Michael Crichton in his novel Timeline sets the tone for a science fiction by illustrating the difference between the years 1999 to 1899. Definitely people would have laughed if we had mentioned in 1899 that we could cure typhoid by pills, send photographs through air, go halfway across the world in less than a day. It has been more than 10 years since I read that book and now I see that there is a drastic difference in the technology available between 1999 and now. My mobile phone now has far more computing power, memory and screen resolution than the desktop computer I had in 1999.

Engine

Technology advances at such a pace that now we can consider a new generation is available within a few years. Which means that if I am doing something one way now, a few years later I have to change my opinion and find a another way that can make my life easy. What I regard as impractical and expensive now may turn out to be economical and practical. A very simple example is how a smart phone has changed the way I push my day, many recent advancements have gotten into the phone that I hardly need my computer other than programming or creating content. I was thinking it was expensive and impractical to own such a phone few years ago, but that changed completely after I had started using one and the amount of time I was able to save as a result of that.

Many of the advancements in technology are not disruptive, so people don’t easily notice that something new can help them ease their work. Also we tend to stick into our comfort zone and resort to micro optimisations than look outside of that zone frequently for new. One such thing is the level of automation that can go into software development irrespective of the platform/language/tools used. Gone are the days when the automation tools were unreliable, fragile, way too many false positives or needs too much time & effort investment. Ways to automate repetitive tasks have increased in number a great deal. Name the technology and platform, you get the appropriate tools to do that. Most of us who would have evaluated automation at some point of time and would have discarded options as expensive or infeasible but failed to revisit the decision in the next 6-12 months. This will lead to a preconceived notion that we have to live with lots of manual work while in reality it is not, often an external person would be needed to point us to the possibilities the new changing world is to offer. 

The things that are positively impacted by technology are throughput and cycle times. We should have a strong mechanism to periodically question the throughput and cycle times and keep looking for alternatives. Inputs could come from anywhere, any domain, any technology. I recently happened to watch Bret Victor’s talk, it can be found here. He says that when people were not certain on how to do something then they come up with many ways of doing things, but when they find something works then they stick to it without looking for further alternatives.

If we use only tried and tested methods, then may be we would still be using only horse and bullock carts.

Image courtesy of [olovedog] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

I often  stumbled on the phrase ‘A picture is worth 1000 words’; but it never occurred to me that I could take notes in the form of pictures until I read the book “The Back of the Napkin”. I came across the acronym SMART many times in many reading materials but I found it difficult to recollect. From the learnings of the book “The Back of the Napkin” I took notes in the form of doodles and I was able to recollect it easily. Here is my doodle.

SMART

I also noted that drawing doodles or mindmaps during meetings helped me to concentrate a lot, an explanation given to that kind of concentration is that I am a visual learner; other types of learners are auditory and kinesthetic. Doodling consumes some resources of my brain such that it does not allow me to day dream and helps me stay focussed; also as a side effect it helps me recollect information much better. If you are a visual learner try your hands on doodles, this place could be one of your starting points – braindoodles.net. As per that website we remember just 10% of what we read but 90% of what we see.

As days progress, I get increasingly overwhelmed with the amount of catchup I need to do in terms of learning new things, it creates an imbalance between what we want to know and what we can do. What people do to bridge these gaps at work place is to create structured training programs to up skill people. Sugata Mitra explains in his ted talk how seemingly difficult things are grasped by people if we let the learning happen. This talk explains that people will find a way if there are enough knowledge resources available and curiosity generated at the right time.

The structured training programs barring a few are none other than comforters which provide a false sense of security. We build a training program and let people adapt to ‘get me trained & I will do what you ask’ mindset. Increasingly organisations are relying on self sufficient & self organising teams but the learning and development is still structured and top down push.

What is necessary for ‘learning to happen’?

  • Curiosity – People will learn at any cost if they want to know something.
  • Tools & Resources – Easy access means there is one less barrier.
  • Creative tension – Do not let people settle for the ‘status quo’.
  • Autonomy – Structured & classroom learnings are optimised for lesser load on the teacher, each individual is unique & should be allowes to pace their learnings.
  • Time & Environment to share – The more loaded we are, the more we tend to seek rest and if the environment is not conducive for sharing and collaboration then that impacts the speed at which knowledge can be acquired and shared in a group setting. It also creates peer pressure.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea