Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Things Are Not Always As They Seem

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by Orin Zebest: http://flickr.com/photos/orinrobertjohn/116972344

This year, I have taken to audiobooks. Unsatisfied by my consumption of podcasts and frustrated with all the books that I just don't have time to read, I have taken to listening while I'm walking, driving, working, gardening - basically, whenever allows. During this time I have gone through quite a few books:
At the heart of Gladwell's book is the myth of power and strength. What he sets out to uncover is that so often strengths are at same time weakness and with that supposed weaknesses can often be our greatest strengths. His archetypal example is David and Goliath. So often it is a story told of an underdog getting lucky, but really when you break the story down David was meant to win. For so often success comes through subverting the expectations of others, going against all expectations. In the case of David, his refusal to fight hand to hand, as well as his speed and agility, were really why he won. Gladwell provides example after example of successful people who have failed because they have not perceived their own inherent weakness, as well as those who have looked at situations and seen a different possibility than that often expected by others.

Too Big To Know by +David Weinberger

Weinberger sets out to unpack the crisis of knowledge that has been brought about with the move from scarcity to abundance. Whereas in the past we managed the hose by setting our standards high, associating truth and knowledge with experts and supposed universals. With the increase in technology and the rise of algorithmic and social networks, such fallacies are put to rest. For as has oft been quoted, "the smartest person in the room is the room." The challenge then today isn't necessarily about becoming an expert in a particular area or being the font of all knowledge, instead it is how to create smart rooms which value diversity and allow for the emergence of ideas. The inherent irony of Weinberger's book is that there was always too much to know, it is just now there is no hiding from the fact.

Mindsets by Carol Dweck

Mindsets is not necessarily a book about success and failure, but rather a book about how we perceive success and failure. For Dweck there are two mindsets which govern pretty much everything that we do. They are the fixed and growth mindsets. Those with a fixed mindset see things as black or white, either good or bad. They feel the need to always prove themselves and consider setbacks as failure. In opposition to this, from the perspective of the growth mindset, failure is embraced as an area for improvement, effort is rewarded and setbacks are seen as an opportunity for future learning. What was interesting was that we are not necessarily always one or the other. We can actually have different mindsets for different problems, as well as fluctuate between the two.

Continuing on from where Weinberger finished, Thompson sets out to dispel many myths associated with technology, about it being a panacea to all our ills, to it being the start of the apocalypse. The book is as much about how technology can extend us as it is about how it already is. Unpacking our lived digital lives, not everything that we have today is new. Some fears, some forms of innovation, have been around for hundreds of years. On the flip side of this, history shows that we often refine and improve the tools we have, Thompson therefore offers a glimpse into a possible future. One debunked myth that really stood out to me was the notion that because of technology we read and write less, subsequently leading to a decline in literacy standards. Instead, Thompson points out that with the aid of technology we actually read and write far more than we ever did before. Challenge is being critical.


It is interesting reflecting on all of the books. Although they are all somewhat different, the one thing that ties them all together is that things are not always as they seem and even more importantly, we have the power to make a difference.