Intelligent Systems Make Us Smarter

Is it possible to support advancements in intelligent systems from a compassionate point of view? Perhaps by leveling the playing field with intelligence, we might tackle one of the most bitterly contested characteristics of man. We face ‘intelligence battles’ on a daily basis – in classrooms, social settings, and in the office. Much of our status in society is based upon intelligence.

Intelligence

Intelligence

What if everyone had a memory booster, something like a personal hard drive? Many of today’s geniuses have impeccable memories. What if everyone accesses the same reservoir of ‘facts and information’ from intelligent systems? (Currently access to primary sources of knowledge is costly, which creates an advantage for those who can afford it.) Could there be a baseline IQ because of boosts in cognitive thinking?

There are still geniuses, naturally brilliant people who are thought leaders and influencers; use of intelligent systems simply allows for them to solve ever increasingly complex problems. Quora recently posed the question: What would an IQ of 500 or 1000 look like? It elicited over 200,000 views and 200 followers. One respondent suggested a person at this level of intelligence might learn a language in a day, read a book in an hour, or solve our current unsolved problems.[i]

There are smart people. With universal access to AI, smart people represent a larger segment of the population. The bell curve for IQ becomes taller and standard deviations smaller. More smart people follow their passions and interests, rather than being excluded because of their natural intelligence. In addition, smart people without access to a proper education use AI to catch up.

Finally, there are people who have less natural intelligence but have a more satisfying life because of AI.

Soft skills, character and personality become paramount in employment decisions. We are starting to see this now. Many of the leadership coaches say emotional intelligence (EQ) often has more value than cognitive intelligence (IQ).

It will be interesting to see if those who have access to intelligent systems share them with the general public. Naturally intelligent people lose an advantage – something that gives them power. Having a high IQ, SAT, GMAT, GRE, or LSAT – all tests largely driven by raw intelligence – practically guarantees access to a top college and future employment.

Barring geniuses, intelligence in the future will be measured by adaptive, conceptual and novel thinking skills. Now we come up with a relevant question and it is something to ponder over a period of time; but in the future, we get an immediate response from an intelligent system. So we ask a series of questions, modifying each question based on previous responses. In addition to being responsive, creative ‘out of the box’ thinking becomes a highly sought after skill.

An intelligent system:

  • Pulls together content from a multitude of sources and puts into a ranked list based on relevancy. Intelligent systems tap into a vast amount of online information.
  • Cross-disciplines and subject areas to solve increasingly complex problems. An intelligent system synthesizes information from many disciplines.
  • Processes all types of content: website, documents, narratives, graphics, and videos. Intelligent systems already have image and video recognition; it only gets more advanced.
  • Allows intuition to be validated by sources immediately. Smart people come up with ideas without doing the necessary research, an intelligent system does it for them.
  • Taps into the Internet of Things. Intelligent systems access into the growing number of sensors to understand behaviors, and add context to experiences.

Yesterday, IBM unveiled the enterprise email system Verse to the world. What separates Verse from its predecessors, according to a press release, is how it learns employees’ preferences and then provides “instant context about a given project as well as the people and teams collaborating on it”. And an intriguing ‘future option’ allows users to “query Watson on a given topic and receive a direct reply with answers ranked by degree of confidence.”[ii] If your company invests in Verse, you might have access to the smartest supercomputer on the planet.

I thought of an example where I could have used an advanced intelligent system to save weeks of painstaking work. Earlier in my career, as an economist, I had the task of collecting data for business valuations. One step is to get financial ratios of comparable companies. I could see myself asking an intelligent system: “Hey there, could you give me the financial ratios of the top ten comparable companies to…?”

Current Technology/Human Interaction Intelligent System
Identify companies based on financials.
  • Create a complex query string in Moodys.
  • Transfer the results into Excel.
  • Complete multiple iterations of this process to get a final list of companies.
  • Hears criteria through a verbal command.
  • Works across platforms and understands idiosyncrasies between iterations.
  • Outputs results in Excel in minutes.
Read companies 10Ks, profiles
  • Read each document individually.
  • Sort them based on relevancy (a time-consuming process).
  • Reads and processes the documents, then makes recommendations (in minutes).
Calculate financial ratios
  • Input comparable companies’ financial numbers into Excel, calculate ratios.
  • Calculates ratios instantaneously.
Each time the intelligent system goes through the process it gets better. It does it faster. It understands and remembers why you make decisions to keep or drop comparable companies. Eventually, the intelligent system does everything based on the initial criteria and produces results in minutes.

[i] https://www.quora.com/What-would-an-IQ-of-500-or-1000-look-like

[ii] http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/45402.wss

Original Image © Depositphoto/ maxkabakov #20722549

Algorithms That Feed Us Content

As online applications become increasingly sophisticated they depend on algorithms to process metrics about us and who we interact with to deliver personalized content. Algorithms are usually the ‘secret sauce’ of a service, so architects only share generalities and when confronted with an issue. Like with the Facebook News Feed, an algorithm we became concerned about only after a study revealed Facebook manipulated feeds of a sample (680,000 randomly selected users) to see how they reacted to positive and negative updates. Interestingly, the results indicate when friends’ positive news feeds were weeded out to varying extents, people wrote fewer positive posts and more negative posts.[i] Clearly, as the results show, there are implications regarding how we consume our news.

Algorithms

Algorithms

Facebook has masterly positioned its social media platform as a quick, convenient one stop shop for everything – friend updates, pictures, videos, and news; have a fifteen minute break, visit Facebook from your mobile or computer to get caught up on things. Thirty percent of Americans get their news from Facebook.[ii] As we are all starting to become familiar with, Facebook has an algorithm that predicts what content to feed and serves it on our news feed. It is based on “’thousands and thousands’ of metrics, including what device a user is on, how many comments or likes a story has received and how long readers spend on an article.” Your friends’ behaviors (liking, commenting, and sharing) and pages you follow also significantly affects what appears on your News Feed. Facebook has just released News Feed settings and tools that let users “more easily tell Facebook what they don’t want to see”.[iii] Still there are some issues to consider:

  • Should you depend on an algorithm in social media to curate your news feeds? It depends; there is evidence for the algorithm’s value by increasing user engagement. If you have the right friends and follow relevant pages, it acts as a news filter by recommending only the top articles; this might be enough. However, if you want to take on a thought role, you should canvas digital newspapers and magazines directly.
  • Do you want to be confined to reading news based on the online behaviors and interests of you and your friends? In order to develop a passion, you need to be exposed to it. The danger in being fed content based on one phase of your life is you never develop intrigue in other subjects. One thing I love about the front section of the Wall Street Journal is the guaranteed ‘odd-ball’ article.

Netflix offers a stream of recommended videos. Recently they tweaked the underlying algorithm from being a rating system to something more complex; something based on behaviors – how long you watch a movie, what selections you click on, what you scroll over, etc. Netflix estimates seventy-five percent of viewer activity is driven by recommendations.[iv] This algorithm has significant influence on how we consume entertainment. (Interestingly, Netflix had a contest open to the public to build the algorithm and gave a million dollar prize to the winning team; this is a smart, cost-effective way to innovate.)

Google has a complex algorithm that ranks pages based on keywords and produces a search engine results page (“SERP”). It gets personal when you are logged into Google via Google+, Gmail, or one of their other applications. When you are logged-in, you get not only a slightly different SERP, but also some personalized content based on context from other applications; Google knows who you are. The other implication in being logged into Google (Facebook, Twitter, and other apps) is your movements during an Internet session are tracked directly to you by the app in a personal way (not just your IP address).

Some other popular ‘content feeding’ algorithms include: LinkedIn’s People You May Know, Pinterest’s Suggested Pins, Amazon’s Product Recommendations, and Pandora’s Music Streams.

We need algorithms because of the vastness of content available to us and how we consume it – often in quick spurts on mobile devices. Conducting effective searches takes time and some inspiration, so we like prompting or nudging to guide us in the right direction. Personally, I am more concerned with how I consume news (knowledge) versus entertainment and therefore get most of my news directly from its source (when I can). Nevertheless, it is worth understanding the basic mechanics of algorithms so you have more awareness – perhaps even play around with your news feed and see what happens as you ‘like’ things.

We deserve to understand the power that algorithms hold over us, for better or worse.[v]

Future algorithms will have a heavy dose of artificial intelligence. Much more context will be fed into the algorithm, allowing for it to deliver a deeper, personalized experience. Moreover, the artificial intelligence gets smarter and better through time. According to a study, AI has attracted more than $17 billion in investments since 2009; some of the investors include Facebook, Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Twitter.[vi]

[i] https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/scicurious/main-result-facebook-emotion-study-less-trust-facebook

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/business/media/how-facebook-is-changing-the-way-its-users-consume-journalism.html

[iii] http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/07/facebook-makes-its-news-feed-a-little-less-frustrating

[iv] http://www.wired.com/2013/08/qq_netflix-algorithm/

[v] Karrie Karahalios. Algorithm Awareness. (MIT Technology Review, November 2014).

[vi] Kevin Kelly. Brain Power. (Wired, November 2014).

New Social Contract With Intelligent Systems

Advancements in intelligent systems (AI, robotics, etc.) require us to make important decisions now for our future. The technology is currently on the doorstep. We are accustomed to talking to a voice on our cellphone (Siri) and barking orders to a system in our car. Though, it is a commonly accepted notion that AI becomes pervasive in just about everything we do.

Intelligent Systems

Intelligent Systems

One perspective of futuristic AI is captured in the film Her about a lonely writer who reaches out to an operating system to satisfy his companionship needs. The AI is intelligently responsive, attentive, curious, and seemingly emotional. (Of course, having Scarlet Johannsson’s husky, luring voice and a picture of her in your mind further sells the idea; this is why you know she is doing the voice over before you watch the film.)

As we race to adopt advanced technologies, some of the issues include: educating future generations on how and when to use them, providing universal access, establishing social norms – boundaries when it is appropriate, and mitigating excessive security controls.

It is still hard to predict the best ways to educate children with using intelligent systems. What is the criteria in deciding what facts and information has to be memorized versus being retrieved from an intelligent system? (As I have said in a previous blog on knowledge, building skills will have more value than memorizing facts and information.) Should there be limitations on the frequency or duration of ‘nudges’? Is it ethical to receive deep emotional encouragement from AI?

There was an article in the NYT about an autistic child who found personal satisfaction in communicating with Siri through his IPhone. It is an uplifting story because, as his mom acknowledges, he receives attention and comfort he probably does not get in other ways.[i] As AI becomes more advanced, this situation – having relationships with AI – plays out with a broader segment of the population.

Using AI frequently requires multitasking. A highly contested issue is whether multitasking has a positive or negative influence on a person’s cognitive abilities. There was a study that says “yes”, multitasking is an acquired skill.[ii] In another article, the results were negative: multitaskers had less grey matter density in their brain and had a more difficult time concentrating when they need to.[iii]

According to Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at MIT: “technology is the main driver of the recent increases in inequalities”.[iv] Futurists predict a bifurcation of the classes, where the middle class splits into the upper and lower classes. Highly skilled professionals with access to new technologies find jobs, the rest will be under- or un- employed. As a society, we must make the latest technologies accessible to all in K-12 and higher education; this might be a simplistic argument, but what about the commitment to follow through on it. Currently there is support in providing internet access to all; in the future, there needs to be similar support in providing advance technologies (like AI) to all.

One of the most prominent transhumanists is the inventor and philosopher Ray Kurzweil, currently director of engineering at Google, and popularizer of the concept of the technological “singularity” – a point he puts at around 2045, when artificial intelligence will outstrip human intelligence for the first time.[v]

Some people embrace AI, some people abhor AI. Regardless, advancements in AI will continue to move forward because people want to feel happier, increase productivity and become more intelligent. There will be a new social contract laying out how humans interact with AI.

In the latest Wired, there was an article about the dangers in giving an authority control over newer technologies – especially those engrained to us in a personal way. Currently authorities can use a ‘kill switch’ on a cell phone, eavesdrop on our communications, and take control of our computer or devices. What about implanted devices? Should you be concerned in interacting with an intelligent system in a personal way, letting it know all your behaviors and what you are thinking?

What the net is, is the nervous system of the 21st Century. It’s time we started acting like it.[vi]

[i] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/fashion/how-apples-siri-became-one-autistic-boys-bff.html

[ii] http://online.wsj.com/articles/teen-researchers-defend-media-multitasking-1413220118

[iii] http://www.talentsmart.com/articles/Multitasking-Damages-Your-Brain-and-Your-Career-2102500909-p-1.html

[iv] David Rotman. Technology and Inequality. (MIT Technology Review, November 2014).

[v] http://s.telegraph.co.uk/graphics/projects/the-future-is-android/index.html

[vi] Cory Doctorow. Keep Out Don’t Let Uncle Sam Invade Your Devices. (Wired, November 2014 Issue).

Original Image © Depositphoto/ agsandrew #55272329

Thought Roles in Personal Branding

A popular nugget of advice in personal branding is to become a thought leader. Personally, I think it is an overused, misunderstood phrase (at least with my interpretation); I see thought leaders like influencers in LinkedIn: there are relatively few of them, they are brilliant, and their distinction comes from others. Truth is, it is very difficult to come up with a fresh perspective and become an authority in any specialization. According to a Forbes article, the definition of a thought leader is:

A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.[i]

Thought Roles

Thought Roles

If you have the competency and passion to be a thought leader, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Of course, you must be highly intelligent because there is a lot of competition to become one. (This is why I do not suggest most people trying to become a thought leader; it is unrealistic.) It also requires due diligence to stay on top of the latest trends. Finally, it takes many years to establish a reputation. The payoff for being a thought leader is influence – something that has significant weight nowadays. Someone with thousands of followers and a high Klout score is a highly prized free agent; he or she carriers influence from job to job throughout a career.

I have come up with another four roles related to sharing information; they are: thought curator, thought facilitator, thought provoker, and thought agitator.

A thought curator is someone who passes and shares ideas with a target audience. Being a thought curator requires canvassing information, and then funneling or filtering it to an audience. Followers depend on a thought curator to feed them relevant information in their field. This role requires a strong presence in social media.

A thought facilitator is someone who synthesizes information and insights on a platform for discussion. Being a thought facilitator requires putting information into online content and then moderating comments from an audience. This role requires managing a blog and/or discussion forum.

A thought provoker is someone who asks the right questions on a topic. Being a thought provoker requires processing information and posing questions and/or sharing an opinion on the underlying issues. A thought provoker might cross-disciplines where he or she does not have a knowledge base, but postulates or seeks answers from an audience.  (Asking the right questions is becoming one of the most highly sought after skills in the Information Age.)

A thought agitator is similar to a thought provoker but also emotionally charges an audience. Being a thought agitator requires delivering a consistent message that attracts both supporters and naysayers who want to hear what’s coming next.

Becoming a thought leader might be too lofty of a goal for most of us, so consider taking on some combination of these other thought roles as a dimension of your personal brand.

[i] http://www.forbes.com/sites/russprince/2012/03/16/what-is-a-thought-leader/

Original Image © Depositphoto/ nmarques74#5847311

Gossip, Informal Reputation Management

In thinking about gossip, we giggle and think of something trivial we said behind someone’s back. Never thought much regarding the power of gossip until a professor in my A Brief History of Mankind MOOC identified gossip as one of the most important characteristics in the evolution of man. His argument is: gossip allows us to interact in ever-increasing social circles and, without it, we would be confounded in making new connections with persons in groups outside of our own. Similar to a point made in Wikipedia: Gossip is crucial in the forming of social bonds in large groups. People quickly get up to speed on characteristics and rumors of someone new in another group.

Gossip

Gossip

With social media, gossip is potent. It can sway the opinions of large networks of users in a frighteningly swift manner. A single post on Facebook or Twitter can command the attention of many people, especially as it gets introduced to ‘other groups’ as users share or like it. Gossip in social media blurs any distinction between personal and professional conduct; it is impossible to keep a personal life out of the prying eyes of coworkers, clients, and associates.

The primary benefit of gossip is “it is intimately connected with the moral rules of a given society, and individuals gain or lose prestige in their groups depending on how well they follow these rules”.[i] This is why gossip has endured through ages.

“This preoccupation with the lives of others is a by-product of the psychology that evolved in prehistoric times to make our ancestors socially successful. Thus, it appears that we are hardwired to be fascinated by gossip.”[ii]

A problem with gossip is it often contains an unproven record and veiled truths. Gossip is meant to reach the masses and there are victims – persons whose reputation or standing in a group is tarnished. These victims cannot present their side of the story and sometimes do not even know precisely what has been said about them. This is why some offices ban gossip; it damages workforce morale. According to a recent article on maintaining your reputation: “Gossiping, triangulating—and not following the basic rules of your workplace—can certainly undermine your credibility”.[iii]

I think it is worth accepting the existence of gossip and that it may serve a purpose, so separate useful information and gossip; as a corporate-training executive put it, “one person’s gossip is another’s ‘information-sharing’”[iv]. Think about the intent behind it. Does it affect you in any way? Instead of tearing someone else down, why not improve your own perceptions and talk to someone directly. Once you partake in gossip, it never goes away (especially in a digital form – a text message, social media post, or an email). It can also erode trust and damage relationships.

Gossip requires informal reputation management and therefore ties into your personal branding. First and foremost, if you are the target of gossip, it is best to get a handle on what is being said about you. Sometimes it requires a smart response to stop it from spreading and hurting your reputation. Second, if you hear gossip, you need to process the information and choose a response (partake in it or remove yourself from the conversation). And remember this Turkish proverb: who gossips to you will gossip of you. Third, if you are the gossiper, consider how putting yourself out there affects your reputation. Are you providing accurate information and giving both sides of the story? Are you damaging someone else’s credibility? Gossip has been around for thousands of years and will continue to be around; social media is a powerful platform to spread gossip.

[i]http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_evolution/2012/10/groups_and_gossip_drove_the_evolution_of_human_nature.single.html

[ii] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-of-gossip/

[iii] http://preview.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/career/how-to-take-control-of-your-reputation-at-work/ar-BB59SBu

[iv] http://online.wsj.com/articles/what-to-do-when-you-are-the-subject-of-office-gossip-1412701581

Self-Guided Learning

Self-guided learning is increasingly accessible to us – through online learning platforms, digital content, discussion forums, etc. Sometimes going back to college to learn a particular discipline or subject is avoidable. To illustrate this notion of self-guided learning, I discuss my experience learning about K-12 and higher education systems over the last couple of years. I have a working knowledge in education systems and offer a unique perspective when I cross disciplines with my business and technology background.

Self-Guided Learning

Self-Guided Learning

I took a MOOC called Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom and earned a grade of 96.4 percent (give you the grade as an assurance I took the course seriously). Through the course, I acquired a basic understanding of how teachers are utilizing technology and learning platforms in the classroom. Online courses are great for laying a basic, foundation of a new subject.

To understand how learning platforms work (and also satisfy curiosities), I took another five MOOCs in various subjects. Regardless of the subject, there are common elements in MOOCs (or any online course): finely tuned video lectures, learning assignments, quizzes and tests with instantaneous grading, and discussion forums. Practicing or applying what you are learning reinforces any knowledge gains (to be clear, in this case, I studied how learning platforms function).

Over the last two years, I read five books on higher education and two books on education from top thought leaders. In doing so, I became acquainted with perspectives of practitioners who have spent considerable time practicing, researching, and thinking about the education system. Learning from books is now more convenient than ever – simply click a button on Kindle to get it, make comments and highlights in the e-book, and follow the notes by clicking on links. A book is an immediate route into the mind of an expert where you follow their thought processes.

I have a daily routine of canvasing articles in major newspapers. I like the opinions section, where you get a pulse on what people are saying; for example, a parent talking about why Common Core testing is difficult on his or her child’s psyche. Newspapers keep you on top of the current issues and public opinion.

I have social media accounts. With Twitter I follow organizations providing educational services and discussing policy and funding issues. With LinkedIn I follow an education group of influencers. Articles in social media have insights from experts on current events followed by a long list of comments from readers.

I actively blog about concepts that interest me. Blogging forces you to stay current and offer your spin on things. (In a way, it is like building skills by teaching what you have learned.)

In K-12 education, students learn basic skills in reading, writing, and math; in higher education, students learn higher-order skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. Students also learn technical skills based on the degree they choose, and may continue onto graduate school to deepen their knowledge. Regardless of a person’s undergraduate degree, he or she has the basic knowledge and resources to learn other disciplines and subjects through self-guided learning. And, if necessary, he or she takes an online assessment to establish a competency and earns a credential matching a traditional degree.

Economists, lawyers, statisticians and many other common professions apply their technical skills to other disciplines. Cross-disciplinary skills are and will be highly sought after in the Information Age.

Many of today’s global problems are just too complex to be solved by one specialized discipline. These multifaceted problems require trans-disciplinary solutions.[i]

[i] http://www.iftf.org/uploads/media/SR-1382A_UPRI_future_work_skills_sm.pdf

College Maturity

The transition from high school to college to early employment is crucial in career development. A successful transition depends on maturity, being able to prioritize learning while becoming more self and socially aware. In Aspiring Adults Adrift, the authors take their study (started in Academically Adrift) further to understand the lives of early career professionals soon after graduating from college.

Time Management

Time Management

College graduates are still having a difficult time finding satisfying employment. In a recent article in HBR, a study points out that employees also recognize the existence of a skills gap – something employers have been talking about for the last couple years[i].

Internships, apprenticeships, and volunteering lead to greater employment possibilities and are becoming fundamental as employers and colleges work to close the skills gap. This type of work relationship is good for a few reasons. First, students practice skills as they are being learned in the classroom. Second, students explore and experiment in jobs without over committing. Third, employers influence what is being taught in the classroom. Finally, it is cheaper for employers to assess a candidate’s skill set (as opposed to a direct hire).

According to the study, students are not using their college career services to land future employment. A career center’s biggest contribution is to setup career events, where students link up with employers who have a relationship with the college. In addition, career services help students perfect their resume (and this should be moving towards an online personal brand, I argue). The Obama administration is pushing a new college rating system that makes colleges accountable for “dropout rates, earnings of graduates and affordability”[ii]. Career centers, being a bridge between employers and a college, should face an expanded role in courting employers and ensuring their graduates have the necessary skills.

One of the major themes of the book is that higher education needs to reverse the course towards consumerism and concentrate on improving academic rigor. This is challenging because of the above-mentioned college rating system. On one-side there is pressure to improve graduation rates (currently 60 percent of undergrads), and on the other-side there is pressure to get students to work harder with a more difficult curriculum. Perhaps both can be accomplished in the long-term, but would require a major change in social norms – college students showing up ready and willing to learn on day one.

Still the book makes clear a social element has its place in a college experience, for these reasons: 1) it “plays a highly stratifying role in partner selection” (even though people marry later in life); 2) it introduces students to a diverse student body; 3) it is meant to cultivate the “whole man”. Students must learn a balancing act – work commitments (studying and being in class) versus play – that exists throughout the rest of their lives.

In the eyes of graduating college students, everything is peachy. According to the study: 95 percent reported their lives would be better than those of their parents and 90 percent of seniors reported being satisfied with their college experience.

To improve learning in college, educators, policy makers, and parents are going to have to work together – make true learning the primary objective of college.

Colleges and universities thus have a responsibility to address the lack of academic rigor and limited learning we have reported… Consumer satisfaction is not a worthy aim for colleges and universities.

What I like about this book is it speaks the truth of the average college student. It is something I can surely relate to with my college experience. For many, the social experience is overwhelming. We get tunnel vision about earning a credential – the degree – rather than actual learning and building skills needed for a career. In Paying for the Party, two sociologists study women in a public college and come up with similar conclusions. Speaking about partying is taboo because there are deep privacy and trust concerns within a circle of friends (and we all grow up at different times). But I am not suggesting changing the social scene. My suggestion is to treat college from the beginning like a job: you do the necessary work, spend the time, and meet a learning expectation, and then are free to do as you please. In my opinion, it all comes down to: time management, learning commitment , self-control, self-awareness, and social awareness.

[i] http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/09/workers-dont-have-the-skills-they-need-and-they-know-it/

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/upshot/why-federal-college-ratings-wont-rein-in-tuition.html

Richard Arum and Josipa Roska. Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates. (University of College Press, Chicago 2014)

What Is Knowledge?

Google’s definition of knowledge: facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. Let’s discuss each clause separately.

Knowledge

Knowledge

The underlying notion of knowledge is going through a transformation. Memorization of ‘facts and information’ is less important, and building skills is more important. All possible content is available to us through the internet, social media, and other networks instantaneously on computer and mobile devices. In the not so distant future, implanted devices will interact with our normal thought processes and create an ‘augmented reality’. (Love this video on what this might seem like; be forewarned it is frightening, but realistic .) Why is there rote-memorization in education? Should the focus be on building skills to find, synthesize, and discuss ‘facts and information’?

The ability to mix technical knowledge with solving real-world problems is the key.[i]

Look at the success of IBM’s Watson – a supercomputer that won Jeopardy and beat the top chess player in the world. Winning Jeopardy requires recalling facts and information in a wide array of subjects and winning chess requires cycling through a significant number of iterations for each move. In a chess match, a supercomputer beats the best human player, but a team of a supercomputer and a human player beats a supercomputer by itself (at least for now).[ii] Of course, humans build the computer and program the underlying algorithms. Players now learn chess in new ways. They optimize the computer for crunching out calculations, know how to process the data, and spend more time reading their opponent. IBM has just come out with mainstream application that utilizes Watson to bring ‘big data’ analysis to the average user.[iii] Learning to ask the right questions is paramount.

Memorizing a foundation of ‘facts and information’ is a requirement in certain professions, such as historians, doctors, and lawyers; a common thread in their responsibilities includes being able to recite facts and stats, classify elements, or identify precedence on the spot. Although there are huge online content reservoirs, such as Web-MD and Lexus Nexus, which can be accessed when needed. Nevertheless, a ‘theoretical or practical understanding’ remains critical in these high stakes professions.

Knowing ‘facts and information’ is required for developing a perspective. You cannot make an effective argument without a sufficient understanding of the prevailing schools of thought. Still, immediate access to huge reservoirs of facts and information online accelerates this process significantly. The notion of spending days in a library rummaging through printed copies of journals, periodicals, and books is over (still remember the awful, time-consuming process). Now you can  follow new ideas in social media, conduct Google searches, and access websites of information distributors. Digital content is much easier to manage – make comments, highlight quotes, and copy and transfer to other platforms.

Understanding is key. But not superficial, light-bulb moment of understanding. In STEM, true and deep understanding comes with the mastery gained through practice.[iv]

Here are some thoughts for moving forward with a new concept of knowledge:

  • Promote self-guided learning. Learning has become a lifelong commitment because of the rapid adoption of new technologies and dissemination of huge amounts of content. Professionals must keep their skills sharp with new applications. They must also follow the latest trends by following influencers in social media, taking courses, and reading articles, books, and blogs.
  • Focus on skills required to manage, process, and analyze information and facts, as opposed to memorization. Computers are better at memorization and number crunching; humans are better at making decisions and showing compassion and empathy (soft skills).
  • Competency based learning instead of the traditional credit hour model. With online learning, you can learn at your own pace and utilize many different resources.
  • Use the latest technology in all levels of education. It is essential to put the latest hardware and software applications into the hands of students – a generation that is expected to use it.

[i] Tyler Cowen. Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. (Penguin, New York 2013).

[ii] … (page 81)

[iii] http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/16/ibm-offers-a-data-tool-for-the-mainstream-with-watsons-help/

[iv] http://online.wsj.com/articles/barbara-oakley-repetitive-work-in-math-thats-good-1411426037

Bonding With a Leader

Leadership coaches tell leaders to improve their emotional intelligence (“EQ”). In fact, many say it is the single most important thing a leader can do to increase his or her effectiveness. Building relationships is the core of EQ, and since relationships are a two-way street, everyone contributes.

Teams can change in desired ways, but again, without purposeful desire, the changes may be slow or result in unwanted consequences.[i]

Bonding With a Leader

Bonding With a Leader

A leader has to get to know their employees better. Hopefully, this leads to an opportunity for you (as an employee) to share things about yourself: insights, personal stories, values, and a sense of humor. The best advice is to be ready because an interaction might occur at any time: in an elevator, the lunchroom, or a conference room. Avoid clamming up because you do not want to say something wrong, yet acknowledge the fear so you show due respect. Try being spontaneous, though be careful what you say because it can be sticky.

And just as important, it is an opportunity for you to learn about the leader; it is not all about you. If you get a chance, ask an open-ended question that prompts him or her to share a personal experience. A leader’s story might teach a lesson, establish trust, and/or simply make you laugh.

On a professional level, you want to learn a leader’s methods (practiced ways of applying skills) and get candid feedback. Volunteer to ‘reverse mentor’. Teach new technologies or social media applications where you may have more experience and a different perspective; become a valuable resource, beyond simply performing your duties.

When I was an early career professional, I used to coach my company’s sports teams. I remember a very well-liked leader played goalie for one of our soccer games. He was not much of a soccer player, but showed up on a rainy Saturday morning for us – no other reason. By the end of the game, he was covered in mud from making (or trying to make) saves. It was a thrill having him play with us. His simple participation cemented a bond with everyone on the team that day. Everyone remembers the game and, moreover, had an easy ‘ice-breaker’ to strike a conversation with him in the hall or lunchroom.

From a leader’s perspective, you make great strides in building relationships by doing things purely for the sake of the team. From an employee’s perspective, participating in events outside the confines of the office – such as company sport’s teams, happy hours, etc. – are excellent opportunities to get to know coworkers and leaders on a personal level.

The mood of a leader is contagious. It involves both emotional and social contagion. There are emotional triggers in our brain that fire immediately during an interaction; there is nothing we can do to prevent a physical reaction, like a rush of euphoria or discomforting ‘pit’ in our stomach. However, it is important to understand when we are flooded with emotions so we can react to them and improve our ability to learn. We might ask ourselves. Was my excitement from this presentation justified? Did I resonate with the leader? Did I resonate with the idea? Emotions can shut off clarity in our thoughts.

I remember an exercise in a leadership course (business school) where we broke up into teams and gave presentations with the objective of influencing an audience (the rest of the class). The winner was not a team with the most elegant solution, but rather the one generating the most buzz –a mediocre solution presented beautifully; a scenario that plays out every semester in this class exercise. Emotions influence our short-term decision-making.

Everyone benefits in improving their emotional intelligence. It affects all areas of our life, including: communications, career development, relationships, and happiness. In a way, EQ measures wisdom and IQ measures intelligence. A higher EQ is a sign of maturity and can be improved upon while you are pretty much stuck with your IQ.

[i] https://spark-public.s3.amazonaws.com/lead-ei/Boyatzis%20%282008%29.pdf

It’s Up To You

It is up to you regarding career development. The quicker you realize this, the quicker you are on a career path towards happiness and success. Moreover, you become an active participant and therefore increase the effectiveness of what you are trying to accomplish; for example, you show up to a performance review well versed on what you want to learn from it (rather than just attending it as a formality). This process of taking self-ownership and accountability plays out in many facets of career development: lifelong learning, building skills, career planning, and pulling feedback.

Up To You

Up To You

The traditional education model has changed. Before you went to college for four years to ‘become educated’ and then were employed for the rest of your life. However, due to the rapid adoption of new technologies, you are expected to participate in lifelong learning. It is up to you to for a self-guided education – a combination of taking courses, following influencers, and reading articles, blogs, and books. Do not depend on college administrators, professors, and parents to tell you what degree to major in and what courses you should take.

If you are employed, it is up to you to build and validate your skills. Tap into your employer’s resources by getting them to fund courses and certifications, provide mentoring, advise on making advancements, and perform 360 interviews and assessments. So if any of these things are not part of their standard routine, consider trying to get them to make it part of their routine (at least with you). However, do not depend on the employer to guide and make decisions regarding your career. (In A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career, I discuss what things you should be doing during the building and validating stages of developing a skill set. Check out the website: www.skillsbasedapproach.com.)

Do not leave your destiny into the hands of your employer. Take a pro-active approach to your career and create opportunities for yourself.[i]

Feedback is a critical component of online personal branding. The key is to pull feedback to you.[ii] It is up to you to get others – supervisors, managers, peers, etc. – to give you feedback and make the feedback as useful as possible.

Career planning is only effective when you are self-aware.  It is up to you to learn more about your core-competencies, passions, and values through self-reflection, testing (personality, strengths, and interests tests), and interviewing those who know you best. Hopefully, parents and professors expose you to subjects and disciplines that might interest you (but do not go as far as telling you what career to pursue). It is up to you to decide on your career pursuit.

There is a lot of discussions regarding what colleges should do to get their graduates a job and employers should do to develop their employees’ careers. No question these two influencers have the resources, knowledge, and experience to make significant contributions for their students and workers, respectively. And they should be obligated to do so (especially with colleges because getting a job might be considered part of a college education ROI). Still, I think the biggest gains in job placement and career success come from self –aware, – knowledgeable, and –driven professionals. Now more than ever, we have the resources in place with online learning platforms for persons to take control of their education. For many, it is a matter of maturity; it is up to you.

Thoughts for further discussion regarding education:

  • Low-income students have a disadvantage because many have to work while they are full-time students (in high school and college). Can we provide resources (living expenses) so students are fully dedicated towards learning (and their future can be up to them)?
  • In Academically Adrift, the authors provide evidence that students are not learning much in college. In a follow-up study, a third of the students report “studying less than five hours a week.”[iii] Some are distracted by jobs and/or social activities and some simply lack motivation. Should colleges target maturity rather than teaching issues?

[i] http://chelseakrost.com/creating-a-pro-active-rather-than-re-active-career-2/

[ii] Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. Penguin (2014, New York).

[iii] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/03/upshot/the-economic-price-of-colleges-failures.html
Original Image © Depositphoto/ olly18 #7626816

 

 

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