on the fly is something that ought to be muscle memory -- not something learned as lead is flying in your direction.

Basic MBA skills aren't that different.  The more you know when you FIRST walk through the door, the easier it will be...if you can help it, it's better NOT to learn how to convert z-scores to percentiles as tons of other things are flying at you.

So, if anyone finds this blog entry by searching for something like "How to Prepare for an MBA program," start by ignoring all the people who tell you that you can't prepare, or that it's all intuitive, or that it doesn't really matter, dude.  (The people likeliest to say that are probably ducks...gliding 'effortlessly' along the surface while secretly paddling like hell below the waterline).

Here is some real, no-kidding advice that will help you land on your feet once things start rolling.  Study as much Statistics as possible.  Khan Academy and workbooks from a bookstore are good starts, but ideally, take a class (it will force you to apply your learning and stay on pace).  Next, study as much Accounting as possible.  If you find yourself starting to say things like, "Well, isn't it obvious that dividend payments shouldn't impact Net Earnings?" then you're on the right track.  Keep going.  And last, learn as much Econ as you possibly can.

Think of it this way....all the knowledge in those areas you walk in with through the front door on Day One is like armor.  It will get chipped away over time, but the more you start with, the better. Knowing how to calculate cross-price elasticities won't really make you smarter than your former self, just like the guy who says dogs and mice are mammals isn't really any smarter than the guy who says dogs are for hunting mice.

...But it'll sure make your life a lot easier. 

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