What A School Math Problem Says About Leadership

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What can a math problem meant for 11-year-olds teach you about business? Your first reaction is probably “nothing” because the problem can’t be that complicated, right?

On Thursday, startup guru Paul Graham posed this question to his 216,000 followers on Twitter.

Graham said the problem was from the 11-plus exam, which is used in some parts of England to test students in the last year of primary school.

The correct answer is 22. There are a few ways to arrive at that answer, as Graham’s followers show in their replies.

If you didn’t understand the answer at first, look back at those replies again. Most likely, one of those explanations made more sense to you. However, as you continue to examine the responses, you’ll see that all of them are logical and arrive at the correct answer.

When working on a team, it’s possible that two people will have different ways of approaching the same problem. On a more complicated problem or issue, it might not be so clear that the different methods will yield the same answer. It’s important, then, that everyone is able to explain how he or she is tackling the problem.

In another situation, let’s say you had to explain the answer to this question to an 11-year-old. The child may not understand the method that you used or made the one that most sense to you. You might need to show him or her a second or third way to arrive at the correct answer.

We’re not necessarily saying your clients or employees would make entertaining contestants on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, but being patient and aware of different learning styles is always a winning proposition.

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