I confess that I have felt this way many, many times. I wanted to know how a story turns out or the answer to a complex question, before I even thought about it. Ms Popova writes
I frequently lament a particularly prevalent pathology of our time — our extreme impatience with the dynamic process of attaining knowledge and transmuting it into wisdom. We want to have the knowledge, as if it were a static object, but we don’t want to do the work of claiming it — and so we reach for simulacra that compress complex ideas into listicles and two-minute animated explainers.
And of course, she is right. Remember The Matrix? A key aspect of the story line is the capacity to use digital technology to instantly master complex tasks, like flying a helicopter.
this presents a problem. Why? Because the process of gaining knowledge may be more important than the knowledge itself. A guy named Hegel understood this 300 years ago.
The goal to be reached is the mind’s insight into what knowing is. Impatience asks for the impossible, wants to reach the goal without the means of getting there. The length of the journey has to be borne with, for every moment is necessary; and again we must halt at every stage, for each is itself a complete individual form, and is fully and finally considered only so far as its determinate character is taken and dealt with as a rounded and concrete whole, or only so far as the whole is looked at in the light of the special and peculiar character which this determination gives it. Because the substance of individual mind, nay, more, because the universal mind at work in the world (Weltgeist), has had the patience to go through these forms in the long stretch of time’s extent, and to take upon itself the prodigious labour of the world’s history, where it bodied forth in each form the entire content of itself, as each is capable of presenting it; and because by nothing less could that all-pervading mind ever manage to become conscious of what itself is — for that reason, the individual mind … cannot expect by less toil to grasp what its own substance contains.
The end result, an opinion or belief in what is true is trivial compared to the opportunity to learn more about the self gaming that opinion or truth. The journey is more valuable than the reward. Indeed, life is no more than a journey. Death is the reward.
One of the more serious strategic challenges is choosing where to invest your time and energy. It sounds easy, but we screw it up all the time. That is the message given by Chip and Dan Heath in their in their book “Decisive”.
Things start going wrong when we get excited about something before we think of the context. Here is an example. The US air force loves to build better jets. And it takes huge time and money to build the next generation jet. So the air force would like to phase out old jets that are expensive to maintain in favor of newer and better.
But what about an old jet that does a great job — doing something that is often not considered to be very sexy? The task is infantry support. To do this, a jet has to flow very low and take a huge amount of hits from enemy fire. And it can’t go all that fast because then the opportunities to aim are limited. And it needs to be able to deliver serious fire power. Well, the not very sexy A10 warthog does this as well as any jet around. But it is very old, ugly, slow and relatively expensive to keep in the air.
Do you scrap it? Here is the story. Apparently the warthog is good enough to get the job done. So it keeps on flying.
There has been a lot of talk about whether setting goals — and especially dwelling on goal setting — is worth it. Some have argued our goals are often unrealistic and so we are too easily disappointed when we realize that achieving them is impossible. Others have pointed out, rightfully so, that setting goals can distract one from the hard work needed to get somewhere (daydreaming does not bake the cake).
On the other hand, we are a goal driven culture. It is our inheritance from the enlightenment, embedded in a word that we value: progress. We believe in doing better in the larger scheme of things. that civilization “advances” and that we are part of the story. So there is no shortage of advocates for setting goals — big ones. Here is an example — a short post on how goals may (1) bring out higher performance, (2) enhance creativity and (3) promote sharing.
The above confusion is not surprising. We are just scratching the surface in figuring out what learning is and is not. But one thing is already clear. Learning is not just enhancing performance. And if it is more than that, it includes seeing things in a fresh light — and that fresh light pulls us forward to action. It creates the opportunity to gamify. That gets us moving towards things that we see as “goals”.
So far so good. Goals — especially achieving goals — is motivating and useful. Scaring a basket, for example, is part of the game of basketball. Enough said.