As I often stress in my Statistics courses, there is a major difference between two things being correlated, or moving together, and those same two things being connected by a cause and effect relationship. I found myself thinking of this the other day as I watched young people in our public pool play on a new attraction that showed up when the pool opened this year.
This year, our largest public pool in town now contains a series of inflatable surfaces that one can attempt to move along, much as a frog would move along lily pads. This analogy is reinforced by the painted frog footprints on each surface, and by the fact that the system bears the name of “Wibit,” which (I assume) sounds like a frog’s sound of “ribbit.” As I watched my daughter attempt this new diversion, I must admit that I was half tempted to try it myself. That is, until I noticed that most of the people trying them were under the age of twenty. I realized that there was probably a large correlation (which in no way reflected causation) between one’s ability to walk across the inflatable bridge and one’s innate knowledge of electronic devices. As someone who is still mystified by many electronic devices (which seem to be best understood by people much younger than myself), I knew that this was probably not a good idea. The fact that I have broken several bones in recent memory also figured into my decision to let my daughter try the new toy and to stand back and watch her and the others try it.
As I watched people attempt to make their way across the inflatable bridge, I noticed that there were several approaches that people were using to try to make it to the end. Some slithered along the line on their bellies, never daring to take the risk of standing up or walking upright. These people hugged what was familiar and safe closely, never risking their safety for a chance to move more effectively. I noticed that many of the youngest people on the bridge chose this snake-like approach, and were relatively, but not universally, successful using it.
Others did not slide along the bridge on their bellies, but crawled across it on their hands and knees. This was slightly more risky than attempting to transverse it on one’s stomach, but was still relatively safe. It was also slightly faster than was the snake-like approach, showing a trade-off between speed and effectiveness.
Then there were those who stood upright and took one careful step after another, often pausing to reach down to regain one’s balance as slight progress was made. This was more efficient than the other approaches. It was not, however, as efficient as the technique used by those who stood upright and took careful steps from one “pod” to the next, always being sure to step in the exact middle of each floating surface. This was the approach taken by my daughter, who took about two days to become proficient in making her way along the structure. Indeed, it was on the third day that one onlooker said to me “I think she’s got it.” Yes, she did.
And then there were the ones who threw caution to the wind and simply ran along the structure, believing, I am sure, that true speed would offset any forces that might work to throw them into the water. It usually did not.
I never did try the new toy, and probably never will. However, the different styles I observed from swimmers of all ages led me to wonder which approach I use in tackling new tasks in my own life. After some thought, I concluded that I was a hands and knees crawler in life, and probably would be had I had the courage to try the best new toy to come to our pool in years.
So which would you be?
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