I’ve finally gotten around to the following TED video that’s been queued up in my "to read/watch" stack. In it, Sugata Mitra describes his "Hole in the Wall" experiments that placed internet connected PCs into New Delhi slums and watched what happened. It’s worth 20 minutes of your time.
Mitra’s conclusion is that you can get a lot of learning for very little investment, particularly in the trappings of formal education that we tend to take for granted. People are wired to learn and appear to do so best in small groups of like-minded learners. They need access to resources and encouragement. They don’t particularly need someone more expert to guide them; their natural curiosity works as well or better. Mitra’s view is that education is best treated as a self-organizing system.
Digging into how learning works versus how we naively think it works is important in the world we find ourselves in. Individually and organizationally, we are faced with ongoing challenges to learn. Neither we nor our organizations can afford the necessary learning time if it has to be in the form of conventional settings. Following the threads worked for the kids in Mitra’s experiments. We need to follow a similar path. We also need to experiment with integrating those learning paths into the demands of day-to-day work.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of curiosity. Wanting to know how things work or what’s around the next corner is fundamental to being human. I’ve come across two video clips that illustrate the power of this far better than I can.
The first is a clip by the late Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. In it he talks about his drive to figure out how nature works and the need to comfortable with not knowing. He believes in the process that has been given the fancy name of "the scientific method" despite its underlying simplicity. Make a guess, work out the consequences of your guess, run an experiment to compare your guess to reality, accept what reality tells you, and revise your guess for the next iteration. It’s very powerful, once you learn how to say "I don’t know, let’s find out."
The second clip comes from TED and shows Princeton molecular biologist, Bonnie Bassler describing her quest to understand how bacteria communicate. It’s a riveting look at how one person’s simple curiosity works in practice. Who knows, maybe she’ll get to go to Sweden some day.
Eat, Pray, Love is not the sort of book that I’m likely to pick up despite its tremendous success. Nevertheless, this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, its author, is an excellent rumination and reflection on choosing the most effective emotional relationship between creativity and work. In a nutshell, the Greeks had it right in their notion of the Muses.