Source: Brendan Gahan

In a TED talk and more recently in his blog post Connecting dots (or collecting dots) Seth Godin argues:

Without a doubt, the ability to connect the dots is rare, prized and valuable. Connecting dots, solving the problem that hasn’t been solved before, seeing the pattern before it is made obvious, is more essential than ever before.

Godin also asks why then do we spend so much time collecting dots. We overwhelm our learners with so much data, ask them to regurgitate this content in tests and simply focus on the delivery of content instead of helping our learner make meaningful connections. While Godin has coined the notion of connecting the dots rather than collecting the dots, the idea of developing connections within a conceptual framework was first intro ducted to me by my colleague Robert McKelvain, Ph.D. at Abilene Christian University in 2010. McKelvain suggested that the difference between an expert and a novice is that an expert has a fully developed conceptional framework.
Expert Conceptual Framework
In the diagram the main concepts are represented by the larger blue dots and the dotted lines between the concepts represent the connections that the expert has developed as they have expanded their conceptual framework. The expert not only relies upon their full conceptual framework, they are able to enter into this frame work from many different perspectives. They can see all the pieces and understand all the connections and when dealing with new information they have a much broader base in which to understand and encode that new information—which makes them a more adaptable, efficient and effective learner and problem solver in their areas of expertise.
Novice Conceptual Framework
In contrast to the expert, the novice may not only have a minimally developed conceptional framework, they may even have some of the concepts wrong, miss the connections and not fully understand all the connections that they do see. If we understand that learning is the making of meaningful connections then the role of the expert teacher is to:

  • Provide the context for learning which includes introducing the fundamental conceptual framework components.
  • Create the environment where the learner can start to make the meaningful connections between those concepts.
  • Model the learning process needed to: make those connections, add new concepts and see the patterns that lead to solving problems.
  • Mentor the novice in building and expanding their conceptual framework.

In a nutshell, the expert models what it takes to become an expert learner and take ownership in the development of one’s own expertise.

One of the biggest challenges in this process is the expert’s bias, which is the inability for an expert to see the challenges that a novice or beginner faces. This can have significant ramifications in areas where subject matter experts with limited teaching knowledge and experience are tasked with teaching. Subject matter experts have often forgotten more than a novice even knows and unless they are also expert teachers and have developed the conceptual framework of an expert teacher, they can have difficulty understanding the challenges that the novice is experiencing. Therefore, teacher training and professional development will be crucial if we hope to move from the notion of collecting dots to connecting dots.

We crave explanations for most everything, but innovation and progress happen when we allow ourselves to embrace uncertainty.

Simon Sinek’s Notes to Inspire May 8, 2014

Sinek’s latest note is particular salient because for the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about the statement, “people don’t move enough” my wife made after we attended an orientation session for an organization that we are considering supporting. She was commenting on the lack of openness toward change that was being expressed explicitly and subtly by a few people in the group we had just met.

The details of the situation aren’t nearly important as the fact that staying in the same community, job, situation etc. for long periods of time can result in a attitude of, “not in my back yard” or “that is not the way we do things around here” or worse “we really don’t want more people coming to our area”. In contrast, moving puts you in a position of uncertainty and exposes you to different cultures and circumstances. Moving also helps you to realize what your priorities should be and to focus on what is really important because you become one of those people who is infringing on someone else’s back yard and you have to learn how to deal with those dynamics.

While a physical move forces you into adapting to different circumstances you don’t have to physically move to adopt an attitude that will help you embrace change and uncertainty. The choice is ours. The choice is also ours to model this type of adaptive attitude and lifestyle to our children.

Entrepreneurs decline

When I saw this chart I immediately thought of Seth Godin’s Blog post The race to the bottom in which he cautioned against cutting corners or squeezing every penny out of the market or driving cost and services down in order to be competitive. He also cautioned that someone will always find a cheeper or more brutal way and that the problem with racing toward the bottom is that you might win. Perhaps this is the problem with US startups and small business.

In the Washington post article Christopher Ingraham doesn’t offer any insights into why this chart shows that US businesses are being destroyed faster then they are being created so I am only speculating that the race toward the bottom model of competition that so many North American small businesses are using is a contributing factor to this increase in failure. Once again I am only speculating but when ones options for purchasing necessary products are reduced to equally poor quality items from Walmart or Canadian Tire you know that the race toward to bottom is in the final stretch. We, the consumer only have ourselves to blame for supporting this race to poor quality and service.

I know I am complicit and have unfortunately done my share to support this race to the bottom but perhaps there is still time to support quality and the pursuit of better and those local people and businesses who are striving to offer quality and who are part of our communities.