This week I had a short stay in hospital for a minor operation and have been resting up to make sure that I don’t pop any stitches. For a couple of days I was popping pain relief which had as much influence on my head as my body, then I decided I wanted clarity back and started reading.
I mean really reading. I finished a book I had started weeks ago and started another straight away. I really enjoyed myself. I also got into reading some more articles and read a quote by Nicholas Carr, from an article in The Atlantic, which really resonated with me, entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid?
The core of the article is that we have access to so many snippets of information and the ability to easily research any topic, that we don’t have to do any serious reading any more. In fact most of us don’t bother any more. I have been an avid reader most of my life, but these days I spend more and more time on the computer.
My business and personal life involves amongst other activities, reading, responding to and writing emails and spending a lot of time communicating via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, plus many sites such as MySpace and Music Forte, where I hope an A&R person or singer will pick up some of my songs. It seems to be a race from one micro-communication and application to the next.
In his article, Carr wrote: “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” That sounded so much like what I do, what I revelled in.
But here’s the thing for me. I have read thousands of books over the years, from literature to politics, science, philosophy and psychology and much more. I have enjoyed the American and English classics, with some Kafka and Solzhenitsyn, lots of Science Fiction, and many university texts. They have given me a background from which to interpret all the bytes of information I now sample, to understand them and make sense of them.
Because you can think faster than you read, I was able to analyse, interpret question and process everything I set my eyes on, storing it for future reference. But here’s the thing, many people today are not building those backgrounds of data and knowledge.
Many teenagers don’t read books any more. Many tell me they can count the total number of books they have read in their lives, on the fingers of one hand. When they communicate, they abbreviate words to send text messages on their mobiles or send emails. Spelling has become poor and many people who have come to me looking for jobs, could not write a quality CV to introduce themselves. When I complained about my children’s spelling in their school assignments, teachers told me that it was concept and intent that mattered, not delivery. I’m going on a tangent, but things are changing and they may not be for the better.
When it comes to news, only a couple of people in my office read a newspaper, although most of them are graduates. If we didn’t have one in the office, most people would know nothing more than what they see on the TV news, when they bother to watch it.
I’ve counted myself lucky that I live in New Zealand where people have had a DIY attitude, based around the history of being a young country where people had to solve their own problems and find ways of doing things despite many obstacles, including being about as far away from the rest of the world as you can get.
Kiwis have been known as inventors and problem solvers and have been well accepted in business all over the world, where specialisation is becoming more common. Even here though, talent shortages are becoming obvious, especially as people find they can earn more overseas. Another reason imho, is that without an intellectual background, and moving away from the land and domestic skills that come with necessity, we are losing those skills.
Companies who made their older staff redundant and replaced them with young managers are finding that they may be lacking in maturity that comes from experience and learning intellectually, not just info bytes. This is costing them dearly. In many cases older workers are going back into the workforce for economic reasons and companies are reaping the benefit of their experience, but this comes hard as younger people often think they know everything and don’t need ‘wise counsel’.
The world economy may help us, bringing people home from their extended overseas experiences, looking for a better place to raise their kids and our isolation could be a good thing.
Specialisation is going nuts. A story in The Futurist earlier this year by Bruce Tow and David Gilliam gave an example of a surgeon who was only qualifed to repair knees injured during the playing of football. There is a new specialisation now starting to becom sought after, which is that of a ‘connector’. A connector is someone who can understand enough about a lot of disciplines and can act as an intermediary to help solve problems outside of the specialist spheres.
Without realising it, I have become one of those. Many people come to me for advice in how to solve business problems. They have people within their organisations with amazing specialist skills, but without the ability to harness these people to and networks to get results. Often it seems really simple to me, with my background and of course an objectivity that comes from not being involved in the path that got them to their current position.
So I’ve been reading and I guess I’ve been waffling, but I’m allowed because this is my blog. Many people think that Twitter and all the other networking sites are a waste of time. For many people they are, because they don’t have the skills to access the wisdom and knowledge behind many of the shared messages. The people who really maximise the wealth of information on the net are those who have read and absorbed knowledge first. The ones who rise up as genuine consultants share real knowledge. They don’t need to fill their micro bytes with quotes and links from someone else, they can think for themselves, because they did their apprecticeships, they learned intellectually and by doing, failing and doing again.
Maybe it was just the painkillers and reading this will be a waste of time. But then I don’t think reading is ever a waste of time.