An Education for the Future

[via Yuvaraj] From a paper by Howard Gardner presented in 2001 on the education of children and adolescents:

I will argue that we should depend primarily on two foundations or bases: the science of learning, and our own values as human beings living in communities. Let me comment on both.

First, the Science of Learning: Today I want to dwell on two major findings from the field of cognitive studies, findings with which I have been personally involved.

First finding: As human beings we have many different ways of representing meaning, many kinds of intelligence. Since the beginning of the last century, psychologists have spoken about a Single Intelligence that can be measured by an IQ test; my research has defined 8 or 9 human intelligences (linguistic; logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, possibly an existential intelligence). We all possess these several intelligences, but no two of us–not even identical twins–possess the same profile of intelligences at the same moment. In most countries throughout history, school has focussed almost exclusively on language and logic. Formal education has virtually ignored other forms of mental representation–artistic forms (musical), athletic (bodily), personal (knowledge of others and self); knowledge of natural world; knowledge of big questions. All of these “Frames of Mind” are there to be mobilized; if they are not, one could well call education “half-brained.”

Second finding: Facts are easy to memorize, and some of us are good at remembering them–this facility can help us win money, in fact nowadays one can win millions of dollars, on a television quiz show in the U.S. But Disciplinary Understanding is much more elusive, much more difficult to bring about. Over the millenia, human beings have developed several powerful disciplines or ways of knowing the world–chief among them scientific, humanistic, historical, artistic, mathematical forms of thought. How desirable it would be if we could simply explain these to young people (“here are the three steps to think scientifically” or “this is what it takes to think historically”), even better if we could give youngsters a shot or a pill (“here, take this mathematics pill before you go to bed on Wednesday evening”), and the students would then have mastered the discipline. In fact, however, disciplinary learning proves difficult and takes many years of guided practice and apprenticeship.

To begin with, disciplinary understanding is important–perhaps, in fact, it is the best justification for 10-15 years of school! (We could keep youngsters off the street for eight hours a day with much less money). Disciplinary understanding is also hard to achieve. Next, as human beings, we all have available different ways of representing the world, different intelligences, so to speak. The question is: Can educators build on this recently established knowledge about how human beings learn? In a word, I believe that the answer to this question is “yes” and shortly, I will try to justify my answer.

Let me turn now to the second major foundation, complementing the science of learning–That is the sphere of Values:

As a teacher or educational policy maker, you could know all of the scientific facts about learning, and it would still not tell you what to do in class on Monday morning. That is because such decisions about a course of action always involve value judgments. For example, let us say that you accept the claim that there are multiple intelligences. You could decide that you still want to make individuals as similar as possible, and so you would minimize or ignore the pluralism of intellect. Multiple intelligences are then seen as an obstacle. Many in the U.S. and the Netherlands would take that “uniform” position. To honor the finding about multiple intelligences, you could decide to teach every topic in seven or eight ways. You could decide to put together all the children who are strong in a given intelligence, or, for that matter, if you are a pessimist put together all of the children who are weak in a given intelligence. You could try to strengthen those intelligences that are weak, or ignore weaknesses and build instead on areas of strength. You could decide to learn about each child and personalize education as much as possible. That last option is what I personally favor-and in the age of the computer, it is at least feasible to personalize education for every child, and not just for those from wealthy families who can afford the latest hardware and software.

my recommendations can be stated simply. First obtain the literacies; then study in depth key topics in the major disciplines; approach those topics in many ways; and give youngsters many chances to master and many vehicles to exhibit their understandings. Let them use their knowledge of evolution to evaluate the discovery of a new set of dinosaur bones or the spreading of a computer virus, as seems to happen each new week, at least on my machine. Various tasks can be left for the university: a specialization in one or another discipline; work that is explicitly multi- or interdisciplinary; and the mastery of facts that may be useful to know if you want to become an expert in, say, botany or medieval history.

Business Innovation

The Economist takes a look at innovation in big companies, suggesting that “rather than chasing wonder new products, [they]should focus on making lots of small improvements:”

Blockbuster new products are harder and harder to come by, and big companies can do much better if they focus on making lots of small things better. Adrian Slywotzky of Mercer Management Consulting says that, in most industries, truly differentiating new-product breakthroughs are becoming increasingly rare.

William Baumol, a professor at New York University, argues that big companies have been learning important lessons from the history of innovation. Consider, for example, that in general they have both cut back and re-directed their R&D spending in recent years. Gone are the droves of white-coated scientists surrounded by managers in suits anxiously awaiting the next cry of eureka.

Indeed, says Mr Baumol, the record shows that small companies have dominated the introduction of new inventions and radical innovationsindependent inventors come up with most of tomorrow’s clever gizmos, often creating their own commercial ventures in the process.

But big companies have shifted their efforts. Mr Baumol reckons they have been forced by competition to focus on innovation as part of normal corporate activity. Rather than trying to make money from science, companies have turned R&D into an internal, bureaucratically driven process. Innovation by big companies has become a matter of incremental improvements within the processes that constitute daily operations.

Another factor to take into account is the fragmentation of markets. Once-uniform mass markets are breaking up into countless niches in which everything has to be customised for a small group of consumers. Looking for blockbusters in such a world is a daunting task.

Marketing for Start-ups

Steve Neiderhauser has suggestions on why and how engineers should interact with customers:

Heres a couple ideas you may find yourself using during lunch and learn sessions.

  • Tell a demonstration story: In The Story Factor, author Annette Simmons tells us that a demo story is the next best thing to an actual demonstration. She writes about a trainer at a gym who has a tough product to sell: exercise. If everyone listened to facts, wouldnt our nation be in better physical shape? Instead of facts, the trainer tells a playful story to show the benefits of exercise. Story is a pull strategy that works.

  • Combine visual with metaphor: Gerald Zaltman, author of How Customers Think, refers to research indicating that the use of metaphor together with visual imagery lies at the heart of all major advances in science. He suggests listening to your customers to determine what metaphors they use for your product.

    During your presentation, use the pull of visual and metaphor to describe the benefits of your product. Not only will your customers remember your product (metaphor is at the core of memory), your engineers will likely start to think visually and create edges for your products.

    What do I think of engineers talking with customers? Im glad you asked. How could they not talk with your customers? If you allow narrow thinking to limit your employees, wouldnt that create a danger for your company–and a life-threating environment for start-ups? For narrow thinking is a broken-winged bird that cant fly past the first round of financing.

    How is this possible? In Seth Godins latest book, Free Prize Inside, he tells us that everyone works in marketing (yes, even engineers); that making your product remarkable causes customers to remark to others about your company.

  • Apple and Steve Jobs

    NYTimes has a profile:

    In just two and a half years, Mr. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, has managed to take a well-designed hand-held gadget, add software connecting it to Macintoshes and Windows-based personal computers and convince the recording industry that he has found an elegant solution for ending its nightmare of digital piracy. In doing so, he has shifted the emphasis of Apple from what made it famous – hip, even lovable computers – to what he hopes will keep it relevant and profitable in the future: products for a digital way of life.

    With roots both in Silicon Valley’s digital culture and the 1960’s counterculture, Mr. Jobs has long been an arbiter of what is cool in technology, much like a real-world version of a trend-spotting character from “Pattern Recognition,” one of the cyberpunk novels by William Gibson.

    And, helped by his growing prominence in Hollywood through his second company, Pixar Animation Studios, Mr. Jobs has attained a level of influence over how life is lived in the digital age that is unmatched by even his most powerful computer industry rivals. “He is the Henry J. Kaiser or Walt Disney of this era,” said Kevin Starr, a culture historian and the California state librarian.

    The iPod’s success is also the clearest indication that Mr. Jobs, if he is to successfully revamp Apple, will ultimately win not by taking on PC rivals directly, but by changing the rules of the game.

    The Apple that is starting to emerge may be a harbinger. The company’s growth may no longer be defined by its PC market share, now a declining sliver of the PC industry, but instead by Mr. Jobs’s ability to create consumer markets.

    Mr. Jobs, who says he has a 70 percent share of the market for legal music downloads and a 45 percent share of the MP3 market, sees the shift as sweet vindication. “We’re getting a chance to see what Apple engineering and Apple design can really do once we get out from underneath the 5 percent Macintosh operating system share,” he said.

    for the first time the number of Macintosh computers it sold (749,000). At the same time, revenue for products other than Macintoshes reached 39 percent of the total of $1.91 billion for the quarter, more than double the percentage two years ago.

    In creating the iPod, the iTunes Macintosh and Windows software and the iTunes music store, Apple has not just designed products; it has also designed a business system. That may help explain why, almost three years into Mr. Jobs’s foray into digital music, his major competitors are still playing catch-up, or, as in the case of Hewlett-Packard and Time Warner, have decided to ally with him.

    Warren Buffett and Beyond

    Barron’s looks at Berkshire Hathway and likely successor to the “Great One”:

    Berkshire’s Class A shares have broken out of a three-year trading range and fetch $93,000, up 10% for the year to date. The company’s business prospects look better than ever. Operating earnings, a record $3,531 per share in 2003, could approach $4,000 in 2004. Book value may exceed $55,000 per share by year end. And Berkshire is sitting atop $31 billion of cash, a reflection of Buffett’s reluctance to make major new investments.

    Yet also on the minds of many attendees will be a less uplifting subject — the issue of succession. Buffett, who turns 74 in August, probably is the toughest act to follow in American business, due to his extraordinary talent and legendary success. He commands a company with $64 billion of annual revenue and $142 billion of market value, whose shares have risen 5,000-fold since he took control of what was then an ailing textile firm in 1965.

    It is entirely possible Buffett still will be running Berkshire a decade from now. But in the event life has other plans, he is leaving less and less to chance. In this year’s shareholder letter Buffett wrote more about the succession issue than he has in the past, noting the “primary job” of the company’s board of directors “is to select my successor, either upon my death or disability, or when I begin to lose my marbles.” He added that the 11-member board continues to evaluate the “strengths and weaknesses of the four internal candidates to replace me.”

    Who are these four candidates? The odds are Berkshire Hathaway’s next chief executive will be one of five top company executives: Joe Brandon, CEO of General Re, the largest insurance division within Berkshire; Ajit Jain, head of Berkshire’s lucrative specialty reinsurance operations; Tony Nicely, CEO of Geico, Berkshire’s fast-growing auto insurance division; Rich Santulli, CEO of NetJets, the leading provider of fractional ownership in corporate jets, and David Sokol, the CEO of MidAmerican Energy, an Iowa-based utility and the largest noninsurance division within Berkshire.


    [via Prakash Swaminathan] Nova Spivack has a nice post on what he calls as the Metaweb – the web which connects Intelligence (also see the graphic):

    The Metaweb is the coming “intelligent Web” that is evolving from the convergence of the Web, Social Software and the Semantic Web. The Metaweb is starting to emerge as we shift from a Web focused on information to a Web focused on relationships between things — what I call “The Relationship Web” or the “Relationship Revolution.”

    We see early signs of this shift to a Web of relationships in the sudden growth of social networking systems. As the semantics of these relationships continue to evolve the richness of the “arcs” will begin to rival that of the “nodes” that make up the network.

    This is similar to the human brain — individual neurons are not particularly important or effective on their own, rather it is the vast networks of relationships that connect them that encode knowledge and ultimately enable intelligence. And like the human brain, in the future Metaweb, technologies will emerge to enable the equivalent of “spreading activation” to propagate across the network of nodes and arcs. This will provide a means of automatically growing links, weighting links, making recommendations, and learning across distributed graphs of nodes and links.

    As structures that provide virtual higher-order cognition and self-awareness to the network emerge, connect to one another, and gain sophistication, the Global Brain will self-organize into a Global Mind — the intelligence of the whole will begin to outpace the intelligence of any of its parts and thus it will cross the threshold from being just a “bunch of interacting parts” to “a new higher-order whole” in its own right — a global intelligent Metaweb for our planet.

    I think of this as the Memex.

    TECH TALK: Letter to Arun Shourie

    I was recently in Bangalore at IIIT-B at the invitation of Prof. Sadagopan to make a presentation to Mr Arun Shourie, Minister of IT and Telecom (and Disinvestment). Prof. Sadagopan had aggregated 14 companies to make 10-minute presentations as part of a session called Jewels of IT. Due to an unexpected development, Mr Shourie couldnt make it, but the session went ahead as scheduled a recording was sent to Mr Shourie.

    As part of my talk, I was planning to also make suggestions on what India needs to do in IT and Telecom. Since Mr Shourie was not physically present and in the interest of time, I skipped that segment of my talk, and thought why not elaborate on it and make it into a Tech Talk series. (I dont know if Mr Shourie will read it, but those fortunate enough to know him could perhaps email him a link!)

    Before I start my letter, a little about the person. Here is a profile of
    Shourie. I remember reading his articles, editorials and exposes in the Indian Express in the early 1980s. He topped a recent Economic Times poll of CEOs of the most admired politicians. The paper wrote:

    While most people are surprised at the ease with which Shourie has made the transition from being a journalist to an economic policy maker, they should not be. This Stephanian is one of the most qualified politicians in the business, with a PhD in economics (not a an honorary one but one he burnt the midnight oil for) from Syracuse University .

    He briefly worked with the Tata group for a period of three months before joining the World Banks young Professionals Programme in 1966. He then served as an economist with the World Bank for over a decade (1967-78) and during that stint he worked as a consultant to the Indian Planning Commission.

    And while Shourie may have traded in the pen that inked many a expose, he continues to be a firebrand, speaking out fearlessly against all that he perceives as wrong. Shouries professionalism can be seen in the speech he made while accepting the ET Business Leader of the year 2002:

    Everyone in society should be accountable. I believe theres much more accountability in business than in public life. When things go wrong in business, people have to answer, but politicians get away with it. And often persons in public life become immune to scandals. The man may be soft spoken but there is no mistaking the steely edge to his voice.

    The Economist recently wrote about Arun Shourie:

    [Shourie] boasts of a tenacity nurtured in his days as a crusading editor of a newspaper known for its dogged pursuit of scandals. I am a graduate of the Indian Express; we exhaust the other fellows. Victims of this persistence include not just civil servants and judges, but politicians. After about 20 parliamentary debates on privatisation in the past four years, the most recent were adjourned for want of a quorum.

    As this implies, Mr Shourie sees the politicians themselves as obstacles to getting things done. The quality of many who people our public lifethat is not democracy, it is disarray, it is free-fall. Yet he refuses to use India’s democratic system as an excuse for the country’s painfully slow pace of economic progress over the past 20 years compared with China. Governance, he argues, is not golf: that we are a democracy does not entitle us to a handicap.

    Tomorrow: Letter to Arun Shourie (continued)