Seth Godin had a post last week about the importance of doing things in the right order. Here is the post, it’s a brief one:
If you put the jelly on before the peanut butter, the sandwich will fail.
And if you try to spread the peanut butter on the plate and then add the bread, it will fail even worse.
Like so many things, the order is not optional.
And yet, we often do the least-scary or easiest parts first, regardless of what the order of operations tells us.
I’ve probably made thousands of PB&J sandwiches in my lifetime, so I consider myself somewhat of an expert.
When I started making my own sandwich, probably around 10 years old, I would first spread the peanut butter on the bread and then put the jelly right on top of it, on the same slice of bread. I would then cover it with the empty slice of bread, and Voila! I had a PB&J sandwich. As Seth notes, if you put the jelly on first, and then try to put the peanut butter right over top, it is going to be a messy affair.
However, it didn’t take me long to realize that it was much easier to put the peanut butter on one slice and the jelly on the other slice, and then press the two slices together. And Voila! you’ve got a PB&J. It was much easier to make this way, and it didn’t matter if you started with the peanut butter slice or the jelly slice. Perhaps Seth is suffering from functional fixedness, thinking there is only one way to make a PB&J.
Here’s a link to a WikiHow on making a PB&J sandwich. Even though this shows the peanut butter being spread before the jelly, you will notice it doesn’t matter which one you do first.
There was even a story and a poll about the right way to make a PB&J sandwich.
Of course, some people might have a problem with the final step, combining the two slices, as shown by this tweet:
But that wasn’t the end of my concern about Seth’s post. The next item he notes is to make sure you don’t put the peanut butter on the plate first, and then put the bread on next. Is that something he learned through trial and error? I wonder how many people have ever made such a mistake?
Anyway, it got me thinking about other tasks where the order of operation might be important:
- do you put dirty clothes in the dryer first and then the washer, or is it the other way? Does it matter?
- do you take a shower, and then get dressed, or do you get dressed and then step into the shower fully clothed?
- speaking of getting dressed, should I put my undergarments on first, and then my outerwear, or would it be OK to do that in reverse order?
- should I give my tests first, and then use the next several classes to teach what was on the test, or is it the other way around? Would my students do any better if I tried giving the test first?
- should I think first before I start writing my blog posts, or should I just start writing, and then think about it after I hit Publish? For any of you who have read my blog before, you know that very little thought goes into anything I write…
I’m guessing Seth knows the proper order to do all these tasks in, but I just wonder if he also had to learn these through trial and error…