My son, Isaac, and I recently put together the computer kit he got for his sixth birthday. The computer is designed to help kids learn to code, but it also comes with a few fun games installed, including (nostalgia alert!) Pong.
We quickly learned that this particular version of Pong was surprisingly challenging. As Isaac tried to get the hang of it, I headed upstairs for a few minutes. Soon I started hearing jubilant exclamations from downstairs: “I’m winning! I’m winning! Come see!” I thought, “It’s official. My son is a genius. He became a Pong expert in 11 minutes. Parent of the Year contest judges, look no further!”
Delighted, I headed down and asked Isaac how he’d taught himself to play Pong so quickly. He replied, “No, Mama, look. If I just sit here and don’t move the thingy, I win most of the time. I might lose this time, but I’ll win the next one and the next!” Then he left the paddle in the middle of the screen, sat back, and let the computer lose two-thirds of the time.
After I stopped laughing, I realized that I was quite proud of Isaac’s problem-solving ingenuity—maybe even prouder than if he’d actually mastered the game! I couldn’t help but think that a similar approach would continue to serve him well in life. Instead of expending all of his mental energy, which may have caused him to get frustrated or give up, he found a different solution that also happened to be easier. As one of my friends noted after hearing this story, Isaac “worked smarter, not harder.”
Her comment made me think of the ways we use our time and energy at work and at home. Are some of the tasks we do daily, or problems we continually try to solve, really just time sucks that cause us to spin our wheels? Are there situations where it might be better to put the pieces in place, sit back, and let a positive result emerge? I know for me, the perfect is often the enemy of the good. I can spend too much time trying to get something just right instead of leaving well enough alone, losing time on other tasks (and ending up frustrated that the results aren’t perfect anyway).
I’m going to try to remember what I’ve dubbed “Isaac’s Pong Principle” as I head into the holiday season. Maybe as your year-end projects and commitments start to pile up, it will be a useful strategy for you, too.