Challenging convention

How do 400 year old sayings guide our lives today?

The first post in an ongoing series on conventional wisdom.


Years ago, my oldest daughter Norah was struggling to tie her shoes. We tried everything and pushed her to keep trying. If only she tried harder, she'd figure it out. It was frustrating for her. It was frustrating for my wife and I.

Eventually, my wife found a video of a different way to tie shoes* and our daughter got it instantly. It never occurred to me that there was another way to tie shoes other than the way I'd been taught.

As a parent, I’d bought into the conventional wisdom that "If at first you don't succeed, try again." Increased effort solves everything.

At home and at work, we often buy into conventional wisdom. Idioms, sayings, parables, proverbs and fables form a network of beliefs that we apply in our daily life. This conventional wisdom is the unspoken foundation of our belief system. 

Many of these sayings were written for a more simple time. We don't remember — or maybe we never even knew — the details of the original saying. Maybe we've lost touch with the agrarian roots of the stories. Quite honestly, many of them are just bad advice for a complex, modern world.

I want to delve into conventional wisdom and ask what these foundation concepts really teach us. How they guide us and how they mislead us.

These ideas and stories are so ingrained in our psyche, that we are resistant to challenging them. I mentioned to several people that I wanted to reevaluate this conventional wisdom and they all reacted negatively. My wife -- a kindergarten teacher -- complained that I wanted to teach kids to quit. A former colleague argued that no one really takes conventional wisdom seriously. Others fought for their favorite idiom.

But I think that looking closely at these foundation beliefs is key to understanding why we behave the way we do.

I've selected a few pieces of conventional wisdom that are prime to be reevaluated. I’m going to pick them apart, look at the root of the saying and try to figure out how to translate them for the modern world.

This post is the first in my series about challenging convention. I went ahead and published the second post in the series, Kill two birds... If you’ve got a favorite bit of conventional wisdom you want me to explore, let me know on Twitter.

* Seriously… check out this way of tying shoes. It’s amazing.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is collecting little bits of conventional wisdom to rip apart in future blog posts. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.