All in Observation

Powerful Learning Comes From A Two Thousand Year Old Idea

Want to innovate education? Maybe focus less on educational technology and more on designing how people collaborate. In this spirit, I suggest we bring back the dialectic conversation. The dialectic is an ancient Greek method of learning that uses conversation to explore complex ideas. I think the dialectic a vastly under-utilised way of learning and I offer a small invented example of a moment of conversational learning.

Planned Obsolescence

Planned obsolescence, the process of intentionally designing things to fall out of fashion, function or repair makes a fundamental assumption of infinite resources that can be converted to things. But ecosystems are not infinite. So the onus is on all of us to make better choices. Those of us who make things and those of us who buy them.

Relationships are a Limited Numbers Game

Does technology let us soar to new heights of social connectivity? Unlikely. A theory known as “Dunbar’s numbers” suggests there is a physically imposed upper limit to the number of meaningful relationships that we can form. This seems to challenge the orthodoxy of trying to use relationship platforms to gain massive sets of social connections. 

Technology Zombies

We are building technology that zombifies us. Unsettlingly similar to how a fungus can zombify an ant. Yet fungus is part of a set of checks and balances that keeps ecosystems balanced. Our mass zombification by our devices doesn’t balance anything. It captures attention in mass, for the benefit of a few. 

A Lawn Story

The humble personal lawn, one per household, seem to be an intrinsic part of life, mainly because we don’t remember the choices and incentives that went in to making them that way. Strangely, our individual and personal lawns may be a powerful force of environmental destruction. We are caught in the grip of an irrational set of historical design choices.

The Revenge of the Small

There are many social and environmental challenges we face that are realtively easy to visualise. Things like crowding, poverty and drought. Strangely, it’s the small things that are often the biggest problem. Especially when there is a lot of them. 

When Candy Was Food

Candy, not too long ago, was advertised as a wonderful source of nutritious food, a stance behind which was a dangerous mix of commercial incentives and incomplete science. What is even more worrying is the ‘candy as food’ framing hasn’t gone away, rather it is just more sophisticated than before. Maybe we just have to accept that due to its long history of framing and reframing, candy, for many, will remain ‘food’. 

Responsibility for the Things We Make

Many of the things we make have secondary opportunities for action. Examples include: vehicles, social media, mobile phones, office supplies and more. Whether the harmful action is advertised or not, if it is easy to use it in the unintended fashion, and it works well to achieve a goal, then people will discover the usage and use it that way. Or, people will overuse something (e.g. cars) or use it in anger (e.g. social media). I’m sure you can think of other things we make that support and enable devastating outcomes because of their design. Why do we make them in the first place? Why do we allow them? When will we take responsibility for the things we make? 

Decay of Digital Data - A New Dark Age

We like to think that improvements in technology will create a world tomorrow that is better than today. However, we are rushing forward into a world where popular music videos are replicated thousands of times, but crucial windows into human life, legal decisions and precious research is lost. We are letting popularity algorithms and business models determine what is kept. It cuts right to the heart of our ownership over information and our responsibility to maintain it for the future. We’ve conceived this digital world of information as a system that we would manage with a top-down intelligence, but we’ve proven incapable of managing it well. 

A Thinking System - Mindsets Over Processes, Activities and Tools

Creative thinking and innovation are hard and we keep looking for one discipline or one perfect process to encompass all others. History shows we are at our best when different disciplines collide with each other in a non-linear fashion. Rather than choose one discipline over another, or focusing too heavily on thinking tools, I’m in the middle of developing a flexible thinking system made up of six fundamental mindsets. Like using pieces of Lego, I’m exploring how we can use the core six mindsets to build our own custom creative thinking processes and take on any problem we face.

Innovation in Education

There is no point in talking about innovation in education until we address the incentives that quash any chance of it ever happening. Grades are the most obviously misguided incentive. Everyone reaches for grades, but they lead us away from innovation as they teach us to fear failure.

The Trap of Magical Thinking

If we fail to act on issues like climate change, or we put human needs always above that of the environment as a whole, or we don’t get crucial vaccinations, then we aren’t just excercising our rights to have different beliefs. We are impacting the wellbeing of those around us.