Sat 17 May 2003
The Soul of a New Machine
Category : Commentary/soulmachine.txt
If a business executive attends a course, say, on MS Access, do you think he'll learn the things that can help him become a better General Manager? If all he's learning are these - designing database tables, understanding normalisation, linking tables, writing an Access program, creating forms - who's helping him put all these into a context that can draw on his other skills? Perhaps knowing how to make queries on the data could be useful but, even then, how many executives can understand SQL, much less want to remember it after the course?
It's the same kind of thinking that says that our school-children ought to be taught things like "PC Internals", so that they'll know what research engineers do when they grow up.
The problem is: the specific technologies change with time. They're all likely to be obsolete by the time these school-children go to work. Unless you're a software developer, you should work at picking up IT skills at a higher level.
But is this - i.e. learning how to learn - a skill that can be taught? I've taught, say, FileMaker and even Photoshop courses where the people try to memorize and then regurgitate specific steps. It doesn't work.
It'll be better if people learn how to "connect the dots"; to have the confidence to look at each novel thing with an eye as to how it can be made to work in concert with the rest of the things they already know how to do well.
I believe that if we can do that - and we'll need to know that it is a problem if we don't - we'll have smarter, more creative people, better businesses, and ultimately, a richer, more resilient economy.