Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why scan and skip is killing capability

For some time now I have been ruminating over why I feel managers, knowledge workers and senior leaders struggle with communicating the basics to each other and why it is taking, even myself, a number of tries to get things right for our task masters.

I feel that the Internet is somewhat to blame and it may or may not get worse but I need to elaborate.

Because there is more information there is a need to find trusted sources to cut down on the time it takes to sort and classify the worth of that information. As you come across more sources, you look to the patterns and commonalities in the information you receive. This in itself starts to drag out a need to improve that skill.

However, just because we have more information, doesn’t necessarily mean that the information is better. In fact, it could even be argued that information, sometimes from known experts, is being dumbed-down due to our ever-shrinking attention spans which are spurred on by the ever pervading growth of immediacy in our work cultures. This constant bombardment of information, according to some psychologists and researchers, could even end up interfering with our sleep, sabotage our concentration levels and undermine our immune systems. (See American Psychology Association)

But the blame cannot merely be put on the use of the technology itself. The person does of course play a big role in how they choose to use, in an enhanced manner or in a redundant manner, what is available to them. The Internet is not some ecological energy that is just happening to us; it develops and evolves from our usage and ultimately caters to our demands. With a so many people spending hours on information seeking via Google and other search engines (and sometimes these aren’t particularly mind enriching - hello Facebook?), the person is ultimately the one in control but also the one feeding the algorithms and creating the demand.

Information technology is still a relatively new concept for some people. We are still in beginning stages of developing our own unique methods of sifting through the trash and the gourmet dishes (so to speak). But like anything that is designed to gain our attention, we will either be able to tune out what is extraneous and does not meet our needs or we will become hooked on what presents itself as the best of this powerful tool.

The issue for workplace learning is that information seeking behaviour is conditioned by the success or non success of finding what people want. And the nature of deep diving into a task and presenting both the good and the bad for consideration with appropriate solutions needs to compliment this new scan and skip culture of justifying the gut feel of a solution.

Take for instance the two contrasting cases of learning how to change the wheel on a car. Would you be more comfortable being directed by a mechanic who was with you all the time and instructing you or would you like to search the Internet for a self paced learning module or a set of instructions and try it by yourself?

The nature of what classifies expertise in both cases is judgment but one feels, simply through experience, that having the mechanic there would enhance the learning experience. Having both the self paced learning/instructions and the mechanic would enhance the experience even further?

When faced with the boundary of time how many learners afford themselves the critical thinking time and the deep dive into their subject matter? My experience tells me not many and the constant "search and find quickly" mentality of the modern day knowledge worker needs balancing quickly to ensure skills and capabilities are not lost. In addition, how many organisations are providing the time for workers to prove skills and capabilities based on well constructed opportunities?

The Internet may well be taking knowledge workers down a path that celebrates mediocrity unless there is an accompanying skills set that sets critical thinking as a prerequisite skill.

More ruminating to do.......

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