1-4 The Value of Your Past

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And Nobel Prize winner Barry Marshall famously gave himself an ulcer, along with some very bad breath, by drinking a concoction of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. It was the change in focus, the career switch, that allowed the second older group to see with fresh eyes. Head towards the discussion forum after this video and tell others about the unexpected assets you've brought into your work from your past seemingly unconnected knowledge.

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[MUSIC] Thomas Kuhn was a detective. He wasn’t your ordinary detective. For one thing, he’d gotten his doctorate in physics from Harvard University. For another, after he’d gotten his doctorate, he’d done a major mind shift and morphed to become a historian of science. He held professorships at the University of California, Berkeley, then at Princeton, and finally at MIT. Kuhn was interested in the process of how science unfolds. Is it just a steady accumulation of bits and pieces that gradually build our understanding of the real world? Or, is it more punctuated? A breakthrough here, a breakthrough there? Interestingly, Kuhn found there’s a lot of what’s called normal science. Normal science takes an idea or approach and fleshes it out to build our knowledge base. Normal science is like pottering along with Isaac Newton’s theories about how the universe works. Or with the idea that stress causes gastric ulcers. An idea that virtually every scientist working in the field took for granted. But every once in a while, what can be called a paradigm shift happens. Basically someone takes the same information that everyone else sees, sort of like seeing a duck. See the beak right here? And they interpret it, they see it in a completely different way. They suddenly see, for example, that the duck can also be a rabbit. See how the rabbit ears point upwards? So as science unfolds, there are periods of normal science. Expanding the knowledge base using normal methodology. Physicists might use Newton’s laws to calculate the motion of the planets. Scientists might work to have a better understanding of the acidic environment of the stomach. Knowledge expands out in the usual way as scientists do their work. But, as science is marching placidly along someone comes along who’s able to see things in a brand new way. A paradigm shift. For example, Einstein was able to see through the usual Newtonian physics, to view the universe in a different, more relativistic way. And Nobel Prize winner Barry Marshall famously gave himself an ulcer, along with some very bad breath, by drinking a concoction of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. So that he could convince his critics that it was bacteria, not stress, that was the primary cause of ulcers. So indeed, the scientific process unfolds with punctuations. Periods of normal science that are then interrupted by a paradigm shift which shapes how normal science continues to unfold, until the next paradigm shift. And so on. Paradigm shifts allow us to have enormous new gains in our creative understanding of the world. So what kind of people make paradigm shifts? Those kinds of mind shifts that allowed them to see the world around them in new ways? Kuhn found that there were two types of mind shifters. One type was young people, people who hadn’t yet been indoctrinated into seeing the world in the same way that everybody else did. With their youthful eyes, they can see with fresh perspectives. Now, if you don’t qualify as a young person, you’re probably thinking, that knocks me out then! I’m not in my teens or 20s, so no breakthroughs for me. But hang on. There was a second group of people. People who were older but who were just as innovative as those young people. These were people who had switched disciplines or careers. It was the change in focus, the career switch, that allowed the second older group to see with fresh eyes. Often, it allowed them to bring their seemingly unrelated prior knowledge to the table in new ways that helped them to innovate. These insights from science can also help us understand creativity and innovation in our everyday lives and careers. Let’s take me. In my late teens and early 20s, I learned Russian. Then in my late 20s, I decided to start learning math and science. You might think that my time spent learning Russian was a waste. It wouldn’t help once I switched my focus to engineering. But that’s actually not at all true. Learning Russian gave me a lot of the insight about the learning process more generally. And I found that learning insight that I’d gained, transferred to help me be better in learning math and science. The same repetition, deliberate practice on the hard stuff, and flexible interleaving that helped me to successfully learn Russian and helped me to be successful when I started to begin to learn math and science. We see this phenomenon constantly in many fields. A background in sports can come in handy in a marketing career. Insights from a former career as an event planner can help you be a better software programmer. A hobby playing action-style video games can actually sharpen your mind and even your eyesight. Head towards the discussion forum after this video and tell others about the unexpected assets you’ve brought into your work from your past seemingly unconnected knowledge. Feel free to also tell others how you’ve broken through initial feelings of incompetence on your way to learning something new. As you post your own thoughts, you’ll be surprised to find the fantastic and inspirational stories of others. Old or young, you may feel like you have a childlike incompetence when you’re learning something new or you’re changing disciplines or careers. This is very typical. But keep in mind that the feelings of incompetence will gradually pass. The creative power that you can bring to the table because of your willingness to change can be invaluable. It might even lead you to start a paradigm shift of your own. [MUSIC]

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