Tag Archives: Learning

Putting Forth Your Best Work

Your academic mentors invest their time in your future, so they want to see you succeed.

Your friends and loved ones care about your well being, so they want to see you succeed.

Your department invest equipment and resources on your training, so it wants to see you succeed.

But the real world has no accountability to you, so it doesn’t have to care about your success.

That’s a good thing because the real world only cares about actual good work. So put your ideas project out there, and let the world see. Send out an abstract, write a paper, propose a grant.

Whatever the outcome, you learn where you stand. It’s the market economy at work, and the academic equivalent of an open beta test.

So it’s not so much about putting forth your best work – you can’t always tell what “best” is.

It takes courage just to put forth work, and more so to let the others decide.

Write it down if it’s important.

Increasingly, I hear professors giving a lecture saying something like “don’t worry about taking notes because the PowerPoint slides will be posted.”  Having a copy of the lecture slides is obviously incredibly helpful when reviewing.  However, given that some of most solidified knowledge I remember came from painstakingly recorded class notes (or a very, very funny professor), the “do X because Y” correlation with note-taking strikes me as strangely dissonant.

A lecturer who recommends against taking notes makes the following assumptions.  (1) The delivered lecture/speech can be fully captured using a set of PowerPoint slides.  (2) Reviewing his/her PowerPoint slides provides near-identical experience as reviewing one’s own paraphrase of those relevant learning points. Assumption #1 is one the lecturer makes of the educational content itself and is outside of the learner’s control.  However, assumption #2 is one made about the learner, and I’m not so sure that it’s true.

In the digital age, the world has moved away from manual production of information and into data automatism.  Book used to require manual copying which was labor-intensive and expensive.  It gave the actual reproduction of writing value.  The advent of printing made the reproduction of information dramatically cheaper, but creating information de novo was still labor-intensive and considered valuable.  Then came the arrival of the computer file system and electronic books (quick age test: when you think “file” do you think a computer folder with word documents or an actual vanilla folder with paper files?).

On the other hand, the cost of creating good information improved more slowly.  The labor of recording creative thoughts has decreased: we no longer carve words onto tree barks; some of us even stopped writing on paper altogether.  However, creating information ultimately relies on an innate ability to convert thoughts into something the five senses can digest – words, images, sounds, gestures, dances.

So the underlying question is this: is “taking notes” a creative or replicative learning process for you?

The Quest for Working Happily Ever After

Heart rate mildly elevated, the sweat glands open, eyes fixated on the task at hand.   Time feels slow – or even frozen – but also at once flies by between each glance of the watch.  It’s an experience termed flow, which has been famously described by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in a book by its namesake.

Flow has many components, but the most easily understood set include challenge and feedback – engaging in a task just sufficiently difficult to the level of ability and knowing immediately whether you did the right thing.

Like Fight Club, the experience was in everyone’s face; Csikszentmihalyi just made it visible.  The experience was on everyone’s tongue, and he just gave it a name.  In fact, it’s an experience so addictive (yes, flow experience and cocaine both use the dopamine pathway) that we sometimes spend the entire first half of our lives seeking that experience which we call a career. Continue reading

What does your gut tell you?

Credit: Dilbert.com

There is polarized debate on whether instincts are worth following.  Companies are increasingly relying on quantitative metrics for new hires over subjective interviews.   Nate Silver’s The Signal and The Noise pitches old-school scouts against number-crunching quants to find the next baseball star.  And doctors are taught to follow the science even if it sounds counter-intuitive (such as prescribing beta-blockers, a heart slowing medicine, for patients with heart failure actually prolongs life).

But all is not lost for those relying on instincts – as your gut instinct may tell you.  Last year a New York Times article argues that big data is imperfect.  In his research, Nobel-prize winning Daniel Kahneman finds that our minds are naturally wired to think in both instincts (System 1) and data (System 2).

At the end of the day, the new age of big data and massive informatics does not preclude the need to slow down and use our own System 2 to process whether the science behind our decisions truly make sense.  Instinct is neither good nor bad; it is merely instinct.

We debate in groups but think in solitude

Conversations are meant to be transformational – it is the reason why language exists. Famous leaders sometimes prefer high-octane debates over consensus building.  Jeff Bezos and Amazon is famous for using confrontational, high-decibel verbal exchanges for decision-making.

But people and companies are different – in much the same way that your best friend may be a great listener over drinks in private but turns into the most confrontational, obnoxious jerk when the group gets big enough.

Humans are social animals.  But we are also solitary animals.  We are different animals in different settings. Continue reading


Experts Articulating Expertise

One problem with relying only on subject matter experts for course development is that experts can only articulate about 30 percent of their knowledge.

Ken Koedinger, Professor of Carnegie Mellon University, as cited.

This phenomenon is called the “curse of expertise,” and it shows up in all sorts of settings—not just the instructor who can’t communicate what she knows to her students, but also the parent helping with homework who can’t get a concept across to his child, the marketer or salesperson who misjudges what customers knows, and the manager who’s frustrated that his employees don’t “get it” more quickly.

Annie Murphy Paul, The Brilliant Report, as cited.

Why Many Personal Projects Fail

At least for me, keeping up New Years resolutions is like living through Ground Hog Day of recurrent failures. Continue reading