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[Faculty Essay] Forget Numbers, Embrace Youth

  • July 12, 2011
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Picture of Professor Ferretto

Everything we do today seems to be quantified; quantified by numbers and rankings: from your frequent flyer status to your customer loyalty standing, we live in a world of statistics and data analysis. Even our social existence is quantified by the number of friends we have on the relevant social networks and evaluated into a social scoring number: 10-cool, 1 loser.

I have always been suspicious of this obsession with numbers, percentages and generally information deluge which enables people to skillfully mould any argument to their benefit; simply recount the relevant numbers, forget the ones that could jeopardize your case, and the argument is watertight, who in the right mind would dare argue against numbers?

Rhetoric is nothing new; it has long been employed since the days of ancient Greece where the Sophisists mastered the art of persuasion. However the art of pseudo scientific arguing has today exploded with the exponential increase in data which in turn surrounds us with serious side effects. Our intuition, creativity and general ability to think outside the box and question the status quo have all been inhibited.

While teaching undergraduate students at Seoul National University, I have witnessed the perils of data reciting where students with unquestionable academic abilities are unable to engage in critical debates and prefer to hide behind a curtain of data reciting. These problems, which could be easily attributed to the students, are (I fear) more a result of the system in which the students are taught in. SNU like most other Korean institutions needs to open up to a more horizontal relationship with its students and youth, forego vertical hierarchies which in the long run will stunt creative development. Passion and youth are the key to tomorrow success.

I realize that many readers might be tired of western voices like mine poking their fingers into Korean issue, simply highlighting defects and never suggesting alternatives. For this reason I would like to direct readers towards a book that recently opened my mind to a different way of thinking. “Whatever you think, think the opposite” by Paul Arden, is a book by the former executive director of Saatchi &Saatchi, a pioneering London based advertising company. It’s a short, simple and to the point manifesto of how to think outside the box. It will enable you to look at the world, your work in a fresh and alternative way. Maybe thinking the opposite is just what Korea needs to foster a new age of pioneering inventions.

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