The Inevitable

Technology is an inexorable force for change that is accelerating the evolution of our species, argues Kevin Kelly in The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future. He shares 12 forces that are shaping our immediate and not so immediate future, all fascinating, but a chapter titled ‘Screening’ really captured my attention.

Historically culture revolved around the oral tradition of lecture and storytelling but was disrupted by the mass production and access to books through the invention and spread of the printing press.

In the subsequent years, an author was considered an authority, with the ever present and fixed nature of the written word etched in ink, that could be referenced, referred to and cited with the understanding that what was written was true, verifiable and immovable.

The ubiquity of digital screens and the ability for amateur creators to publish, journal, share and comment has created an interesting period of tension with the segmentation of people into two categories that Kelly refers to as the People of the Book and the People of the Screen. People of the screen prefer the dynamic flux of pixels – the fluidity and flow of ideas, opinions, tweets, half-baked thoughts, memes and social commentary. Truth is no longer what is written, but rather the assembly of multiple streams of information interpreted, evaluated and re-interpreted through an individual and social construction and reconstruction of truth. Authors and authority are not given the same weight as an individual seeks to discover for themselves the validity of that which appears through their state of conscious and unconscious acquisition of knowledge and evaluation of arguments, counter arguments and opposing viewpoints.

Truth with a capital T, becomes truths, plural. Is this what we might refer to as a post-truth society? Maybe. Maybe not.

The call for children in schools to be able to distinguish between the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’ is the necessity for them to develop finely tuned bullshit detectors as they navigate a multiplicity of streams of information from different sources. I sit right in the middle of this Book V Screen tension. Having grown up with the first personal computers and gaming consoles (hello Atari 2600), I find that I read a ridiculous amount on a screen. I also read many books each year. I am currently studying a PhD which requires me to search online databases of relevant literature. I find that if I want to read something deeply however, I prefer a hardcopy. A print out of a research paper allows me to physically highlight relevant sections. Indeed, the tactile sensation of a hardcover volume somehow facilitates a deeper contemplative state. Why is this? I’m not sure but my guess is that a hardcopy text creates a more relaxed and passive conscious state as opposed to the activeness, interconnectedness and hyperlinked online environment.

Herbert Simon is quoted as saying that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” and this creates for me an interesting conundrum. What do I focus my attention on? Is it ok to wander down a rabbit hole of ideas, new media and tangentially related topics? Do I read a paperback non-fiction book or do I read it on a kindle and allow the sharing of my highlighted passages and annotations with an almost unlimited audience? Is reading a solitary or a social pursuit? Can I benefit from the collective commentary of and interaction with potentially thousands of other readers or am I ok with individual contemplation and reflection?

Kelly suggests that much like Wikipedia, the future is a state where all the books in the world combined with all the digital text on the web will become a single liquid fabric or interconnected world of ideas. This is both exciting and terrifying. A challenge to the identities of the People of the Book for sure. Identity, capital I, is a focus of my research as I seek to uncover the factors that inhibit and enhance an individuals ability to engage in identity formation and reformation.

In a recent Virtual Reality (VR) experiment at Stanford University, participant’s arms became their legs and their legs became their arms. That is to kick in VR, participants had to punch with their arms in ‘real life.’ This experiment resulted in what I think is a mind blowing outcome – it took a person on average four minutes to completely rewire the feet/arm circuitry in their brains to make this feel natural and allow action without conscious decision-making.

Our identities are far more fluid than we think and despite the tension that always exists between the new and the old, perhaps Marshall McLuhan was right when he said, “first we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.”

How We “Learn”

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens is not so much a book about learning but more the Cognitive Psychology of memorization. If you’re looking for general learning strategies or research into more effective ways of learning, you won’t find that here.

What you will find is a synthesis of cognitive psychology research that contradicts many of the long held beliefs about how the brain works. Much of it makes sense to me even though I wasn’t expecting a book about learning to be solely focused on memorization.

Through an examination of the literature, the author suggests that to optimize study that seeks memorization of facts as an outcome, an individual should;

  • Not have a quiet study zone as distractions can aid learning. Taking a break and checking facebook allows for incubation and may actually facilitate a solution;
  • Study in different locations as this can enhance memorization;
  • Engage in spaced repitition, varied practice and interleaving, that is spacing short regular study periods and mixing related but distinct material during study leads to transferrability. Repitition of the same skill over and over again has the potential to create a powerful and dangerous illusion. The illusion of fluency or actually knowing. With traditional ‘drill and kill’ repitition, skills improve quickly and then plateau. Transferrability is also suspect in this case. By contrast, varied practice produces a slower apparent rate of improvement in each single practice session but a greater accumulation of skill and learning over time;
  • Recite what you are learning out loud;
  • Start something early, leave it for an extended period, and then come back to it often;
  • Procrastinate as this leads to percolation, and this is a good thing for a motivated learner.

A interesting perspective on memorization and how we can benefit from the distractions of everyday life.

A Subtle Art

“In life, we have a limited amount of f*cks to give. So you must choose your f*cks wisely. Because when we give too many f*cks, when we choose to give a f*ck about everything, then we feel as though we are perpetually entitled to feel comfortable and happy at all times.”

The idea of not giving a f*ck is a simple way of reorienting our expectations for life and choosing what is important according to Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.

In a humerous but deeply philosophical two hundred pages or so, Manson shares his life lessons for living a happy life. His main points include;

  • We are all wrong, all the time, some are just a little less wrong than others.
  • Things go wrong, for everyone, so happiness is learning how to appreciate the struggles in life.
  • You are not special, stop trying to prove yourself.
  • Life is about solving problems, therefore pick good problems to solve.
  • Always be skeptical of yourself and have a fluid sense of your identity.
  • Conflict is necessary and inevitable. Learn to deal with it.

Manson suggests that most people who have “first world” problems are often victims of their own mentality and these problems stem from the fact that they have nothing more important to worry about. In addition, some people choose to believe that there is nothing they can do to change their situation. But there is always something that you can do. Changing the way you perceive problems and overcoming this victim mentality requires an individual to take extreme ownership. This can then reorient the way we choose to approach situations and help to overcome feelings of anger, helplessness and despair.

This is a self help book that challenges you to stop sweating the small stuff, find your purpose and embrace your faults in order to live a more content and happy life.

Extreme Ownership

This year I have committed to reading fifty books.

My first read caught me somewhat by surprise – Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Jocko and Leif are two combat-proven U.S. Navy SEAL Officers, who led the most highly decorated special operations unit of the war in Iraq and demonstrate throughout how powerful SEAL leadership principles apply to business and life.

I seriously think this may be one of the best leadership books I have read. Each chapter is broken into three parts; the first identifies a leadership lesson learned through Navy SEAL combat or training experience, the second explains the leadership principle and the third demonstrates the principles application to the business world.

Through riveting storytelling and the use of military language, the book explains the laws of combat applicable to any situation; Extreme Ownership, Cover and Move, Simple, Prioritize and Execute, and Decentralized Command. 

Extreme Ownership in particular prompted some deep reflection. The principle dictates that an individual must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame. For anything. If something isn’t working as it should, a team isn’t functioning or a relationship between two staff members isn’t working, then it is the leader’s responsibilty to look in the mirror and take extreme ownership of the situation. As Willink explains,

“As individuals, we often attribute the success of others to luck or circumstances and make excuses for our own failures and the failures of our team. We blame our poor performance on bad luck, circumstances beyond our control, or poorly performing subordinates – anyone but ourselves. Total responsibility for failure is a difficult thing to accept, and taking ownership when things go wrong requires extraordinary humility and courage. But doing just that is an absolute necessity to learning, growing as a leader and improving a team’s performance.”

I think this is a worthy challenge to all teachers and leaders in schools in 2017. Take Extreme Ownership of your situation. Take personal responsibility for failures. Have a difficult parent to deal with? Not happy about something in the curriculum? A relationship with a co-worker has broken down? A team you lead not performing satisfactorily? Take Extreme Ownership, engage others in the conversation and create a solid no-nonsense list of corrective measures that can be implemented to improve the situational outcome.

This book is a must read. Practical leadership lessons from a diferent perspective.

Some News

Delighted to announce that starting in January 2017, in addition to my current role as Director of Teaching and Learning, I will also be taking on the role of Director of our Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation.

The Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation has been operating for close to three years now and empowers teachers to be learners by connecting them to educational research, giving them permission to investigate their own practice and then developing the research skills to do this successfully. It initiates and supports partnerships between business, industry and academia, hosts guest speakers and explores new ways of teaching and learning.

Our Annual Report for 2016 has just been released. Take a look. Incredibly proud of what we have achieved in a short period of time and excited about new possibilities in 2017.