I always advise my people to read outside your field, every day something. And most people say, ‘Well, I don’t have time to read outside my field.’ I say, ‘No, you do have time, it’s far more important.’ Your world becomes a bigger world, and maybe there’s a moment in which you make connections.
Nobel prize winner Oliver Smithies in dialogue with writer David Epstein in Epstein’s book Range
One of the things that surprised me as a parent was how much I benefited from reading parenting books. There are some fascinating parenting books, such as Between Parent and Child, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting or How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.
Simply substituting the word child with the word human and voilà, all those parenting principles and techniques about effective conflict resolution or more compassionate communication skills apply to adults too.
Or the basic Montessori principles of the prepared environment (materials and experiences are always at a child’s fingertips: furniture appropriately sized, shelves at children’s height, miniature everyday tools, self-correcting materials such as Matrioshka dolls – if dolls are not classified correctly, there will be one left, etc.) or uninterrupted work cycle (don’t disturb the child when they are working, as children will usually display an immense and surprising capacity for concentration when they are immersed in an activity that captivates them). Aren’t these pedagogical concepts quite similar to deep work or flow?
At that time, there were contradictory teaching theories. Some would say that traditional teacher-led instruction followed by assessment was best. In contrast, other educators such as Maria Montessori or Jean Piaget proposed that children learn at their highest abilities when the educational environment is self-directed. In such a setting, children would choose their materials or activities and stay involved for as long as they wanted.
Vygotsky suggested that while curiosity-led environments were well suited for subjects such as motric skills, practical skills, etc., in other domains, the presence of a teacher or a more knowledgeable individual was needed (e.g. mathematics or writing).
The zone of proximal development defines learning as a set of experiences where a novice takes on a task that sits within their skills. Another person(s) with a higher skill set assists them. Once the novice understands and completes the initial task, they can continue improving by taking assignments of greater and greater difficulty.
This concept does not apply only to classrooms but in workplaces too. Although the zone of proximal development looks like common sense, we need to remember that workplaces are not classrooms where everybody follows the same curriculum but places where people work on tasks of varying difficulties.
Still, some of the best schools and companies are those that, among other things, can keep children and employees engaged and stimulated by providing tasks in their zones of proximal development.
Image Credit: Simply Psychology
They say that money makes the world go round, but is it true? What if, instead, ideas, and not money, are the currency of life? What if theories, discoveries, or principles keep us all spinning? By digging deeper underneath our mental models, we can easily see the cross-pollination of ideas from different domains linked together by imagination, creativity, or observation.
A discovery in a field might lead to innovation in a different specialization. Of course, not all ideas or discoveries evolved from other concepts, as some ideas are dramatic paradigm shifts (e.g. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity).
Nevertheless, it is the fertilization of ideas across various domains, industries, sciences that derives progress and move us idea by idea towards a better understanding of ourselves.
For example, the Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc. The Fibonacci series has a ratio between any number and the previous one that tends towards the so-called golden ratio (around 1.618). This sequence forms patterns commonly found in nature, such as nautilus shells, pinecones, broccoli, petals, bones in the human hand, galaxies, etc.
So, how can we move the Fibonacci sequence from nature to human domains? Simple. Just look at applications in architecture, music, visual arts or task estimation in technology projects (planning poker).
The KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle is a design principle originated by aeronautical and systems engineer Kelly Johnson. Variations of this principle include “keep it simple, silly”, “keep it short and simple”, “keep it small and simple”, etc.
According to this article, Kelly told the designers and engineers at Lockheed (an American aerospace manufacturer, where Johnson worked as a team leader) that everything they created had to be something that could be easily repaired with basic mechanic’s skills and simple tools. Lockheed’s products were designed for war and combat settings, which would not allow for mistakes.
This principle stands true for designing fighter planes or raising children. Simple structures and plans are more reliable than complex ones, as simplicity makes building, maintaining, and troubleshooting systems easier. So, we should aim for clarity in writing, relationships, personal health, software development, engineering, entrepreneurship, etc.
Less is more.
The Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule, or the law of the vital few) is a principle noticed by economist Vilfredo Pareto. It states that a low percentage of variables in any extensive system determines a high rate of effects. Pareto noticed that approximately 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. He discovered the 80/20 ratio held after conducting surveys on other countries.
This principle remarks that the minority owns the majority. Although broadly applied, it does not apply to every scenario.
Still, practical applications of this law are easily found. Give or take, 20% of the sales agents generate 80% of total sales, 20% of customers account for 80% of total profits, 20% of the most reported software bugs cause 80% of software crashes, 20% of patients use 80% of health care resources, or cases of super-spreading during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where approximately 20% of infected individuals are responsible for 80% of transmissions.
But how do we connect the Pareto Principle to our daily lives? Let’s take a look at the clothes we usually choose, the shoes we usually grab, the routes we typically take in and out of the house, the toys children usually select. And then, as a personal productivity rule, the 80/20 rule notes that completing 20% of the most critical tasks will lead to 80% of the impact we create in a day.
Beneath the skin, we carry our fears and our dreams. Our night and our light. Our less and our more. We want to stay still. But our mind will eternally want to leap forward, connecting dots, thoughts, perceptions, questions as we try to make sense of the incomplete map that was given to us. And sometimes, just sometimes, this hyper-connecting mind will lead to astounding discoveries that will forever alter the way we live.
In the 1930s, Claude Shannon earned two bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering. By having broader knowledge, Shannon correlated the algebraic system created by George Boole in the 19th century and the telephone circuits of Shannon’s time.
The result? Shannon revolutionized our world because he practically created the basic units of modern computing, where values of 0 and 1 were assigned to electrical circuits. Shannon coined these units “bits”, contracted from “binary information digits”. Decades later, Shannon said about his discovery:
It just happened that no one else was familiar with both those fields at the same time.
Previously published here.