How to stay one step ahead in a complex, fast-changing world

You’ve probably noticed – the world has become extremely complex. And to make matters worse, it’s always changing.

You might even be wondering how much of what you’ve studied in school is already useless and out-of-date.  It’s true that some things stay the same.  But many other things are gone in an instant.  The trick is knowing which is which.

For something like a formula in math or physics, no problem.  Even if you forget, you can always look it up.  And you can always count on it working.

But what about those things that are always changing?  Programming languages.  Cyber threats.  Social attitudes and beliefs.  Cultural trends.  Laws and regulations.  What you can say, and what you can’t say.  It’s enough to make your head spin!

There’s nothing you can do to change any of these.  But you can change how you yourself are ultimately impacted.  In order to do that, you must first know yourself.

Know yourself, know your world, and know how the two interact.  To succeed in this complex, fast-changing world, you need all three.

Yes, it takes effort.  If you’ve tried some of these deep learning methods, you already know this.  And you’re also discovering, hopefully, that it’s been well worth the effort…

What knowledge explorers really want

“As a knowledge explorer, I want to accomplish the following, quickly and easily, and have fun while doing it:

1. Organize and express what I know and what I don’t know

2. Experience the joy of seeking, discovering, and learning more

3. Share what I’ve learned

4. Belong to a group of like-minded individuals who share a passion to investigate, learn and improve

5. Belong to a group of oppositely-minded individuals who vehemently disagree about certain topics

6. Access information from different sources and be able to go as deep or as broad as I want, for as long as I want, and stay up-to-date as conditions change

7. Make informed decisions, take action, and observe the results in order to keep improving.”

What would you add to this list?  Or change?

Becoming a knowledge explorer in four easy steps

If you want to succeed in today’s complex, fast-changing global economy, you need to become a lifelong knowledge explorer.  And like the explorers of old, some of the waters you’ll be navigating will be completely unknown.

Past explorers heard all kinds of stories about how terrifying those unknown waters were.  But they set out anyway.

At first they felt uncomfortable.  But the more they sailed, and the more new lands they discovered, the more energized they became.  In fact, they began to relish making new discoveries.

Your journey through life can be the same kind of journey – minus the scurvy, sharks, pirates, and other hazards, thankfully!

A key aspect of every explorer’s journey was that they always kept a journal.  A “ship’s log,” if you will.  You should do the same, recording your thoughts and observations, your progress and setbacks, your fears and growing confidence, all in your own handwriting.

It’ll be something you can look back on, both when you need a reminder about a particular topic you’ve been exploring, or about life in general.

Here’s all you need to do…

Step 1. Build a list of topics you want to (or need to) explore

  • Look over the list of topics
  • Put a check mark next to each topic that you feel comfortable with. That is, you understand the topic well enough to explain it to someone else
  • Leave the remaining topics unchecked. These are topics you are not yet comfortable with.

Step 2. Write a narrative about your most comfortable topic

  • Looking at each of the topics you’ve checked, pick the one that you are most comfortable with
  • Give that topic a name, and write it at the top of a blank sheet of unlined paper
  • Using a #2 pencil (there’s a good reason for this), write a one-page narrative, in your own handwriting, illustrating what you know about that topic
  • Share this with one or more of your peers and/or mentors and keep it for future reference.

Step 3. Write a narrative about an uncomfortable topic of your choice

  • Look at each of the unchecked topics and pick one
  • Give that topic a name, and write it at the top of a blank sheet of unlined paper
  • Using a #2 pencil, write a one-page narrative, in your own handwriting, illustrating anything you can about that topic
  • Share this with one or more of your peers and/or mentors and keep it for future reference.

Step 4. Express yourself

  • Teenage girl writing in notebookOn a new blank sheet of paper, make a journal entry about your learning experiences thus far. Anything is fair game, just like the entries you would make in a personal diary.


This is obviously quite different from what you’ve experienced in traditional education settings.  Once you get used to this new approach, you’ll find that learning is much more than memorizing a bunch of facts and figures, or picking formulas and crunching numbers.  It’s a way of looking at just about everything in a different light.

The more you can explore and learn topics on your own, and come up with your own illustrative examples, the more satisfying learning experiences you’ll have.  Experiences that will last a lifetime…

Report from the classroom: the initial results are encouraging…

We’ve completed a mid-semester survey of 34 freshman college mathematics students who have been using deep learning methods for the first time. Here are just a few of the results…

Two-thirds of the respondents felt that deep learning methods were difficult to understand at first, but 85% indicated that by mid-semester they understood what was expected of them in using the new methods. 80% said their understanding of the course curriculum improved more than they had originally expected.

This is from a group in which over half indicated their previous classroom experience in mathematics was not positive.

The percentage of students indicating that deep learning methods should not be used in a college freshman mathematics course was only 6%. 71% indicated that deep learning would help improve the understanding of mathematics for non-STEM majors.

We still have our work cut out for us, but the responses we’ve been getting so far encourages us to keep going…

Juggling too many balls in the air? Deep learning can help…

Lately we’re hearing from a growing number of college students who are struggling not only academically, but in all aspects of our fast-paced, increasingly complicated world.

On the academic side, they’re faced with the challenge of filling in the gaps left from the assembly-line approach of mainstream education and its resulting pattern of regressive learning behaviors.

Add today’s economy and society into the mix, and what you’re left with is in many ways akin to juggling several balls in the air while trying to ride a unicycle on a tightrope. Some students are holding down as many as three part-time jobs just to make ends meet.

Back in the good old 20th century, the classroom, workplace, and home were totally separate and distinct. In fact, the prevailing memes at the time demanded that you “leave your work at the door,” “leave family matters at home,” etc.

Clearly in this century, that’s no longer possible. Education, work and life are pretty much inseparable.

If you’re like most, you feel that you need a college degree in order to stay at least one step ahead in the race for jobs. So you register for college classes. The next thing you know it’s time for mid-term exams.

But you might also find yourself having to take care of family members – your kids, your spouse, your aging parents. All while racking up more college debt. Not to mention dealing with sleep deprivation – trying to catch a quick power nap here and there, then still having to draw on all your strength and willpower to keep from drifting off to sleep during a long-winded lecture in an evening class.

The good news is, there’s a way to make it all work. But first you have to break the mold of cramming for exams and instead, organize learning into more manageable segments. Where you explore and think about one topic at a time. Then slowly stitch those topics together in ways that make sense to you.

Try gently easing yourself into the habit of mentally enumerating topics throughout the course of the day, no matter how chaotic that day might be. Jot down your observations in handwritten narrative into a journal you always keep within reach. This will not only improve your learning in your college courses, but will help integrate that subject matter into everyday life – an added bonus that will pay huge dividends down the road.

Yes this sounds totally counterintuitive. Maybe even a bit crazy. But these chaotic times demand doing things in ways that are completely different from what you’re used to. Even if it means stretching way out of your comfort zone.

One thing is certain – the old ways no longer work. It’s time for a new approach. Deep learning, along with a process of guided self-discovery, is worth a try.

What’s your NFC?

Need for Cognition (NFC) essentially means how much you’re willing to accept something at face value, versus how important it is for you to have a deep understanding of why something is true.

People with low NFC just want the facts. Tightly summarized, so they can make a quick decision. Or pass a test. Win a prize.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who need to know how something was arrived at. Or better yet, determine that for themselves.

Here’s an example…

Your teacher tells you that the area of a triangle is ½ (h*b), one-half the height multiplied by the base. As long as you can measure the height and the base, you can find the area of any triangle.

If you have a low need for cognition, you’re satisfied with just memorizing the formula. Or writing it on the palm of your hand for “easy reference.” Life is good.

But if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll immediately ask “Why?” As a self-directed learner, you might draw a rectangle, which you’ve previously determined has an area of l*w (length times width).

You quickly realize that you can form two triangles of equal size by drawing a line diagonally from one corner to the other. If the total area is l*w, then the area of each triangle is half that. Voila! A = ½ (h*b).

Using the same basic approach and playing around with different types of triangles (isosceles, obtuse, etc.), you get the same result. Start with the triangle and work your way to a rectangle, or start with a rectangle to get to the triangle.

That’s the fun of mathematics. There are many different ways to discover the answer.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s say you naturally have a low NFC, but would like to kick it up a notch. Then deep learning is for you.

Or maybe you’re like many, who in early childhood had a raging-high NFC. You kept asking, “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” You kept trying to figure things out for yourself.

But as you’re painfully aware, when you adopt that approach, sometimes you get it wrong. In fact, you can get it wrong many times. And that’s when you start getting dinged. Or yelled at. You’re told to get with the program or else.

Little by little, your NFC slides toward the low end of the spectrum.

Going back to the original question, you might want to step back and think about what life would be like if you were in a totally safe environment. If you were free to be wrong. Free to keep trying until you got it right, with no time constraints.

What would your NFC be in that situation? If it would still be at the low end of the scale and you’re happy with that, fine. Keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you find yourself wanting, then keep playing around with the various deep learning techniques we’ve been discussing. You’ll not only start gaining a broader and deeper understanding of what you’re learning, you’ll begin to enjoy the personal satisfaction that comes from navigating the exciting world of self-discovery.

Flipping the classroom – but not in the usual way

Whoever heard of taking a class where they don’t give you the answers to the questions? And the final exam doesn’t even have any questions?

No, we’re not talking about some far-out school of thought that claims there are no right or wrong answers.  Be assured, for many types of problems, there are right answers and there are wrong answers.  The difference is, we believe you learn a lot more if you are allowed to figure them out for yourself.

But how will you know if you have the right answer?

You’ll know. And you’ll have more confidence than ever in your answer because you’ll have opened your mind to your innate (and often suppressed) ability to reason, which is inherent in all human beings.

You may be confused by what you see happening in the world.  Who isn’t?  The problem is, the world has become so complex that sometimes when you encounter a new problem, you can’t just look it up.  But you can be the person who comes up with a solution.  And no robot or search engine will ever be able to do that.

This is how to succeed in the 21st century. This is how you will get ten times, even a hundred times more out of your education than most.

Stick with us – it’s going to be an amazing journey!