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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Even older learning...

Watching Barack Obama's inauguration speech yesterday, I have to admit that I have slightly fallen under the spell. On the today programme this morning one of the reporters, I forget whom, said that although Obama had resolutely avoided campaigning on a race basis his election was one of the watershed moments of our generation. Things that we didn't think would happen in our lifetimes; the fall of the Berlin wall, the end of apartheid, 9/11 and a black US president.

Amongst many other things that I found interesting (but do not feel qualified to comment upon here) I was awed by his mastery of rhetoric. Indeed rhetoric is one of the oldest elements of study in the world. Forming part of the trivium, rhetoric along with grammar and logic was the core of liberal arts education from the Roman period through to the establishment of the first universities in Europe in the middle ages on to the enlightenment, which of course links nicely to the founding fathers to whom Obama alluded.

Given that one of the most popular forms of business training of the last 30 years has been presentation skills, maybe it is time to revisit what we have known for centuries of the art of getting a message across?

If you want to think about this further, click on the link to rhetorical terms and see how many you think Obama used yesterday.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Old learning, newly relevant

A short thought for today.

I was having an intersting conversation at the weekend with an old friend about interest and inflation rates and was suprised that he did not know the "Rule of 72". I tested this on return to work on Monday and thought I would share.

The Rule of 72 is a very good way of working out how long it will take for inflation or compound interest to double or halve the value of an asset or investment. And it's REALLY simple!

Just take your assumed interest rate and divide it into 72. The result will be the number of periods (or years) it will take for your investment to double in value. Likewise if you assume an inflation rate over a period of time (heads up folks for next year!) and divide it into 72 the result will be the length of time it takes for your £1 to be worth 50p in today's money. For advanced versions and a delightfully geeky explanation of why it works click on the link

While we're on the subject another lovely old maths shortcut is the Rule of 9. Again really simple. If you have a spreadsheet which is not balancing, ie you have two columns of number which should add up to the same number and don't. Take the remainder see if it is divisible by 9.

If it is, then the likelihood is that you have made a transposition error, ie you typed "21" in one column when you meant to type "12" or, "731" when you meant "713".

Isn't maths fun?

Monday, January 5, 2009

How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Answer (delivered in cod Austrian accent): Vun, but does ze lightbulb, really, vont to be changed?

Reading Lucy Kellaway's piece in the FT today, "Twaddle thrives among the turmoil", I had conflicting thoughts. Firstly, thank heavens for Lucy Kellaway. Without her to puncture the bubble of brain-blisteringly bad business communication the world would be a worse place to live. I relish her scathing attacks on nouns used as verbs or companies exhorting their staff to download the corporate ringtone to their mobile phones.

But I am saddened at the same time as her article, although it makes me laugh, does not bode well for our future. If we still cannot do business without the accompanying oxymoronic, tautologous or just downright stupid verbiage attached. If we fail to spot and arrest the intelligence-insulting garbage that is peddled as strategy, are we doomed to follow forever an emperor with no clothes.? And that does not suggest an early end to the recession...

Yet, I am not immune from the habit myself (indeed I freely admit my hypocricy). My communication is often lazy, sometimes pretentious, regularly fuzzy and inconsistent at best. So rather than moan about everyone else, perhaps the best way to start the year is to begin at home. So I invite those who work with me to list the most extreme forms of my crimes against communication. Tell me about the phrases I use that really wind you up and I will try to stop using them.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The heart of learning... is the question

George Siemens's post before Christmas about the Pirate Hoax really got me thinking about how the world is changing. It concluded with the line:

"Information is now validated at the point of consumption, not creation"

I prefer a statement of need:

"Information should now be validated at the point of consumption, not creation"

The problem being that it isn't and it really needs to be. The world is becoming increasingly credulous. To be fair we were pretty credulous before; most people believing what they were told or read in the newspapers or saw on television. Now with a proliferation of information facilitated by Internet tools, it is actually easier to support just about any belief with any number of "facts".

But learning isn't about facts, despite what you may think. Ask any decent PhD supervisor and they will tell you that the heart of learning is in the question. In fact I would maintain that to question is to learn.

As a linguist and an historian I suppose I have two main causes to push, "meaning comes from context" and "validate your sources". I think we need to put these ideas front and centre in any evolution of learning.

I am a British man and I have a love/hate relationship with France and the French (love the former, hate the latter - only joking). But one of the things that I respect most about them is that they have maintained the spirit of the enlightenment in their education system. They encourage the Cartesian ethic of questioning everything from an early age. It is why they are so difficult to manage.

But for the rest of the world here are some top tips for learning in 2009:

1. Look at the atheist ten recommendations, in my opinion a very good way to approach lifelong learning.

2. Seek discussion and dissent. If you surround yourself with people who agree with you, you will achieve little. By finding new sources of opinions you are more likely to find the holes in your own beliefs and ideas.

3. Embrace the idea of "Good enough". You are already, "Good enough". Yes, you can do better. We all can and we should aim to do so. But there is no point in beating yourself up for not being perfect. Nobody is. It is much easier to improve yourself when you already think you are OK.

4. Find time to think.

5. Find time to act.

Have a wonderful 2009!