Asians are better at math due to their language and because they live in rice paddies.

But don’t just take my word for it, take Malcolm Gladwell’s. That’s one of his assertions in “Outliers: The Story of Success.” I’ve written before about that book and I found myself thinking about it again the other day while at TechEd. My thought was this: Assume that the author is correct, and that Asians are better at math because of language and rice paddies. Does that matter? Who cares how quickly one can count to forty? What matters more is the concept of forty, and most important how that knowledge can be applied.

When I was teaching at Washington State we had discussions about the use of calculators in the classroom. Some of us (myself included) felt that they shouldn’t be allowed, that students should be able to do the work without any such aid. Other instructors felt they should be allowed because such aids were going to be allowed in the real world, so students needed to learn how to use them and we should focus on testing the application of concepts. Looking back I can see how I was wrong. Having a calculator doesn’t matter. What matters is knowing how to use it.

The same is true for technology in general. Knowing when to apply the right piece of technology is what matters most. Like Buck Woody (blog | @buckwoody) would say, “use what works”. There are times when SQL Server makes the most sense. Other times it could be Oracle. You may be better served by a Linux box for some things. In some cases Powershell could be what is needed. Perhaps NoSQL is the right solution for that web project.

Just knowing isn’t enough. You have to be able to apply that knowledge in order to come up with the right solution.