News item: Jorge Cauz , President, Encyclopaedia Britannica: we will no longer print the 32-volume encyclopedia…
And Farhad Manjoo leads the charge on why this is a good thing: Expensive, Useless, Exploitative: Why we should celebrate the end of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s print edition. “Good riddance,” Mr. Manjoo says. Here is part of what he wrote:
Most importantly, learning to navigate Google and Wikipedia prepares you for the real world, while learning to use Britannica teaches you nothing beyond whatever subject you’re investigating at the moment.
Don’t buy what Britannica’s selling. Its reliance on expert authority may yield mostly accurate information, but it teaches kids to believe everything they read. If you pay for this service, you’re building a cocoon of truth around students who’ll one day enter a world where everyone claims to be an expert—and where a lot of those people are lying. If you want to learn to suss out the liars, there’s no better training than Wikipedia.
So, I told my wife that Farhad Manjoo wrote that this was a good thing (I frequently quote Farhad Manjoo to my wife, and to my audiences), and she quickly stated the reason in a three word phrase that captured the problem. She said, “I assume it’s because he said that, with the printed version, ‘learning is static.’” Well said!
Yes, the world has changed.
I still own my very old (1950s edition) of the World Book Encyclopedia. I remember the salesman (my mother let me sit in), and he showed us how it was almost indestructible. I wrote many a “report’ for school from that encyclopedia.
But I haven’t looked inside a physical encyclopedia for years. Years! But, I read Wikipedia constantly. And there may be some entries that are not quite what I need. But, the consensus is growing that in most instances, Wikipedia is as reliable as any other source. Kind of the constantly, practically instantaneous, self-correcting crowd effect.
But, more importantly, I don’t have to pay $1400.00, walk across to book shelves, and find and open a volume, and find the entry. Now, with a tap of my finger, I go from the book I am reading on my Kindle App, to Safari, then I read what I need, and then I go right back to my book in the Kindle App. It takes seconds. It is right there. And, it makes learning as ongoing, fast, and convenient as I could have ever imagined. It is wonderful.
So, if you are sad about this development, I understand. I’m a little sad too. But, it’s a done deal. It’s over. Time to adjust, and even embrace, this new world. What else is there to do?
I think we need to make 2012 a year of learning – but, it won’t be easy.
I believe in life-long learning. I am a big fan of every effort to keep learning. Our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis is designed to whet the appetite of such life-long learners. I like to read, I like to hear new things, read new ideas, “stretch” a little.
But – do we actually learn very much? (Do I actually learn very much)? Not all that much, I suspect.
(Quick – find me a dozen people who believe that Jerry Jones has learned anything in recent years about more effectively running the Dallas Cowboys).
I wish it were otherwise. I wish that we learned, and then did these new things we learned. Now, some new learning is easy. I have learned/can use most of the apps on my iPhone. I can do a couple of things around the house that I could not before. But, for the most part, though I read words, and can “recite back” the concepts, I still pretty much function the way I have been functioning for quite a while (as in, years!). I haven’t changed much – I haven’t learned much.
These thoughts always bring me back to the great quote by John Henry Newman: “To grow is to change, and to have changed often is to have learned much.” But what really prompted this blog post was this paragraph, which I read in Tyler Cowen’s blog post The Danger Of Storytelling, (from his TED talk):
One interesting thing about cognitive biases – they’re the subject of so many books these days. There’s the Nudge book, the Sway book, the Blink book, like the one-title book, all about the ways in which we screw up. And there are so many ways, but what I find interesting is that none of these books identify what, to me, is the single, central, most important way we screw up, and that is, we tell ourselves too many stories, or we are too easily seduced by stories. And why don’t these books tell us that? It’s because the books themselves are all about stories. The more of these books you read, you’re learning about some of your biases, but you’re making some of your other biases essentially worse.
So the books themselves are part of your cognitive bias. Often, people buy them as a kind of talisman, (emphasis added) like “I bought this book. I won’t be Predictably Irrational.” It’s like people want to hear the worst, so psychologically, they can prepare for it or defend against it. It’s why there’s such a market for pessimism. But to think that buying the book gets you somewhere, that’s maybe the bigger fallacy. It’s just like the evidence that shows the most dangerous people are those that have been taught some financial literacy. They’re the ones who go out and make the worst mistakes. It’s the people that realize, “I don’t know anything at all,” that end up doing pretty well.
Look again at these words: “I bought this book. I won’t be Predictably Irrational.” How many books have you read, and at the end of the day, you tell yourself (deceive yourself?): “Well, I’ve learned the stuff in this book,” — but, you don’t actually implement any of the wisdom that you read in the book?
Maybe we all need a new discipline: when we finish reading a book, attending a seminar, attending any presentation, watching any TED talk, then — right then! — we set aside a chunk of time – a noticeable chunk of time – and ask, “so, what will I do now with this new information/insight/wisdom?” And then, write it down, and start doing it. And keep doing it. Quit being irrational; quit ridiculing your team members; quit being so self-centered… quit the bad things, and then add the good things.
Without this “after we’ve learned” step, then, in reality, we haven’t learned at all… Without this next step, then learning is just an illusion.
I am deep into The Great Reset by Richard Florida, which I am presenting this Friday at the First Friday Book Synopsis. I am thinking, pondering, and wondering just what the future after the current Great Reset will be like.
Mr. Florida is chronicling his “predictions” on the Atlantic site. (See the list of topics here – they are worth reading). Here is a paragraph from one of his recent posts, Where the Creative Class Jobs Will Be:
At bottom, a jobs strategy needs to start from a fundamental principle: That each and every human being is creative and that we can only grow, develop, and prosper by harnessing the full creativity of each of us. For the first time in history, future economic development requires further human development. This means develop a strategy to nurture creativity across the board – on the farm, in the factory, and in offices, shops, non-profits, and a full gamut of service class work, as well as within the creative class. Our future depends on it.
“future economic development requires further human development.” Reading, thinking, learning in every way possible – this may be the only path to a prosperous tomorrow. We call the folks who gather at the First Friday Book Synopsis a community of learners – because life-long learning is now a job and life skill that is no longer optional.
After reading the book, I wrote this on my handout of my synopsis for The Design of Business by Roger Martin:
A blinding flash of the obvious: — everything can be done better; there will be new things done; you (and I) have to get better at getting better at making everything better…
• “the design thinker lives to advance knowledge!”
With practically every book I read, I realize that this quest for life-long learning is a real one, and incredibly important to pursue. And as close as I can tell, this is the path to follow:
Step 1) learn new information
Step 2) pick out an area of deficiency – pick out a place to make improvement
Step 3) tackle this problem
Step 4) then, after getting better, learn another round of new information – and repeat process.
(Yes, it sounds like a truncated version of Benjamin Franklin’s approach. He sought to build his life around thirteen virtues, and worked on one, and only one, each week.)
And I’m a big fan of using books to provide direction along this path.
That’s why I read books, including business books.