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We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
- Lukas Michel, cited by David Creelman in Lukas Michel’s Performance Triangle
I build on some thoughts of Anna Carlson regarding hierarchical versus networked learning in business, and how fear can affect organizational learning:
I maintain that fear is perhaps the biggest barrier to innovation, creativity, and resilience in organizations, so the first point to draw from Carlson’s piece that work to reduce the culture of fear that exists in so many organizations.
Anna goes on:
Societally and in the media we celebrate the beauty of youth, we see this as being fresh, open, malleable, exciting and open to opportunity. Whereas old age is seen as stale, stuck in our ways. What if we adopted a youthful, open, curious mind in business?
I am reminded of one of the most powerful influences on my thinking, which is the masterpiece of Zen literature, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, which opens in this way:
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.
So, to paraphrase, we need to devise a learning culture based on the premise that we are always beginning, never finished. Each of us is constantly developing new observations, new premises, concocting new explanations for what is going on. And our business culture needs to support that, and not suppress the curiosity that animates beginner’s mind.
R. Douglas Fields, Transcranial Stimulation Shows Promise in Speeding Up Learning
Katrin Bennhold via NY Times
Privacy concerns divide the generations almost as much as technology. “They have a very casual attitude to privacy,” says Wehleit. But that’s just it: The flipside of this attitude is that teens like Eva, Johannes, Leo and Arne are much less selfish with their knowledge than we were. They share their study notes not just among friends or in their class, but across the country: Abiunity.de is a goldmine of shared files on every exam subject on the German syllabus. Unlike us, many of them study regularly in groups and seem to be much better at it.
“They are much less hierarchical than you guys were,” observes my former biology teacher, Gerd Schiefelbein.
Today they use social networking to rally around the coolest band of the day and organize ad hoc parties with amazing turnout. As adults they will have the tools to rally large communities around the causes they care about at unprecedented speed. They don’t mind small tailored ads, but abhor big intrusive ones. They trust one another more than politicians and big companies. My bet is that they will be demanding customers and demanding voters.
At my old school I was struck by how much teenagers have changed. But I was also struck by how little the school had changed, and I don’t think it’s an exception. Teachers are right to fret about attention deficits and lazy thinking. But no fundamental rethink seems to have occurred about how teaching and learning should take place in the age of social networking.
“The problem is with adults,” says Leo.“If they say we’re becoming more stupid, it’s perhaps because we’re in a school system they invented.”
“We need better teachers and talk about more relevant stuff in class,” he adds. “Maybe they should ask us for some advice.”
One of the fundamental issues hasn’t changed since my day: they like to say the word ‘learning’, but mostly they mean ‘schooling’. Do what the teachers want you to do is mostly not about learning, its about conformity.
But the world of young people has dramatically changed — the social revolution — and schools have not kept pace. For example, there is no mention in this piece about trying to integrate social tools into the curriculum, only tales about the educators trying to keep it out.
I would like to find a school that has attempted to recast itself around social tools and their application to education: a social education case study.
Jolie O’Dell cites another study showing the obvious: that tuning into the world outside the piecework on your desk takes time. It you add up all the time that we spend reading things, communicating with people we known, and looking at websites, and then multiply it by the dollars per hour we are paid, it’s a big number.
It’s preposterous to have to counter this handwaving once again, but here goes:
Workers are not gears in a machine. If your job can be performed by a soulless automaton, then your business should buy one and turn it on. You are in your job because you are a human being, and you need to be able to apply your reasoning and problem solving skills to your work. Machines can’t do that yet, except in very narrow domains like chess playing and identifying trees based on the shapes of leaves.
Our time is not our own. I truly believe that our time is increasingly not our own, but I don’t believe that our time is owned by the company that pays us. What I mean is something quite different. But first, let me dispell the other meaning.
In a world where work/life balance is increasingly blurred — especially for creatives and professionals — we are not really being paid to punch in for eight hours, and then leave the ‘plant’ where we never spend a moment thinking about work. As if.
The reality is we are being paid for results. We are supposed to make progress against goals in the projects and work we are involved in, and the new normal is that we are — to some extent — always working. And to a similar and complementary extent, we are always living our personal life too.
Its only when some boneheaded Taylorist with a bug up his ass starts measuring our bio breaks with a stopwatch that the old convention of the timecard is pulled out of mothballs, once again.
Our time is not our own, 21st century version: Time is the New Space. The norms of social and business conduct is increasingly shaped by the social contract we are making online, as opposed to the other way around.
Stowe Boyd, Social Business
We are not sharing space online, although it the conventional wisdom says we are. We are sharing time. Time has become a shared resource.
Our time is increasingly not our own, in a good way, as we move into a streamed model of connection.
Individual time becomes less of a reality, and a shared thread of time will become the norm — shared with those that are most important to you and those that reciprocate. This will change the basic structure of work.
Time is increasingly less linear, less mechanical; but more subjective and plastic.
Individuals will choose to trade personal productivity for connectedness, as voices in the stream ask for help, pointers, and introduction. Connectedness will trump other obligations, specifically timeliness.
Or to recast it in more pragmatic and workaday terms: the reason that we can do our jobs is in large part derived from who we are, and what we know, and not just some static set of skills we possessed when we were hired.
We are learning machines, and otherwise not machine-like at all. We are designed to be constantly learning, as much as possible, and a great deal of our social interaction is based around that dimension. A great deal of thinking is tied up with learning, not just applying rote knowledge to static problems. We literally have to learn our way through new situations.
Many companies have abrogated their responsibility to help employees learn continuously, and so we have taken it upon ourselves to do so. And it’s no great loss, since industrial-era education was generally teaching skills that were half out-of-date as soon as they were learned, anyway.
So, the millions of dollars that are being ‘stolen’ by employees chatting with friends or reading blogs aren’t a theft at all. They are employees investing themselves in social connection through which learning happens.
Yes, it is a bottom-up, rogue sort of learning, where the employers aren’t calling the shots, but it is learning, nonetheless. And the businesses in the end get the benefit of smarter — a synonym nowadays for ‘more connected’ — workers, as the result.
And the sooner that these idiot researchers throw away their stopwatches and start to measure what matters — instead of what’s easy to count — the better.
I bet some jingoistic editor renamed this piece of Carey’s, because the actual subject matter is significantly broader than font size. It’s really about about learning activities that are more difficult cognitively — like writing outlines from scratch, or working on unfamiliar math problems — are significantly more likely to improve learning and retention. It tuns out that dealing with unfamiliar fonts can have the same effect:
The brain automatically associates perceptual fluency, or ease of storage, with retrieval fluency, ease of recall. This is a good rule of thumb for lots of new facts: some people are especially good at remembering directions, others are better with names, still others with recipe ingredients, sports statistics, jokes. But it’s not as good a guide when studying difficult concepts that don’t fall easily into a person’s areas of expertise or interest.
“For example, we know that if you study something twice, in spaced sessions, it’s harder to process the material the second time, and people think it’s counterproductive,” said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College. “But the opposite is true: You learn more, even though it feels harder. Fluency is playing a trick on judgment.”
A study to be published this year in the journal Psychological Science, led by Dr. Kornell, shows how strong this effect can be. Participants studied a list of words printed in fonts of varying sizes and judged how likely they would be to remember them on a later test. Sure enough, they were most confident that they’d remember the words in large print, rating font size (ease of processing) as more likely to sustain memory even than repeated practice.
They got it exactly backward. On real tests, font size made no difference and practice paid off, the study found.
And so it goes, researchers say, with most study sessions: difficulty builds mental muscle, while ease often builds only confidence. At least one group has demonstrated this principle in dramatic fashion, also using fonts.
In a recent study published in the journal Cognition, psychologists at Princeton and Indiana University had 28 men and women read about three species of aliens, each of which had seven characteristics, like “has blue eyes,” and “eats flower petals and pollen.” Half the participants studied the text in 16-point Arial font, and the other half in 12-point Comic Sans MS or 12-point Bodoni MT, both of which are relatively unfamiliar and harder for the brain to process.
After a short break, the participants took an exam, and those who had studied in the harder-to-read fonts outperformed the others on the test, 85.5 percent to 72.8 percent, on average.
To test the approach in the classroom, the researchers conducted a large experiment involving 222 students at a public school in Chesterland, Ohio. One group had all its supplementary study materials, in English, history and science courses, reset in an unusual font, like Monotype Corsiva. The others studied as before. After the lessons were completed, the researchers evaluated the classes’ relevant tests and found that those students who’d been squinting at the stranger typefaces did significantly better than the others in all the classes — particularly in physics.
“The reason that the unusual fonts are effective is that it causes us to think more deeply about the material,” a co-author of the study, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, a psychologist at Princeton, wrote in an e-mail. “But we are capable of thinking deeply without being subjected to unusual fonts. Think of it this way, you can’t skim material in a hard to read font, so putting text in a hard-to-read font will force you to read more carefully.”
Then again, so will raw effort, he and other researchers said. Concentrating harder. Making outlines from scratch. Working through problem sets without glancing at the answers. And studying with classmates who test one another.
The core skill? Thinking deeply.