Interaction Effects

We often talk about the world being made up of discrete entities or concepts. This is a helpful construct, but it’s also the case that interesting happens at the interfaces between them. Some examples that come to mind:

  • Nature vs Nurture (I). Epigenetics shows how the environment can change which genes are expressed.
  • Personality and Income. Some great research by Dr. Rong Su at Purdue University provides evidence that being a highly extroverted man hurts income potential when he comes from a low socioeconomic background but helpswhen he comes from a high socioeconomic background.
  • Nature vs Nurture (II) The latest evidence I’ve seen suggests that intelligence and personality show a high degree of heritability. Not at surprise to me. However, even much of what would we would call “environmental” factors are often themselves influenced by genetics. For example, the parents inclination to have books in the house or read to the child – or the child’s interest hanging out with certain kinds of people – is itself highly heritable.
  • The Myth of A-Players. There is often a belief that a person who has been successful in one environment will be an A-player in all. But the data and anecdotes don’t support that. Context matters. (Another reason why I think a lot about how to assemble teams and establish a culture.)

Most of this comes down to the fact that, in any complex system, everything is connected. We think of bees and flowers as separate things. But how long would either last without the other? My view? There is no bee or flower. There is only the bee-flower system. And so on.

We as humans are not particularly good at understanding the relationships between things that are separated by time and space. But just because we can’t intuit them easily doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Breaking down the system into parts may help us organize our thinking, but sometimes those conceptual distinctions can bias or limit our understanding.