Tag Archives: applying knowledge

Our Life Experience is Never Wasted

Since the middle of 2009 I have been visiting schools on a voluntary basis to talk about a whole range of different subjects: my work, pain, drugs, clinical trials, music. 

What has become apparent is how much of the information I had thought of as specialist is applicable to students in their studies, today.  It’s been a bit of a surprise rediscovery.  For example, my background in clinical trials has allowed me to share a wealth of knowledge with Year 7, Year 8, Year 9, GCSE and A-Level students.  What’s more, I’ve also had opportunities to provide input at higher education (degree) level.

So where does this leave me with respect to all the other activities I undertake, personally and as part of my business?

Add it to my portfolio!

What I am learning more and more is that we all have our own unique life story.  No-one else can tell it: it’s ours!  That story is extremely valuable to others, both in terms of our knowledge and our experience, however little we me feel we have! 

When I take time to look back and look at my experiences (good and bad) I’m amazed how often the help, advice or opinion of someone else has helped, either for providing a solution or for clarifying my thinking.

Our experiences are never wasted.  It is usually the bad ones we remember most and that come back to haunt us, but there are many good experiences which have etched their impact into the metal of our lives.

So, why should it be any different with our career?  All of life experience is valuable for how we learn and interact with others (or don’t).  If we add our total experience together, we will be amazed at what we can offer: it’s usually more than we ever realise. 

After all, it’s free added value!

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Making the Complex Easy

One principle that seemed to underpin many of my university lecturers and some work colleagues was, ‘Why make it easy when you can keep it complex?

This might seem a bit cynical but I think many of us have a real fear when it comes to being the ‘Knowledge Broker’ … we want to be the person to whom the others will come when they want help to understand something or learn about a particular process or even start a new relationship. 

The gaining of knowledge has always been important but for me the key is not so much what you know:  it has a lot more to do with how you use it.

Unapplied knowledge is largely useless, apart from a warm inner feeling of knowing it!  And the key to applying knowledge is often understanding it in the first place.  If we don’t understand we can’t act or apply.  The danger is of course, that we don’t step out unless we know absolutely everything which is equally paralysing and ineffective.

Many hold onto their knowledge from a position of power:  they know; we don’t; so they hold the power and potentially the key to our forward movement.  Some hold onto their knowledge because they may not know how to pass it on … for whatever reason.  The end result is the same: unapplied knowledge and no ability to expand and develop except through the restricted lines of access to single knowledge brokers.

But how do we make it easy for others to understand?

I would argue that in the first instance, we have to want to make it easy for them to understand.  If we have this attitude we will be prepared to take the time to think about how best to pass it on to our target audience, whether that is at work, our family, friends or even strangers.  There’s a lot of psychology that we can bring in here relating to our audience wanting to learn, their background, their ability to learn etc, but I think if we are prepared to look at our audience and also want to pass the information on we will find a way.

Let me give you a practical example that may help …

My daughter recently took her GCSEs and when it comes to science, she is definitely no Einstein! 

PROBLEM: 

As part of her forensics course, she was learning about the process of DNA profiling (NOT a simple concept for GCSEstudents).  She was struggling to understand what was happening during the process of breaking down the DNA and coming up with a result from electrophoresis of the sample i.e., multiple bands visible on the gel plate.

SOLUTION:

Firstly my daughter has a very pictorial way of thinking.  Secondly, she has encountered the principle of fishing using nets.  Fishing using nets?? 

Yes.  I described the process to her in simple fishing terms as follows:

Imagine that when the DNA has been cut up into smaller pieces by enzymes it resembles a shoal of fish of all types, lengths and sizes.  Some pieces are small, like minnows.  Some pieces may be a bit longer, like small eels.  Some pieces will be larger, like large fish and some will be really big like dolphins, sharks and whales.  Imagine that the gel plate onto which the DNA is spotted is like a line of fishing nets.  When the electricity is applied to the gel plate it will be like a river or tidal  flow and the fish will try to swim with the current, through the nets.  The little fish will pass easily through all of the nets so they will swim through each net as they get to it and they will travel furthest in the time allowed.  Slightly larger fish may get through one or two nets but they will be slower than the little fish.  As the fish get bigger they will be less able to get through the nets and some will be too large to get through any of the nets so will stay where they started. 

The result is that at the end of the experiment, the smallest pieces of DNA will have moved furthest and the largest pieces will have moved the least distance, or even stay where they started, showing up as lines or spots along the gel plate.

My daughter understood the principle of fish swimming through the nets and so she also understood the basics of the physical principle of the pieces of DNA migrating along a gel plate under the influence of an electric current (electrophoresis).

The great ending to this story was that she had a question in  her science exam on explaining the electrophoresis of DNA … and she answered the question without referring to fish or nets once!

Sometime explaining things so others can understand is the gateway to future success.  As Richard Gerver quotes from a teacher he met in China, who bucked the trend and instead of expecting his class to bow to him on entry to the classroom and thank him for the knowledge he was about to impart, actually bowed to the class and thanked them for allowing him to teach them.  When asked why he did this he said something like, “Teaching is my privilege and I never know who I am teaching:  I may be teaching the person who will discover a cure for cancer.”

The advantages of making anything easy to understand are many and we hold the map to that road.  It’s not about trivialising; it’s about helping others take the next step along a road where they may achieve what we cannot. 

And if we can make the complex easy to understand, we open more doors for others to pass through.