Thursday, October 29, 2009

How do YOU learn things?

That may seem a silly question, but I’m not talking about how does one learn something.

I’m talking about what is the best way for YOU to learn something?

Have you ever sat in a classroom bored to tears? Nothing sinking in?

Have you ever tried to read a book--particularly a nonfiction, education-related book--and realized at the end of a page or section you had no idea what you just read?

Of course, how interested you are makes a big difference in how well you learn something, but what if you are interested and want to learn and it still doesn’t come to you?

There are at least three ways to learn things and people tend to be strong in one and not the others:

Visual - seeing things in writing
Auditory - lectures, podcasts, videos (this would seem visual, but it’s just recording an audio presentation)
Kinesthetic - hands on, learning by doing

Unfortunately, schools tend to focus on a very narrow range of methods to impart knowledge to students. Many bright people are left behind because their best way of learning is not allowed in the system. As with most things in life, we are responsible for figuring out what works for us. That is not always easy.

Most of us can learn much more than what we do.

And of course, as Dr. Seuss demonstrated so wonderfully in his children’s books, learning should be fun.

So, what have you learned recently and how did you learn it?

If you are interested here are some resources that describe in greater detail examples of how we learn things.

Ben Carson - The Big Picture
Ken Robinson - The Element
Marc Prensky - Don't Bother Me Mom I'm Learning
David Edery & Ethan Mollick - Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Unpleasant as it is, we learn from our failures

Yesterday Greg Mortenson co-author of Three Cups of Tea shared an experience he had getting his book published. His publisher, using the authority of it being the "expert" in the publishing field, insisted the subtitle for the book must be One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations...One School at a Time. Mortenson wanted the subtitle to be One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time. Big difference there.

He made the publisher promise if the hard cover edition did not sell as expected they would change to his subtitle for the paperback edition. Sales for the hard cover were not good and so the paperback came out with Mortenson's subtitle. It almost immediately hit the NYT's best seller list and stayed there for twenty months.

The first chapter of Mortenson's book is entitled Failure. The publisher also had a problem with that stating you cannot start a book talking about failure. But that is where the book starts.

J. K. Rowling faced a similar barrier with the first in her Harry Potter series. Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry at the time she submitted the book was that teens and young adults would not read a book that was over 300 pages. The Sorcerer's Stone is the shortest of the series at just over 300 pages and Rowling indicated it could have been longer. Later books in the series have all been longer, some much longer.

These foibles are not limited to the publishing industry. In fact entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have now had a conference extolling the virtues of failure.

Failure is an integral part of learning to succeed. In nations with free economies, thousands maybe millions of ways of doing things are tested. Many don't work, a few do work. In the process people grow and the economy progresses. A wonderful benefit from all of this is if we can learn from the mistakes of others and not always have to learn things first hand. In school you get the lesson and then the test. In life you get the test and then the lesson. Learning from others mistakes softens the tests.

Lessons from these experiences:

  • No one has all the answers
  • Things are constantly changing, what worked in the past may not work in the future
  • Standard operating procedures are necessary and provide a platform to work from, but you must be willing to test your procedures all the time
  • Failures are not the end if you don't give up, they're just steps along the upward path

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You can't change poverty from a think tank in Washington D.C.

Greg Mortenson is large in stature, an imposing figure, but he is more like a teddy bear, a man of peace and hope. He is unassuming and not likely to be viewed as a great leader by the highly educated or the "movers and shakers" in business, academia, or politics. And yet he is a leader. He is the central figure in the book Three Cups of Tea.

His qualifications to be a leader come from being in the trenches and experiencing first hand what makes a difference and then putting those principles into action. His influence is felt most strongly in the least likely of places for an American: Pakistan and Afghanistan. He's not a general in the U.S. military, he doesn't not order people around. In those countries people love him and support him because they know he genuinely cares about them, he wants to do something that will help them, and he lets them help themselves.

He has been building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1993. More accurately he has been helping people in those countries build their own schools. Now, as a result of the success of the book Three Cups of Tea, he is also becoming a leader in the developed world.

Greg Mortenson spoke at Brigham Young University today about his experiences and his goals. I learned from him leadership principles or in some cases had reconfirmed principles that I firmly believe.

  • "You can't change poverty from a think tank in Washington D.C."
  • To change poverty you have to feel it, see it, touch it, smell it.
  • People want to be able to do things for themselves.
  • If you educate a boy, you educate a person; if you educate a girl you begin the education of a community.
  • People don't have to be highly educated to be able to fill positions in their community and make a difference.
  • People and communities are capable of making choices and decisions that will be to their best benefit if they are allowed government to do so.
  • Communities are better off when young people have more opportunities to interact with the elders in their families and communities.
One point that he did not state that I believe goes with these statements: People give up hope when they feel there is no way to change bureaucracy and do things for themselves. This one applies more to developed countries.

Greg is not a great orator. People follow him and help him because he leads from the position of a doer and he leads from his heart.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

In My League: Oh, The Places He Went!

In My League: Oh, The Places He Went!

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Oh, The Places He Went!

If you know Dr. Seuss only as author of fanciful children's books, there is a fascinating Theodor Seuss Geisel still waiting to be discovered. What an incredible man, and what an incredible career. All this and more may be found in Charles D. Cohen's book, The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss. Most of the information here is from this book.

It is fitting that Dr. Seuss' experiences over a long and productive career culminated with him writing books for children. He had achieved notoriety, fame, and influence long before he started writing for children.

He could have gone in any direction he wanted. He chose children's books and in so doing sent the message:

  • Learning is important
  • Children are important
  • Children are the great hope of the future
  • Children's intellectual capacity is far greater than adults give them credit for
He saw the affect of the pre-World War II educational systems in Germany and Japan on an entire generation of children and considered it a crime. It's a terrible thing to suppress a mind.

Ironically, it was an experience in Salt Lake City, Utah (I'm from Utah) that helped him solidify his thinking on the ability of children to learn and understand information. He realized that if presented in the right way children are capable a grasping a wide variety of knowledge. He understood that it was more important for a book to be entertaining than it was to present every fact relating to a topic.

At 390 pages, this book truly explores The Seuss, The whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss.

In our day, all information is moving onto the internet. How that information is presented will make all the difference. Share and play nice.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dr. Oz gives "three basic insights" on motivating people

I don't watch TV; I have seen but brief segments of Oprah Winfrey and I confess I have never seen Dr. Oz on her show. I did see this article about his new show and was specifically drawn to his reflections on why people that know the facts about health care still don't change their lifestyle; the facts he says, "weren't sinking through."

So Dr. Oz has embarked on a mission to get health facts to sink through; to help people understand why they should take action.

Getting others to take action. Isn't this what anyone with a message is trying to do. Help people not only be aware of something, but understand it well enough to take action? Recently, information I've read about internet marketing uses the term "drive," as in drive customers to your website. It seems to be everywhere. It's just the current "power" term, but it gives the wrong impression.

Drive implies the marketer has control. That may work on some people, but it doesn't work for me. People do not like to be told what to do or pushed (read as, driven) to do something.

Before potential customers buy your offering they want to feel they can trust you and they are receiving good value for their money. This is especially true for internet transactions. This means you must be willing to spend time building trust and even giving them valuable information for free.

Dr. Oz has already established that level of trust through the Oprah show. So now he can get right to the point: First, people must have a visceral awareness of why your product matters. Second, it really has to make a difference in your customers' lives. And third, (and this really applies to the internet) it has to be playful.

This has been my point for years. The time will come when all information is available on the internet, how that information is shared will determine which websites get the most visits.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Growth: the "Killer" App, Why Is It the Titans of Business Never Get It?

Eric Schonfeld of TechCrunch did a book review of "Googled: Schmidt Wants To Build A '$100 Billion Media Company.'" My question is: Why do business leaders always feel bigger is better?

Google has been one of the coolest companies to come along in decades, but trying to become a multi-media giant will ruin everything that makes Google, well...Google.

Growth doesn't mean just doing a lot more of what a company has been doing. Growth requires expanding and moving into other areas; areas where management may not have as much expertise.

Disney was once a really cool company, but as it continued to grow it was forced to focus more on growth and less on creativity. In the 1990s it tried to generate full-length animated feature films with a cookie cutter approach--the tried and true fairytale with three new "blockbuster" songs--and a new film every year. But the creativity was gone. They had to acquire Pixar to get animated features that were even close to original and creative. Slowly, creativity is being wrung out of Pixar too. Now they have consumed Marvel and will start the process of killing it.

Microsoft was once a fairly cool company with software that was--if not really cool and easy to use--at least better than other available options. But with its size, aggressive behavior, and software programs that are becoming more cumbersome to use, many of its customers feel a love-hate relationship with the company. As better software applications that meet specific needs come on-line people continue to use them.

To my mind, these are two companies that, at one point, had it together with bright futures. Growing to a position of dominance has made them targets for other smaller and creative companies who find lucrative niches. Google has been one of the companies with lucrative niches, but I fear is losing its way in the forest of business plans and growth.

Trying to be everything to everybody has never been a viable business model. It has more to do with the ego of company leaders than with providing really creative and useful products or services to your customers.

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