In searching for good activities to fill up my daughters’ summer days, I returned to one of my old favorite, Mindstorms by Seymour Papert. It is a book worth spending quality time to go through multiple times. The central theme of the book is about learning and thinking, about how computer could help children acquire models to think with and to build their own intellectual structures. One of Papert’s big ideas is about debugging, especially debugging our intuition. Papert had great examples and analysis on that in the book.Papert is right that not many of us could get anything exactly right the first time. It is very important for us to cultivate the debugging skill and not get intimated. Papert think we can debug almost anything, concepts, mental and physical skills, our intuitions, problem settings, project works, to name a few. The most important step of the debugging process is to externalize what we want to debug and put it in a form or procedure that we can name, manipulate, critique and talk about, to break down and isolate parts to test, and to change.
I just finished reading Seymour Papert’s book Mindstorms for the second time and I have the urge to read it again soon. It is so rich in ideas, both in depth and in breadth, and it includes many illuminating examples. The book is very old (second edition published in 1993) but this doesn’t diminish its value at all. Papert chose computational thinking as the thinking model and he explained how the programming language LOGO, part of it Turtle Talk, that he and his colleagues developed, could be used to help children explore and learn mathematics, physics, and grammar, the subjects children usually don’t have many opportunities to explore freely and discover by themselves, especially the parts that the formal methods and conclusions seem to be in contradiction with our intuition in daily life. Though the book talked a lot about children’s development, the essential ideas about learning and thinking Papert introduced should be useful for people at any age.
Papert seems to be a very colorful character. He described himself in the Afterword of the book like this. “I have always considered learning a hobby and have developed many insights into its nature by cultivating sensitivity to how I go about doing it. Thus, I have perhaps engaged in deliberate learning of a wider range of material than most people. Examples of things I have learned in this spirit include chapters of science (like thermodynamics), reading Chinese characters, flying airplanes, cooking in various cuisines, performing circus arts such as juggling, and even two bouts of living for several weeks with distorting spectacles (on one occasion left-right reversing glasses, on the other a rather complex prismatic distortion of the visual field).” It takes certain personally to try the distorting spectacles, I would imagine.
By training, Papert is a mathematician and psychologist. He was heavily influenced by Jean Piaget’s work on children’s intellectual development and he certainly expanded Piaget’s work in many significant ways. His research interest was not just to understand how children learn and think. He was an interventionist. He wanted to use his understanding to create an environment for children in which they can achieve the best learning and understanding.
The scope of learning Papert referred to is much broader than the learning in the traditional sense. Beyond learning facts and picking up skills, he also talked about how to make sense, how to develop and debug intuition. Here the examples he provided and his analysis are some of the best parts of the book. He paid great attention to the process of learning. He strongly believed that if you could externalize your thinking, if you could put your thinking in a form or procedure that you can name, manipulate, change, and critique, you have much better chance to develop a thorough understanding of whatever you want to learn or do. He disagreed with J.S. Bruner on his “influential classification of ways of knowing.” According to Brunner, “Some knowledge is represented as action, some as image, and only the third category as symbols. Bruner has asserted that “words and diagrams” are “impotent” to represent certain kinds of knowledge which are only representable as action.”He observed that in the history of science or in personal intellectual development, progress was often marked by seeking and finding a new descriptive language for what can not be grasped without it before. One example is calculus that Newton invented to help him work out the planetary motions.Papert believed that people could learn better if they can constantly push out what words can express. His own attempt in the book was to describe juggling in a computer-program-like procedure. It is a hierarchical design. He analyzed the motion and figured out what needed to be done to carry out juggling successfully. Then he moved into the component skills, which are essential to complete each step of the main procedure. With the clarity of all the identified component skills and procedure steps, it’s easy to isolate and trap bugs. For example, he mentioned that some people fail to juggle two balls because they track the balls with their eyes and they can’t track two balls at the same time. The solution was to fix your gaze at the apex of the balls’s trajectories.This example impressed me so much when I first read the book.
Papert thought that the affective aspect of the learning was as important as the cognitive aspect, if not more. He observed that what one can or cannot learn in many cases are not determined by the content, but by the personal relationship between the learner and the subject. He said, “New ideas are often acquired as a means of satisfying a personal need to do something one could not do before.” He thought that “The best learning takes place when the learner takes charge.”With this understanding, he considered rote learning as the worst model of learning since it is a dissociated model where material is treated as meaningless. On the other hand, Papert considered Piagetian learning highly effective. It is the type of learning that is embedded in other activities, and it is without curriculum or deliberate, organized teaching. Teachers for Piagetian learning could help the students by answering questions, working on projects side by side with the students, or showing something interesting to the students spontaneously. One of the vehicles Papert created for Piagetian learning is Turtle Talk. Children could start with Turtle geometry. Compared with the basic construct, point, in Euclid’s geometry, the turtle has a position and a heading, while the point has only the position. Children could apply their personal knowledge of how they move their bodies to instruct the turtle to move and trace out interesting patterns. I played with it a little and it is powerful and impressive. It is a full blown programming language. I plan to introduce it to my daughter this summer.
In Piaget’s line of thinking, children are builders of their own intellectual structures. Built on that, Papert argued that builders needed building materials and the source of those building materials is in the surrounding culture. Papert’s work implied that one of the best ways to help children learn is to make children’s environment discovery-rich by supplying them with many “seeds” of powerful ideas and models to think with. He related one of his own examples. When he was two years old, he discovered a set of differential gears. He played with them and fell in love with them. He internalized the gears and could imagine that he himself was the gears. He told us how much this model of gears in his mind helped him learn algebra effortlessly in school. He realized that not everyone was able to fall in love with gears. But somehow he hoped that the computers would have universal appeal. Turtle Geometry demonstrated his vision of what a model-to-think-with for children was like. It is a great model. It’s really too bad that it doesn’t seem to catch on more widely.
Papert’s understanding of how mind works is computational and it could be summarized with the Society of Minds theory. According to this theory, components of intellectual structures are more like people than precise and logical rules and propositions. The interactions among those components are more like social interactions than mathematical operations. He believed that thinking was to a large extent retrieving. “People can think only because they can draw on larger pool of specific, particular knowledge.”Based on this, he thought that logic and formal learning is continuous with social, bodily, and concrete learning. Following the same line of reasoning, it’s always helpful to relate the new material, whatever it is, to our diverse personal knowledge. The components, Papert called them agents, are modular and simple minded. They are often in conflict with each other. The conflicts are resolved by other simple-minded agents. There is no logical consistency in our intellectual system. One advantage for that is when we learn something new, if it’s in conflict with something old we already possess, we don’t need to reorganize our intellectual system to eliminate the inconsistency and to make use of the new knowledge or skill. Learning is essentially a local event. The implication is that we can put our new acquisition in our tool box as a tool. The more we practice this tool, the better we are able to use it. By introducing this new member to the old members, we learn when it is appropriate to use what tool. The interactions among those tools might bring global change in our intellectual system, but only very gradually. During the process, we can still function decently.
Papert had a very sharp observation about learning process. To paraphrase his idea, he thought getting to know a new domain of knowledge is like coming into a new community of people. We have to endure and enjoy the initial overwhelming and chaotic feelings. Details seem to be a blob of mess. They are not differentiated in our minds at all. When we get to know the community of people, we might have the luck to meet one or two important people to develop deep relationships with in the beginning and those people become a bridge for us or we can ask mutual friends to make introductions for us.If we are capable learners, we can pick out a few powerful ideas in the new domain and develop a personal relationship with them first. If we don’t have enough skills to do so, we can use a good introduction which can help us bring the new knowledge into contact with the familiar ones. Introductions can certainly make learning easier, but we all have to do our own work of getting to know. To make sense, to understand something back and forth till nothing more can be said about it, to perform a skill as if it is an instinct, to make the new knowledge our own, we have to give ourselves time to play with it, to learn the component skills and their combinations, to work with what we’ve got, and to “make something new with it in a personal and playful way.”
Papert talked about many learning enablers with in-depth examples. Other than the discovery-rich environment, models-to-think-with, articulating and analyzing one’s actions and thinking, developing and debugging intuition, he put great emphasis on developing qualitative frameworks, which are something you use to think about various problems before you decide what formal methods to apply. To Papert, it is important to separate the powerful ideas from their formalism. Many powerful ideas scattered around the book, and most of them came from the context of computation. Several of them influenced me a great deal. Here are some ideas that have influenced me a great deal:
·State and state-change operator
·Variables and procedures
·The concept of structured programming
·Self-contained world in which certain questions are relevant and others are not
·Finding intermediate case when dealing with two conflicting cases
Computer could be one of the biggest learning enabler. By providing Turtle Talk, “learning for kids becomes more active and self-directed.” Papert pointed out the two important functions computer could serve. “First, the computer allows, or obliges, the child to externalize intuitive expectations. When the intuition is translated into a program it becomes more obtrusive and more accessible to reflection. Second, computational ideas can be taken up as materials for the work of remodeling intuitive knowledge.”
How about if we want to help other people learn, as parents, teachers, or mentors? Papert had a very interesting point. He said that “all curriculum development could be described as reconstructing knowledge” “in such a way that no great effort is needed to teach it.” In developing curriculum or learning environment, here using mathematics as example, he emphasized three principles:
·Community principle: “The mathematics must be continuous with well-established personal knowledge from which it can inherit a sense of warmth and value as well as ‘cognitive’ competence”
·Power principle: “It must empower the learner to do personally meaningful projects that could not be done without it”
·Principle of cultural relevance: “The topic must make sense in terms of larger social context.”
It also helps if we can figure out the structure of knowledge we want to teach and modularize it to make it mind-size bite so that “it’s more communicable, more assimilable, and more simply constructable.”
Other than the ideas about learning and thinking, this book also gave me a refreshing insight about differential calculus. In essence, differential calculus connects the local and the global. Papert said that the “differential calculus “derives its power from an ability to describe growth by what is happening at the growing tip. This is what made it such a good instrument for Newton’s attempts to understand the motion of the planes. As the orbit is traced out, it is the local conditions at the place where the planet now finds itself that determine where it will go next.” Interestingly, this reminds me of life itself, to a degree.
The more I read Richard Saul Wurman’s books, the more I find his ideas and his life fascinating. He was trained and worked in architecture for a while. At some point, practicing architecture became too restrictive for him. When he had an idea or found something interesting that he wanted to try, he can not just go out and try because clients would have to decide what was needed. To gain his freedom to follow his own interests, he later morphed into the producer of the Access tour guides for many cities. If you search for books by Wurman, majority of them are in the Access series. He has had many roles after that and did some amazing things. When I read his books, I can’t help feeling inspired. This is a person who wrote because he wanted to find a way for himself. When he can’t find what he needed, he went ahead to create the structure, the methods, and the field for himself. 20 years ago he coined the term “information architecture” and started a new discipline. Today when I typed in “information architecture” in Google, I got about 2,280,000 results in return. His creation has universal appeal.And that is exactly because he knew himself so well and he focused on satisfying his own urge to know. This is also a man who strived to understand and used that understanding to design a good and interesting life for himself. He said, “The most creative project that we can undertake is the design of our lives, so I set to work to redesign mine in such a way that my curiosity could manifest itself in my career. It was sort of an adaptive or re-use project.”
For Wurman, “learning is remembering what you are interested in.” It is as simple as indulging your interests, making lots of comparisons and connections, and transforming the information into structured knowledge so that you can remember and access that knowledge when you need it again. In this sense, guilt and anxiety are the worst enemies of learning since they kill the interests. Wurman pointed out that people had different learning styles. He listed four of them: activist, reflector, theorist, and pragmatist. Some people learn when they can touch and manipulate the material; some people learn when they have some time to reflect and collect their thoughts; some people learn when they could form concepts and theories about what they observe and take in; some other people learn only if they see how they can apply what they are exposed to. The best learning is always self-discovered, self-paced, and personally relevant, in a way that is natural to each of our individual learning styles. And the ideal school is “a self-serve, two-way cafeteria of knowledge.” Under this ideal condition, even if you don’t have prior knowledge or training and you can’t relate the new things to what you already know right away, you can always find your way by “deciding what you want to gain from it and by being comfortable with your ignorance.”
Wurman made a list of fascinating self-education imaginary courses.
·“Learning about learning." Experience and environment could condition us to learn in a way that is not natural to us. It’s worthwhile to rediscover how we learn best. We might not be able to use our preferred learning method/style in every situation. But with this self-knowledge, we can certainly get more out of our time and effort. Also by getting familiar with many principles and techniques about learning and memory and try to use them, we can enhance or complement our natural learning method.
·“The Question and how to ask it.” Questions are often more important than solutions in life. Questions are so intertwined with our thinking. The quality of our questions frequently determines the quality of our thinking.
·“What do you want?” Many people only know what they don’t want. They have some unexamined wishes and dreams. They might be scared if they really get what they think they want.
·“A day in the life.” This is a study of all the details in a day of anything that strikes your fancy. It could be a dog, a bookstore, a bus, a flower, a school teacher, etc. This helps us understand what it means to be something else and who we are and what we are in comparison.
·What are we to ants? This could help us find different perspectives and examine how things are related to each other.
·“Time, fast and slow. If you studied all the things that take place in a minute or a day, or a week, or a year, or a thousand years, you would have a new framework for understanding and for cataloging information.” A few weeks ago, I watched an educational video about how plants grow. Using high speed film, it was shown with the time scale I can relate to. I still remember my amazement.
·“The five-minute circle. What could you do or see in five minutes from where you are sitting?” Hopefully, you don’t just notice the pile of unfinished work. J
·“The five-mile circle. What could you do, see, and understand about sociology, the fabric of schools, urban life, and systems within five miles of where you are sitting?”
·“This is your new world. If you were king of this five-mile world, how would you run it, change it, understand it, and communicate with it?”
·“A person course.” Would it be fascinating to pick a person you find interesting and study this person’s life in detail? The list of people that I want to study is very long. If I only get to pick three, they would be Peter Drucker, Kurt Wick, and 曾国藩. (Sorry, I have to use his Chinese name. He was one of the most influential people in
in the 19th century. I am not sure he is well known in the Western world.)
·“Hailing failing.” This is the study for things that don’t work. Failed attempt could often shed some light on the real issue and open up some new investigation routes.
·“How to explain something so your mother could understand it.” “We assume that others can understand the same things we can.” This is not always true.So far in my entire life, I have met only one person who grasped immediately what I attempted to say every single time, and responded in ways that often enhanced my thinking. That is Tim Callaghan at Honeywell, whose intelligence and accomplishment I greatly admire. I have to remind myself often that my mother and other people are not necessarily dumber to not get it. What I need is not to dumb down in explaining, but to provide context and to show connections between what I want to say and what I think they already know.
·“Wait-watching.” How can we better use the time we have to wait? I never have any problem with wait. I love the wait time, especially when I am alone or with interesting people. It is the time during which I feel entitled to pursue whatever interests me without guilt and anxiety.
·“The difference between facts and truth. Facts are only meaningful when they can be tied to ideas and related to your experience, yet they are offered in place of the truth.”
·“The obvious and how to hug it. In our zeal to appear educated, not only do we often forget the obvious, we avoid it. Yet it is in the realm of the obvious that most solutions lie.” This is not easy, at least for me. The obvious often appears in the hindsight or after other people have demonstrated it.
Another important things that Wurman pointed out is: “Learning is continuous.” We shouldn’t wait till we have a big chunk of time or could afford the time and money to go back to school or take classes. If we can accept and take advantage of moments of learning, opportunities are everywhere.
I thought I have finished reading Richard Saul Wurman’s book Information Anxiety last week but I kept going back. I spent hours pondering what the book really said and how I can use it. The book was first published in 1989 and it is almost 20 years old now. However, its message can’t be more relevant today.
Wurman defined the information anxiety on the book cover. He said: “Information anxiety is produced by the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It is the black hole between data and knowledge, and it happens when information doesn’t tell us what we want or need to know.”
Scattered around the book, Wurman identified five causes for our information anxiety.
·The amount of information we think we should absorb is overwhelming. Even with careful selection, my reading list is still miles long. It’s impossible for anyone to know it all.
·Overstimulation. In our lives, the transition from one activity to another is not valued. Nobody seems to have a “way station” to stop and think on a regular basis.
·We are not clear about what information we truly need or want.
·In the cases we do know what we want, we don’t always know how to find it.
·Ineffective strategies and methods to extract meanings buried in a sea of noise.
We can find antidote in three categories.
·Improve our information search skill, this is a topic of its own and this book barely touched on it.
·Accept ignorance and limit the information we take in to the most relevant to our lives.
·Take time and effort to understand and try to communicate in the way that promotes understanding.
The bulk of this book is devoted to understanding and communicating. Wurman told us that he was in the information understanding business.
Wurman pointed out that all information is interpretation. To be true to this spirit, here is my understanding of Wurman’s system for achieving or enhancing understanding.
“Find personal pathways.” Wurman put great emphasis on questions, interests, and connections.
·Questions. Right questions could help us clarify what we really want to accomplish before we pursue the “how” and “more”. They could also help us develop confidence in our own understanding by cultivating the ability to judge and evaluate both our own ideas and other people’s ideas. Moreover, they could prevent us from accepting anything without thought so that we don’t lose the power to change.
·Interests. We can never go wrong in understanding or learning if we follow our interests. Understanding sometimes demands processing the information in multiple ways and in many rounds of reviews, strong interests will keep us at our task. The hard part is to distinguish our true interests from our obligations and guilt and be able to find a way to connect our various interests. Self-knowledge is the key to our interests. The more we know what our life’s work is and what we do now and next, and the more comfortable we feel about our self-images and what we want others to think we do, the more we can see our true interests. We can’t rely on the external reward. If we do, we “depend on someone else’s vision of success”.We will have to “compete against our own aspiration”. The essential requirement for following the interest path is to accept our ignorance and give ourselves permission to try, even try the opposite or do things the wrong way.
·Connections. We understand something new only when we could relate it to something we already know.To let the ideas sink in, we need to put things in perspective. The best way to dig out all the relevant connections is to mix doing and thinking and combine reasoning and imagining. The proper management and analysis of the failures are also significant in forging connections and associations in our mind. Setbacks make us aware of the success-failure cycles and the breakpoints define the boundaries and limits.
“Take ownership of the information.” I know I own the information if I
·know where to find it
·know its framework and organizing structure
·know its background and context
·know what it means to me
·know where it fits in my knowledge map and how it is connected to my personal experiences
·have simplified it and imposed some kind of order to it
“Select the pertinent from the superfluous.” Wurman separated information in five rings, from the most relevant to the least. By evaluating our needs in these five areas, we can judge whether a particular piece of information meets our needs.
·Internal. This is the information our bodies possess. There is probably not much I can do about it at this point.
·Conversational. This is the information accessible to our conscious thoughts. We can talk about it, manipulate it to enhance our understanding, or explain it others. This is the most personally relevant to us.
·Reference. Obviously, this is what we don’t normally carry in our head. It’s sufficient if we know what it can do and where to find it.
·News. For people like me who don’t watch TV and don’t read or listen to news much, this should really be put in the outer ring after cultural.
·Cultural. This is something we are vaguely aware of and we are influenced by it in a subconscious way.
“Transform data into information.” The fundamental difference between data and information is that raw data are not structured or connected to render meanings. To transform data into information, we can
·Compare components in the data set to see whether there are any connections.
·Organize the data in different ways to see whether they tell different stories.
·Slice the data to help us “understand what we cannot grasp as a whole”, if the whole is too big or too complicated
“Extract the full measure of meaning.” We need to stand higher and grant ourselves an overview to do that. Specifically, we can
·Test/examine the information from different vantage points. Think how many ways we can interpret and misinterpret this, and whether there is “a fresh way to represent what we always see.”
·Put the information in the context and see what surrounds it, what supports it, and what opposes it. Furthermore, try to figure out whether and how the data relate to something we already know.
“Improve power of reception.”
·Use personal maps to tell us where we are in relation to the information surrounding us. Background information and experiences could enrich our perception. In that sense, being aware of what we don’t know is as important as being aware of what we do.
·Cultivate our habit and ability to take into account the context and the connections whenever we need to understand something. For example, pay attention to the orientation and location, if we want to understand an important event. With experiences, we can detect the themes and variations of the ideas and knowledge. The more variations we can see for a particular theme, the easier it is for us to understand its meaning.
·Be aware of and accept that ideas/theories come before our understanding of the facts. We all carry our biases and exaggerations from our selective attentions. All accounts of the facts and events are subjective.
·Know how things are organized and classified.
·Recognize what is understandable and what is there due to pure aesthetic seduction. Nurture the ability to differentiate between methods and results and know how the methods could shape the results.
·Increase our knowledge of the language and learn how to use it appropriately.
·Model conversation. The major advantage of the conversational model is the shared control of idea flow. We can “adjust directions, emphasis, and level of details.”
“Find the appropriate organizing principles for different subjects.” Wurman said there were only five basic ways of organizing information
·Time. If we want to observe the change over time.
·Location. If we want to compare things from different places
·Category. If everything in the collection is of equal importance.
·Alphabet. If we have a large body of information and the audience across the whole spectrum could not easily understand other means of classification.
·Continuum. If in the collection, the order of importance is different for different parts, numbers or units in continuum is the way to go.
In his book Happier, based on the course he taught at Harvard, Psych 1504: Positive Psychology, the most popular one at the university, Tal Ben-Shahar argued that happiness is the ultimate goal in life, not some by-product of our primary pursuits. For every single desire we have, if we keep asking why we want it, sooner or later, we will end up with happiness. Ben-Shahar defined happiness as “the overall experience of pleasure and meaning.” Without meaning and purpose, the pleasure is not sustainable. However, many of us rat racers focus exclusively on the future benefit and often mistake the relief of a burden as happiness. The relief from meeting this deadline or reaching that milestone is often temporary. In no time, the mounting pressure and anxiety pile up again. Having a sense of purpose means that we have considered the future benefits of our actions. We are thus liberated to enjoy the here and now. Here is Ben-Shahar’s big idea. Happiness is a life long pursuit. It is a process goal, not an end goal. Therefore, “Am I happy?” is the wrong question to ask. “How can I become happier?” is a much better one to explore.
The logic of failure by Dietrich Dörner is an old book. Almost 20 years has passed since it was first published in German. However, the wisdom contained in this book is timeless. I believe we need it more than ever in this unsettling time. Dörner is a distinguished psychologist specialized in cognitive behavior. He observed general behavioral tendencies when people were put into situations with “uncertainty, complexity, and lack of clarity.” Many decision makers, in the real as well as the simulated world, “acted without prior analysis of the situation, failed to anticipate side effects and long-term repercussions, assumed that the absence of immediately obvious negative effects meant that correct measures had been taken, let over involvement in ‘projects’ blind them to emerging needs and changes in the situation, and were prone to cynical reaction.” One point specifically resonates with me. According to Dörner, we usually don’t consider the problems we don’t have (yet) till it’s too late. We focus on the obvious goals and we are not aware of our implicit goals. Here is Dörner’s big idea: Before take actions to address the explicit goals, take stock of the current features we want to preserve after the change.
In his book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, Atul Gawande looked at performance in medicine from both the individual level and the system level. He provided us with many examples to trigger reflection and discussion on how to improve performance in medicine, as well as in any other practices that involve risks and consequences. Here is Gawande’s big idea. The “efforts to monitor and improve and transform clinical performance using know-how already in existence” “would save more lives”, as compared to the efforts in research to discover fundamental new technologies or treatments. I believe the same idea is equally true in our personal life and professional life. If only we could apply what we already know how diligently, we could all do better in whatever we set out to do. Gawande pointed out that the fundamental requirements for improving performance are: diligence, moral clarity, and ingenuity. Personally I think diligence is the most difficult one among the three, especially if the details we need to pay attention to only contribute to the overall effectiveness but have no direct link to the results of the specific tasks at hand.
Do you always have a script for everything you do? When was the last time you had to improvise? For a meeting at work? For cooking a dinner? Patricia Ryan Madson asserted in her book improv wisdom that planning and improvising are both essential for a successful life. Feeling comfortable to jump in and pay full attention to what is happening moment by moment and not to be distracted by what has happened and what might happen could be one of the most important skills we need. Improvisation is a way of discovery. We perceive reality differently and we evaluate ideas better when we are inside the problem. However, we often want to be so certain about the outcome before we act or support an idea. We tend to filter out immediately the initial thought with our preferences and experiences. “Say yes” is the first big rule in improvisation. Here is Madson’s big idea: Substitute “yes and” for “yes but”. Instead of being argumentative and find faults, we can share control and notice what is right. First agree and accept what is presented to us, then add or develop the idea in a positive direction.
Peter Block’s book the answer to how is yes is “a discussion of what it takes to live a life in pursuit of what matters.” Our culture is overwhelmingly concerned about what is doable and measurable. We are used to ask How questions. Such as “How do you do it?”, “How long will it take?”, “How much does it cost?”, “How do you get those people to change?”, “How do we measure it?”, “How have other people done it successfully?” Those are the wrong questions to start with, Block said. Instead, he urged us to ask: “What refusal have I been postponing?”, “What commitment am I willing to make?”, “What is the price I am willing to pay?”, “What is my contribution to the problem I am concerned with?”, “What is the crossroad at which I find myself at this point in my life/work?”, “What do we want to create together?”. One more bonus questions for us to ponder: “What is the question that, if you had the answer, would set you free?” Here is Block’s big idea. The real balance is not between work and life but between a life that works and a life that matters.
Do you know that 10-15% of the medical diagnoses were wrong, according to the statistics of a few autopsy studies? “Do you know what goes on in a doctor’s mind as he or she treats a patient?” “When and why does thinking go right or go wrong in medicine?” Do you know what you can do to help your doctor avoiding some of the thinking errors? In his book How doctors think, Jerome Groopman pointed out that the culprits for misjudgment and misdiagnoses are the so-called cognitive traps, rarely are they technical ignorance or mistakes. Here is Groopman’s big idea. Best doctors confirm the first impression they got based on pattern recognition with deliberate analysis. They learned from their misjudgment. They are aware of the way they think and the effect of their emotions on their judgment. And they have developed some ways to help avoiding their respective cognitive traps, be it doing things systematically, or asking “How do I know what I know?” You can help your doctor by asking some simple questions such as “What else could it be? Could I possibly have more than one problem?”