Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Poorly Chosen Example?


After taking on the subject of "what women want", and suggesting that it isn't success at the highest levels of business and industry, John Tierney is now attempting to buttress his thesis with the results of Scrabble tournaments.
For a quarter-century, women have outnumbered men at Scrabble clubs and tournaments in America, but a woman has won the national championship only once, and all the world champions have been men. Among the world's 50 top-ranked players, typically about 45 are men.
And my guess is that pretty much any of the women Tierney just referenced could beat him in at least four games out of five... which might have been an interesting subject for his column, but instead we get something else entirely.
The top players, both male and female, point to a simple explanation for the disparity: more men are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the top. You need more than intelligence and a good vocabulary to become champion. You have to spend hours a day learning words like "khat," doing computerized drills and memorizing long lists of letter combinations, called alphagrams, that can form high-scoring seven-letter words.

Suppose you draw the letters AELNRST. A mid-level player could shuffle the tiles for a while and find one or two seven-letter words. If the T in that rack were a U instead, the player might spend a couple of minutes fruitlessly looking for an anagram of AELNRSU.
Tierney suggests that women are inclined to chase after the genes of victorious men with the means to support children. "And when women pursued what's called a short-term reproductive strategy - a quick fling - then presumably evolution favored the woman who was attracted to a man with good genes, as manifest either in his looks or in some display of prowess." He then suggests that guys at the bottom often end up alone, giving them an incentive to complete, and attempts to close the circle: "It has been noted at Scrabble tournaments that some of the best players are single guys with wide-open social calendars."

Perhaps Mr. Tierney should consult with some of the male leaders of government, business, and industry, to see how many of them can compete at the highest levels of Scrabble, which of them read dictionaries to relax, which of them memorize lists of anagrams for fun... And perhaps he should consider why people with those traits are more inclined to have wide-open social calendars despite their tournament success. Giving Tierney's claim of "Scrabble groupies" (who presumably lust after tournament winners) its due, he may also wish to inquire how many of the leaders he interviews (the guys he describes as "the few rich winners [who] have gotten more than their share of wives (through polygamy or a series of trophy wives)") have Scrabble groupie wives.

If Mr. Tierney doesn't recognize the difference between the competitive behaviors which lead to wealth, power, and a succession of trophy wives, and those which lead to remarkable success at Scrabble with an empty social calendar, he doesn't know enough to be writing about this subject. (I don't mean to neglect the occasional socially inept CEO who is obsessed with words or numbers, or to diminish the possibility of a Rudolph Valentinos of the Scrabble set - I'm speaking in generalities, which I believe hold.) As Tierney himself suggests in his terminal sentence, the traits and interests which put you at the pinnacle of Scrabble play aren't those which are likely to make you a prime candidate as a CEO.

1 comment:

  1. It's just more verbal fetishizing of the whole Mars-and-Venus thing.

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