Archive for the ‘Rational’ Category

00705 From Reason to Uncertainty

October 8, 2010

Doesn’t it seem irrational that after all that, with the abounding knowledge that eLearning can make vast improvements in student learning, that almost nothing has happened. After running across a number of other similar instances over the past couple of weeks, maybe we need to move beyond rational. Stick with me for the next half dozen thoughts/ideas.

Easy multiplying and dividing: An Indian mathematician created the decimal system in 500 C.E. and it took a thousand years for European adoption.

Teacher quantification: A master kindergarten teacher’s one year effort is worth $300,000 a year in future earnings of her class.

Slim people: Corn subsidies support high fructose corn syrup in sodas.

Booming economy: Modest salaries rewards for educators and technical folks, sky rocketing bonuses for financial folks.

Innovation bonanza: We hold spelling bees for memorization instead of idea bees for fluency.

From Middle Age math charts and tables to sugar soft drinks to today’s memorization these protocols are all products of rational thought. It takes a long time for rational new ideas to take hold and a much longer time to replace them. What was OK in a pre-industrial world may not be serving us very well in the 21st century. In the 19th century the steam engine was invented and fossil fuel power multiplied animal power a thousand fold. In the 21st century we are transforming our human culture with the digital age of information and communication. First we leveraged our bodies with technological innovation, and now we are leveraging our minds with next generation technological innovations.

The age of reason was fine for the slow moving run-up to the industrial age. But for the digital age, invention driven innovation is so rapid, and systems are so complex that deterministic models are not working. Change is caused by rapid triggering of transformation. Outliers such as the Berlin Wall, the Internet, the PC and financial crisis came out of nowhere. Experts and econometric models that our incumbent culture uses to forecast the future are useless. More over, they are actually dangerous because they get in the way of intuition and innovation.

I say it’s time to refocus from reason to intuition. Change from facts we know to concentrating on what we don’t know. Learn to live in uncertainty with a loose set of empirical rules. Escape the structured world based on limited knowledge, embrace unknowns and seek out the unknown unknowns.

There are a number of professions that practice uncertainty: “piracy, commodity speculation, professional gambling, working in some branches of the Mafia, and serial entrepreneurship.*” Looks like I am in good company! I will be taking this refocus onto embracing uncertainty and intuition into future blogs.

*Nassin Taleb, “The Black Swan.” Random House, 2007


00531 Ambiguous Decisions

October 8, 2010

Being an engineer, entrepreneur, designer and strategic planner, I have long been an advocate of integration of the rational, intuitive, creative and visionary aspects of decision making. This quartet seems to have served me well for most challenges over the decades. The one challenge that seems to be intractable to this approach is the transformation of K12 education to meet the needs and expectations of the 21st century. Many of our eSATS task team have been working on this issue for 20 years – some for 30, and at best the solution has reached the 5% level.

Last week, I had a heated discussion on this issue with my close circle of high-tech entrepreneurial buddies from the 1980’s. They recommended that I abandon this grand challenge and like an entrepreneur, refocus on something that has a reasonable probability for success. I retorted that I had done the smaller summits, and Mt. Everest is the only game worth playing.

But it got me thinking that maybe my quartet of decision making processes was not hacking it. Perhaps what was needed was a new approach that would be effective with our target audiences – Arizona’s governance and education leadership. In reality, it’s their decision process, not mine that is fundamental to this K-12 transformation.

For incumbent leadership, the solving of this education challenge has been disappointing and potential solutions ambiguous. For 30 years they have responded with reforms that have face validity but have had minor effect on the overall challenge a 30% failure rate for student

graduation. Gary Klein, a psychologist and chief scientist at Applied Research Associates, has written a book on how people make decisions in ambiguous situations.*

From an interview in Science News, Gary Klein describes how we are wired for speed and it is impossible to not jump to conclusions in ambiguous situations. Within an unending universe of rules and facts, the logical risk analysis approach leads to inaction, or worse, to inaccurate and deceptive calculations that lead to disaster – like our financial crisis. Experienced decision makers use tacit knowledge to recognize situations based on experience. They create a mental story to understand what is going on while using intuition to make their decision.

Education is the most critical factor in the success of each citizen and for the entire State of Arizona. Leadership is rightfully hesitant to risk a radial change in the status quo without being assured of the outcome. But without a radial and successful change, we will continue our slow economic decline and wastage of 30% of our children. What to do?

I say we trust our decades old intuitively reinforced concept that technology is the key to transforming K-12 education and follow Gary Klein’s advice, “Successful decision makers actively manage a situation and shape their options rather than passively awaiting the outcome of a gamble that has specific probabilities, risks and benefits.”

In other words don’t analyze, synthesize or shade your eyes. Act now knowing that once eLearning  transformation has started your intuitions will serve you well in the follow through to a successful conclusion.

*Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making, MIT Press, 2009.