flowing motion

Education level that was good for the top 3% is now necessary for all but the bottom 3%

Posted on: October 6, 2009

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. — Soren Kierkegaard

Good to remember!

Though most people are better living forwards that understanding backwards

In industrial psychology, we distinguish between “tracking” and “diagnosis”.

Take a pilot landing a large plane, for example. They assimilate a lot of information, that changes before they have time to put it into words, and bring the plane down, hopefully, to a gentle landing at high speed.

When, God forbid that something goes wrong, highly trained investigators will come in to work out what happened. The investigators aren’t likely to be pilots and the investigators probably don’t land fully laden passenger jets.

We have specially trained people to think backwards

In factories, we make the same distinction. We have hands-on people who keep complex, continuous flow plants going, safely.  It’s as demanding as landing a plane.

Yet, the day the process breaks down, we call the process engineers. They work out what went wrong and bring science to bear to figure out what the factory managers can do to get the plant going again.

The two people groups aren’t interchangeable. Simply, the managers think forwards. The engineers think backwards.

Usually the engineers are more highly educated. They often earn more.

But they aren’t “line”. And the “line” thinks they are egg-heads because they can’t do the “real thing”.

So it is funny that we have to be reminded not to think backwards. Most of us don’t. Most of us can’t. We need experts for that.

In the future, we might have to do thinking forward as well as thinking backwards

What has been puzzling me recently, or truthfully what is in my in-basket marked “puzzles”, is how the “design-thinking” approach to management will change this divide.

Take Toyota, for example. Every worker on the assembly line is capable of doing quite sophisticated experiments.  They use statistics equivalent to Honours in any subject except statistics itself.   The two types of work seem to be merging.

The idea of ‘failing informatively’ will also change what professions like engineering and psychology learn and contribute in the work place. We will not only be required to diagnose what went wrong. We will be required to play a more hands-on role in moving things forward.

This is the age of statistics

The attitude of Google to data makes simple A B experiments a day-to-day job rather than the job of an expensive graduate. The burgeoning use of good visuals makes statistics a discipline of communication.

I sense there is more to this change than I am saying here. What is clear though, is that the education levels that used to be regarded as the preserve of the top 3% of the population are now necessary for all but the bottom 3%.  Necessary. Not optional.

How can every child learn statistics?

So what are we going to do about illiteracy in Western countries?   It amazes me that people who cannot read books play computer games quite well.

So I doubt this is a real problem. We need to get kids into factories where they see statistics being used

And then they can teach us!

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