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

Daring Greatly: The Courage to be Vulnerable

Sharing personal highlights from Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown

Something can always be learned when we consider these questions: What are the messages and expectations that define our culture and how does culture influence our behaviors? How are our struggles and behaviors related to protecting ourselves? How are our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions related to vulnerability and the need for a strong sense of worthiness?

We’re called to “dare greatly” every time we make choices that challenge the social climate of scarcity

It starts to make sense that we dismiss vulnerability as weakness only when we realize that we’ve confused feeling with failing and emotions with liabilities

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage

It’s life asking, “Are you all in? Can you value your own vulnerability as much as you value it in others?” Answering yes to these questions is not weakness: It’s courage beyond measure.

With children, actions speak louder than words. When we stop requesting invitations into their lives by asking about their day, asking them to tell us about their favorite songs, wondering how their friends are doing, then children feel pain and fear (and not relief, despite how our teenagers may act). Because they can’t articulate how they feel about our disengagement when we stop making an effort with them, they show us by acting out, thinking, This will get their attention

Vulnerability begets vulnerability; courage is contagious.

The secret killer of innovation is shame. You can’t measure it, but it is there. Every time someone holds back on a new idea, fails to give their manager much needed feedback, and is afraid to speak up in front of a client you can be sure shame played a part. That deep fear we all have of being wrong, of being belittled and of feeling less than, is what stops us taking the very risks required to move our companies forward

If we want to be able to move through the difficult disappointments, the hurt feelings, and the heartbreaks that are inevitable in a fully lived life, we can’t equate defeat with being unworthy of love, belonging, and joy