Here’s to Staving off Dementia and other Demons


Txt me later - Waiouru Army MuseumI’ve been working on my CV over the last few days as my division and role are being disestablished. On the template there was a field for interests. Now if you know me, you will know I am addicted to learning. I am not happy if I am not developing a new skill, a new understanding or keeping up with the constant state of change in this amazing era I feel privileged to live in.

Why do we need to learn? For a start, we have a massive set of wetware in our skulls, that like any muscle, needs to be exercised. Just like muscle sinews, the dendrites in our brain grow or shrink as they are used or neglected. We have discovered this concept of neuroplasticity, or perhaps more to the point of it, science has proven it exists. We actually knew it all along. The link above has some great ways to grow your brain.

The challenge is to keep learning and my bent is to understand, not just absorb data. We have Wikipedia and Google to do compile the data, we need to understand what it means. We need to be ready to identify our weaknesses and keep pace with change. If we don’t the consequences are dire.

I told someone this morning that I feel like I am living in a science fiction novel. The space race is back on, our oceans, lakes, rivers and seas are polluted. Temperatures all over the globe are reaching extremes, we’re getting rid of plastic bags, the political trend around the world is becoming more nationalistic in many places, as we try to protect something we may not have actually had. Children are rising up and being recognised.

I have to chuckle at this one, because I tried that back when I was a kid. I was lucky to have the opportunity because whilst children were sent to schools and universities to learn, their views were largely ignored. Today they are realising that they can’t let grownups screw up the world that they will inherit.

The challenge was that we didn’t have social media and broadcast systems that allow children on one side of the planet to encourage people on another side of the planet to ban plastic bags. I remember being involved in seminars as a teenager with groups like the World Council of Churches and Paulo Freire, whom I was very lucky to have met and spent time with.

Paulo’s critical pedagogy which is now considered new, included the premise that “Study is not measured by the number of pages read in a night, nor by the number of books read in a semester. Studying is not an act of consuming ideas, but of creating and recreating them”.

That’s how we moved from the Morse Code machine to owning, often more than one smartphone, each with more computing power than was used in the entire Apollo 11 Space Programme.

Successes didn’t happen overnight. For example there were many failures before that light bulb lit up and stayed on. We didn’t stop with that incandescent light, we tried and failed and failed and tried and look at the amazing options we have now. Garden lights powered by the sun that work for years and cost less than $5 each!

So what happens when we stop learning? Have you had the sad experience of having to put a family member into a rest home? What happens in most of those places? They have limited resources and the people in them spend a lot of their time withering away until they no longer know who they are. Yet, we know that playing them music they were once familiar with, can bring them back. Things they learned are still there, but the dendrite connections turned off.

I wonder how we will use that knowledge now that it has been accepted as scientific fact, because dementia is at its highest level in recorded history and I’m not sure it needs to be.

I actually wanted to write about interests and one of mine is linguistics. At various times I have learned and spoken around 8 languages. I formally studied 6 of those. The other one, which I have forgotten was Hungarian, which I learned at 3 because my neighbours at the time only spoke that language. It was easy for me because I already spoke Dutch and English and learned French and German because my parents used it when I was a child, to have a conversation they didn’t want me to understand. Now there’s motivation for a kid to learn something!

I also wanted to talk about conferences, having attended, chaired and spoken at venues in 10 countries around the world, frequently sharing the frustration that most of the people that needed to attend weren’t there, because they were struggling to survive in a changing world and didn’t have time to learn the very things that would save their business. So instead of using Freire’s pedagogy, they kept repeating what they had once been taught, even though it was no longer relevant.

The number of people I have come across who say they know all about their business seems interesting proportional to the number of businesses that are going broke, or the models that are failing because disruptors have delivered what customers were asking the incumbents for, and not getting. So we were frequently preaching to the converted.

I’ll come back to the importance of language in another article, because it is a subject in its own right. Language and linguistics has provided me with a rich career in business and communications. It has taught me much about culture and helped me develop friendships and business relationships around the world.

But haven’t they changed over the decades? My cousins in Holland frequently use words I haven’t heard before and the technology is also now taking us into a whole new area of language, much of which is international, like emojis.

Anyway, I’d like to tell some stories about languages and the value of learning, but you’ll have to watch this space to find them. That’s assuming you still read, but of course you are here. That’s probably a sign of your age, because after writing my latest book targeted at millennials, I realised that many do not like to read at all, but will happily spend hours on YouTube watching educational videos. Maybe one little take away if you are in a business where you want to communicate with people. It used to be simple back in the day.

The things we were taught about in communications decades ago may still work in some niches. The principles still apply, but as Freire said, you have to create and recreate ideas.

So WTS and I’ll BRB 🙂