My two and half old younger daughter came running to me, climbed up the bed and hugged me tight, her face hidden in the pillows and she rested next to me, quietly. I was perplexed. My wife came by looking for her, looked at her next to me, smiled and left the room. Later that night, when I asked my wife about what happened - she just said- our little bundle goes absconding as soon as she senses elevated levels of stress in the atmosphere. We both chuckled, marveling at the high levels of attunement kids have for sensing stuff, even at a tender age.
This reminded me of the marvel of human nature- a new born baby's natural proclivity towards mother's breast in search of the first colostrum, the first walk when they are about a year old and many more. What blew me away was the magic of the first, hand to mouth coordination, when the babies try to put food in their mouth on their own - you have to see how difficult it is the first few times before they perfect it like a pro without second thoughts.
That made me think - we humans do so many things instinctively without second thoughts. When it comes to a math equation or abstract science - it is slower and much harder. Why is that?
Interestingly, the opposite is true - a computer can beat us in chess, but a kid would give a robot a run for the money, when it comes to navigating the toys on the floor and reaching the other side of the room. Again, why is that?
One of the best answers for the why question is from artificial Intelligence guru, Hans Moravec, adjunct faculty member of the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University:
Instinctive/ Intuitive Part of Brain
"To survive, our early ancestors had to do several things repeatedly and very well: locate food, escape predators, mate and protect offspring. Those tasks depended strongly on the brain's ability to recognize and navigate. Honed by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, the brain became a kind of ultra sophisticated--but a special purpose--computer "
Reasoning /Abstract Thought
"Abstract thought, though, is a new trick, perhaps less than 100 thousand years old. We have not yet mastered it. It is not all that intrinsically difficult; it just seems so when we do it."
In other words, what Einstein did, what Mozart composed - the magic of the creative geniuses is relatively easy compared to many things we do in our daily lives. These folks, just happen to be in short supply! Analytically speaking, the number of steps involved in the higher level-reasoning problem is less compared to the computational horsepower needed for replicating the mobility or the perception of a one year old.
There is a famous line that aptly sums up this paradox named after Moravec.
Hard problems are easy and easy problems are hard
How does this line, impact our daily lives?
Our perspectives on things are all relative to the boundaries we set. These boundaries are set without us realizing it. In life, we all aspire to be better at the more abstract process we call reasoning. So, we define the boundaries of intelligence implicitly as the abilities of the conscious mind. What happens, if we expand the scope to include activities that robots find hard to replicate. The "hard problems" we solve instinctively. Suddenly there is more positive things we can notice in people.
We could wait at an airport and observe the passers by and watch what they wear. Or we could notice a person who is always a split second ahead in anticipating the falling glass or the one who optimizes the hand luggage weight balance better than others, or somebody who has a natural propensity to smile before others. If they happen sit next to you, what happens when we genuinely share their innate strength of their unconscious mind - we have made somebody's day at the minimum.
Closer to home, as we sit with our kids and help them in the homework and marvel at their reasoning skills, let us take a moment to expand our boundaries of conscious thought and observe the innately natural subconscious gifts in them. Bringing it to the forefront of their awareness also brings joy. A petite kid with very little power, but extreme precision in a bowling alley to consistently knock down 10 pins has the gift of the hand-eye coordination- just like surgeons and tailors.
Redefining our Mental Boundaries
In summary, just because the mobility or perception of a one year old looks and feels simple on the outside, it does not mean it is easy, behind the scenes. Great product developers and marketers implicitly understand this. Ask Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn about what makes a great product great - he is passionate about product development.
In the case of great products, a user may go a lifetime without realizing the brilliance of the intuitive simplicity of the products. In the case of people, a genuine observation and sharing of what makes people great is the fuel to their motivation engine. After all, science has acknowledged that nature's easy problems are hard to solve - let us learn to observe, share and celebrate our assets.
We are always thankful to the keen observer who brings the best in us from our instinctive world into our conscious world. For our part, away from our smart phones, let us look up and observe people consciously and deeply - expand our own boundaries and theirs.