Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Information Age Is Keeping Me Stupid

Good afternoon Andrew. Sorry for not posting in awhile. Let me explain why.

About 6 months ago I read The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership. In the chapter "You Are What You Read" the author suggests that a leader should read the classics, great books that have passed the test of time (i.e. Plato's Republic, Machiavelli's The Prince, as well as the texts from the major world religions). He also suggests that a lot of books that we read today may not be relevant in as short as a couple of years so he encourages selectiveness in what we read. As a result, I have become more selective in my reading, especially when it comes to blogs. This has also made me much more selective about about my own postings.

But that was also a wake up call for me that I have lost focus of what this blog is about. I have been too concerned about what my colleagues think about my postings, forgetting that this blog is really about sharing with you, my son, about what is important in life. So now that I think I am back on track I am ready to focus on more important things, like passing on worthwhile advise to you.

On to the topic at hand - The Information Age Is Keeping Me Stupid.

The book that I am currently reading is The Leader's Handbook by Peter Scholtes. The author is a disciple of W. Edwards Deming whose work in resurrecting the Japanese economy after World War II has stood the test of time so I figured learning from Deming would be worthwhile.

In the The Leader's Handbook I found an interesting diagram that I have recreated below. The diagram illustrates that from 1800 to 1950 the average time that a person worked was approximately 25 years due to a short lifespan of approximately 40 - 45 years. At the same time technology was not changing at a very fast rate. Therefore, a person was sure to learn their craft at an early age and not have to learn anything new to stay employed. But in the middle of the last century something interesting happened - life spans doubled and the rate of technology changes began to accelerate. In essense what has happened is that in the duration of our new working lifespan of 40 - 45 years, we will have several significant technology changes of which we have to stay current with. Scholtes point is that now more than ever, we are compelled to learn how to learn to stay gainfully employed.

For me this is fine because I enjoy the learning of new technologies and new ideas in Project Management. But this also means I don't have the time to read the classics as suggested in The Contrarian Leader. I may be staying technically viable but am I getting any wiser? Am I equiped to discuss the most significant matters of life, things much more relavant than the merits of Ruby on Rails or Agile Project Management?

What I really don't want is to be satisfied with what are culture considers a dialog on ideas. Today we see the shouting down of each other on TV in what is supposed to be debate. I don't want to rely to getting my political views from comedian talk show hosts or Hollywood stars. I also don't want to resort to such simplist arguments as 'Flying Spagetti Monsters' in rebuttal of ideas related to important topics such as orgins. I don't want the pre-thought thoughts of the media, conservative or liberal, to shape my thinking or the 15 second sound bites from our politicians to influence my vote.

Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway gave the Commencement Speech at the USC Law School in May of 2007. Here is an excerpt from his speech:

"I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another and that is: I say that I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who support it. I think only when I’ve reached that state am I qualified to speak."

Charlie Munger also said "
Nothing has served me better in my long life than continuous learning." Somehow I don't think he was referring to staying current in technology.

Has the demands of staying current in technology left me with no time left for learning from the classics? It's time for a shift in my priorities.

Andrew - make time to read important stuff. Learn to respect others and their ideas, even if they are different than the ideas that you formulate. And then find good people that you can have deep meaningful conversations with. Learn to articulate your ideas in the company of these good people.

I have been fortunate to be around good people with whom I can have these kinds of meaningful discussions regarding the important things in life: Matt Gelbwaks of Globant, Chris Andrasick, my CEO at Tacit Knowledge, Amit Rathore of ThoughtWorks, and most recently my good friend Jay Padinjaredath, also from Tacit Knowledge.

Read important books, make good friends and discuss important ideas.

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