how we learn – review

How We Learn by Benedict Carey is focused mostly on memory and learning for recall but it is a good read and there is likely something new about learning here for anyone. Carey is a journalist who went through much of the research on memory in order to make sense himself. By synthesizing and comparing the research on memory and learning, he has done a great service to the non-academic.

One of the first principles discussed is how memory works: “Any memory has two strengths, a storage strength and a retrieval strength.”

‘Yet there are large upsides to forgetting, too. One is that it is nature’s most sophisticated spam filter. It’s what allows the brain to focus, enabling sought-after facts to pop to mind … “The relationship between learning and forgetting is not so simple and in certain important respects is quite the opposite of what people assume,” Robert Bjork, a psychologist as the University of California, Los Angeles, told me. “We assume it’s all bad, a failure of the system. But more often, forgetting is a friend to learning” … Using memory changes memory — and for the better. Forgetting enables and deepens learning, by filtering out distracting information and by allowing some breakdown that, after reuse, drives retrieval and storage strength higher than they were originally.’

Carey, paraphrasing Louis Pasteur, says that, “Chance feeds the tuned mind”. When we are tuned to a problem or topic, our mind sees more related cues. “When we are working on a paper about the Emancipation Proclamation, we’re not only tuned into racial dynamics on the subway car, we’re also more aware of our reactions to what we’re noticing.” (more…)

nordic finds

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds. I am currently in Helsinki, via Oslo, and then off to Stockholm. So my selections may be influenced by my local surroundings.

“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings.” –Ursula K. Le Guin via @HaymarketBooks

@MrAlanCooper: “The entire tech world is gonna be gobsmacked when they finally realize the solution is to take more time and think about people more.”

@EskoKilpi: “We are going to have a new kind of company that is to your data what your bank is to your money Storing it, keeping it safe and investing it.”

@White_Owly: “We can’t celebrate a shift towards a gig economy *and* complain about short-termism in the same breath.”

@Indy_Johar: “Societal Truths are a complex social product of linked & extrapolated scientific facts & correlations – dependent on high fidelity trust & governance. Where trust & governance has been destroyed – people return to making decisions on faith – be it Brexit or any other religion.”
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democracy, data, and intelligence

Social media platforms may extend global participation and can be a force for better understanding but often emotions trump reason in an online world of constant outrage. The linear aspects of reasoning, a core part of a print-based society, are easily forgotten as is shown in the almost fatalistic acceptance that we live in a post-truth era. Identity politics have been retrieved so that one is loyal to one’s group, no matter what the facts. In addition, as these tribal forces are extended by the internet, we see a reversal of democracy into tyranny under populist demagogues.

Scientific American recently asked, ‘Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?(more…)

systems thinking

Leyla Acaroglu has an excellent post on Tools for Systems Thinkers: The 6 Fundamental Concepts of Systems Thinking.

“In this series on systems thinking, I share the key insights and tools needed to develop and advance a systems mindset for dealing with complex problem solving and transitioning to the Circular Economy … *There are way more than six, but I picked the most important ones that you definitely need to know, and as we progress through this systems thinking toolkit series, I will expand on some of the other key terms that make up a systems mindset.” —Leyla Acaroglu, 2017-09-07

These are practical tools to improve anyone’s practice of personal knowledge mastery and I look forward to the rest of the posts in the series. I have taken the six tools and added how they can be used in PKM. (more…)

a cup of coffee

I was considering making this blog private and creating a community space for paying subscribers. However, after much deliberation I don’t think this is the best model for myself or anyone who reads my work. It would complicate the sharing of my posts, and my blog was ranked as one of the most shared in the learning & development field in 2013. I know that much of my work is used by consultants for client work, used inside companies, referenced in academic papers and theses, and used as curriculum in university programs. In the large majority of cases, I receive no monetary compensation. Of the 10 universities that I know who use my PKM framework, only one, Bangor University in Wales, has paid for my work.

So if you find my writing useful for your own paid work, please consider buying me a monthly cup of coffee. At our local café, a cappuccino is $4 (which fuels my daily bike ride where I get my best ideas) and I tip the server another $1.

Subscribe below, to buy Harold a monthly cup of coffee for $(CA)5 [That’s much less than £5 or €5 or $(US)5]


If you want to give even more support, you could purchase my books.

the medium is the message

Hossein Derakhsahn states that with social media platforms like Facebook, “The very idea of knowledge itself is in danger”. He goes on to describe how the web started as a text-based medium but has flipped into a new form of broadcast television.

“Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television’s values. From Facebook to Instagram, the medium refocuses our attention on videos and images, rewarding emotional appeals—‘like’ buttons—over rational ones. Instead of a quest for knowledge, it engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciouly performing. (It’s telling that, while Google began life as a PhD thesis, Facebook started as a tool to judge classmates’ appearances.) It reduces our curiosity by showing us exactly what we already want and think, based on our profiles and preferences. Enlightenment’s motto of ‘Dare to know’ has become ‘Dare not to care to know.’” —WIRED 2017-10-19

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myths, markets, & mistakes

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“Data will lead you wrong if you pay attention to that and don’t pay attention to people.” — Bozoma St John via @MarkFederman

@KevinDoyleJones: “Markets are collective consenual reality.”

@ChrisCorrigan: “There is never a point to failing if you aren’t doing it with rigorous attention to learning.” (more…)

leadership is helping make the network smarter

Organizations face more complexity in the type of work they do, the problems they face, and the markets they interact with. This is due to increasing connections between everyone and everything. To deal with this complexity, organizations should loosen hierarchies and strengthen networks. This challenges command and control management as well as the concept that those in leadership positions are special. Leadership in networks is an emergent property.

In networks, everyone can be a contributor within a transparent environment. Effective networks are diverse and open. Anyone can lead in a network, if there are willing followers. Those who have consensus to lead have to actively listen and make sense of what is happening. They are in service to the network, to help keep it resilient through transparency, diversity of ideas, and openness. Servant leaders help to set the context around them and build consensus around emergent practices. (more…)

cities and the future of work

Note: This post is based on several earlier ones. These have been edited and synthesized to a single composition in advance of my sessions in Helsinki on 3 November 2017 with The National Foresight Network and the Prime Minister’s Office where we will discuss the transformation of work and its consequences. This post looks at the roles of cities, and city regions, in a network society.

Tribes & Networks

“According to my review of history and theory, four forms of organization — and evidently only four — lie behind the governance and evolution of all societies across the ages:

  • The tribal form was the first to emerge and mature, beginning thousands of years ago. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging — the basic elements of culture, as manifested still today in matters ranging from nationalism to fan clubs.
  • The institutional form was the second to emerge. Emphasizing hierarchy, it led to the development of the state and the military, as epitomized initially by the Roman Empire, not to mention the Catholic papacy and other corporate enterprises.
  • The market form, the third form of organization to take hold, enables people to excel at openly competitive, free, and fair economic exchanges. Although present in ancient times, it did not gain sway until the 19th century, at first mainly in England.
  • The network form, the fourth to mature, serves to connect dispersed groups and individuals so that they may coordinate and act conjointly. Enabled by the digital information-technology revolution, this form is only now coming into its own, so far strengthening civil society more than other realms.”
    Overview of social evolution (past, present, and future) in TIMN terms, David Ronfeldt

There are strong indicators that society is heading toward a quadriform structuring (T+I+M+N) with network culture dominating in many fields: open source insurgencies, Blockchain financial transactions,  political manipulation through networks, crowdfunding, etc. This is also bringing tensions between the old Tribal, Institutional, and Market forms against the emerging Network form.

“The more entrenched an older form, the more difficult it will be for a newer form to emerge on its own merits: This mostly occurs where tribal or hierarchical actors rule in rigid, grasping, domineering ways; but it may also apply where pro-market ideologues hold sway … Examples may include governments rife with a clannish tribalism, militaries wallowing in lucrative business enterprises, and ostensibly capitalist market systems fraught with collusive, protectionist cronyism. The stronger are tribal/clan tendencies in a society, the more likely are corrupt hybrid designs. A society of myriad monstrous hybrids is likely to be a distorted society, even a mean-spirited one.”
Explaining social evolution: standard cause-and-effect vs. TIMN’s system dynamics, David Ronfeldt

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distributing power for the network era

A certain amount of command and control, exercised through a hierarchy is often necessary to get work done. I suggest temporary, negotiated hierarchies so that teams can form and re-form depending on what needs to be done. Reorganization can be inherent in the enterprise structure and not a cataclysmic event that happens only when management systems fail.

We are in the early stages of an emerging era where network modes of organization dominate over institutions and markets. Networks naturally route around hierarchy. Networks also enable work to be done cooperatively, as opposed to collaboratively in institutions or competitive markets. (more…)