Remember the days of yore when you sauntered into the local library with no particular intention other than to spend a leisurely half a day reading up on virtually anything. Sometimes we learned a new way to relate to animals, other times we ended up becoming one with the fictional characters in the book and burst into spontaneous laughter or even tears. The emotions were totally unpredictable but that was the joy of that experience. These book savants or explorers would wander aisle by aisle, browsing through the shelves and picking books that appealed, antagonized, or tickled them. The more deliberate ones would go through a catalog and, based on their interests, would make a beeline for a category and choose among those curated books.
Fast forward to today.
As our lives have got a tad more hectic (!!), the library wanderers have become an extinct species. But the desire to learn, laugh and cry still gnaws at us. So, what do we do in this time-crunched and knowledge-hungry societal shift? We rely on the experts to do the hunting for us. The NYT best sellers list, WSJ book reviews, and Amazon 5-star ratings became our literary guideposts. Someone else has done the hard work and if it is good enough to make it to that list, it is good enough for us. #GameSetMatch
Is there still something missing?
I would say – unequivocally Yes. But before I hazard my opinion let’s look at an analogous universe.
Let’s apply this analogy of library, books, and time to the World Wide Web aka the Internet. Let’s make it even more focused - the topic of learning. Over half of the earth’s 7B+ population has some form of Internet connection. That implies that they have access to some of the most amazing learning resources on the planet. YouTube, Wikipedia, Khan Academy to name a few. Let’s take YouTube as an example. You might click there without aim - like the summer stroll inside the library - and start watching something that you believe you selected. But make no mistake, there is a massive supercomputer that is aiming for your brain aka the recommended list on the right (over 70% of YT users watch what’s on this list). You may go down this thinking that is what you are choosing but it is being chosen for you not with your best interests at heart but those of Google. The more sophisticated souls – like the deliberate book seekers - have done their research - a particular TED talk for instance - and they go in just for that. Much like the ones that rely on the NYT bestseller list in the library, these folks rely on the TED organizers doing their job and using those curated experts’ universe for learning.
Whether it is the analog library or the digital universe of learning, our interaction is arguably very similar.
We go there with no aim or some aim and we could end up learning a lot, very little or something in-between. But regardless of whether you gained anything in terms of knowledge, there is one thing for certain that you have lost - an important commodity that is never replenishable – TIME.
But what if we could make this experience a little different that would actually save us – Yes – TIME. Read on.
Turning to books again.
Let’s focus on the broad category of non-fiction. The subjects can span leadership, self-awareness, empathy, children’s health …. the topics are endless. Quite honestly, if we just take one subject - Leadership - there are over a million books (at least) on this topic that have been published. And if I have already read 500 books on this subject, there is good chance that the next 100 books I read on this subject have some topics that have already been covered in the 500 books that I have already read. But I usually don’t know that beforehand and end up spending valuable time ingesting wisdom that I already have. But it could also very well be that there are also some new age leadership principles that I learn - for instance, how to lead a mixed organization consisting of robots, humans and drones - that probably did not exist even 5 years ago, How wonderful it would be if the next book I opened on leadership came with a personal book agent who says, “You need to read chapters 1, 11 & 12 and can safely skip all the other chapters since those concepts are already well embedded in your brain.”
Sound strange? Maybe, but it should not. Why? Because we should expect – nay demand – so our short stay on planet earth can be utilized to its fullest.
But in this distracted world, getting time to read books is only part of our challenge. Retaining and remembering the takeaways is problematic too. A year or two (or even less for people like me) one forgets concepts and examples that were espoused in the bestsellers. What if there were a way to quickly assess what memory gaps have emerged and a quick refresher to get you back to snuff? #WhatAWonderfulWorldThatWouldBe
And this very same thing, if it can be done for learning, #WhatAWonderfulWorldThatWouldBeAgain. Based on what you already know and what you want to learn (and it’s OK to say “I don’t know what specifically to learn, so suggest some paths for me”), your personal learning agent suggests what modules would make sense for you to take on right now. And give you a timely refresher periodically for those pieces where your memory is a little rusty perhaps.
Sounds like a curated path, right? One that captures where you are right now, and customizes a path for you.
The purists might argue that the experience of reading a book cover to cover is unparalleled. But those same purists need to answer the question of how with Minecraft, Fortnite, FB, Instagram, Eating, Sleeping …. can I squeeze in reading books cover to cover? And given our limited time on this planet, if we can have the experience of reading a new book or learning the latest cybersecurity skills, without wasting precious time repeating previously acquired knowledge but also constantly validating that one’s actual retention of these skills or knowledge is still in muscle memory. And if a refresher course is needed, it is offered just for those rusty parts. That would be a cause worth renewing ourselves for. Do you agree?