#structured #learning and #serendipity and, incidentally, #Münchausen and #Stendhal

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Tonight is not Friday, but 11 days passed since my last post (Of #Agents of #change, Full Metal Jacket, Dark City, and… the Cheshire Cat http://www.frype.com/robertolofaro/blog/?p=11319600).

I was busy doing some learning experiments, trying to organize something, and writing another book, and therefore I took a chance to see what would happen.

So, I got 75 readers on my last post (counting only those within Frype/Draugiem- I allow anybody on the Internet to read my posts, but the statistics don’t tell you how many visited that link, also if somebody told me once in a while that they visited and read- either through Facebook or through G+ or Twitter).

I simply decided to do a “fast forward” with my knowledge-sharing, while using that also to help me to prepare something new, while having my daily dose of tests whenever e.g. I get into a library (always the same people, also when I switch library).

At least, I will keep alive some skills (and, once in a while, I saw that my extensive writing, studying, challenging the boundaries of my ignorance and refreshing knowledge turned out to be useful).

And since Brussels and Rome I got used to the funny routine: in order to get something done that you do not think that makes sense to do (for various reasons- no point repeating what I wrote in the past), you get praise followed by offers to do their bidding; then when that doesn’t work insults and undermining, again followed by the same offers- this time, as an “escape route from irrelevance”; and when that doesn’t work… “bribes”.

The “bribes” take whatever form in their hollow minds the originators assume to be appropriate- I learned a lot about other people’s fantasies: pathetic.

Frankly, a piece of knowledge that I would have gladly done without:D

And then, when all this fails? Then… again the same cycle (I have been through few rounds of this in Brussels and various Italian towns, over the last decade- terminal boredom).

Well, a Sisyphean task- as soon as a cycle ends, it is not the light at the end of the tunnel, but… another cycle.

Yes, it is not a tunnel- it is a torus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torus – but instead of fusion as the old Joint European Torus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_European_Torus, its aim is to generate… confusion.

Part of the “fast forward knowledge-sharing” includes a small personal experiment: someone writes down dreams, since early January I started “logging” how much I sleep and how each night is “structured”, initially as I planned to see patterns so that I could then walk around them.

Well, there isn’t that much “walking” to be done:D And no, the “note taking” does not interfere with sleeping per se, as, when possible (or exhausted), there was a long pause between notes.

Still, it is the old story: as a consultant, I always told my customers and partners that what I was doing for them was possible only because I kept that in perspective, but I could not do that on myself (yes, lawyers and doctors say the same).

So, when you have no alternative, and have to be your own consultant… go the “data” way, by collecting information, instead of relying of your own memory or feelings of how things are.

Interesting data- but few weeks were enough to understand that it is possible to use some “features” of those patterns to help create a “routine” (I will continue until I will have “stabilized” elsewhere: it will be a nice study).

Therefore, I arranged my knowledge-sharing and job preparation schedule around two basic tenets: 1) sharing publicly 2) structuring by “threads”, i.e. doing my updates and research focused on specific (often parallel, sometimes converging and then diverging) lines of reasoning.

Somebody could assume that those lines of reasoning are at best a Gordian Knot (and somebody tried to be an Alexander and cut it down :D).

Actually, they are simply a matter of prioritization and association of available resources (time and stamina) with raw material (books, my own writing exercises, research, observations, etc).

A first, visible result is my early Monday-to-Friday limited newspaper review (El Pais, Le Monde, FAZ, Kommersant, Il Sole 24 Ore, and occasionally others), which in January is mainly limited to few European newspapers (I usually post the results of my daily selection on Twitter, @robertolofaro, but you can see an announce also here, on Facebook, G+, Linkedin).

When? My aim was 9am, but I ended up publishing often before 7:30am, so that those of you commuting can have a look on your way to office, school, etc., if you are so inclined.

Also, I gradually expanded from half a dozen news items to sometimes a dozen or more, as if it were a real newspaper composed by links to other newspapers.

No, I do not plan to convert that into a business- let’s say that it is my “exchange”: newspapers allow to read those articles for free, and I try to help them get more traffic from unexpected readers (as, whatever the original language, I add a short “summary” in English).

And, yes: also when I will have settled somewhere, and decided to which newspapers online I should subscribe to… I will look for a way to always find a “free source” that offers at least an abstract of each news item (you can still have to pay for the full article, but offering just the first few lines for free is often meaningless).

Language learning implies building patterns and “embedding” those new skills within your day- hence, my daily attempts to read newspapers: with German, I can sometimes read the whole article, but usually also in those cases I double check with GoogleTranslate (and double check the translation with… the source :D); with Russian, I select by keywords that I understand, and then use GoogleTranslate.

No, I am not planning for the time being to do the same with Chinese, Hungarian/Finnish/Estonian/Turkish, or Scandinavian Languages!

So, beside my twisted locals (in Italy) testing language skills, or occasional meetings with foreign visitors where I jump at the opportunity to either make a fool of myself or test what needs to be improved (or a mix of both), I added a couple of routines- along with some “tests” on other skills, either in libraries or through business meetings and impromptu business interviews.

Which routines? Well, you have to define language-specific routines: in my case, writing 10 Chinese characters around 50 times each in the evening every two days, and getting mainly through the “listening” and “talking” part of a German FSI course on a daily basis, to get used to use again those patterns, before resuming grammar studies and exercises.

It is my form of “business calisthenics”.

Somebody does push-ups, I need to do organizational, contract, or business analysis- and try to walk few km fast while in town:)

The upside for me: this enabled me to actually find (or find again) threads worth “categorizing” in my personal mental library (and, just to avoid losing the skill, I did this week “test mindmaps” both on new knowledge, as if I were to do a business analysis, and on a meeting, as if I had been facilitating or led a workshop).

Limited tests (e.g. one-two hours to produce results, including either reading the book/report or attending the meeting), but I do not see around the corner any request for paid feasibility or organizational studies as I did in the past, and therefore there is no point on embarking on something that is “tuned” for activities lasting between few weeks and few months.

I will keep reserving those long-run activities for my own books (again, to avoid losing skills).

The upside for my readers: it is much easier to “distill” (yes, US English, tonight :D) something that they can re-use.

As an example… I hope that many understood why I shared on Slideshare.net/robertolofaro not only a “flyer” about my new activity, but also a detailed outline of the schedule, and more than few hints on how to use and structure it: it is my old “if I cannot sell it, let’s share it online before it is wasted”.

Yes, it might well negatively affect my future ability to deliver that as a service, also because, if you read also the books that I shared there, with that card, and some other material that I sent to others… if you have an expertise, any expertise, you can do it yourself, in your own way.

In business courses etc, often is a structure (or its absence) is what differentiate a service that you can deliver time and again (and get paid for that), from a mere talk about what you know.

And, yes, I think that I will keep adding more material to be eventually shared online.

I see two immediate benefits: by writing and sharing with an intended audience I can focus better than if I were to release to no audience at all (yes, I monitor “spikes” in readership wherever I post something); I can use that information to help me “prune” my knowledge update activities.

And, as some writers say, I can “leave space”, instead of keeping that unpublished material hanging around my head: knowledge-sharing implies sharing knowledge, not sitting on it!

My CV looks already as that of a business equivalent of the Baron of Münchausen (making up stories

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchausen_syndrome), and therefore I need to remove and get some “neutral” confirmation (I always worked through word-of-mouth, and a CV was a mere formality: hence, between 1990 and 2008 I really never needed a CV that listed what I had done, where, etc.).

As somebody saw last year, I can anyway “resurrect” old knowledge and put it again on the forefront, if it is needed long enough- but I would rather remove and say “no”, than leave it in and then end up as in Brussels, when I was sent for interviews about A, and then asked to do a test on B, something that I had not done for a decade, and that supposedly wasn’t needed (as I had turned down other “tremendous opportunities” where recruitment agents had asked me to lie in my CV).

I was waiting to go past the first half of a scheduled course that I am following in Coursera (on risk, but I wrote about it in a previous post), and eventually on Linkedin I saw something interesting: the spouse of a foreign affairs officer who decided to design her own MBA- by choosing courses that allow also to collect “credits”, working through “threads”.

I did not really think about it, but it makes sense- also if this “credits for the online version of classroom courses” is something relatively new.

Obviously, my idea in 2009 was simply to use the resources to attend courses around the world that I could not attend- I did not really (and still don’t) care about getting credits from Yale, MIT, Stanford, or others (some of my “threads” probably would never be accepted within an ordinary MBA).

No, I do not risk to suffer from the Stendhal’s syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stendhal_syndrome) by over-reaching with my readings;)

Simply, I like walking through books and people who have experience and knowledge in something I know little or nothing about, or to read from authors and meet those who just have a background different from my own.

Why? Well, I will let you have a look at this video on serendipity models: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxMPvTjB3uA

In my case, what matters is keeping “signposts through knowledge”- books, people, etc. that I can refer to should I need more detailed information.

It is the way that I suggested to various foreign friends (including Latvians) in Rome, Florence, and other Italian towns, while I was going around town with them: take it easy, browse, sample, but do not feel stressed about being unable to see it all immediately- just enjoy the experience.

I usually also added “it will always be there, and you will be able to return”.

But that is something that I should probably revise with “as it is happening in Pompei, it might not still be there in the future, but just focus on getting few ‘deep memories’, and dots connecting them, dots representing what you saw just in books- it will give you a sense of amazement, instead of the sense of frustration that you get if you try to see everything now”.

Trust me: if you never visited Rome, Florence, Venice, etc., it is easy to get overwhelmed, but I got used to spot the tell-tale signs before frustration settles in, and “up the ante” by using diversionary tactics.

Knowledge is the same: if you get in any library, or browse the catalog course in Coursera, ocw.mit.edu, oyc.yale.edu, or YouTube Education, you can easily get a “knowledge shock”.

Take it easy, focus in your own way (some people follow a course or read a book at a time, I like mixing and matching and returning after doing something else), and see the positive value of those courses and libraries: they store knowledge, and you can access them at anytime.

What about the chance that a course that you like will disappear? Don’t worry, if there was demand for a free (or almost free) course on that subject, somebody else will provide it.

Still, using in a smarter way online educational resources could be an interesting way to keep people up-to-date, as in the comment that I posted after seeing this picture:

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