An interesting visual from a talk given by Dr. Alex Bruton looking at learners’ roles and teachers’ roles and how it relates to self-directedness. This particular part of the talk can be found at 50:20 of the video.
From the Video’s Abstract:
Imagine graduating from college or university today. Sure, you’d have free access to useful information like no generation before yours has ever had, and all the tools you could dream of for producing and sharing information as readily as it can be consumed. No, you may never need to pay for a long distance call, a travel agent, an encyclopedia or a web developer. And yes, before too long the businesses you start would be able to house and scale all of their data and software in the cloud, at next to no cost.
But as enabling as all this might be, it wouldn’t guarantee your success (or the success of the companies at which you would work) and could even be a disadvantage if you (or your bosses) have grown up learning in a traditional education system.
In: Alternative Ed, Participatory Culture · Tagged with: Bruton, entrepreneur, learner's roles, success
What kind of individuals will be in high demand for current and future work? More importantly, what is your school doing to instill these abilities and ways of thinking? Does your school value, for example, creativity? How does it treat creative individuals? Are they the valedictorians, those “at the top of the class”? How does your school nurture them, foster creative risk-taking, describe failure? Is your school creating the kind of individual that will be able to thrive in a rapidly-changing, complex, and highly-connected world?
The Dirty Dozen, in no particular order
Creative people. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Source.
“The ability to ask good questions.” (Clay Parker’s answer to Tony Wagner’s question: “What’s the most important skill you’re looking for when you hire a person today?”; from Podcast Perseus Group of Tony Wagner, 8/1/2008)
Those who engage others and can have good discussions. Ibid “Teams solve problems better than individuals.” (Tony Wagner)
Metalearners; informal learners “Training someone for a career makes no sense. At best, you train them for a career trajectory.” “In this rapidly changing world, skills will not last as long as they used to.” “Industry sending people back to school to have skills improved is not a solution to the problem. We need to find ways that allow for continuous learning.” Quotes: John Seely Brown @ MITWorld – Relearning Learning Podcast
Employees who can create value in unstructured (or flatter) environments with less management, and more autonomy since these will be the types of organizations creating the most innovation.
Those who can get value from “self-organizing organizations” 1. These will be people who can:
Move fluidly, spanning different groups in and out of the organization that pays their salary
Use ITC to quickly set up or join platforms that create access to data, information, knowledge and wisdom
Subscribe to people and information flows that help them with their mission
Create value for others so that they attract and connect with people who help them create solutions
System thinkers; those who can see the whole, and the relationships of its components.
Producers. Those who can stick with a problem, avoid distractions, find high quality sources and then “ship” to the right people—on time.
Optimizers, not maximizers: those who optimize their resources and processes in order to find the right fit.
Pattern finders; people conversant with analytic/visualization tools who can turn data/info into meaning/wisdom
Creators of serendipity: those who can put themselves into positions where they can be helped and learn from others
Users of distributed cognition: those who can interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities and improve thinking 2
1 Clay Shirky coined this term
2 Adapted from: newmedialiteracies.org/the-literacies.php
In: Alternative Ed · Tagged with: Clay Shirky, dozen, John Seely Brown, list, literacies, Tony Wagner
Just a small sampling of web services available today. (View it Xtra Lrg here: http://zoom.it/llz2)
Teachers: What’s the future of training in this environment?
In: Media Literacy · Tagged with: zoomit poster training informal apps web20
It used to be that meticulously prescribing a child’s life path produced the desired results. (Or so it seemed.) People would grow up and became proficient in a craft, learned a body of ideas (mostly static) or acquired a skill which was useful for the rest of their lives.
More and more, we can see how this approach is failing people. Recent graduates—many from the most prestigious institutions—can’t find employment. Others, with a long employment history, are coming to the realization that their jobs will never return, having been replaced by automation, algorithms, or offshored in an age of global markets. These are the victims of the traditional approach.
Tradition serves a purpose. It helps us make decisions about what paths to take. It prevents us from having to blaze our own untried trail every time we need to make a decision. It prevents some bumps as we journey through the school of hard knocks. It’s comforting. Tradition has, well, a strong tradition.
But what happens in an age of rapid change? Does being traditional work well in a rapidly changing world?
First, lets consider the rate of change. We so often hear that the rate of change today is faster than it has ever been before. Let’s look at this statement in more depth.
Author Kevin Kelly gives us some perspective on the historical rate of change in his latest book, What Technology Wants:
Newness is such an elemental part of our lives today that we forget how rare it was in ancient days. Most change in the past was cyclical: A forest was cleared for a field and then a farm was abandoned; an army came and then an army left. Droughts followed floods, and one king, either good or evil, succeeded another. For most humans, for most of time, real change was rarely experienced. What little change did happen occurred over centuries.
Long ago there was not much evidence of progress, at least how we visualize it. Five hundred years ago technologies were not doubling in power and halving in price every 18 months. Waterwheels were not becoming cheaper every year. A hammer was not easier to use from one decade to the next. Iron was not increasing in strength. The yield of corn seed varied by the season’s climate, instead of improving each year. Every 12 months you could not upgrade your oxen’s yoke to anything much better than what you already had.
The rate of change is such today that, even within a fraction of a lifespan, we notice it. A twelve year old has upgraded her cell phone three times. A twenty-something has witnessed the evolution of new industries like photovoltaics, genomics and kitesurfing.
Importantly, the rate of change is not linear; it doesn’t represent steady growth. It continually accelerates. Technologies–especially when they are layered on top of each other and combined (as they always are; think of electricity and subsequently radio) create change at Cambrian rates. Adding a new technology to the tool set does not simply increase it by one. It is not simply additive. Instead, it is multiplicative, creating new ecosystems for new technologies to evolve thereafter. This process is continual, always ramping up its ability to diversify and expand. Nature works similarly. The creation of a new “technology” (lungs, for example) allows for a whole new variety of life to take hold. Hundreds of thousands of new “technologies” spring forth from this one new “invention”.
Today, in a recombinatorial tour-de-force, our immense technological tool set is being joined in a rapidly-growing neural network that surrounds our planet: The World Wide Web. It is combining the power of many of our most important technologies like language, science, mathematics, finance… with the power of networks, creating explosive change that is taking many by surprise. Of all the technologies developed, our connective technology may be the most powerful and most possibility-affirming yet.
The World Wide Web is creating immense opportunity for some while at the same time creating tremendous disruption and pressure for others. It’s a perilous time for the traditionalist. Yet still, many are holding fast to tradition, either too afraid to let go of what has worked in the past or too blind to the trends that will shape the future. Organizations that took a hundred years to grow and became symbols of power and success are disappearing overnight. Car companies, banks, newspapers, and many others, are finding themselves fighting for their existence, having clung to tradition for too long, incapable of changing when they needed to.
When asked what they need most in today’s employees, CEOs mention things like the ability to ask good questions, the ability to solve problems while working with others (from anywhere), and the ability to engage others in thoughtful communication.1 These all have one factor in common: they relate to how well people can adapt. And adaptation requires learning. The agile and continuous learners will be the ones who will thrive in rapidly changing times. CEOs are starting to see that companies which are composed of the most adaptive individuals will be the ones that thrive.
Yet interestingly, schools, which are understood as being adaptation-enhancing service providers, are some of the most traditional, static institutions out there. They haven’t changed significantly since their inception in a time when “real change was rarely experienced”. The most sought after schools–the most prestigious–proudly market their “tradition of excellence”. (Interpret “excellence” as you may.) Parents, it must be said, are an important part of the feedback mechanism that keeps schools from evolving. Most of them continue to choose tradition over innovation when it comes to selecting schools for their children. They value the school’s reputation (usually based on the percentage of applicants it excludes) more than the school’s ability to create adaptive minds.
Certainly, learning does happen in traditional institutions. It happens in any. But is it the kind of learning that is needed today? Does it leverage connectivity? Does it help people become more adaptive in a rapidly changing world? Does it encourage agile thinking, just-in-time, efficient information gathering? Does it promote access to knowledge flows in order to solve problems, predict trends, access new markets…? Or is it based on the idea of learning large bodies of knowledge, which later, might be useful? (But only if the system its designed to dovetail into hasn’t changed.)
The concerned parent today pushes back, expressing concern of having their child become a “guinea pig” in a non-traditional setting. The reality is, many young people have already let themselves into the lab unbeknownst to their parents and are becoming adept at using today’s connectivity to learn about what interests them. They are doing this within online multiplayer games, communities of practice, media sharing sites, etc. They are asking for help (and getting it) from non-traditional sources like peers and uncredentialed experts. On their own, they are learning how to navigate these environments to meet their social and cognitive needs. Scientists who study new media have been impressed by the depth and breadth of learning taking place outside of schools.2
What also needs to be said though, is that many young people are unaware of these new learning possibilities, never having had the chance to experience their true potential in school or in any other setting.
And it’s not just the poor who are being left behind. Advantaged youth attending very well equipped schools are also missing out. Unfortunately, (and parents rarely understand this) having access to SmartBoards, fast networks, and Powerbooks does not necessarily mean students have access to adults who understand how to use these tools effectively. Providing someone with a gold pen does not guaranty their writing will improve.
Staying on a rigidly constructed, preordained path (the traditional approach) seems less and less like the best path to take in rapidly changing times. Traditional schools, roughly speaking, are based on learning a finite set of knowledge and a specific skill set (eg. finance, chemical engineering, political science…) during a predetermined amount of time. While this knowledge is still very useful, alone, it won’t provide learners with the tools and skills they’ll need in a globalized, connected, flat world.
CEOs are looking for people who are continuous learners. The traditional school though, sells learning as something that happens exclusively within its walls and ends at graduation. When more learning is needed, it recommends further formal study within The Academy. Largely, it ignores the literacies that will allow for continual learning once outside the school’s walled garden. It downplays (understandably) the type of skills that makes tuition payments less necessary. Consequently, there’s some real financial dissonance happening in institutions today as they proclaim their desire to create independent thinkers who can learn on their own yet on the other hand, they hold steady to the idea that the best way to “succeed” is to maintain dependence on the institution (in the form of tuition-paying membership).
While certain bodies of knowledge and specific skillsets are still very useful and will be for a long time, they should be complemented with approaches that make learning more dynamic, less reliant on a single institution, more connected, less expensive, simpler, and faster. Consider how different it is having an employee who can deftly connect with others and quickly learn what is needed in order to solve a problem compared to the employee who asks the company to enroll him in a semester-long course in order to accomplish the same. That scenario may sound unlikely but it’s not. Much of what’s taught in classrooms today, the agile learner can find online—in a fraction of the time and for pennies on the dollar.
Highly effective learners are demonstrating many of the following understandings. (Too many of which unfortunately, are not being taught in traditional institutions.)
-People learn more when connected to others and their ideas.
-Most of the smart people are outside of any institution. It makes sense to be able to connect with them often and efficiently.
-Learning happens in conversations.
-Sharing can be very useful. It gets you noticed and it attracts the kind of people who can help you learn. It’s a prerequisite for collaboration.
-Media is no longer something that we just passively consume. It is two way; we can produce it and interact with it.
-Large amounts of freely-available information requires new literacies. We need to be able to separate noise from signal; evaluate the quality of information, and efficiently find what we need.
-The best learning is active, not passive.
-The best learning happens when people can subscribe to what interests them. Today’s networked world allows for “long tail” learning supported by a plethora of communities of practice, communication tools and collaboration tools.
Concerned parents need to consider at what point will the bigger gamble be in staying in a traditional setting? At what point will following the safe route, stop being safe? I would argue that we are closer to that point than many would like to think. Maybe the real risk today is in placing more value in a credential than in experimenting with change. This question, and how it’s answered by parents, will ultimately be what drives change at the institutional level.
The disparity between those who’ve learned to use connectivity to their advantage and those who haven’t, will continue to widen as the rate of change allows “those in the know” to enjoy ever-increasing performance levels. As agile learners continually improve their personal learning infrastructure, they will be able to cast wider nets, be better able to connect with what matters, and be better able to adapt to change.
In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. Eric Hoffer
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries…and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it. Niccolo Machiavelli
1Tony Wagner, Podcast at Perseus Book Group
In: Alternative Ed, Participatory Culture · Tagged with: change, edreform, edtech, innovation, Kevin Kelly, reform, shift, shifts
While not claiming that the information presented in the charts below is very scientific, I think there are a few nuggets of information to be gleaned if we reflect on how communication differs by organizational type. Anyone reading this via a network and who has gone to school or works in a traditional setting, notices the differences. Power and the direction in which it flows are clearly delineated in the hierarchical organization. This is, of course, by design. Having everyone understand their role and the amount of power if confers, allows the hierarchical organization to operate as a control system—one of its most important functions.
What’s interesting is, that over the last 15 years, with the birth and rapid evolution of the World Wide Web, we’ve been able to experience how communication differs in flat systems. It’s quite a change, isn’t it? I think what is notable, is that while network communication can have its sharp edges (think: YouTube comments), on the whole, it’s great for learning, for getting things done quickly, for innovating, for argumentation, and for the quick dissemination of ideas.
We are learning how to make the best of these sometimes-unruly network environments by building systems that promote more pro-social behavior such as using reputation systems (thumbs up, thumbs down), or by using techniques that allow for higher quality feedback and discourse. An example would be embedding a YouTube video into a blog where the commenting can then be handled in the blog itself, limiting the antisocial remarks found on larger, undifferentiated networks like YouTube. Another method would be using a simple, yet powerful, technique like ignoring trolls. Good system design lowers antisocial behaviors while increasing diversity of thought and the quality of discourse.
Another benefit of hierarchy-free communication is that it is more conducive to the reporting of bad or unpopular news, hence, it can be more informative and accurate. It can diminish group-think through dissent, argument and variety of opinion. Users are not muted by the political considerations created by rank. This type of communication is more divergent and heterogeneous, and often more honest (no need to tell the boss what he wants to hear), more democratic, more meritocratic, and importantly, as a system, more tolerant of insult. Hierarchical organizations can become paralyzed by dissent and difference of opinion. They can become fragmented, stalemated and toxic, with members feeling trapped, their ideas ignored. Frustration builds as members are left with few ways to express themselves. Open, flat systems, on the other hand, allow for people to freely disagree, to have vigorous debate without fear of retribution, and to come and leave the network as they please. Those who continually violate the group’s norms can be easily ignored or blocked. Group dynamics are based more on the quality of ideas than on title. Those who can, direct and lead the group through the quality of their ideas; those who can’t either step aside or leave. Certainly, both organizational systems have their advantages and disadvantages. Combining the best of both can be a viable alternative. Many of the most high-performing organizations are figuring this out.
Is school a finite game or an infinite one, and why should it matter?
Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants, explains that there are two types of games in the universe: finite and infinite. A finite game reduces everything to a win or a loss; it can only have one winner. It looks like football, tennis, Monopoly, a horse race, World of Warcraft, a spelling bee, a class rank, a race to the top… These games are predicated on someone winning; everyone else loses. Winning (or losing) ends the game. Infinite games, on the other hand, are played to keep the game going.
In a finite game, the rules cannot change. Altering the rules is called cheating. Rules are spelled out beforehand and enforced throughout the game. Rule enforcement becomes important. In an infinite game however, Kevin Kelly writes, to keep the game going, “it must maintain open-endedness; it must play with its rules”.
The finite game converges to a win or a loss. The infinite game diverges into ever-expanding possibilities. It adapts and is supremely malleable. It improves its ability to keep going, to stay alive. It amazes us with variety, functionality and complexity. We only have to look at evolution—a fine example of an infinite game–for inspiration. Theologian James Carse states it beautifully, “Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.”
The best strategy for winning the finite game of school is based on finite thinking. One key tactic involves “the right answer”. Those who get the right answer are game winners, with points kept on the scoreboards called report cards. Strategies that diverge from the norm–that stray away toward the infinite–are unlikely to bring success in this finite game. The question is discouraged. A strong emphasis is placed on the answer instead. Questions can be messy, difficult, non-linear–all complications in a game that requires strong command and control. A “right answer” environment requires the assistance of silos to store information in conveniently-sized categories called subjects. Just as questions are discouraged, the tackling of real problems (with all the messy questions they evoke) becomes a rarity. Much easier to work on contrived problems—the kind often found only on pieces of paper, easily checked from the back of the book.
“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.” James Carse
The good finite game player understand the importance of rules and boundaries. They understand the importance of staying within the physical and figurative limits of the game. Time, task, team, terms…are all controlled by the game-maker. Coloring out of the lines is discouraged. In schools, architecture keeps the players “on the field”. Students who are out of bounds cannot participate. Control of the player is paramount. For those who are not cut out for such a game, graduating on time becomes a real buzzer beater.
But why are schools–purported shapers of mental models–stuck in a finite game? Does the finite game produce the type of thinking we claim to want–especially in an age where boundaries are constantly being flattened? Does it leverage the networks of ideas, information, data, and people that are easily accessible today? Does it lead to innovation and adaptation? Does a finite game expand our possibilities or does it limit them? Maybe we should lean more toward the rules of an infinite game, of which the best (and some say only) example is life.
In: Alternative Ed, Thinkers · Tagged with: book, evolution, finite, infinite game, James Carse, Kevin Kelly, life
Ed 2.0 needs more Gary Vaynerchuks: People with passion who can CRUSH IT in front of a crowd.
In his new book What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly writes, “No transition in technology has affected our species, or the world at large, more than the first one, the creation of language. Language enabled information to be stored in a memory greater than an individual’s recall.” Shortly after, he adds, “From a systems point of view, language enabled humans to adapt and transmit learning faster than genes.”
And that’s one of the greatest advantages that we humans possess–the ability to learn quickly, to “transmit learning faster than genes.” Other species, due to non-existent or very limited use of technology, are only capable of the very slow type of learning which happens through genetic mutation which leads to adaptation—a slow, yet powerful type of learning. Over billions of years, this type of adaptation has, in some species, produced minds, of which the human is the most complex. Kevin Kelly calls minds, “the fastest, most efficient, most exploratory technology so far for creating order.”
It’s this rate of change, this speed of learning, this ability to create order… which is so intriguing to our species. We are predisposed to want to learn more, to add more order to our minds as quickly as possible in order to become more adaptive. Kevin Kelly argues that all species–and even technology itself–seeks to add informative structure as a way to move away from maladaption and entropy. He defines truth as, “only a measure of how well specific facts can be built upon, extended, and interconnected.” He points out that the strength of those connections is what we call truth. “Knowledge is a network phenomenon, with each fact a node. We say knowledge increases not only when the number of facts increases, but also, and more so, when the number and strength of relationships between facts increases. It is that relatedness that gives knowledge power.”
So what happens when our students, or our children, or we are stuck in an educational environment that limits our potential rate of learning by limiting our connectedness; that limits the strength of connections which lead to a more ordered mind? Some are starting to see how the walled gardens found in today’s schools, the siloed academic “subjects”, the institutional architecture which is better at moving people than ideas, the emphasis on stores of knowledge vs. information flows, the over-reliance on in-house expertise (big name professors), the downplaying of outside knowledge (most of the really smart people are outside of any institution) and the hierarchical structure which separates and categorizes people for the benefit of centralized control, all limit the connectedness required for learning. Our new understandings of truth, of learning, of interconnectedness, of networks, of complex systems… are cause for concern when applied to what’s happening in schools today.
Certainly, with all the challenges that humanity is facing, our species would do well to maximize our rate of learning. It’s becoming more apparent every day that one of the simplest and most powerful ways of doing this is to increase connectivity among people, their ideas, and the data that their technology is churning out in record quantities. Our minds are products of self-organizing, emergent forces, not products of committees or curriculum boards. Our institutions need to understand this if they are to remain viable. Today, more than ever, as we become better acquainted with the science of complexity, we are starting to see the importance of interconnectivity, the power of diverse ideas, and the innovation that comes from connecting many minds, ideas, sensors, and data.
Schools will change. The frustration comes from those who see how today’s technology is being underutilized and hobbled by The Academy. Unfortunately, (for short-term practical reasons) most people still see The Academy’s credential as being more important than the mind’s ability to use existing (and future) technology. That will change as employers can no longer afford to hire credentialed individuals who lack the requisite abilities to adapt quickly through connectedness. The performance levels of people who’ve learned to use connectedness compared to those who haven’t will be too great to ignore. Whereas performance differentials in traditional work do not vary much between individuals, with knowledge work, they can be drastic. The productivity of a knowledge worker is not predicated on the speed of the assembly line or the strength of his muscles. An assembly line worker or plumber is not going to be twenty times more efficient than his peers. Today, a knowledge worker who understands and can use the latest technology, easily can be.
It is unlikely that change will come from within The Academy. This is the nature of innovation. It will likely happen from outside as more and more people grow frustrated and seek better alternatives to the traditional, insulated, institutional offerings. Already, this is happening to some degree. People are self-organizing into all types of learning networks (ie Flickr groups, Wikipedia, homeschool groups, Savage Minds, etc.) These groups, like the first portable transistor radios, offer something unique and compelling, even though they may not be perfect. Over time, they will continue to improve and diversify, eventually becoming the dominant player.
Kevin Kelly writes, “We have latitude in selecting the defaults of our mass education, so that we can nudge the system to maximize equality or to favor excellence or to foster innovation. We can bias the invention of the industrial assembly line either toward optimization of output or toward optimization of worker skills; those two paths yield different cultures.” It will be interesting to see which path institutions take. Some are clearly looking ahead, trying to remain viable, while others will be blindsided, ending up in a Detroit-like scrap heap. Along the way, members of those organizations–just like too many factory workers–will pay the price for their leadership’s myopia. Those who were nurtured in an environment of connectedness will be able to turn disruption into opportunity. They will connect with the type of people and organizations that promotes their well-being.
Either way, through market forces, through the spread of new ideas, and through institutions that want to remain viable, things will change. Technology wants it that way.
In: Alternative Ed, Thinkers · Tagged with: change, connectivity, innovation, Kevin Kelly, reform, technology
Some pull-outs from Stephen Heppell’s talk, Learning Spaces, Working Places.
Description of the talk from the RSS feed: There is a revolution in the design of learning spaces all round the world and inevitably this is now impacting on the design of corporate space too. As corporations aspire to become learning organisations and move away from their training rooms and training culture they’re increasing looking to designs for schools to inform their transformation. At the same time the design of schools and universities has much to learn from the radical new ways that people organise their working lives : for example in the new media industries. This talk explores how, in designing spaces for learning and working, there is a need for dialogue.
To get a first class honors degree in 1920 you had to astonish your professors. They’d look at what you produced and said, “Blimey! Have you seen what Bill’s done? Have you seen what Mabel’s done? Astonishing stuff!” (I’m assuming everyone was called Mabel in the 1920s.) Now to get a first class honors degree, you produce the least surprising paper. There’s a tick box [rubrics] and they say, “Yes, we expected that, we expected that, and that… Well, by golly, he’s got everything.” That is madness, absolute madness.
He goes on to comment about the type of architecture that promotes this type of thinking.
…buildings that allow students to not surprise anybody, is about putting them in egg boxes, is about the cells and bells model. [a little later:]
New approaches are open, open, open, as is the architecture. If you go away from here, promise me one thing: never build another corridor in your lives. Why on earth would you spend 20% of an institution’s budget on places that move people around between the boxes that you didn’t need to build? If you do nothing else but abandon your corridors, suddenly you’ve got a generous budget, suddenly you’ve got collegiality, suddenly you’ve got community, suddenly you’ve got agility. Just don’t build the corridor. If you’re a naughty kid in a school the best thing that could happen to you is that you’re put out in the corridor. Second best thing is getting to the toilets.
What would happen if we designed learning spaces for conversations, community, interaction, discussion–for surprises? What would that place look like? Where would it be? How would it look like in cyberspace? How would it support what’s happening in meatspace– and vice-versa?
In: Alternative Ed, Design, Participatory Culture · Tagged with: architecture, learning spaces, podcast, Stephen Heppell, surprise
Janine Benyus tells a poignant story illustrating how schools have focused on what humans can do with technology while ignoring how to learn from nature’s technology.
Transcript, starting at 8:40
I had gone to the Galapagos. One of the perks of this job as a biologist is that we do our workshops in amazing places where there are lots and lots of habitat types to expose architects, designers, engineers—the people who make everything that you’re sitting on—who make our world… We bring them into natural areas and we bring them from one habitat to another and we show them that, you know, no matter what their question is…if their question is, “How does nature filter?” I Had taken this group of waste-water engineers to the Galapagos. They had no idea why they were there. They were a little hesitant to be there actually; they were a little miffed. You know, they’re engineers, they solve problems for a living and they didn’t like to be told that maybe an octopus could teach them something. It’s interesting. Anyway, we worked through that. They said, “Why are we here?” I asked them, “What [do] you do?” and they said, “We filter.” And I said let’s go snorkeling because everything in the ocean basically is filtering salt out of the water. Everything lives on freshwater. Everything [in ocean] lives in salt water but has fresh water within it including plants like mangroves. They’re filtering; they’re filtering mechanisms.
So one day I came upon this guy Paul, this engineer, this very reserved guy and he was crying. He was looking at a mangrove plant crying, standing there, the tears coming down his eyes. And I said, “What’s going on?” And he said, “Why have I never learned in all of my education about mangroves? Why don’t I know or have ever considered that these guys are a solar-powered desalination plant? They have their roots in salt water and are living on freshwater.” He said, “We use 900 pounds per square inch to force water against a membrane to get salt out of it and we wonder why it clogs. And this is silent, solar powered, desalination.”
He said, “Tell me how it works.”
Engineers are trying to make tools for living–technology. Nature has technologies too, only engineers never learn about nature’s technologies. They learn how to domesticate nature, learn sort of how to use nature when we need it but they don’t learn how to learn from nature.