Thursday, May 01, 2014

Keeping it valid

Centuries ago, people believed the world was flat. They don't (or most don't) believe that any more. So, if you were to chuck in a casual reference to the flat earth during a presentation you were doing to a client, or a roomful of attendees, you would immediately lose credibility. Clearly here is someone who does not have his/her finger on the pulse.

But the flat earth is an extreme example. There are other, more recent ones. In recent meetings, I have heard people make casual reference to the whole left brain/right brain thing as if it were indeed, still a thing. We used to think so. But now, thanks to the work of people like Prof John Geake (among others), we know that is simply not the case.

Similarly, I have heard people cite the example of how the Americans spent millions researching a pen that could write in the zero gravity of space, while the Russians just used a pencil. That illustration gets used to demonstrate why it is important not to overthink things, and that sometimes, the simplest approach is the best. While that may be sound advice, the story of the pen/pencil thing is bogus. The graphite in pencils is problematic in zero gravity, too.

Every single one of us has seen a Facebook share that tells us that a million shares will get this kid his heart transplant, or that Bill Gates will donate a dollar to X charity for every 'like' the photo gets. Truth is, no amount of sharing is going to get that kid a heart, and Bill Gates already donates millions to charity, but to the charities of his own choosing. And by sharing these things, a person reveals a level of naivete and - it has to be said - laziness.

It is always possible to check whether a story is true. There are several sites online where you can verify (or otherwise) the latest viral sharing trend. Hoaxslayer, Snopes, etc. It takes a matter of minutes.

It is also possible to check whether the earth is flat, whether global warming is real, whether fracking is harmful, whether nuclear energy is really clean, whether the Russians really did just use a pencil while the American spent millions developing the space pen. (Please note: I am not for a moment saying that all of these are myths. But you can check for yourself which are true and which are not.)

...and to see what the current thinking is on how the brain works, whether learning styles actually exist.

I am a learning professional. I try to keep abreast of current thinking and research in my field so that I don't discredit myself or my company by casually dropping an absolute clanger into a conversation with a client.

Whatever your field is, I genuinely believe you owe it to yourself to do the same.

Things that were once unequivocally true (the earth is flat; eating fat makes you fat) are being shown by emerging research to be not so very true after all (the earth is round-ish; processed carbs make you fat).

Information is everywhere, and it is impossible to keep on top of it all, but keep your eyes and ears open in the fields that interest you. And, in the field that pays your salary, make a conscious effort to keep up.

That's my advice.

Not that you asked for it.

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