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Bruce Daisley

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The Avoidance of Learning

Posted: 26/10/2012 01:00

I've had the misfortune to visit a number of schools recently. Aside from the stark reminder it has given me that I have an extreme resistance to any form of authority (head teachers occupy a singular place of distrust). It has reminded me how we are building the world to solve the problems of the past. Teachers proudly saying that they still teach Latin and Greek while being surprised when asked why they don't teach computer coding. This is what they learned at school - and it worked out well for them.

When I was at school I was obsessed with The Beano comic. I still have all of the annuals. (One of the terrifying things I noticed is that one of them dates from when I was 16, which probably tells you everything you need to know about me). Strange thing is that on re-reading they bear no relation to my memories of growing up. Delivery men in brown coats bring groceries from the local corner shop, kids are routinely disciplined with the cane. It was grim in Birmingham under Thatcher but not that grim.

My depressing take on these things that teachers and cartoonists are like the rest of us - we learn just enough to get by in the world as we're growing up, then shut up shop to new stuff. Living in denial as the world continues to evolve. Douglas Adams once casually observed how we embrace new things. "Everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal.
Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting". Anything invented after you're 30 is "the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it". This is my take on what The Beano cartoonists were thinking. It's heartbreaking that schools think the same. We become defined by our fear of what we don't understand.

While this aversion to the new permeates most of the world, more than anyone I think they tattoo this on the arm of Heads of IT. I am always thrilled when I see the application of new technology, but more than anything it just reminds me of the almost total absence of it in most workplaces. Offices that ban YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Spotify just seem extraordinary. Most UK workplaces seem to have an extraordinary notion of innovation - yeah I guess it's what happened before the Head of IT was 30.

I'm always reminded of the slow pace of office evolution when I watch new colleagues trying to get to grips with Gmail or using two screens on their desk. I adore Gmail. Once you recognise that 'work' and 'email' are near synonyms these days then Gmail becomes indispensible. Unlimited storage, finding via search rather than folders, threaded replies, the archive button - these four innovations must add 40-50% productivity to the use of email. Similarly using a monitor as well as a laptop screen on your desk - not only do you feel like you've finally got a job at Mission Control - you can actually get a stack more done. These are genuine improvements to productivity. We are already starting to hear rumblings from the graduate recruitment world that new grads are declining jobs at companies that don't offer Apple Macs, well count me out of any job that uses Outlook.

A little knowledge really is a dangerous thing. It's interesting that so many decisions in work environments are made by experts whose job is to assert control. Control dwells in the kingdom of fear. The Head of IT is a position that should be radically reinvented. One of the reasons given for the Chrome browser overtaking Internet Explorer last year was that Chrome is what people freely used at home and it seemed lightning fast compared to the glacial pace of IE6 and IE7 - that people were forced to use at work. When I worked in a magazine company the IT director was styled "The Abominable No-Man". You can have any answer as long as it's no. The dreaded Administration rights preventing any experimentation or learning.

How about we embraced the new - we took learning and change as requirements in our lives - rather than inconveniences. If IT heads were retitled "Head of Productivity" and charged with increasing the output of their team maybe their attitude would change. Gmail would wipe out Outlook globally in two quarters. Every office desk would have a second monitor. Every school would teach coding for an hour a day.

This is why start-ups like Decoded seem to have hit a chord. Decoded is a training business which recognises that the world is increasing built in code - and trains you to write code in a day. A lack of an understanding of code threatens a vast scrubland of career ignorance ahead of us. Our careers are increasingly likely to be defined by code - and the possibilities presented by it. Unless we understand the basics we are likely to be sculpted out of our fear.

As much I despaired hearing the archaic views of schools, it has redoubled my own passion for learning. As I read the Beano in the past I'd have hated a future where I was defined by my fear. I return to that strange adolescent reverie and demand of myself: What Would Billy Whizz do?

 

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