On the first day of this year I wrote:
“I like the sound of 2008. It looks like being an interesting year. For me, it is likely to be a time of a number endings and, I hope, some new beginnings. This, I expect, may be echoed more widely. So for all of you who some times wander here, my best wishes and may the coming year offer you new opportunities to move from places where you don’t want be and towards the places where you do.”
Well it has certainly been an interesting year and may well have been signalling some new beginnings as well as a number of endings. For me, it has largely been one long Full Stop and I have no idea what the following sentence will be. I may not be alone in this.
My sense is that 2008 will more generally be seen as an important punctuation mark. Many of the orthodoxies and certainties that increasingly dominated the English speaking world now look like important contributing factors to the current financial crisis. The whiffs of fear one can detect among many policy makers is a sense that they don’t know what is going on and quite what to do about it.
Frankly. I think recognising that we don’t know what is going on and what is going to happen next is a good starting point. Curiously, in one of bits of synchronity, that seem to happen over and again, while I was pausing to think about what to write next, I came across an interview with Michael Porter, a leading economic theorist. He, too, regards the current crisis as a positive opportunity for a rethink and new start. While we may all have rather different visions about where we collectively would like to go, may be agreeing that it is time for rethinking and new start is the best present we can give ourselves for the coming holiday season and a fitting end for a year of aargh.
( Thanks to 800-CEO-READ Blog for the tip. You can either watch the interview by Charlie Rose there or here)
When I started thinking about this post I was going to list a series of links to people who are arguing that things are much worse than we think. But why bother? It doesn’t take much effort to find them. Instead, in my Pollyanna like way, I will point you again to Roger Farnsworth’s interview with Carlotta Perez, that I have featured before. A useful counter to the cries of doom and good mindset to adopt for the coming New Year. Take hope and watch it here.
I often go to Pat Kane’s site “The Play Ethic”, in part in the hope that he has posted something new, but more often to look at his Delicious entries, which invariably take me to some unexpected and interesting places. Today,I came across a real gem, a piece by Richard Sennett from the Times back in February. He’s talking about craftsmanship and how we teach skills in the UK. This extract seems to sum up the heart of the argument:
“Take the creation of the mobile phone. This essential bit of modern kit resulted from the joining of two technologies, the radio and the telephone, which in the 1980s were not easy to link up. The technical problem lay in the switching mechanisms between the two. One approach to crafting a better switch was pursued by Motorola and Nokia, which encouraged engineers, salesmen and designers to collaborate in an open, easy fashion. By contrast, Ericsson emphasised benchmarks and targets for its various offices working on the switch; each office tried to make its mark in a firm that was internally highly competitive.
The Motorola/Nokia way proved more productive, quicker if messier, people pooling their thoughts and doubts about how to fashion the switch without worrying so much about getting ahead or standing out personally. Cooperation improved the skills of the Motorola and Nokia groups; competition inside the firm slowed Ericsson down.
The creation of the mobile phone switch is a model for how skills develop best. There’s nothing new about this model; medieval craft guilds enshrined collaboration in their rules. Perhaps the more modern note here is the emphasis on open-ended experiment, which took flight in the scientific revolutions of the 17th century. Good scientific craft emphasises the virtue of curiosity, which now, as then, means curiosity about what others know, think or doubt.”
The whole article is well worth a read and I just hope, without much hope, that those running our education and training system, who have largely taken the Ericsson route, will take heed.
Back in June I was urging you to go to the ChangeThis site and download Russell Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg’s manifesto, “Turning Learning Right Side Up”. Now, some six months later, I say again, go and download this one. Just to wet your appetite, here is another snippet that I think throws some light on the difficulties we face today:
“Much of our formal education focuses on problems and problem solving. It fails to reveal that problems are abstractions extracted from experience by analysis. Reality consists of sets of interacting problems—messes. Students are seldom taught or learn how to deal with messes. Instead, they are given exercises to “solve.” Exercises are abstracted from problems, themselves an abstraction; they leave out the information required both to formulate the problem and to solve it. They are purposeless problems. Questions often leave out the information required to understand the context of the problems from which the questions are an ultimate abstraction. For example, the answer to the question: “How much is 2 + 3?” depends on the context of the question, “Two plus three of what?” The answer will differ depending on whether we have in mind degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius, logarithms, or books on a table. Worse, creativity is suppressed in schools in which students learn to provide teachers with the answers they expect.”