The Dumbing Down of Knowledge

The world is faced with enormous challenges, and we need creativity and innovation more than ever. Whether today’s focus is on climate change, terrorism, economic collapse or disease, the ‘old-world’ thinking that got us here will not be good enough to lead us to where we need to get to. one can dispute that the growth of the internet and the explosion of personal device ownership has made available more data to more people in the space of just a few short years than was ever available in the history of humanity. The trouble is that knowledge search algorithms generally assume that volume is good. The more something is searched for, the more privileged it becomes. The information at the top of the list does not reflect quality, it reflects desirability. And, it fosters laziness. Personalisation ensures that we are presented with our ‘favourites’, the things we have ‘said we enjoy’ in the past.  Despite the diversity of knowledge that is potentially available, the interfaces through which we access information, ironically, narrows our universe.

Even in the corridors Continue reading

Resist the temptation to be clever

I have often been asked by people who are unfamiliar with coaching, “How can you coach people in areas that you have no experience or knowledge of?”

I sometimes use this as an opportunity to help people obtain a clearer understanding of what coaching actually is.  I spend time explaining that coaching is not the same as mentoring. That it is not about specific knowledge or skills transfer. In fact, it can actually be an advantage to ‘not know’, as it makes it easier for the coach to ask totally naive questions with no pre-judgement.



To emphasise this point, I will often allude to the possible dangers that can emerge when you are too close to an area. When the coach is carrying their own ‘baggage’ around, they can slip into expressing their own views, or ask questions loaded with judgement. This can be one of the biggest challenges facing the internal coach. I worked as a coach within a corporate environment for a number of years. It was hugely rewarding, and offered a tremendous opportunity to be part of great change within the organisation. However, I know from personal experience, that when certain issues arose during coaching sessions, where I as the coach had specific knowledge about something, it presented me with a dilemma. I could, and sometimes did, inject a piece of knowledge that would help clarify some confusion, and help move the client past a particular obstacle.  Indeed, it would be wrong (and could be argued as unethical) not to. However, it is important to recognise that when you are doing that, you are no longer being a coach, and it is very important to tell the client that, so as to avoid any confusion about your role as a coach.

There is a real danger however, particularly for a new coach (as I found to my cost on occasions), that you may slip in and out of your coach role too many times, or for too long. The relationship may even morph into one that is no longer ‘coaching’, and into something else entirely. You may find yourself Continue reading

Is the Internet changing the way our brains work?

According to an article in Newsweek (Monday Jan 18th 2010) the answer is no. But, it may be altering the way we think.

Shortened attention span. Less interest in reflection and introspection. Inability to engage in in-depth thought. Fragmented, distracted thinking. These are all ways that the Internet supposedly affects thought. 109 philosophers, neurobiologists, and other scholars were asked “How is the Internet changing the way you think”.

The general consensus of scholars who study the mind and the brain is that the Internet hasn’t changed the way we think. Neuroscientist, Joshua Greene of Harvard, argues that it has provided us with unprecedented access to information, but hasn’t changed what our brains actually do with it. Cognitive psychologist, Steven Pinker of Harvard, is equally uncertain that any fundamental changes have happened. “Texters, surfers, and twitterers have not trained their brains to process multiple streams of novel information in parallel, as is commonly asserted but refuted by research”.

And yet, many scholars do believe the Internet alters thinking. Howard Rheingold (a Communications expert) believes the Internet fosters shallowness and distraction, with the result that our minds struggle to discipline and deploy attention in any concerted way. It is also argued that the Internet is causing the disappearance of retrospection and reminiscence. Evgeny Morozov, an expert on the Internet and politics, claims that our lives are increasingly lived in the present, completely detached even from the most recent of the pasts.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (the author of the work on Flow – referenced and discussed elsewhere in this Blog) argues that since online information is often decontextualized it satisfies immediate needs at the expense of deeper understanding, resulting in more superficial thought. With facts (whether true or false) only a click away, the Internet allows us to know fewer facts, reducing their importance as a component of thought. But that increases the importance of other components such as correlating facts, distinguishing between important and secondary matters, knowing when to prefer pure logic and when to let common sense dominate.

In other words, more than ever, we need to apply judgement to what is important and what is not. I don’t believe this is fundamentally different to what has gone before (apart from in terms of volume). All sources of information are subject to interpretation, and are conveyed through the filter of someone’s brain. Judgement will become an ever more critical skill; but our brains, our thinking, and the way we process information, is tried and trusted and will serve us well.