Curiosity

January 7, 2010

Article: Curiosity
Source: Seth Godin

We incorrectly think that the better a student/employee/coworker listens and follows directions without asking questions, the better they are.  It’s typically the people who are curious and ask questions that get meaningful things done in their life, and get meaningful things out of life.

If we’re ever in a position to teach, and we have a quiet class that is obedient to our ever command, we’re in deep trouble.

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Article link: How to train the aging brain
Source: Barbara Strauch, NYTimes.com

“….[we need to] challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”

We all know that our brain comprises of a series of interconnected neurons.  The neurons hold information, understanding, experiences and our knowledge.  Neurons have a life of their own.  Neuron A can be connected with neuron B, and one year later, that connection may be broken due to the lack of long-term use of that pathway between A and B.  Instead, neuron A may forge a new pathway through neuron F.  On average, 11 billion neurons exist in our brain.  That means there can be trillions of possible interconnecting pathways.  You do the math for the number of permutations and combinations that can exist.

Our ability to learn and our age constitute a true inverse function.  Once we leave academia, it seems we forget the fact that the very reason we are where we are today is because of the open mind we held during the first 25 years of our lives.  Because we went to school and were forced to make a sponge of our minds, our minds were able to develop new neuron pathways everyday.  We listened, we thought, we questioned, we rethought, we hypothesized, we argued, we concluded…. and then we repeated the cycle.  Day in and day out.  That leads to tremendous growth for the neuropathic network that makes up our brain.

Then, we left academia and slammed on the brakes.

As we tenure at work and collect “experience” points under our resume, we seem to lose our ability to learn from others.  For example, when was the last time we allowed ourselves to learn something from someone younger than us?  Our first reaction is to close our minds to their lack of experience and naivety.  We forget that the reason we excelled in school and work, the reason we received a steady stream of raises and promotions, is because we were in constant flux.  We let ourselves change.  We let ourselves develop.  We opened ourselves up to learning from others and experiencing new things.  Now that we’re older, why do we all of a sudden shut off the very faucet that nurtured our growth?

Research is increasingly proving that there is real value in challenging our habits and beliefs – even more so as we age.  Research also shows an advantage older people have over younger – the ability to recognize patters and see results and solutions.  As we age, our minds become good at viewing the whole picture, taking into account the larger scope, and arriving at a more comprehensive solution to things in life. (Finally!  I knew there was a reason why only older people ran our country!)

What if we, as we age, could combine the power of experience that comes with age and the sharpness of mind that prevails in youth?  What if we can train both aspects to work in concert?

Research says we can.  We just need to approach life as if we’re in academia all over again.  We need to become students again and open ourselves up to interacting with others who question our beliefs.  We need to break out of our cliques and social groups and make it a habit to explore.  It’s tough to leave – even for a moment – a familiar perch.  It’s tough to get out of our comfort zone.  But, we owe it to our minds to do it.

Teaching

October 26, 2009

Article: Experiment on teacher pay
Source: Marginal Revolution

Performance-based pay has long been heralded as the solution to the poor quality of education that permeates US-based primary education schools.  These educational institutions – elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools – significantly lack quality when compared to other similar schools in other countries.  Standardized exams prove this.  The question, then, is: how can we improve those primary education institutions?

The model, it’s often argued, is to copy the strategy that US-based institutions of higher education follow, since these institutions are better than any other in the world.  Professors of higher education (colleges, universities, trade schools, etc.) get paid better than teachers at primary education institutions.  Simple.  The article by Marginal Revolution (above) proves that incentive-based teaching works, at least in their sample size (India).

But, it’s not really that simple.  While student performance may have increased in the study done in India, what about the general trajectory of the teaching profession?  That’s the other side of the equation, isn’t it?

Teaching was once considered an art of passion.  Teachers were required to have a passion for teaching, a love for knowledge, and an addiction to spreading that knowledge to the coming generations.  Will incentive-based pay transform a profession of passion into a profession void of passion?  Or, is incentive-based pay the correct solution to turning around the downward spiral of the quality of education in US primary schools?

Math, or marketing?

September 1, 2009

Here’s a math problem that we all can relate to, courtesy of Seth Godin.

Let’s say you are the Gasoline Czar, and your goal is to reduce gasoline consumption.

And let’s say there are only two kinds of cars in the world. Half of them are Suburbans that get 10 miles per gallon and half are Priuses that get 50 miles per gallon.

If we assume that all cars drive the same number of miles, which would be a better investment:

Option 1: Put new tires on all the Suburbans so that their mileage improves to 13 miles per gallon.

Option 2: Rewire all the Priuses so they get 100 miles per gallon (doubling their average!)

Half the challenge is doing the math.

The second half (and more important part when looking to introduce change in society) is explaining the results in clear and simple language, so people understand why.

Answer: here’s a video on how to figure out the answer

So what, you ask? Why did I ask you to do this math problem?

I guarantee you that all the marketing in the world hasn’t convinced you of the importance of ensuring your tires are in good condition and fully inflated.  However, this simple brain teaser hammered the point home to you.  We now believe it because someone has shown us the same fact in a creative, eye-opening way.

Cost of brain teaser: $0.00
Cost of marketing the need to maintain tires: millions of dollars

We’re all experts in something.  What if we used our knowledge to explain macro problems in a creative way that people can relate with?

The power of posterity

July 28, 2009

Source: NYTimes.com
Author: David Brooks

An interesting (some may say ridiculous) question:
What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun?

While this is entirely hypothetical and bordering sci-fi, the discussion that follows is a rather interesting take on what subconsciously drives society and many of our actions.  I don’t really have any comments one way or another; just thought it was an interesting take on things.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Article Link: Scientists spot oldest ever object in universe
Source: CNN.com

Wait, I don’t mean to say that our lives are insignificant.  However, when you account for how old the Universe really is, our lifespans are so miniscule that we round off to a big fat 0.

Last week, scientists detected a gamma ray burst (fancy language for the rays of energy coming from the explosion of a star) that dates back 13 billion years.  Yes, that’s 13 BILLION years!

When we put our lives, our actions, our goals, and our existence into perspective,  we don’t matter all that much to the history of the Universe.  So, just relax when you come across challenges and hurdles.  It’s just a speck in the ocean of history.

Here’s the article, for those interested in the science behind this discovery.

Is your Inbox your job?

February 1, 2009

Article Link: Read the article
Source: Seth Godin, author

Technology has allowed us to set up systems that create a constant queue of to-do items.  Many of us use our email inboxes as a to-do list.  Technology is great at oversimplify these things so we can quickly take action on something.  However, it’s our responsibility to ensure we don’t succumb to the trap of viewing our job as simply responding to items in this queue. It takes serious effort and awareness to not fall into this trap.

You’re being paid for your creativity, ingenuity, solutions to problems, ideas about growth, management of people, etc. — not for your ability to just attend to a queue. The email culture we  live in requires us to  be conscious of this phenomenon, or risk succumbing to it.

What did MLK stand for?

January 19, 2009

Service. Human rights. Dignity.

Why not celebrate MLK Day as a National Day of Service, asks Seth Godin.

Here’s his article on the topic,  and some ideas that you can implement.

#10 is just brilliant!

A balanced mind

December 1, 2008

Article Link: Thinking about Obama
Source: David Brooks, columnist for NY Times

Maintaining a balanced mind in times of joy and sorrow, success and failure, etc., is advocated by many of the world’s philosophies.  We seldom see it practiced in real life except for a handful of colleagues or family members who either seem “balanced” by nature or make an honest attempt to be.

Regardless of which way you voted, there are lessons to be learned from the political theater we’ve witnessed for the past two years. Both candidates have great qualities.

McCain = passion, service to country, and a great citizen
Obama = calm, collective, and clear-minded

This article is an attempt to highlight just one quality of one of the candidates.

Sure, at the end of the day, we can conclude that it’s all politics and perhaps staged.  But for someone to be on a national stage for more than 2 years and maintain a sense of balance is no easy task.  In itself, the last two years have been the longest job interview any presidential applicant can ask for.

Article Link: http://www.fastcompany.com/node/1007055/print
Source: Fast Company Magazine

A new book out called The How of Happiness describes 12 scientifically proven ways to make yourself happier. The very first on the list: expressing gratitude to others!

Who would have thought that our own happiness is so intermingled with the happiness we impart to others? We all know human beings are social animals. But I think we’re social and extremely interdependent animals, regardless of how independent we convince ourselves we are.

In first grade, my teacher told me to do to others how you’d like them to do with you.  Science is now proving this proverb to be true.

(There’s a business idea in this article, for those entrepreneurs among us.)