Friday, November 13, 2015

Second Machine Age Highlights

Sharing a few highlights from The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

Now comes the second machine age. Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power—the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments—what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power

We’re heading into an era that won’t just be different; it will be better, because we’ll be able to increase both the variety and the volume of our consumption. When we phrase it that way—in the dry vocabulary of economics—it almost sounds unappealing. Who wants to consume more and more all the time? But we don’t just consume calories and gasoline. We also consume information from books and friends, entertainment from superstars and amateurs, expertise from teachers and doctors, and countless other things that are not made of atoms.

Progress on some of the oldest and toughest challenges associated with computers, robots, and other digital gear was gradual for a long time. Then in the past few years it became sudden; digital gear started racing ahead, accomplishing tasks it had always been lousy at and displaying skills it was not supposed to acquire anytime soon.

As Moore’s Law works over time on processors, memory, sensors, and many other elements of computer hardware (a notable exception is batteries, which haven’t improved their performance at an exponential rate because they’re essentially chemical devices, not digital ones), it does more than just make computing devices faster, cheaper, smaller, and lighter. It also allows them to do things that previously seemed out of reach.

The old business saying is that “time is money,” but what’s amazing about the modern Internet is how many people are willing to devote their time to producing online content without seeking any money in return

Another school of thought, though, holds that the true work of innovation is not coming up with something big and new, but instead recombining things that already exist. And the more closely we look at how major steps forward in our knowledge and ability to accomplish things have actually occurred, the more this recombinant view makes sense.

Perhaps the most important ideas of all are meta-ideas—ideas about how to support the production and transmission of other ideas.

The theory of recombinant innovation stresses how important it is to have more eyeballs looking at challenges and more brains thinking about how existing building blocks can be rearranged to meet them

Advances in technology, especially digital technologies, are driving an unprecedented reallocation of wealth and income. Digital technologies can replicate valuable ideas, insights, and innovations at very low cost. This creates bounty for society and wealth for innovators, but diminishes the demand for previously important types of labor, which can leave many people with reduced incomes

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What's Your Focus

Just love the following explanation form the Spark Truck:

Are you focused on STEM? Do you want to encourage kids to go into engineering fields?

We have nothing against STEM or engineering, but no, this is not our primary focus. We want kids to develop confidence in their ability to creatively tackle any problem. If a child’s passion lies in engineering, then we’re happy that our having shown them laser cutters and 3D printers was able to reinforce that, but we think that this mindset is equally applicable to whatever career a child will choose—be it science, arts, or the humanities. We don’t want to take someone whose talents and passions destined her to be a world-famous composer, and convince her that she should be a physicist instead. We want kids to form the courage to pursue their curiosity into whatever field it might lead. Since our background happens to lie in design, we are most familiar with the tools and methods of the design field, and teach using those tools and methods, but we can just as easily imagine a truck going around teaching baking, or improv theater, with the same creative neurological benefits.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Most Likely to Succeed

Sharing a few highlights from Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids For the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith.  

It’s quite striking that, almost without exception, the great contributors to civilization were educated as apprentices, not as note-takers

In short, the United States picked the wrong goal and failed at it. We opted to chase South Korea and Singapore on standardized test performance (a race we never had a chance of winning against children who spend every waking hour cramming for the tests) instead of educating our youth for a world of innovation and opportunity (a race that plays to our strengths)

Albert Einstein, who had his share of struggles with school, said, “The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution.” As administrators, faculty, boards, and parents debate strategic goals,In short, the United States picked the wrong goal and failed at it. We opted to chase South Korea and Singapore on standardized test performance (a race we never had a chance of winning against children who spend every waking hour cramming for the tests) instead of educating our youth for a world of innovation and opportunity (a race that plays to our strengths) they generally dive into issues around the importance of the goals listed in Question 1 above and the precise wording of their mission statement. In so doing, they skip over a more fundamental step in the process: Is our teaching approach one that actually helps our students to learn

Even better, imagine if the school looked for skills where a student could achieve excellence, and then set out on a path to create definitive life advantages for that student applicable across a broad range of careers
two of the most important skills in the innovation economy are in thinking critically (about problems, situations, markets, ideas) and then the ability to communicate (an idea, a recommendation, a plan forward) in a way that is not only thoughtful and compelling but also in a way that influences others to take action

Today, when kids have ready access to an enormous range of written material, we should encourage them to become great readers by devouring everything they can that’s aligned with their passion—whether it’s nature, sports, or Harry Potter. But if you’re designing tests, there’s no way to standardize based on students reading mostly what interests them. Once again, the education model revolves around what makes life easy for test designers, not what’s best for kids

“The key to our philosophy is to speak, and speak, and speak some more. Programs and curricula that emphasize speaking and ‘living’ the culture from the get go can create a genuine learning atmosphere (using a variety of techniques) that will acclimate students and generate a feeling of ‘being there.

Annmarie Neal is the former chief talent officer at Cisco Systems and author of Leading From the Edge. She continues to consult to senior leadership in Fortune 100 companies all over the world, and here’s what she told us in a recent conversation: Even the most elite schools do not prepare students for the reality of work as it is today, let alone what it will become in the future. Most large organizations are undergoing massive transformations as they move from industrial to innovation-economy business models. The students that thrive within today’s education systems are achievement driven, rule-oriented, compliant, linear, singular in focus (i.e., a business or engineering major). The world of work today requires future leaders to be relationship or collaboration driven, rule-defining, creative and innovative, lateral and polymathic in focus

We need to reimagine education. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of the Committee of Ten who, back in 1893, said, “Gee, we need to train millions of kids for a growing number of rote jobs in our burgeoning industrial economy.” The Committee of Ten came up with a good solution for their era. Today, we need to educate millions of kids (and adults) for the innovation era. How do we do that?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Worth Reading

Sharing a few highlights from the cue...

1. Future of Tech and Media (Wolf)- slide show about the future of tech and media.

2. Many Colleges Are Failing to Prepare Students for Their Working Lives (Selingo)- a critical look at the outdated structure of the undergraduate experience

By the time students graduate from college, their brains are hard-wired to the cadence of the daily life laid out by the nine-month academic calendar. They tend to think about their work in terms of 50-minute classes and five courses during 15-week semesters, with plenty of lengthy breaks in between.
But the working world is unstructured, with competing priorities and decisions that need to be made on the fly. College is very task-based: take an exam, finish a paper, attend a club meeting, go to practice. The workplace is more of a mash-up of activities with no scheduled end.
3. Let's Bid Farewell to the Carnegie Unit (Levine)- explores whether the traditional practice of associating credit hours with seat time is still relevant
This evolution is causing two problems. First, both the industrial and information economy models of education are being imposed on our educational institutions at the same time. At the moment, the effect is more apparent in our schools than colleges, but higher education can expect to face the same challenges. Today, schools and colleges are being required to use the fixed-process, fixed-calendar and Carnegie Unit accounting system of the industrial era. They are also being required to achieve the information economy’s fixed outcomes and follow its testing procedures. The former is true of higher education, and government is increasingly asking colleges and universities for the latter.
Doing both is not possible, by definition. Instead, states need to move consciously and systematically to the information economy’s emerging and increasingly dominant model of education, which will prevail in the future. The Carnegie Unit will pass into history.

4. The Future of Work: Navigating the Whitewater (Brown)- talks about the importance of arts and humanities in education
Equally important is the role of the arts and humanities in some kind of complicit relationship with STEM. I do not mean STEAM (the addition of the arts to STEM to ‘‘humanize’’ it). I mean hardcore arts/humanities—the kind of thinking and research that enables us to see differently, learn from the past, become empathic leaders, and understand how meaning and identity—the DNA of culture—are created. Without these we are lost.
5. A High School Where College Is Not the Goal (White)-a look at Randolph Technical High School in Philadelphia where students are earning credit and professional certification before graduating.
The goal is to graduate kids who have options. They can go on to a community college or a four-year degree program. They can also start a career with a marketable skill and three years of training behind them, making them more likely to secure a job and higher wages, instead of floundering out in the job market, where more than 10 percent of young adults with only a high school diploma are unemployed and more than 20 percent live in poverty, according to Pew Research Center.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Worth Reading

Passing along a few good reads from the past couple of weeks.

1. Where Design, Engineering Meet (Harvard Gazette)Mohsen Mostafavi, dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design at GSD, and Francis J. Doyle III, the John A. Paulson Dean and John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS, discussed the origins and goals of a new graduate degree program at Harvard.

The composition and diversity of each cohort is critical. If you go back to the engineering approach or design approach from decades ago, the disciplines existed in silos. If you’re in an engineering firm, you might bring in mechanical engineers for one piece of a project, chemical engineers for another piece, computer scientists for a different piece. They really were islands, and they had to put the pieces together, and that was often a very ad hoc process. Here, we’re breaking down boundaries. That’s not to say we’re creating jacks-of-all-trades, completely cross-trained individuals, but we are preparing individuals to take a multidisciplinary mindset into a project environment and work across fields. It’s not that we’re just adding four or five disciplines and getting whatever aggregate product would come from that. We are building teams that can be more innovative in how they cross boundaries and collaborate.

This is the future of how things will be done in the real world. Students are not getting plugged into traditional silos of very narrow expertise. They’re being forced to work on teams that require multiple skills. Diversity of thinking approaches, of backgrounds, of work experiences: All of these things will lend to the ultimate success of the program.
2. Five Critical Skills to Empower Learners In The Digital Age (Sung)Alan November, a former teacher turned lecturer, consultant and author, challenged teachers to rethink how they start the school year by outlining skills that are crucial to students to learn in the first five days of school.
“My goal is for them to become the truthmakers,” Wees said. “I’m trying to build a mathematical community where something is true when everyone agrees it’s true.” To do that, he asks students to talk through mathematical ideas, struggle with them and give one another feedback. “A major goal of math classrooms should be to develop people who look for evidence and try to prove that things are true or not true,” Wees said. “You can do that at any age”
The first job of a teacher is not to explain things clearly, it's to inspire students to want to learn. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery writes, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
5. Redesigning A Design Program:  How Carnegie Mellon University is Developing A Design Curricula for the 21st Century (Irwin)- the thought process and rationale for redesigning curricula for the Carnegie Mellon Design School is shared.
Design is ubiquitous- we live the majority of our lives in the designed or 'built' world, and design is connected to many of the large problems confronting society.  However, its very ubiquity gives it the potential to play a key role in the resolution of these same issues.  Design is inherently a problem-solving process and fundamental skills of the designer are the ability to look for meaningful problems, frame them within appropriate contexts, and design a process for developing and implementing a solution.
6.  To Get Into MIT's New Design Program, Students Must Score High On The 'Love Metric' (Thys)- explores the type of thinking and skills valued by the MIT Design School
“The analogy I use is that people learn instruments,” Kressy says as we talk in the big studio the students are occupying in MIT’s vintage Building N-52. “They learn to play violin and cello and tympani and bass and piano, and they become virtuosos in these sort of instruments. But when you take these people together and you make them play together, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game. All of sudden you have to respond to your fellow musicians.”
The task: build instruments from found materials. And boy did the students find materials. Mechanical engineer Maria Tafur, from Bogota, made a clarinet from a carrot.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How We Got Here

Sharing a few highlights from How We Got Here: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. 

Unwittingly, the Venetian doges had created an innovation hub: by concentrating the glassmakers on a single island the size of a small city neighborhood, they triggered a surge of creativity, giving birth to an environment that possessed what economists call “information spillover.

What followed was one of the most extraordinary cases of the hummingbird effect in modern history. Gutenberg made printed books relatively cheap and portable, which triggered a rise in literacy, which exposed a flaw in the visual acuity of a sizable part of the population, which then created a new market for the manufacture of spectacles

Hummingbird effects sometimes happen when an innovation in one field exposes a flaw in some other technology (or in the case of the printed book, in our own anatomy) that can be corrected only by another discipline altogether. But sometimes the effect arrives thanks to a different kind of breakthrough: a dramatic increase in our ability to measure something, and an improvement in the tools we build for measuring.

New ways of measuring almost always imply new ways of making.

This is what the robot historian’s perspective allows us to see: the technology is not a single cause of a cultural transformation like the Renaissance, but it is, in many ways, just as important to the story as the human visionaries that we conventionally celebrate

The art of human invention has more than one muse

Those patents rippling across the planet are an example of one of the great curiosities in the history of innovation: what scholars now call “multiple invention.” Inventions and scientific discoveries tend to come in clusters, where a handful of geographically dispersed investigators stumble independently onto the very same discovery

Like every big idea, Birdseye’s breakthrough was not a single insight, but a network of other ideas, packaged together in a new configuration. What made Birdseye’s idea so powerful was not simply his individual genius, but the diversity of places and forms of expertise that he brought together

may sound ridiculous to say that Bell and his successors were the fathers of modern commercial architecture—of the skyscraper. But wait a minute. Take the Singer Building, the Flatiron Building, the Broad Exchange, the Trinity, or any of the giant office buildings. How many messages do you suppose go in and out of those buildings every day? Suppose there was no telephone and every message had to be carried by a personal messenger? How much room do you think the necessary elevators would leave for offices? Such structures would be an economic impossibility

Thanks to the antitrust resolution, Bell Labs became one of the strangest hybrids in the history of capitalism: a vast profit machine generating new ideas that were, for all practical purposes, socialized

The next time you glance down at your phone to check what time it is or where you are, the way you might have glanced at a watch or a map just two decades ago, think about the immense, layered network of human ingenuity that has been put in place to make that gesture possible. Embedded in your ability to tell the time is the understanding of how electrons circulate within cesium atoms; the knowledge of how to send microwave signals from satellites and how to measure the exact speed with which they travel; the ability to position satellites in reliable orbits above the earth, and of course the actual rocket science needed to get them off the ground; the ability to trigger steady vibrations in a block of silicon dioxide—not to mention all the advances in computation and microelectronics and network science necessary to process and represent that information on your phone.

One of the reasons garages have become such an emblem of the innovator’s workspace is precisely because they exist outside the traditional spaces of work or research. They are not office cubicles or university labs; they’re places away from work and school, places where our peripheral interests have the room to grow and evolve.

The Talent Code

Sharing a few personal highlights from The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown.  Here's How by Daniel Coyle.

The surprising answer is that Brazil produces great players because since the 1950s Brazilian players have trained in a particular way, with a particular tool that improves ball-handling skill faster than anywhere else in the world... call this kind of training deep practice, and as we'll see, it applies more than soccer

Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways—operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes—makes you smarter

Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you're forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them—as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go—end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it

You have positioned yourself at a place of leverage where you can capture failure and turn it into skill. The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn't help. Reaching does

Q: Why is targeted, mistake-focused practice so effective? A: Because the best way to build a good circuit is to fire it, attend to mistakes, then fire it again, over and over. Struggle is not an option: it's a biological requirement

Struggle is not optional—it's neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit

Apprentices learned the craft from the bottom up, not through lecture or theory but through action: mixing paint, preparing canvases, sharpening chisels...  In short, apprentices spent thousands of hours solving problems, trying and failing and trying again, within the confines of a world built on the systematic production of excellence

Deep practice, however, doesn't obey the same math. Spending more time is effective—but only if you're still in the sweet spot at the edge of your capabilities, attentively building and honing circuits

“We instinctively think of each new student as a blank slate, but the ideas they bring to that first lesson are probably far more important than anything a teacher can do, or any amount of practice,” McPherson said. “It's all about their perception of self. At some point very early on they had a crystallizing experience that brings the idea to the fore, that says, I am a musician. That idea is like a snowball rolling downhill