Learning to learn

What you didn’t learn at school – and why

       Dan North, ThoughtWorks
Meet the “Gang of Three”
                                                  Socrates
                            Dialectic:...
These men shaped how we think
We focus on what is rather than what could be
      Pointing out what is wrong


We don’t va...
Example: modern legal systems
Laws based on ethics
      It is wrong to kill someone, usually


Dialectic between prosecut...
Reality is more complex
Factors influence one another in loops
      either reinforcing, balancing or damping

 The shower...
Systems Thinking
Looks at the system as a whole
      Overall effectiveness rather than local efficiency
      Feedback lo...
Western society is based on targets
Schools have SATs, GPAs, school league tables

Businesses have KPIs, SLAs, budgets, sa...
The fallacy of targets
A good school will produce high exam results,
  therefore a school with high exam results is a
  go...
You can always “game” targets
Improve school exam results

Reduce hospital waiting lists

Increase train punctuality

    ...
How we learn in school
          “Open your books at chapter 12 and read”

Sitting and listening to history
      “3 minut...
How we learn at work
              “Open the spec at section 12 and read”

Sitting and listening to the sales report
     ...
How we actually learn
                            The Dreyfus model

            Novice – needs context-free direction
   ...
How we learn martial arts
                            Shu-ha-ri

                            Shu - holding

              ...
How we limit learning
Providing information without context
      Anyone above Novice will disengage

Penalising “failure”...
Effective learning
Offer knowledge with context

Create "breakable toys“, encourage experimentation

Encourage collaborati...
How we limit thinking
Back to our three amigos...

Most business interactions are dialectic
      We “know” the answer bef...
Six thinking hats
                              Parallel thinking

         – process, direction
           – facts, data,...
Thinking hats applied
                            Structured

                             Reactive

                     ...
Effective thinking
Leave your ego at the door
      Everyone gets to play to their strengths


Practise parallel thinking
...
Summary – what can we do differently?
Apply Systems Thinking
      Effective throughput rather than local targets

Use met...
Thank you
      “Far too often proof is no more than lack of
             imagination” – Edward de Bono


                ...
Bibliography
From Novice To Expert – Dr. Patricia Benner

Six Thinking Hats – Edward de Bono

The Art of Systems Thinking ...
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Learning To Learn

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A talk about how we learn and think, how we teach, and how our approach to thinking has remained largely unchanged in the West for over 2000 years.

First presented at the Better Software Conference in Las Vegas, June 2009.

Published in: Education, Technology

Learning To Learn

  1. 1. Learning to learn What you didn’t learn at school – and why Dan North, ThoughtWorks
  2. 2. Meet the “Gang of Three” Socrates Dialectic: logic and argument 469–399 BC Plato Reality as a projection Aristotle 428–348 BC Categorisation Inclusion and exclusion 384– 322 BC © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 2
  3. 3. These men shaped how we think We focus on what is rather than what could be Pointing out what is wrong We don’t value instinct “It’s just a hunch” “It just feels right” We use logic to argue from cause to effect © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 3
  4. 4. Example: modern legal systems Laws based on ethics It is wrong to kill someone, usually Dialectic between prosecution and defence No (explicit) value on emotion or feelings Purpose is to “prove beyond reasonable doubt” Rather than find “most intuitively sensible outcome” © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 4
  5. 5. Reality is more complex Factors influence one another in loops either reinforcing, balancing or damping The shower being too hot Being addicted or too cold to drugs Committing petty crime to pay for drugs The amount I move the dial Being in prison with easy access to drugs © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 5
  6. 6. Systems Thinking Looks at the system as a whole Overall effectiveness rather than local efficiency Feedback loops rather than cause-and-effect Metrics are indicators of trend, not targets The system is greater than the sum of the parts What is the individual contribution of a coach? One globally-optimising target “Does it make the car go faster?” © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 6
  7. 7. Western society is based on targets Schools have SATs, GPAs, school league tables Businesses have KPIs, SLAs, budgets, sales targets Hospitals have waiting lists, more league tables Even trains have punctuality targets (in the UK) But targets are based on a logical fallacy! © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 7
  8. 8. The fallacy of targets A good school will produce high exam results, therefore a school with high exam results is a good school All cows have four legs, so all four-legged animals must be cows We assume only this cause can give this effect © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 8
  9. 9. You can always “game” targets Improve school exam results Reduce hospital waiting lists Increase train punctuality The tail is wagging the dog! © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 9
  10. 10. How we learn in school “Open your books at chapter 12 and read” Sitting and listening to history “3 minute” attention span, based on eye movement Individual rote learning Memorise and regurgitate – « Ecoutez et répétez » Practising for your end-of-year exams All that matters is getting the grade © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 10
  11. 11. How we learn at work “Open the spec at section 12 and read” Sitting and listening to the sales report “3 minute” attention span, based on eye movement Individual rote learning Memorise and regurgitate – SELECT FROM WHERE Practising for your end-of-year review All that matters is getting the promotion © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 11
  12. 12. How we actually learn The Dreyfus model Novice – needs context-free direction Advanced beginner – needs to fail Competent – needs goals Proficient – needs metaphor Expert – needs experts! © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 12
  13. 13. How we learn martial arts Shu-ha-ri Shu - holding Ha - breaking Ri - transcending © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 13
  14. 14. How we limit learning Providing information without context Anyone above Novice will disengage Penalising “failure” Cannot progress beyond Advanced Beginner Working alone Collaboration is cheating! Especially in exams Not valuing instinct or intuition No incentive to become proficient © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 14
  15. 15. Effective learning Offer knowledge with context Create "breakable toys“, encourage experimentation Encourage collaboration, especially in exams Foster instinct and passion That sounds like effective leadership! © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 15
  16. 16. How we limit thinking Back to our three amigos... Most business interactions are dialectic We “know” the answer before the meeting It’s just a question of talking the other guy round We use logic and rhetoric And we have no time for instinct or hunches © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 16
  17. 17. Six thinking hats Parallel thinking – process, direction – facts, data, gaps Red hat – emotion, feelings – positive possibility, past success Black hat – critical thought, risk Green hat – generative, creative, lateral © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 17
  18. 18. Thinking hats applied Structured Reactive Specific Exploratory © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 18
  19. 19. Effective thinking Leave your ego at the door Everyone gets to play to their strengths Practise parallel thinking Works equally well either planned or reactive Risk aversion isn’t “being negative” It’s great black hat thinking! © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 19
  20. 20. Summary – what can we do differently? Apply Systems Thinking Effective throughput rather than local targets Use metrics as indicators not targets Beware of four-legged cows! Foster a learning environment Encourage breakable toys Practise parallel thinking We can learn to learn and think – and lead – effectively © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 20
  21. 21. Thank you “Far too often proof is no more than lack of imagination” – Edward de Bono Any questions? dan.north@thoughtworks.com http://dannorth.net © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 21
  22. 22. Bibliography From Novice To Expert – Dr. Patricia Benner Six Thinking Hats – Edward de Bono The Art of Systems Thinking – Joseph O’Connor Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig © Dan North, ThoughtWorks 22

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