Thursday, March 27, 2014

Are we becoming too well informed to think?

Today I came across a newspaper article in which we read how a body builder/personal trainer was advised by an NHS nurse that her BMI (body mass index) was too high and that she should eat less and exercise more. The newspaper article was accompanied by a picture of the body builder. She is what my sons call 'stacked'. Maybe you don't like that particular kind of body shape, and that's fine. But this woman has clearly worked very hard on getting her body to look the way she wants it to look. I'm pretty sure her body fat percentage is very low, but muscle weighs far more than fat, so a very muscular person, on the basis of BMI alone will register as overweight or even obese.

I think it's safe to say that the nurse in question made no effort to address the woman's unique case. She unquestioningly followed a single set of guidelines as issued by the NHS.

We seem to have guidelines for everything these days. So much so, that I wonder whether we're in danger of giving up the effort of thinking for ourselves.

Sometimes guidelines are treated as inflexible rules. I mentioned once before on this blog about a friend of mine whose baby was struggling with reflux problems. She was worried about him, because when she laid him down to sleep, he would spit up and start choking. Because I had a son with a similar problem (apparently it's quite common for baby boys to have a slightly underdeveloped valve between the end of the oesophagus and the start of the stomach - it usually resolves once they become able to sit up by themselves), I suggested that she try laying him down on his side with a rolled up towel behind him to hold him in position, so that if he spit up in his sleep, it wouldn't get caught in his throat. Her response was "Ooh, no. We're not allowed to do that. The health visitor says we have to put him down on his back." Not allowed to. Not allowed to make a decision in respect of your own child that is contrary to what the health visitor has recommended based on the guidelines handed down to her by a faceless organisation that has never met the individual child in question.

A few years back, we read glowing obituaries for a traffic engineer in Europe (I wish I could remember more details about him) whose view was that more information to drivers made roads less safe. He was credited with revolutionising traffic safety by removing most of the information given to drivers and allowing them to take ownership of their own driving habits.

Now that I have health and safety guidelines that tell me it isn't safe to stand on a chair on top of a desk to change a light bulb, and warning signs over the hot taps in public facilities telling me that the water is hot, and labels on bags of nuts telling me that they contain nuts... do I need to do any thinking for myself? Perhaps the rationale is that it frees up my brain for important things. But I maintain that the more we are protected from the possibility of making stupid choices, the less likely it is that we will make inspired ones.

I have no research to go on here, but I wonder if it isn't a bit like a sine wave. The ubiquitous 'they' are trying to remove the bottom half of the wave, but actually what's happening is that the entire wave pattern is getting flattened as the top half is reduced proportionately. Spike Milligan is reported to have hated the medication that took away the swooping lows of his bipolar disorder (or manic depression as it was known back then), because it also robbed him of the soaring highs. The two things aren't directly related, of course, but I wonder, if in the process of trying to move the whole wave upward, we don't actually just reduce its amplitude. And if we reduce it enough, will we all just, well, 'flatline' a la the movie Serenity?

Surely being allowed to make a few stupid mistakes, will encourage us to think a bit more? Surely looking at a competitive body builder, a nurse can set the BMI guidelines aside? Surely the mother of a baby with reflux can experiment to see what works best for her own baby?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Throwing away the labels

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed how there seems to be an increase in the number of people identified as being autistic. Any number of theories have posited as to why this may be. I'm not going into that today. I'm looking at a slightly different angle.

A while back, you might have seen this TED talk by Jacob Barnett. Let me refresh your memory:

I hope you found that inspiring (and a little challenging). But, had it not been for his mother, this lad might never have even be able to function in a socially acceptable 'normal' way. Here's some insight into how this woman threw away the labels, rejected the professional prognoses and adopted a child-led approach to learning.

You might notice during the video clip in the link, that Jacob appears to be slightly uncertain as to how to hold himself when he is being spoken about, but not spoken to. But there is nothing about him that announces that he is a person with 'learning disability' or a 'special need'. In fact, I'd say he's a lot less socially awkward than most fifteen year olds!

I have observed in my own sons - and in myself, truth be told - some markers of the autistic spectrum. None of us has ever been formally diagnosed (or even assessed), but none of us fitted comfortably into the educational model. I only wish I had had this woman's courage when it would have made a difference. In the absence of that, may I encourage parents not to allow labels to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Not everyone can go on to win a Nobel Prize, or even to be predicted to win one. But wouldn't life be so much more fulfilling if we were able to explore the thing that lights the spark in our eyes, rather than the thing some official board says we need to know? 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Yves Morieux on increasing simplicity in a complex workplace

Yves Morieux delivers this very interesting talk about counteracting the increasing complexity of the workplace. My favourite quote from it comes from Jørgen Vig Knudstorp (CEO of the Lego group) "Blame is not for failure. It's for failing to help, or ask for help."

Monday, March 17, 2014

It's been a while

You may or may not have noticed that I've been out of the loop for a while.

Since I am now in a new role, where the majority of my clients are late adopters of digital learning, I thought that it would be fitting to go there my first time back in the saddle.

There seems to be an assumption that moving into the digital space is a big, scary deal. But consider the mistakes that have already been made, that the late adopter can avoid. If - that is - the late adopter is prepared to learn from the experience of those who are further down the path.

I have found, though, that some late adopters are reluctant to go that route, so they wind up dealing with poor uptake for the very reasons early adopters struggled. But the early adopters persevered and found all sorts of ways of making digital resources more engaging. The wheel has been invented. We have figured out a lot of things along the way.

We've figured out that throwing content on a screen does not constitute elearning. We've discovered that people don't actually read screens for the most part - they scan them. So we've learned to work with that.

We've figured out that workplace learning is more about what you want people to do than what you want them to know. So we've learned to design solutions accordingly.

We have moved past the idea that e-learning needs to be the complete solution. In the early days of 'blended learning', there was precious little blending going on. We were so excited with our digital goodie bag, that we abandoned everything else for a while, there. We're getting better at it now. It finally dawned on us that (and I forget who originated this expression) if you want to learn to swim, you're going to have to get wet at some point. So we learnt how to look at a learning requirement and allocate modalities as appropriate.

We figured out that throwing the boring stuff online so that we could do the cool stuff in workshops also didn't work. If it was boring when it was in a workshop, it was going to be way more boring (and way easier to opt out of) on a screen.

We've figured out how to go mobile. We can use tablets, smart phones, mp4 players... all that stuff.

We've rediscovered the value of point of need support, and figured out how to design digital performance support tools.

We've come to realise that we don't need to be precious. That the 'bloke at the next desk' is a valid and valuable resource. Some of us even factor them in to our solutions.

That's not all, but it's a pretty good start. And instead of following the trail to where the early adopters now find themselves, the late adopters can simply choose to be airlifted into that space and join the conversation. It's an exciting journey...and I'm curious as to where it's going next.

How about you?