Music, movies, and higher education

Music. Movies. Higher education. What do these three things have in common?

A solid entrenchment in the ‘good old days’ and an incredible unwillingness to engage the present, much less the future, of their industries.

At least that’s the impression I have a little more than halfway through Anya Kamenetz’s latest book, “DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education”.

Kind of like the story of librarians told in “This book is overdue”, where there are many dedicated individuals who see the possibilities but who must first overcome the ‘institution’.

A lot to think about.

A story and a smile

As I got on the shuttle this afternoon that took me from long term parking to the terminal, the driver greeted me and handed me a card that included a reminder of where I was parked. I thanked her and made a comment that this was the first time I had used this lot, and that on my return I would quite likely find myself in the short term lot in a futile search for my truck.

I got the impression from her that she wasn’t really having a good day, that she may not really like her job of driving the same loop for hours at a time, that she was – quite simply – in a grumpy mood. But she responded to my comment, so I continued the conversation.

By the end of the five minute ride we were both laughing and smiling, having shared stories of lost cars in vast parking lots, of walking around with arm held high pushing the alarm button on the keyless remote, of searching for a rental car in a vast sea of rentals that all look alike.

A key philosophy of camping and backpacking is to leave the places you visit in better shape than when you arrived. It seems to me that this philosophy is a good one to have for our interactions with other people as well.

Goodbye to the weekend?

I saw a quote on a discussion board recently in a conversation about telecommuting and taking care of personal business during work time: If they want me to answer my email at night and on the weekends, they shouldn’t have a problem with me making personal calls or email during the day.

One of the recurring themes in Seth Godin’s latest book, Linchpin, is the idea that the way to succeed in the future is to move away from factory work – of all kinds, either physical or intellectual. In the blog post Goodbye to the Office, he makes explicit his point that the modern office is just a different type of factory. And that if you are doing your work outside the office even a little, why do even need the office in the first place?

Which got me thinking: Is there a future for the weekend? If not, is that a bad thing? A good thing? Just “a thing”?

The modern weekend, of course, is as it is based on a century of factory work, office work, and public education. The same can be said for winter break, spring break, and summer vacation. People want (need? demand?) time to get away from the grind, and expect their work life and their life work be kept separate.

But if you no longer need the factory, if you no longer need the office, do you really need the weekend (or spring break or summer vacation) to get away from it all?

So you want to be a doctor? Really?

Standardization of medicine as a result of the desire for predictable outcomes. Unbelievable differences between US practice of medicine and doctors in other parts of the world.

Doctors as cogs in the machine as the “art” of medicine is systematically removed from the practice of medicine, despite the fact that those in the need of the most critical medical care require a doctor who grasps the art, not just the science. (Think “House, MD”).

What does it mean to be a “good” doctor? Who are you trying to please, who are you really serving? Should doctors be embarrassed about how much money they make? should they not make so much money? How much is too much?

Why would anyone want to be a doctor under these conditions?

These were all thoughts left rattling around in my mind after reading Atul Gawande’s book “Better”. I’m still not sure what to think.

The lizard brain of Leonardo da Vinci

On my way back to the hotel this evening, I stopped by the El Paso History Museum to visit “The Da Vinci Experience”, an exhibit of machines and models of quite a few of da Vinci’s many inventions and ideas. Over the years I’ve read many books about da Vinci, explored his notebooks online, and even helped my son when he did a project for his world history class.

But to see his ideas physically incarnated was something else altogether.

All of the models were implemented primarily in wood, some set up as static displays (please don’t touch) and some as hands on to play with. If you’ve taken physics classes, or if you are someone who likes to tinker, many of the ideas related to pulleys, gears, and other mechanical gadgets will seem like old hat.

Until, that is, you take a moment to consider that no one taught these things to Leonardo. He had to create the knowledge that, even today, many people find hard to understand. Knowledge that continues – 500 years later – to make our lives better.

How did he do it? Was he smarter than the rest of us, blessed with an inate intelligence that we can only dream of. I don’t think so. Did he have better opportunities than the rest of us? The historical record shows that he started worse off than many and made his own opportunities throughout his life.

One thing is certain, da Vinci made very good use of his time. He may not have been very efficient, and he had a tendency to leave things unfinished. But he had ideas, a lot of ideas, both good and bad. And he wasn’t afraid to pursue them. He didn’t cave in to what Seth Godin calls the resistance, the lizard brain that tries to save us from ourselves.

And I think that is the real genius of Leonardo da Vinci: observe the world and follow your ideas where ever they take you, and don’t let anyone – especially you – convince you otherwise.