“More often than not, we get into our little silo or burrow. We don’t look up to see the bigger picture.”
That's about as straightforward a description of the reason for the IdeaFestival as you're likely to hear.
Speaking in this IdeaFestival Conversation, Family M.D. Daphne Miller, who writes about holistic farming in her book, Farmacology, believes that farming has, at least figuratively, become too mechanistic and suggests that a regime of "testing and replacing" is much too reductionist in scope. She compares the practice to her field of medicine, which also entertains many interrelations that cannot be treated, or are treated less effectively, if the symptoms are not viewed as part of problem that may have many causes.
Working at the intersection of medicine, food, farming and the natural world, she talked to the IdeaFestival last year, highlighting the many relationships between them. About ecology and health: "What's so interesting," Miller said, "is as we lose contact with biodiversity, allergic diseases increase around the world."
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The festival will soon begin announcing speakers for IdeaFestival 2014, so stick around!
Thrivals is using Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist as the basis of Thrivals 4.0, using everything from evolutionary biology to economics to study the principle of exchange, and in particular, asking and answering the question, how do ideas develop?
They have sex of course.
And they are emergent.
Dr.Sugata Mitra, whose Hole in the Wall project inspired Slumdog Millionaire asks "can children, left to themselves, teach themselves?"
As it happens, he has some experience with that question. Feeling unhappy with the vast slums surrounding him in India while he was teaching privileged children, many years ago began experimenting. He first put a DIY ATM (since banks had experience with outdoor computers) in a building wall.
Then he left the country.
Coming back in few months, Dr. SugataMitra, chuckling at the thought, said that the children immediately told him "they wanted a faster processor, a better mouse." But because they had been given a computer that only spoke English, they had also, to his surprise, learned English. He shows the Thrival attendees at IdeaFestival 2011 pictures of a 10 year old boy and his seven year old pupil clustered around the terminal, learning.
At the end of five years, from 1999 - 2004, the children's literacy shot up in every location where Hole in the Wall operated - "to the level of an average office secretary."
He next challenged school children to speak well enough so that speech-to-text software on a computer would output understandable English. In his absence, the students had, again, made use of the Internet downloading software with English speakers, and taught themselves the speak the language with an English - not Indian - accent.
He recounts how Tamil-speaking children in southern India taught themselves advanced genetic concepts, and heard from one misguided child such student that "apart from the knowledge that the improper replication of the DNA causes disease, we have understood nothing else."
Dr. Mitra clearly believes in the value of the "grandmother effect," and uses it to great effect, asking children to act as grandmothers - to simply nod affirmatively behind students and say, "isn't that it wonderful. How did you arrive at that?"
C.C. Chapman tweeted a video of the Granny Cloud linked above.
Children will self organize around the big questions, not what is the Eiffel Tower? But who built the Eiffel Tower and why? Why do we dream? "You know," they've said, "there's this Freud and he...."
Self-organizing systems that discuss big questions and important ideas? Sounds a lot like the IdeaFestival.
Over time, Dr. Mitra has come to believe based on his work that "education is a self-organizing system with learning as an emergent phenomena," and that 1) reading comprehension, 2) information searching and 3) systems of belief are the three parts critical to the success of an education. But if "children can learn to read by themselves, then the educational system can be turned upside down."
Paul Gilster reflects on the latest information from the space-based observatory Kepler, which in a period of months has trebled the number of planets outside of our own solar system. Its haul of 1,200+ candidate bodies includes five that are believed to be near-Earth sized planets in the "habitable zone" of their parent suns, or orbits where liquid water is likely to be present. Follow up observations on the ground will further characterize these finds.
Above left is the field of view for Kepler. And at right, candidate planets are identified by their approximate location in the field of view. To put this in perspective, fifteen years ago we knew of no other worlds besides the nine described textbooks. Isn't it amazing that as soon we are able to detect planets elsewhere in the Milky Way, there they are?
Images: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech (l) and NASA/Wendy Stenzel (r)
The process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person. Writer George Saunders
Cal Newport writes in the New York Times about the downside of the advice, "follow your passion:"
To a small group of people, this advice makes sense, because they have a clear passion. Maybe they’ve always wanted to be doctors, writers, musicians and so on, and can’t imagine being anything else.
But this philosophy puts a lot of pressure on the rest of us — and demands long deliberation. If we’re not careful, it tells us, we may end up missing our true calling. And even after we make a choice, we’re still not free from its effects. Every time our work becomes hard, we are pushed toward an existential crisis, centered on what for many is an obnoxiously unanswerable question: 'Is this what I’m really meant to be doing?' This constant doubt generates anxiety and chronic job-hopping.
When the IdeaFestival says "stay curious," what should that mean when it comes to careers? The demonstrable fact that the employer/employee compact that prevailed as recently as 20 years ago has broken down means most of us will do a variety of work over our lifetimes. You may want an employer, but the employer may not want you. And, as Newport suggests, for all but a select few, knowing our passions, wants and drives is just not that obvious. It takes effort and a willingness to pay attention over a sustained period of time because our interior lives generally don't offer up an honest accounting on demand.
The problem, to get really personal, is my passions can imagine wanting to be something or someone else - explorer, ace pilot, astronaut, a studio furniture maker of world renown, and other writers and poets too numerous to mention. What Newport is saying is that most of us our passions, when they're not shining a bright light on our perceived failures, come and go. To do something that matters will take work, and when a competency and purpose has matured professional fulfillment has a fighting chance.
It's the writing that matters.
If you have a spare twenty minutes today, watch the video of Cal Newport shared on the 99U Vimeo channel.
In the following paragraph below, professional facilitator Viv McWaters writes about why he finds games so useful in his practice. While reading the blog entry, I was reminded about why curiosity is so important, and think that McWaters and the IdeaFestival share the same sympathies. See if you don't agree:
Lots of times games are not necessary. Yet time and again, I’m seeing groups playing a different game – with me, and with each other. They are doing and saying what’s expected, using language to obfuscate rather than clarify, staying abstract and safe – and all the while sounding very grown up. In fact, they’re staying safe. They are not stepping to the edge of their knowledge or awareness, they are not taking risks (even when they espouse that they are a real risk-taking company) nor are they willing to be vulnerable....
Many of us have become experts in our heads – we can say what’s needed, we can justify our position.
Touche. It's safe to say that I hold dear to certain ideas that may not bear scrutiny, or self-defeating thoughts reinforced by an internal dialog that rehearses all the right answers to the wrong questions. It's understandable to a degree. We all have value as human beings, and any answer that would suggest otherwise ought to be dismissed. It's the difference, of course, between being wrong and being wrong about the facts.
But those external facts are niggling, aren't they? And if I'm going to go beyond a reflexive defensiveness, If I am going to profit from the experience of others, then a willingness entertain challenging ideas is not just an act of courage, but one of personal development. Scott Berkun makes much the same point in recent blog post, asking: when was the last time you changed your mind about something important?
Perhaps it's a journal that sheds light on a pattern of inaction, or that trusted friend who can challenge your thinking, or maybe you make a point of attending the IdeaFestival next Oct., but it's important to find a practice that regularly exposes you to things that you may not, at first glance, appreciate or like. McWaters believes play can go a long way toward overcoming the privilege we accord our own thinking.
"Staying put," as Mars scientist Nathalie Cabrol says in the video here, risks, if we think about carefully, much more than we may realize. Listen carefully as she connects outer to inner exploration.