Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pop Tech: Slow is Good

I'm at Pop Tech in Maine, and I had the pleasure of meeting Carl Honoré, one of the speakers with whom I seemed to agree vociferously -- in particular, on the benefits of going slow.

I told him I'd share in more depth some ideas we began discussing last night. But first, a brief review for those who have not yet visited my planet.

Where Does the Time Go?

Last year, I consulted to the Thought Leadership group (as they call themselves) at PricewaterhouseCoopers to break down the essentials of what they do. For obvious reasons, I didn't mention the name of the company (although Carl and I had a word on it as well).

The information I posted about grown-ups comes from work with kids (who are really just children in uneven ways. Makes them very complicated students).

For Carl, I hearken back to those posts for a quick summary -- and at some points I'll try to find him some links.

The Point

For PwC, I posted extensively on principles of learning, blocks to learning, and thought leadership (if you'll pardon the expression) so that one member of the group had references with which to persuade higher up's of changing direction.

The Gist

Curiosity, is like hunger or thirst for a child, propels them to forward when fear or other emotional blocks would otherwise stop them from. Pursuing ideas for their own reasons can be frightening -- or worse: might not even occur to them as an option -- if very tall people in charge seem to be expecting you to read their minds. Fast.

What's Wrong With This (Other Than the Obvious)?

For novices and experts alike, fast is bad. The latter could probably use this lesson more than the former.

In attempts at problem-solving or analysis, most people get stuck somewhere between observation and drawing conclusions. We're an answer-based culture that designs schools in which kids feel they do not own their own educations.

Instead of exploring ideas with a sense that they might have new ideas on an old subject, kids more often get the impression that the answer pre-exists them walking into a classroom. It's their job to conduct a kind of scavenger hunt.

(To be fair to teachers, they have unreasonable goals to meet -- it's not their fault. But that's another post).

So What Happens?

Kids begin at a young age dissociate from what engages them and about which they are curious. Instead, they try to guess the answer that will please the teacher. Observation of the facts is rushed, and conclusions are drawn by short cuts.

The only way to make something else happen is to slow down the process of observation. It's essential to practice - and get feedback - on the results of observing what's in front of you.

Then comes the tricky part -- observing your own thought processes. Once you understand to look carefully at your own intellectual reactions, emotional reactions, and the relationship between them, that you have at least a shot at knowing what you think.

This requires slowing down for long periods of time. Always, if possible.

Why Bother?
This cuts to the core of the Big Picture reason for education: f children don't know what they think or how they arrived at their conclusions, how can you take responsibility for their convictions?

For businesses, this is no less important an issue when everyone is looking for innovation:

Without employees ability to observe both what is in front of them and the ways in which they process information, they'll continue to come up with what you already know. The unknown might be uncomfortable, but spending time in that space is essential to develop new ideas.

In other words, use known data points, and there's no way to come up with anything new.

From Kids to Corporates

As I mentioned, I've written many of these posts (sustainable curiosity, for example) explicitly for a corporate (or older child -- say, 40). All of these ideas come from children of the ordinary age.

More after today's sessions.

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