OMG, I just finished a book

Not 100% true. It’s finished in the sense that I hit the required word count, very mechanical, but it still needs a very big polish. The image above is London, which I’m finding far more condusive to writing. Weirdly, less distractions. Or maybe it’s the right kind of distractions. I can go into the fray or withdraw from it. In the country it’s almost too quiet and the famous flying dog* can drive me nuts. I’m seriously thinking of taking a week off and going to Greece on my own to do the final edit.

* Maybe I didn’t mention this? He jumped out of an upstairs window a few weeks back. Maybe that’s another book? The Day the Dog Jumped Out of the Window.

Posted in My Next Book, New Book, Writers' rooms, Writing | 2 Comments

How to read the news

It asumes me no end how stupid some people can be. If someone is being hunted by the media and this picture appears wouldn’t you think to yourself that it looks a little staged? And the book? In LA! And why two cups? Where’s the other person?

That’s better. But she’s still not there.

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Setting Forth on the 7Cs

Given it’s A-Level results day today, and GCSE results next week in the UK, I thought this might be worth re-posting…

What is the purpose of a university? What should they seek to encourage? You might think that universities, of all places, might be thinking more about this, but alas no. This exam question has largely fallen off the curricula. Neither is much study time being given to whom an Australian university should serve, how they might be funded or what should be taught and why.

There was a time when a university was a place where people were taught to think. They were communities of open debate. They were places where people went to be educated into the way of the world using grammar, rhetoric and logic. They were spaces where people went to explore and understand things, not least themselves. There were no ‘safe spaces’ or no-platform policies.

Universities nowadays are becoming where you go to further your career and earn more money. Following the Dawkins reforms in the late 1980s, students are now customers with all the biases and baggage this word entails. With notable exceptions, universities have become brands that churn out qualifications much in the same way that fast food establishments flip burgers, although it’s sometimes difficult to tell which might be more damaging over the longer term.

Time to upgrade the system

A thriving university sector is essential in a hyper-competitive world where problems are becoming trickier and constraints are becoming stickier. But Australia is still stuck on a system created more than a century ago to produce muscle or memory workers for business. These are people taught physical dexterity, precision and endurance or taught to process and apply information according to sets of rules.

This output has suited us up to now, but looking ahead it seems that developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence mean that we are teaching a generation to compete head on with computers and it’s a no-brainer who will win if the contest is about muscle, precision, memory, data processing or logic.

With the exception of teaching people how to create or collaborate with these machines, we should be teaching precisely the opposite, which is how to think in ways that computers can’t.

Ultimately, there’s not a lot that machines can’t do if we allow them, but there could be a few domains that will remain the preserve of primitive carbon-based bipeds such as ourselves. The first is creativity. We should be teaching students how to think more imaginatively, whether the application be art, science or the art and science of innovation. We need tall buildings that don’t fall down, but also ones that make the human heart soar.

Similarly, logical machines, no matter how smart, will continue to struggle with the faults and foibles of human beings, which, to my mind, means it matters that we teach people about other people and what motivates them.

Machines can be alluring, but I can’t see them ever being inspiring, so teaching leadership should be paramount, whatever the discipline you are attempting to impart. One of the issues I hear about regularly is that of students entering the workforce that are technically brilliant, but incapable of managing themselves let alone anyone else. Recognising and rewarding EQ alongside IQ might be a good way to not only create a functioning civil society and workforce, but also a way of creating the next generation of effective leaders.

But don’t suppose for a moment that this can be achieved online. We already have a problem with asocial students virtually incapable of human interaction. Let’s not make this worse by deleting the human interface.

A further thing that’s missing from the current system is ethics. Historically, many universities were linked to the church and the moral component was bedrock. Nowadays, the moral component of a degree is akin to a slippery slope of scree sliding down a hillside. Indeed, it’s quite possible to use your head to pass through university with flying colours while remaining, at heart, an ego-centric, narcissistic, psychopath.

One thing I stumbled upon recently was the 4Cs (Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity). I propose that we build upon this list and set off toward the distant horizon of 2040 on the 7Cs: Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Curiosity, Character and Compassion.

The first 4Cs are self-explanatory.

We need people to think Critically and Creatively about the world’s problems and Communicate and Collaborate across communities to come up with solutions. But the last 3Cs are especially important.

The aim of education generally, and of universities in particular, should be to instil a lifelong love of learning and this is becoming especially vital in a world where new knowledge is being created at an exponential rate.

But how can we expect people to continually re-learn things without first instilling a sense of Curiosity about how things work or might be changed for the better? Character is important for two reasons. First, as machines become more adept at doing the things that were once thought the preserve of humans, the value of emotionally based work should come to the fore. Most jobs feature people at some level and if you are trying to persuade people to do something you’re more likely to be successful if you are liked. An attractive personality cannot be taught, but it can be encouraged. Moral Character is equally important. We don’t just want smart graduates, we want ethically grounded graduates too.

The final C, Compassion, is linked to moral character. Compassion is the resource the world is running out of faster than any other. Without Compassion the world is an ugly place.

Universities have long focussed on IQ. Indeed, it’s hard to get into a university without it. But at the risk of repeating myself, EQ might prove more valuable over the longer term, especially if IQ becomes the preserve of artificially intelligent machines.

It’s hard to predict the future, and foolish to try in many instances, but I believe that imparting individuals with a better understanding of the human operating system would make them better prepared for whatever 2040 throws at them.

Original article here.

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What a difference a day makes

Actually, it’s more the change of location that’s made a difference. I’m finally back in the zone with the book. Writing like a demon…

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Chinese debt

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It might sometimes feel like it, but it isn’t

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The Search for a New Narrative

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I am not a number, I am a free man

Leaked internal video from Google. Play video here. .

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Idea of the Month

There is something so wonderful about this. A way to attack hatred and fear with wit and playfulness. A see saw through the US border fence. More here.

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Music and ideas.

Examples of how dreams have led to the creation of musical masterpieces are legion and include the story, related by neurologist Oliver Sacks, of Wagner literally dreaming up the introduction to Das Rheingold while in a semi-sleeping or somnolent state. Ravel, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, and Stravinsky similarly stated that melodies came to them in dreams or daydreams.

The fact that music is abstract in nature is relevant to any dis- cussion about ideas. As Sacks said in his book Musicophelia, “the neural processes underlying that which we call creativity have nothing to do with rationality. That is to say, if we look at how the brain generates creativity, we will see that it is not a rational process at all; creativity is not born out of reasoning.” Philip Ball, author of The Music Instinct, says that music is “a remark- able blend of art and science, logic and emotion, physics and psychology.”

How can music influence the generation of new ideas? One possible explanation is that electrical discharges from neural networks might resemble music if they were communicated acoustically. This could explain how music somehow helps to highlight information or feelings that have otherwise been for- gotten, unnoticed, or repressed. In other words, music may influence thinking in a manner that is similar to dreaming. Dreaming and music can both bypass logic, and both can trigger thoughts deep inside the brain stem or connect visual images in the cortex. Incidentally, if you are wondering whether listening to music while doing something else counts as multitasking, the answer is no. According to Dr. Clifford Ness, a professor at Stanford University, the modality of instrumental music doesn’t appear to create any negative consequences.

Brain imaging techniques have demonstrated that while some professional musicians’ brains are shaped slightly differently from those of nonmusicians, musicality exists in virtually every- one. Moreover, while listening to Bach certainly won’t turn you into Mozart, exposure to classical music appears to enhance the mathematical and verbal skills of individuals at quite an early age.

Remember also the mnemonic power of music. Think back to your childhood or, if that’s too far away, perhaps your own children. Were you sung to, or did you sing songs, to remember complex ideas? Your instant reaction is possibly “No.” But perhaps you don’t think of music in this way. Surely you were taught the alphabet using a rhyme? A, B, C, D, E, F, G… H, I, J, K, LMNOP. Similar tricks are used with older students to help them memorize everything from periodic tables to US Presidents and the technique has been used across all kinds of cultures.

Music and language almost certainly have common origins and the use of music and pictures to convey information and ideas goes back to the earliest days. This is partly because it is easier for most people to remember information or ideas via association or stories than as facts alone.

It does strike me that music and stories are underutilized in the organizational context. Music in particular has the power to make people alert, but also to awaken deep thinking. Music can trigger feelings (something Nietzsche, a lifelong depressive, wrote of frequently), which in turn produce thoughts and images in our minds—it is these thoughts and images that can become novel solutions and innovative new ideas. Music is therefore directly related to the production of new ideas.

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