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Using Brainpower in Complex Times

Our brains are nodes of enormous networks to help us be creative, thoughtful, and powerful

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“How to Think: Managing Brain Resources in an Age of Complexity” by Ed Boyden in Technology Review (2007) is a brilliant article, excerpted and paraphrased here:

When I applied for my faculty job at the MIT Media Lab, I had to write a teaching statement. One of the things I proposed was to teach a class called ‘How to Think.’

“This class would focus on how to be creative, thoughtful, and powerful in a world where problems are extremely complex, targets are continuously moving, and our brains often seem like nodes of enormous networks that constantly reconfigure. In the process of thinking about this, I composed 10 rules.

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10 Tips for Better Thinking

1. Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read.

2. Learn how to learn, rapidly. Be able to rapidly prototype ideas. Know how your brain works.

3. Work backward from your goal, or you might not reach it.

4. Always have a long-term plan, even if you change it daily.

5. Make contingency maps. Depict everything you need to do, on paper, and to discover which things depend on other things.

6. Collaborate.

7. Make your mistakes quickly. Document what led to the error, to learn what to recognize, and then move on.

8. As you develop skills, write up best-practices protocols.

9. Document everything obsessively. If you don’t record it, it might have no impact on the world.

10. Keep it simple. If you can spend two days thinking of ways to make it 10 times simpler, do it.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Education

Why are Schools Failing Our Children?

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There is a feeling in this country that we are more divided, more violent, less informed and willing to just go along to get along. Why is that? Why are people willing to take to the streets and burn and loot? How can even a small vocal minority support communist regimes that have murdered hundreds of thousands thru out history? Why do those popular “man on the street” interviews show so many citizen’s ignorant of even basic civic knowledge? Possibly a closer look needs to be taken at how the youngest of Americans are taught and where their views are shaped.

In America we have compulsory but not mandatory Kindergarten thru 12th grade. Like almost all government type programs the users pay nothing but the taxpayers pay dearly. The costs for education has outpaced inflation for quite a few years.  Despite what some say more money does not equal better students. Using almost any matrix American students are falling behind their counterparts in the rest of the western world. In some blue state’s average property taxes can equal almost half of the federal income tax paid.

There was a time when schools concentrated upon the three “R’s”, Reading, writing and arithmetic. The goal of school was to prepare students for the real world. Today we have books banned in school so it doesn’t offend or inform students about the real world. In quite a few school cursive writing is no longer taught since it is difficult and beside we have Bill Gates and Microsoft helping us to write and spell. Math or arithmetic has been branded “racist” because laws of math are absolute and to teach students that they might be wrong just might damage their self-esteem. Advanced placement classes are being defunded across the nation to make room for more special education placements. Because some doing better than others could hurt some students and parents feelings.

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If the basic three “R’s” are no longer being taught what is happening in our schools? Reading classics like “Huckleberry Finn” has now been replaced by “Heather has two mommies”. Writing assignments might consist of a short essay on your heroes. But make sure it’s a woke hero and not anyone like Jesus or Trump. Arithmetic in use for at least since the pyramids were built is now being performed by the “Common Core” method instead of the traditional time honored way.  Which is probably why cashiers these day can’t figure out change without the machine. Don’t forget the latest fad “Critical Race Theory”, where if you are not the correct shade of brown you don’t even deserve your change back.

Education and schooling has always been about building a base for a better future and short on actual practical knowledge. There is some truth to the saying those that can do and those that can’t teach. So what are our most vulnerable being taught in public schools these days? To be an activist, a social justice warrior, to despise the very foundations that allow them the freedom they enjoy today? It has either accelerated lately or maybe just become more open as a result of remote learning. Many parents forced to stay home during the Conovirus scare were able to witness what is usually hidden behind school walls.

So this is the education children are getting for all of those tax dollars. Learning to hate the very people footing the bill for this “education”. Not only thru property taxes but that same money pays teachers salaries. In spite of many districts being Union Free it doesn’t mean what you think. A percent of every teachers pay is sent off to the teachers union who then uses their power to make sure their voice is heard loud and clear by the politicians that make up the rules. Don’t think the unions don’t care at all about students, why just this year the head of the American Federation of Teachers warned teachers not to post photos of their exotic vacations while insisting neighborhood schools remained closed.

What can be done to alter the course of our failing schools? Budgets can be voted down but those are just increases and most time re-votes are scheduled until they get what they want.  School boards whose job it is to speak for the citizen’s mostly don’t know what is going on in the very schools they represent. They spend their time defending the status quo. Just like our local and national politics we must be informed and active. Ignoring the problems won’t make it go away.

The only hope for future citizens is that there are good teachers out there, their voices are suppressed like in most industries. The students themselves might rebel against authority realize they have be lied to and manipulated thru out their school days and reject the indoctrination they received during their primary education.

The only hope for parents present and future is one of three: 1) Private school if it is economically feasible, after first a thorough due diligence, 2) Home school if someone at home can afford the time, 3) If public school is the only option the time must be found to stay involved and informed to counter act any socialist training.

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Education

In School or On the Streets, Belligerence is Deliberately Destructive

The impact of belligerence in the classroom or anywhere else in society is real and destructive

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As Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle experience renewed turmoil propagated by Antifa and other anarchist groups, I am reminded of a time many years earlier. While my daughter was in middle school and high school, and even after she graduated, I volunteered on ‘career day’ to teach in classrooms about being an author and speaker. Other parents in other professions did the same.

Constant Commotion

I eventually gave it up because, invariably, one or two of the minority students — African American — in each class simply could not sit still. These were 14 and 15 year olds, and this happened in 2014, in President Obama’s sixth of eight years in office.

Obviously in writing this article I could avoid citing their minority status. That might be deemed the ‘politically correct’ thing to do, nevertheless I’m duly recounting what led to my departure.

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One certainly could engage in a long sociological discussion about their behavior and what prompts it. They would be disruptive, make one-line comments, sit on their desks, make noises, intentionally seek to distract me, and diminish the quality of interaction in the room. At 6’3″, and an athletic 188 pounds, I could have physically intimidated any of the disruptors, but I did not.

Elective Not Mandatory

These students were not forced to attend such sessions; all of these classes for career day were elective. Students signed up in advance for the presenter in the field in which they were interested, or at least feigned interest. In class, most students listened attentively.

Some asked serious questions. Many were thankful for the session. You could see the look of disdain on their faces when others sought to disrupt the class. It was apparent they had witnessed such intentional disruption many times before.

On this last time that I would volunteer in this capacity, and following my last session, I went downstairs to the school office. I told the vice principal and a secretary the reason why I would not return in the future and waste my time. Confidentially, the secretary told me that other presenters had shared the same experience.

The Progression to Belligerence

If I had been a full-time teacher, the unprovoked, continuing belligerence of some students would have changed my perception about the profession and about such students. How might I have reacted if the disruptors were Caucasian? I would, unquestionably, have been equally agitated. This didn’t occur, but it could have.

Was I naive in thinking that I could make my annual presentation and remain unscathed? Perhaps. Maybe it was a matter of time before I ran into such belligerence, but I don’t think so.

What happened was a progression: All students in my earlier years were polite. Then, in subsequent years, some disruptors began to emerge in small ways. Then, disruptors set about to openly flaunt classroom decorum.

At least subconsciously, the disruptors incrementally determined what they could get away with, in a variety of situations, without penalty. Undoubtedly, this was in motion long before I arrived on the scene. I surmise that they were constantly testing the waters – with substitute teachers, instructors, coaches, trainers, and any adult authority figure with whom they felt they might gain leverage.

To No One’s Benefit

Don’t discount the impact of belligerence in the classroom or anywhere else in society. It is real and destructive. Presently, municipal city police officers face constant war zone-like conditions in areas of high belligerence. Such intense, daily experiences have a deleterious effect on their homeostasis, well-being, judgment, and reflexes.

In that regard, U.S. police officers face more conflict than many soldiers in war zones and suffer the same type of traumas such as PTSD. One can’t help but wonder to what their daily, repeat-exposure to domestic war zones leads. Perhaps PTSD like symptoms are at the root unfortunate, fatal encounters in recent times.

Liberal Mayors and city-councils, in Democrat-run municipalities, who do not support their police forces, play a dangerous game with all of the citizens whom they were elected to govern. Squeamish mayors end up helping no one, and indeed, hurting many.

Only in Imagination

The media machine censors news items about those who act aggressively, but only in the ‘progressive’ imagination are police officers invariably at fault, and the array of perpetrators that they encounter are universally law-abiding and upstanding citizens.

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