Literacy and numeracy for complexity

The need for competency in developing emergent practices is not a new theme here. Neither is the democratization of the workplace. It’s all about dealing with increasing complexity.

In addition to new work practices, it seems there might also be a need for different types of literacy and numeracy, as described by Daniel Lemire. Increasing complexity blurs traditional fields of understanding:

We teach kids arithmetic and calculus, but systematically fail to teach them about probabilities. We are training them to distinguish truth from falsehoods, when most things are neither true nor false.

Most of our organizations and institutions seem to be stuck in a medium-complexity mindset. That’s not good enough in a highly complex world but there are forces that want to drag us back to a low-complexity world; one that does not exist. Standardized testing and “back to basics” movements are manifestations of this simplistic mindset. Unfortunately, it’s going to be difficult to upgrade skills for higher complexity work when we lack the necessary basic numeracy (understanding of probabilities) or literacy (seeking truth on our own).

Perhaps this is the underlying challenge in getting people to think about and be comfortable in developing emergent practices. Maybe they lack the required literacy and numeracy.

* More from Daniel on Demarchy and probabilistic algorithms

5 Responses to “Literacy and numeracy for complexity”

  1. Stephen Downes

    The table is a good idea but you’re cross-categorizing.

    ‘Democratic’ government and Baysean probability are quantificational measures (the former based on votes, the latter probabilities) and not forms of emergentism at all.

    • Harold Jarche

      Of course I’m cross-categorizing. This is by no means definitive, it’s just a different lens for my own thinking. These are generalities, as in “Calculus-like” and “Bayesian-like” thinking that inform general numeracy. My idea is that to develop emergent practices we need different mental models as well as different governance structures. Democracy, which is messier than bureaucracy or autocracy, aligns with the messier literacies & numeracies. It’s about being comfortable with shades of gray which is not the norm in many/most organizations.

      The short video on math education, that Daniel refers to, covers this:

  2. Gilbert Babin

    Daniel Lemire is clearly on the right path when he suggests that we need to teach about probabilities. A probabilistic mindset is required to solve modern problems.

    I don’t agree that “Standardized testing and “back to basics” movements are manifestations of a simplistic mindset”. I think that these movements are, on the contrary, the result of a more complex working and living environement.

    Standardized Testing and associated Core Standards, if done properly, can PROBABLY contribute towards creating a common “vocabulary” which is a required element for groups working together effectively.

    Complexity will PROBABLY force us back to basics. If you think of it you will find that simple problems can be solved with complex solutions. You will also find that complex problems will more often be solved/mitigated with simple solutions that rely on basics.

    I have a feeling that “back to basics” is a good thing. We just have to figure what “back to basics” means in an increasingly complex world.



Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)