As our world continues to accelerate, generating increasingly more information and knowledge, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine exactly what to teach the next generation to best prepare them for the future. Increasing complexity and interdependence is added to this somewhat overwhelming situation, where the half-life of what we know continually shrinks. To exemplify this, earlier in my professional development, science training seemed to be more persistent than engineering training. As an electro-acoustician and digital signal processor, it seemed the laws and practices of acoustics, a primary branch of physics required far less reading to stay current, than the more rapidly exploding field of electrical engineering which digital signal processing was part of. The notion that knowledge could have a half-life, directly impacts the ratio of learning to creating. It was taking more energy to keep up in engineering, than it did in science, leaving less energy to be creating tomorrow than learning about the past. Perhaps this was because science tends to ask Why, while engineering tends to ask How.
Why, a more conceptually abstract notion than How, relies more upon principles than recipes. As most facts are manifestations of underlying principles, it is more economical to retain concepts than facts, although it can be more difficult to learn concepts. Perhaps this is why there are many less physics majors than engineering majors in schools. Or perhaps it is because engineers are more employable than scientists.
Humans have always had a lot to cope with and keep track of. This lead to generating and compiling the wisdom literature seekers have been returning to for thousands of years. Most of the expanding crop of self-help books are recycled wisdom literature. It is easier to read about what to do, than about the way things are. Is life more difficult now than thousands of years ago? This is doubtful, but life is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of today, raising the issue of how to best educate ourselves and next generations. If we have to get better at getting better, than the only hope for each of us is to learn how to learn.
Many currently relevant facts, tools, apps, recipes and algorithms will no longer apply in five or fifty years. Therefore, the notion we can fill up a person’s mind with what is needed so they can stop learning is no longer true, if it ever was. In order to navigate the increasing complex world, we live in, we have to be constantly learning, for the world is constantly changing. And it is not changing slowly, it is changing quickly further increasing the criticality of learning to learn, fast and well.
The evolution from agricultural, to industrial to Information Age has enabled a shift of mental models, where confidence and abundance can replace fear and scarcity. The world’s population has more than tripled in my life so far. Clearly we cannot solve our problems simply by taking things away from each other, but only by creating more resource, a skill which humans have a demonstrated a terrific proclivity for. The only way this is going to happen, is by each individual contributing more value to the world, not by each individual consuming more. Those who are the better learners, will become the better earners.
If we want a world with less fear, we had better spend a little more time learning to learn – than learning to consume. There is no other way we will find our way to a more equitably distributed abundance. We already have created and continue to create plenty of abundance. Technology and the tech sector have been deriving the world economy for decades. Agricultural societies required the majority of their populations to focus on creating food and shelter, and harvesting energy. In the information age under 10% of the population provides all of the food, shelter and energy we need. There is not scarcity, there is a distribution problem. Greed and hoarding are artifacts of a different age. In an information society it is the sharing of information that creates value. Information has very little value in isolation.
In short, fixing out world is quite straight forward – shift from the insecurity and fear of a scarcity model which causes hoarding, to the ebullience of distributed shared abundance. There is only one way to create more, and that is through innovation, applied insight. If fear continues to cause people to resist new ideas like sharing and abundance, we may have a great dieback when much of humanity perishes.
The way innovation and new ideas can be embraced, is through a better educated population, who learns how to learn and does it pretty soon. There is no question humans can solve all of their problems in the same way they always have, and that is through innovation. But just because a person has potential does not mean they will flourish. Talent is not enough to save us. Hard work is not enough to save us. Clarity of intention is not enough to save us. Integrating human’s proclivity to adapt, create and innovate with hard work, clear intentions, clarity of purpose, and learning how to learn, to make our efforts are more effective can solve every single problem we are facing.
Time to stop trying to cram our heads full of soon to be obsolete facts. Time to stop cramming our closets full of soon to be obsolete possessions. Time to learn to learn, so we can focus on solving problems by letting go of what we do not need whether it be obsolete mental models, pieces of information or stuff.
Humanity has the goods – we are natural powerful innovators who can create anything and everything we need. Time to change the obsolete attitudes and mental models holding us back.
LEARN TO LEARN to become Better at Getting Better.