They’re All Made Up

July 27, 2015

Nice short post from Euan Semple:

Present a human being with disparate bits information and we will try to make sense of them, to give them meaning, to get them to tell a story. We can’t help ourselves and do it all the time.

We also try to get the world to fit our pre-existing stories. Those we learned from our families, our colleagues, our neighbours. We feel better when it does.

In fact having our stories disproved unsettles us and challenges our very sense of self. We cling to them for dear life. We cause ourselves untold stress and unhappiness when the world doesn’t conform to our stories. We even fight wars over the need to prove that my story is more true than yours.

We would do well to remember that they are all made up.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the various things I’ve done over the past ten years and some days a short insight will present itself (seemingly for no reason whatsoever). The above post summed up my current feelings really well. It’s particularly relevant when you realise that you’re actually trying to convince someone (or they you) that your story really is ‘true’!

Searching For A Cause

January 3, 2015

Tidying up the kitchen recently, I turned on the radio and a 10 hour BBC dramatisation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace was on (here)!

During the short part I had the time to listen to, I heard this:

It is beyond the power of the human intellect to encompass all the causes of any phenomenon. But the impulse to search into causes is inherent in man’s very nature. And so the human intellect, without investigating the multiplicity and complexity of circumstances conditioning an event, any one of which taken separately may seem to be the reason for it, snatches at the first most comprehensible approximation to a cause and says ‘There is the cause’……

There is, and can be, no cause of an historical event save the one cause of all causes (i.e. God). But there are laws governing events: some we are ignorant of, others we are groping our way to. The discovery of these laws becomes possible only when we finally give up looking for causes.

A bit more on this topic, causation and complexity, in relation to Tolstoy’s War and Peace can be found on the Oxfam blog, From Poverty To Power.

The Wisdom To Be Successful

January 2, 2015

The TED clip above features cardiologist Jonathan Sackner-Bernstein and he makes the case that age is/can be an advantage in making discoveries or coming up with new ideas and products.

He also makes the point that it’s your obligation to do something about any insights you might have, as even though you may not have the ‘energy of youth’, you do have the wisdom of experience. He gives a variety of interesting examples that support his case and has the nice turn of phrase ‘the wisdom to be successful’.

I found his own story very compelling (15:45 in the video) where he had a hunch that something was wrong with a widely acclaimed drug for heart disease. The end result was that the drug got turned down, making a massive impact on healthcare (financial and medical). The process for carrying this through must have been unbelievably tough, both in steadfastly believing his hunch as well as relentlessly pursuing it’s consequences. Obviously sometimes you’re going to be wrong but that shouldn’t be an obstacle to taking action (fear of failure).

I have to admit that I’ve fallen into this trap myself, thinking that most interesting things need the vitality and curiosity of youth. That obviously has an important role to play but, as he emphasises, it’s only part of the story and ‘making a difference’ can anyway take a variety of forms. Like Fleming (who was 47 at the time), keep an eye out for your mould, it’s probably already in front of you!

I came across this clip by chance and found it very inspiring, especially as the New Year is just starting.

Making Connections

December 11, 2014

knoweldgeFrom original artwork by Hugh MacLeod

The above picture was spotted in an interesting article on How to Generate More Good Ideas, and highlights the crucial role of connections. See also the illuminating quote from Steve Jobs below, on the potential benefits of having lots of dots.

steve-jobs=creative 2


Teaching To Learn

November 9, 2014


In this context it’s also invaluable to remember that:

“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” – Albert Einstein

Doing the latter is actually not common or easy as people often take lots of things for granted eg jargon. This is related to the so-called ‘curse of knowledge‘.

See also a previous post on the role of collaborative conversation in education.

Topic first spotted on the blog of Nick Milton.

Picture credit here.

Cultivating Collaborative Conversations

October 20, 2014

I sometimes visit Bill Gates’ blog, GatesNotes, to see what books he’s reading as well as for his occasional and interesting reviews eg here. The leading header on the blog a while ago was an interview he had with a Teacher of the Year (Washington State, 2014).

Although education is not a primary interest of mine, I watched the video above and quickly became fascinated.

From the blog post:

Katie had an insight that really struck me: She said we’ve known for a long time that most students won’t learn if you just stick them in a classroom and make them listen to a lecture. They have to put the learning to use and make it relevant to their own lives. And yet most teachers still get their professional development at seminars and conferences, where they sit listening to lectures. “We would never do that with kids,” Katie said, “but we still do it with teachers.”

This extract relates to quite a few posts on this blog on different ways of sharing knowledge (see knowledge management category on the rhs).

The main points from the short video above are:

  • Time – the school principal is heroic enough to give the teachers time to learn through mutual collaboration (as opposed to cramming yet another task into an already busy schedule; in other words, something else is given a lesser priority!). I can imagine that just doing this one thing sends out a very powerful message. The example given is that the in the monthly 45 minute staff meeting, 30 minutes is spent on discussing ‘instruction’ (how can we all teach better?).
  • Large group collaboration – this is for generating the big picture and is typically not hands-on.
  • Small group collaboration – this is for applying the big picture insights to specific areas, say physics or French and is hands-on.
  • Visits – a group of teachers go around the school to see how well the ideas are working out, taking the whole working environment into account (for example the use of graphics on the walls might be very effective and this approach could be used elsewhere).

An example discussion question is: How do we develop strategies for better student dialogue, how do we help kids have more constructive conversations in class?

This question sounded pretty impressive to me!

I have no experience of teaching in high school although I have taught at various universities during my time in academia. However, in common with many other lecturers, I had no formal training for this, let alone (planned) collaborative discussions about good methods that worked.

I was curious if any of this could be transferred to a business setting, even in an approximate way.

For example, replace the above school discussion question by: How do we develop strategies for better business dialogue, how do we help people have more constructive conversations in their work environments, leading to better understanding, motivation and results?

The first thing that came to mind was a partial overlap with the idea of ‘knowledge cafes’ that are already being successfully used in various organisations eg see here. Typically they start with a question for a whole group which is then discussed in detail via small groups. The full group then gets together again to see what personal insights or actions the discussions may have lead to.

The school approach above could be thought of as a type of ‘cafe’ which roles on month after month and where the questions are collaboratively developed. Importantly it also includes the facility of seeing how insights are realised in particular settings through visits e.g. to working offices. In a business setting, such a ‘cafe’ (based on collaborative conversations) would become an integral way of working rather than a separate activity.

Speaking To Oneself

September 25, 2014

“Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.” – Margaret Millar

Thinking about it, so are some emails!

See also here (on the quality of feedback in conversations).

Originally spotted as a ‘quote tweet’ from David Gurteen.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.