Q&A 017

Published on:
January 13, 2021

Hi All,

What fills the heart, will flow over from the mouth. These weeks of home-schooling have sparked a number of ponderings on the future of education and productivity. We conclude with an example of everyday frustration being a great teacher. Enjoy!

👩‍💻 Productivity 2.0

In the article The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done in the New Yorker, Cal Newport provides an extensive and useful summary of a century of productivity thinking and tools. It shows that the focus has shifted from the productivity of the entire company or a division to the productivity of the individual.

"The knowledge sector’s insistence that productivity is a personal issue seems to have created a so-called “tragedy of the commons” scenario, in which individuals making reasonable decisions for themselves insure a negative group outcome."

Since especially knowledge-workers require a great deal of autonomy, current day workers are managed by clear targets but receive hardly any instructions on how to achieve those. Certainly during the current lockdown, it is hard for co-workers to judge whether you are busy (enough).

It is, therefore, logical to recognize that productivity is neither entirely personal nor collective. It's a balanced system that needs to be monitored and improved continuously.

"Imagine if, through some combination of new management thinking and technology, we could introduce processes that minimize the time required to talk about work or fight off random tasks flung our way by equally harried co-workers, and instead let us organize our days around a small number of discrete objectives."

One avenue that is experimented with is the use of visualization tools such as kanban boards to get an overview at a glance, structure smart processes and intelligently divide the work equally. We can't wait to evaluate the learnings of all these forced experiments.

🧗‍♂️ Growth 2.0

The Saturday edition of Dutch newspaper 'de Volkskant' featured an interview with Vaclav Smil. Known for his fact-based descriptions and analyses of world's big challenges, he's regarded as one of the current greatest thinkers.

In the interview, he stresses the importance of education. He notices that many people do not know 'the basics of reality'; knowledge to better understand how the world functions as an interconnected set of systems.

The main point of the interview is that he takes issue with the strive for endless growth. He reluctantly concedes that more regulation is needed. It makes me think of the doughnut economy model about which we wrote in our second episode. All in all, he's not very positive.

I personally believe more regulation to contain growth is not necessarily the answer, but investing in (the right kind of) education is. We may possibly need to rethink our current education.

This brings me to a TED talk by Rolf Winters, in which he shares ideas to 'prepare our kids for the 21st century'. Mr. Winters and his partner are the producers of the film 'Down to Earth' in which they have tried to capture the knowledge of earth's wisdom keepers.

In this short video, he notices that:

"...we're hanging on to our own vested interests, but these are not the interests of our children."

He makes the case for changing education to focus on teaching to ask the right questions, not give the right answers. To achieve this, children need to be taught how to connect with nature, oneself, others, the bigger picture and their dreams. In his view, the mission of a school is:

"How to nurture the innate abilities and gifts of pupils for them to become the sustainable beings they were born to be and to bring forth the change-makers the world so desperately needs."

Thus it's back to growth, meaning: development. I'm positive we're able to make this switch.

🙋‍♂️ Learning

Home-schooling edition 2.0 is in it's second week here in the Netherlands. Even though I know how important basic reading, writing and math is for the development of my kids, I was struck how close to 100% of the material is aimed at practicing and testing basic skills. I was reminded immediately of the short blog Seth Godin wrote on future skills that are barely taught and also of the podcast Tim Ferriss did with Leo Babauta discussing (amongst a wealth of other topics) the phenomenon of 'unschooling'. Why is learning in school so vastly different from the way we learn as adults?

One critical skill I would like to instill in my kids is asking questions. Isidore Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize for physics, attributed part of his success as a scientist to his mother teaching him:

"My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, 'What did you learn today?' But my mother used to say, 'Izzy, did you ask a good question today?' That made the difference."

Since my kids still have the natural habit of asking questions, I decided to make it a fixed part of the daily routine. They get to decide on a question, for which I do a quick search on explanatory material online while they are doing another exercise. Next up: are there more people dead or still living today?

🤖 Teacher

The Amazon Alexa we have in our kitchen is used intensively, albeit not for the most intelligent tasks. We mainly use it to turn our lights on and setting timers for cooking. Around Christmas time the repertoire broadens with our kids asking 'Alexa, can you sing Jingle Bells?' for a party trick that is repeated ad nauseam.

When I rushed downstairs some weeks ago to find burnt bread in the oven I immediately asked Alexa to check what went wrong.

"Alexa, what's on the timer?"

"There are no timers set" ...

Looking at a loaf of sourdough that I lovingly created in a 30-hour process, reduced to an inedible darkish brown football, I almost yanked the tiny Amazon device from its outlet to throw it out; it was the third time this a month a timer was not set.

Observing her responsiveness in the weeks after, I found that she did not have a 100% score on hearing my instructions, but if she confirmed my instructions ('40 minute timer set!') the timer was always set correctly. I just did not always wait for the feedback when I was in a hurry.

I couldn't help a slight smile, realising how often we ask for things and then skip waiting for signals the other person understands.

That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, click here to sign up. You can browse earlier editions in our archive.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and tips. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

Have a great week!

Quinten & Alphons