“As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
When I worked for a large organisation, several extensive information repositories were available to track down useful articles, reports, people etc. This could also be combined with looking externally via Google or similar. A common complaint was that it was time consuming tracking down exactly what was needed i.e. too many irrelevant search terms cropped up. I remember a colleague mentioning at the time that most people didn’t know the full power of ‘search’ and if they did their life would become a lot easier.
A recent article in the Guardian jolted my memory on this and it gives a handy list of ten such methods for Google (see the article for details).
Instead of an ‘immediate’ search, think a bit and then try using:
1. Exact Phrase (use quote marks) eg “Joe Bloggs”
2. Exclude terms eg “Joe Bloggs” -jeans
3. Either OR eg alex hern OR hernandez
4. Synonym search eg plumbing ~university
5. Search within a site eg site:theguardian.com selfie stick
6. The power of the asterisk eg where there’s a * there’s a way
7. Searching between two values eg british prime minsiter 1920.. 1950
8. Search for a word in the body, title or URL of a page eg intitle:review
9. Search for related sites eg related:theguardian.com
10. Combine them eg site:theguardian.com smartphone review ~budget
I’ve just tried this on a topic I’m interested in and it’s given a couple of useful new results. You can also make use of Google Advanced Search, which gives additional options. The latter is probably not used as much as it could be.
The article comments:
As Google and other search engines improve their understanding of the way people naturally type or say search queries, these power tools will likely become less and less useful – at least that’s the goal that search engines are working towards – but that’s certainly not the case at the moment.
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’!
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 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.
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.