Thursday, 17 November 2011

Book review: The Talent Code

I've just finished reading 'The Talent Code ' by Daniel Coyle and already i feel it's one of those books I'll refer to again and again. It's a well researched book describing daniels theory of how talent is best progressed.

He uses research from state of the art thinkers and introduces new perspectives such as the impact of our new understanding of myelin. The bodies electrical insulator on how skills are developed.

I first read daniels work in a new york times article about 'how to grow a super athlete'. It was such a ground breaking article in my eyes for several reasons.

Firstly it resoundly came from the nurture end of the talent debate. Daniel is very clear that there is always a clear story behind an athletes success. As long as you're prepared to look hard enough.

Secondly he applies the latest biological research to find a plausible, physical answer to this challenging problem. Myelin. My dad is an electrical engineer. He deals with wire, electricity and circuits. So I was brought up with the notion that proper insulation, also known as shielding, in electrical circuits is as important as the wires themselves.

Think about the effect of the radio signals from your phone on the electric signals flowing inside medical and flying equipment. Newer phones provides better shielding for the radio signals they emit so they don't effect other equipment as much as they used to.

Thirdly his work has stayed in my mind since I first read his article on growing super athletes a few years ago. When I recently came across another article talking about his Talent Code principle, I clicked through to his talent code website and saw that very article linked from the side menu. I thought 'this guy likes that same article about myelin and developing tennis stars'. Then I noticed the author and realised he had written it and that I like a lot of his work. His delivery, approach and message resonate with me.

My lifelong pursuit is an understanding of human performance. How far can one person push themselves through their life without breaking. It is taking me on a fascinating journey into the most advanced technology we know of, the human body.
The talent code is a really important work putting some of this elaborate jigsaw together.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Why only drinks that stimulate thirst are profitable

Why only drinks stimulate thirst are profitable has been re-produced at my new blog Cell Your Sole.

So I've had this niggling question for quite a while now. 'Why do most drinks available not quench your thirst?'. for along time I've been ordering a separate glass of water with any drink at a restaurant. In a club or bar I just accept that each drink is going to make me want another.

But why is this the case? Why is each drink so strong and often quite concentrated to make me need a separate glass of water?

I think the reason is basic economics. I don't think it's anything particularly sinister on the manufacturers or sellers part. The drinks market is very competitive and needs sales volume to turn a profit. So each drink must be sold in volume. I just think that it doesn't make sense financially to sell drinks that don't encourage repeat purchases because you won't sell many units of a drink that actually quenches your thirst.

This explains to me why the best sellers are coffee, tea, coke and many other caffeine related drinks. Caffeine makes you pee so you lose some of the water you drink with it. It's also addictive. So you feel the need for another. Chocolate is the same.

I expect that many drinks have been sold over time that do quench your thirst but very few of these have survived for this very reason. They just didn't sell in the volumes required. They were outcompeted by other drinks.  I don't see how drinks without elements that keep you coming back for more like strong flavours, addictive agents or diuretic properties can compete in this market.  It's these properties that produce drinks that won't quench your thirst because they're too concentrated with sugarand laced with diuretics and addictive ingredients.

The alternative is to price these thirst quenching drinks higher so you don't need to sell the volume but I don't think that sits well with consumers. Mainly because the drinks don't fit the expectations people have of higher priced drinks. They taste more like the simple drinks you'd have at home not expensive drinks for a special occasion.

This is just my opinion. It helps me accept these things for what they are. We may see this change in the future but I'm not holding my breath. Ultimately I'm saying that consumers are making the choices. Manufacturers and retailers have to sell products that make them a profit. to do this you need people regularly coming back for more. By definition that means you give them what they want instead of what they need.

The funny thing is, I think the exact same thing has happened in the food market. the same pattern and results for exactly the same reasons. Often food and drinks are seen to complement each other.

It's also why my approach is to make my body strong enough to be able to handle the food and drinks on offer. Instead of spending my time avoiding the delights on offer I prefer to believe our bodies can thrive with a little of these foods so longer as we maintain our true hunter gatherer roots. That is that we must hunt and gather which means move, play, search. Do that and you'll be able to do what you want when you want.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Hypertension, sodium and activity. Any relation?

So, something just struck me. No... nothing physically hit me :-) I just heard something about blood pressure that linked a bunch of information into one. I'm not sure if this is a new insight so I'm logging it here for future reference.

The first thing was reading that increased potassium in the diet is associated with a lowering in blood pressure. I've probably heard this many time before but not really thought about it. What struck me is the link between potassium and sodium. They are fundamentally involved in propagating nerve impulses. So it struck me that an imbalance in sodium and potassium could have an effect on nervous action throughout the body.

Combine that with marc peletiers insight that High blood pressure is fundamentally a problem with regulation of sodium. He has found structures in the brain that filter sodium much like the kidney does. It's these structures that have a huge impact in high blood pressure.

It's becoming clearer over time that diabetes in a problem with regulating blood sugar and that exercise helps by helping us deal better with sugar. So naturally I'm wondering if exercise has the same effect on helping us regulate sodium and potassium better. Mainly because exercise puts specific pressures on the body. forcing adaptations which make it able to handle the strains applied by daily life. Hence exercise forces the body to keep sugar and possibly sodium levels in check.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Adapt: Is there evolution in business?

For me the answer is a definitive yes. The more I apply evolutionary principles in thinking about business the more I see it fits and the more I feel I understand business. It's why I like capitalism. It's a very harsh approach, which I don't like, but then is'n't natural selection. Natural selection is about competing for energy and essential nutrients, capitalism is about competing for money and resources that help you get more money. So capitalism is a harsh game but it's important to understand it before you can learn how to thrive in it. If you can do that then maybe you can do some good.

This morning I heard Tim Harford talking about his book Adapt on the science weekly podcast titled how to achieve success through failure. In his book he applies these evolutionary principles and shows how well they can explain what we see in business. Through history and across continents the analysis stacks up. Now I haven't read the book yet, it's on my wish list, but I've been viewing business through evolutionary eyes for so long I feel I know what it will cover.

I wanted to show that it's not just me noticing evolution everywhere and feeling that this insight could help me survive in the world. I think it's why the silicon valley model works so well and it's what I do. I don't worry about anything I do being a perfect fit. I worry about adaptability and flexibility. A perfect product one year is often a flop or waste the next. The best products are those that can adapt enough to be relevant no matter the fashion.

Essentially, as Darwin summarised. It's not the best adapted that survive, but those best able to adapt.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Learning on demand (LOD)

Following on from a previous article on 21st century learning I feel we're moving to an area where learning on demand will be as normal as Video on demand (VOD).

I see the emergence of 24-7 tutorials and motuto as early attempts at this. I can't vouch for the quality and economic viability yet but I do see that the learning market is biased towards young people. All infrastructure and policy focuses on this demographic.

New technologies make it  targetting the wider market financially viable. There is also a serious lack of supply compared to demand. Yet education budgets around the world are dwindling putting pressure on jobs.

This recipe implies to me that cloud based LOD services could meet this extra demand while at the same time saving the teachers under threat of redundancy. These teachers could either join the LOD services directly, or their schools and institutions could partner with the service to bring in additional paid work to meet the staff resources they have.

This scenario means teachers keep their jobs. Schools get to expand without increasing fixed running costs like building new classrooms and education grows as a sector to meet the growing demand.

It's a nice dream anyway. It's probably a few years early now but, from what I'm hearing across the web, there's a lot of work going into initiatives like this and there's a huge demand. Particularly internationally. So long term I think it will be a success. Just how it will evolve is yet to be determined.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A vision for 21st century learning

So I had a vision over Christmas of the kind of learning and teaching I've always wanted. As I wrote it down I became more and more convinced that this is possible right now. It also pulls together my passion for understanding human excellence with my experience in taking ideas to deliverables. It's still very much a work in progress but I'm really excited by it and everyone I've shared it with feels the same. 

It's not about revolution but evolution. My main view is that very little these days is new. The internet isn't enabling much that's new just a new scale, speed and quality of what existed before. Good learning and teaching is the same now as it was 1,000 years ago. What made Plato and Aristotle great will be similar to what made Einstein great. 

What's changed is what one human can achieve in one day with a small budget. The same goes for one team or one organisation. We can just do a lot more with a lot less. So we now get to revisit what good learning and teaching is and figure out what we would do if we could build on the great work that's already being done but with all these great new opportunities and tools that didn't exist before. 

My vision for learning in the 21st century is built by merging best learning practices with the methods of achieving scale in this era and partnerships with leading providers of the components that will be needed.

I learned to thrive due to a world class educational system. I want to bring this to the world and evolve it to fit todays capabilities and expectations.

Part of this involves each student understanding their potential through experience of a virtual body. The human being, particularly their mind, far exceeds the capabilities of any technology yet invented. I want a system designed around it. To make winners of anyone in the world who takes the time to develop their abilities. The knowledge and skills to do this already exist and we're perfectly placed to make use of it.

I've broken this down further into components. Each component is already in existence and will mainly require reuse of current skillsets, personnel and assets.

So now I'm spending time developing these ideas further. What I've found so far is that much of what I'm looking for already exists but the components have never been put together in this way before. I've also found  I'm not alone.  There are many efforts to improve education from a peer to peer university where you can suggest the currciulum or even opt to teach a class to an open high school finding ways to deliver “one-on-one tutoring for every student in every subject".

So there you go. I'm clarifying my vision for 21st century learning. Through this I'm finding that I'm not alone. In fact I keep finding more people with a similar vision that are already implementing it. I don't care who delivers it. I just want it for my children and for everyone who thrives on learning.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Could hygiene obsession cause allergies?

Just came across this fascinating article at opening the debate about how clean is healthy? I've always wondered if we need a little dirt to teach our immune system what's good and what's bad for us. They go a step further and say that our immune system needs bad stuff otherwise it might start attacking the good stuff within us.

That completely turns the argument on its head.

“The micro-organisms that we evolved with, long before we began this modern lifestyle, became a crucial part of our physiology,” says Rook. “In this state of ‘evolved dependency’, these microbes took the role of switching on the regulatory pathways that allow our immune systems to function as they should. Without exposure to these microbes, our immune system attacks otherwise harmless foreign molecules.” Rook has labelled this new hypothesis the ‘old friends mechanism’; others call it the ‘microbial exposure theory’.

read more

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Things you can do better asleep than you can awake

following on with the theme that sleep is far more important than many of us realise. Here's an analysis of things we can do better asleep than when we're awake.

Essentially there seem to be three main areas that we do better asleep:
  1. Forming accurate memories
  2. Heal from infection
  3. Deal with stress
Lets summarise each area:

Forming accurate memories

Most neuroscientists agree that sleep is when we organize memories for long-term storage. People whose sleep is disturbed after studying have far more imperfect recall than people who get a good eight hours of shuteye. But a study published a couple of weeks ago shows that you can use simple memory reinforcement techniques while you're sleeping that will make your recall better than average.

Heal from infection

We don't just need sleep to improve our minds - we need it to heal our bodies. Physiologist Marc Opp argues that it's possible that sleep is part of our immune system, and that we may have evolved sleep alongside our other bodily defenses against infection. In fact, our ability to dream appears to be connected at a molecular level to our healing abilities. When researchers reduce the levels of proteins used in healing wounds and fighting infection, it also reduces REM sleep. Raising the levels of those same proteins causes people to dream more. So when you go to bed with a cold and wake up feeling better after a night of weird dreams - well, there's a good reason for that.

Deal with stress

Dreaming also appears to be one of the main ways we maintain emotional equilibrium. Sleeping appears to organize our emotions in the same way it organizes and solidifies memories. Researchers report that sleep helps people recognize other people's emotional states, maintain calm in the face of difficult situations, and even develop feelings of trust more easily.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Can amazing abilities be taught?

I've been talking for a while how everything we see other people achieving we could actually achieve ourselves. We just need to learn to bring it out of us.

A couple of weeks ago I ate at a restaurant and the waitress showed exactly what I'm talking about. There were four of us and we had a lot to order. She didn't write anything on a notepad though. She just remembered it. We all thought she was just showing off and it would all go horribly wrong.

Sure enough by the end of the meal she'd remembered all drinks, all 3 courses for each person, all the minor adjustments to the meals and the side orders. The only thing a machine did for her is add up the bill.

We were really impressed and debated whether she just has this really cool memory or if she learnt how to do it.
So I had to ask. As I thought, the answer was that she'd trained herself to do it. There are many techniques you can use that help you remember things by helping organise your brain but you have to work at them like anything else. That's what she did. She used her job to train her brain. From what I could see it meant she found the job easier than other people because she was more self sufficient.

Just like derren brown and others. Who perform amazing feats both physical and mental. They all admit that they've trained themselves to do these things. Some say that makes it less interesting. For me it's the opposite. To feel that I could do what they do is so inspiring.

That's what I want to bring to education. Help connect people with these amazing feats. Give them the belief and the support to achieve them themselves. See that learning is the key to amazing things.

Could education learn from the Google docs business model?

Building on a blog post ive written discussing the notion that flow of resources is key to life. A colleague helped me understand how the same can be said for business models and can explain how to make money in this new connected age. How services like google docs could make good money and education could scale itself. 

In this case we're talking about how google can build a business by selling their tools. Gmail and gdocs are just their tools. Gdocs doesn't contain adverts so where's the business model?

To start with you can by extra space when youve used up the free allowances But that doesn't explain how they can stay competitive. We had to look a little deeper to realise that cloud providers can do things that local organisations and individuals find difficult. Real economies and practices of scale. 

We realised its actually just like the economy being built from banking. If every person withdrew all their cash the banks couldn't actually give it back. They only hold what's necessary to give people what they need day to day. They resell the money they hold and that's how they make money.

This is because it's cheaper for restaurants and car manufacturers to focus on what they do well and pay someone to look after their wealth. It's nore profitable for banks to see their cash as stock and resell it than to lock it up. That's just how the economy and most mature industries work and thrive.

So that's how google make a profit in software and tools. It's too expensive and a waste of effort for every company or individual to build and maintain their own web based office suite. Better to use one from a brand you trust. To make it profitable Google will not have the capacity for every person to use all their allowances at once. It's too expensive to actually buy and maintain the hardware and resources to support this. And also no one uses all their allowance all the time. It also doesn't matter if each persons data is in one place or distributed all over the place. 

All that really matters is the current demand. As long as Google can pull it all together and present it in the way the customer wants and expects they're happy.

So Google have so many customers they'll work on trends. They see documents and tools as data and customer traffic as data traffic and requests for data. Each day an average amount of new data storage is required. It will vary over time but this can be predicted with certain contingencies in place to cater for unpredicted events.

Once you master this you can build a reputation for global reliability. You always "just work". The price you can charge and the loyalty you gain for such reliability and dependability is huge. And this approach to it is cost effective and thus profitable. Thus it's a business model.

That is why I want to bring this to education. This is enterprise structure with enterprise profitability with an enterprise approach. It's what education needs. A platform and infrastructure that's built to scale to modern standards using time honoured approaches of achieving scale. Stand back and see things for what they are. Honesty, no warts. Go back to what you're good at and what people want. Reapply all you know but with a modern focus.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Neural Darwinism: is this how we learn?

I'm excited to have just discovered Neural Darwinism through an interview with Gerald Edelman on all in the mind.

The idea that our brain constantly adapts to our environment using the same evolutionary principles described by Darwin is what I've been coming to believe. It's clear that we create and remove connections every day during sleep and that our brains are constantly evolving from the events of the day.

It's nice to hear I'm not alone in my view and that there is a theory to go along with it.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The only true disability is a crushed spirit

Watching Aimee Mullims ted talk title "The opportunity of adversity" is just fascinating. She makes such a beautiful case for the strengths and values people gain from disability it becomes very clear that the adversity that may entail generally adds far more to us than it takes away.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Gaming can make a better world

Ok, so I'm just watching the best presentation I've seen for a while. I just had to share it.

The premise that gaming can make a better world is something I share and have actively been looking at how to bring gaming to education via the OU. I think Jane McGonigal just nails it and explains how gaming is a wonderful at create a problem solving mindset which is a fundamental attribute of good education.

The idea is that gaming has 4 characteristics that can lead to a better world

  • Blissful Productivity
  • Social Fabric
  • Urgent Optimism
  • Epic Meaning