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Monday, November 30, 2009

It's all in the name

Further reflection on my post earlier this month on learning and risk suggests that by using the word, "risk" I might be missing the point. This reflection was prompted by Peter's comment on my post and some interesting conversations with other learning professionals. The best of these yielded this gem of a quote attributed to a brigadier in the British army,

"Often the wrong idea executed with extreme violence turns out to be the right idea"

The trouble with the term "risk" is that it means too many different things to too many people. Moreover, it is perhaps against the zeitgeist of the credit crunch to exhort people to take more risks so that they can learn more. That was, of course, not what I was trying to say but I can see how it might be understood this way.

I proffer "attitude to uncertainty" as an alternative. Less pithy, I know, but perhaps a tighter definition.

Is our attitude to uncertainty the thing which best defines our ability to learn? You can have fun with the word uncertainty. The future is uncertain but when you come to think of it so is the past. We only think we know things.

"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we know that ain't so. " Artemus Ward [found on Peter Edstrom's blog for which thanks]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wild Friday Thought

I have just finished reading The World in Six Songs by Daniel Levitin, which was a birthday present from a friend that I highly recommend.

[note to self: is the fact that all of my birthday presents were either books or malt whiskey something I should be concerned by or proud of?]

In it Levitin examines the evolution of music alongside the evolution of human consciousness. This sounds terribly dry but is in fact compelling and fun in his hands he marries it to a dissection of the music of The Beatles, Paul Simon, Neil Young to Arcade Fire, Sting and Johnny Cash.

In any case towards the end of the book he talks about systems displaying evidence of consciousness. An individual ant in an any colony is no more aware of the actions of the whole than an individual neuron in the brain is aware of taste or thought or dreams.

This made me think about Michael Wesch's YouTube film "The Machine is Us" from a year of so back. Millions of people sorting, sifting the web, creating and collaborating...

I am sure I am very late to have this thought. We are the ants or the neurons. And it has only just occurred to me that the next big step is when the web attains consciousness!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday musings on risk

I have been thinking for a while about risk. My summarised view on learning is that without risk very little learning happens. So rather than focus on the learning content we should focus on the attitude to risk. Encourage people to challenge themselves and others a bit more, step outside of their comfort zones more often and reflect and they will learn more.

Thus I am disappointed to read Lucy Kellaway's piece this morning on managerial bone-headedness as it suggests that the window of humility is closing.

The idea that the recent "unprecedented" shock to our global economy might precipitate a reflection on the whole model seems to have been naive. Maybe like macro and micro economics or classical Newtonian and quantum physics, my little theory of learning doesn't apply across all realities.

A small girl stops peddling and falls off her bike or a little boy shakes a Coke bottle violently and covers the kitchen in stickiness. It is reasonable for them to reflect, adapt and maybe learn. But we drive the entire world's financial system into the buffers and one year on pretty much nothing has changed.

I'll be the first to accept that the reasons for "the perfect financial storm" are far from clear. There are a multitude of variables which will keep economists in decent arguments for years. But to file it under, "Too difficult to understand. Carry on as before" seems a little like a cop out.

Tim Harford (The Undercover Economist) is also good today on choice. Which makes me think a bit more about the above. Does too much choice mean the same as no choice in terms of a reduction in quality? You could think in terms of market and planned economies both being routes to failure.

But this also applies to learning. If you have no choice you won't reflect and learn. If you have too much choice you can't reflect and learn. New model of politcal and economic thought anyone??

Interesting to note that today my thoughts are entirely provoked by the FT...