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Everything you know is wrong - Day One at ITx

Ian Apperley, Guest post. 12 July 2016, 6:57 am
Everything you know is wrong - Day One at ITx

In 1949, Harvard set up an experiment with two dozen students to figure out how people processed disruptive information. Students were shown ordinary playing cards and asked to identify them as they were turned. A few of the cards had been changed subtly. So instead of a black six of spades, for example, it was a red six of spades. Or, a black four of hearts.

When the cards were flipped quickly, the participants tended to overlook the differences. A black four of hearts become a black four of spades, and a red six of spades became a red six of hearts. When the card turning was slowed down, people struggled to understand what they were seeing. If they saw a red spade, they would call it "purple," "brown, or "rusty black." 

"The symbols look reversed or something" one said while another exclaimed "I can't make the suit out, whatever it is. I don't know what colour it is now or whether it's a spade or heart. I'm not even sure now what a spade looks like! My God!"

The psychologists wrote their findings in a paper called On the Perception of Incongruity: A Paradigm. The experiment is indeed paradigmatic; it shows how people process disruptive information.

The definition of disruption is; disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process. Of course, that drives change, and we as humans generally really don't like change. 

When we open our mind to the possibility that spades can be red and hearts can be black we start to rewire our neural pathways, quite literally. The mind is neuroplastic and the old thinking that we cannot change it, old dogs and new tricks, has proven to be a fallacy. We can change the way we think. 

I've just spent the day at ITx and disruption is one of the words that is being used. As an industry we are struggling to adapt to the changes that are not coming, but are here, and turning our worlds upside down. This is immensely hard, because not only does it challenge everything we were taught, for a lot of us, work has been a stable and known routine even when our own lives have changed. 

I facilitated the Lightning Talks on Disruption during the afternoon and was incredibly challenged. The speakers, who had five minutes each, challenged the audience to throw out planning, turn education upside down, reinvent the geo-spatial world, and focus on the soft skills to prepare us for change. 

It's been like that over the last few days. I had the privilege of being a judge on both the Health and Young IT Professional categories of the Excellence in IT Awards. The disruption that is coming to health is incredible, in fact, as a proportion of our industry export, Medical IT is very high. 

The younger IT professionals coming through see the world so differently to the older of us. While we are not being replaced, we need to change our stance to one of supplying advice to areas they have no skills in. How to run a business, accounting, HR, training, mentoring, how to manage stress, relationship breakups, eat, fitness, all of those things that are forgotten in the mad rush to develop a startup or throw themselves into a career. 

Over the next few articles for IITP I want to look at what I covered today in some more detail. How it is that companies, agencies, projects, IT departments, politicians, can survive this change. Most importantly, how we personally are going to manage this. 

The other thing that came through for me on the first day of ITX is that generally, we are getting Education wrong. 

Two of the Lightning Talk speakers tackled the fact that we don't actually have a skills shortage in New Zealand IT at all. We have more than enough graduates coming through, but we don't know how to bring them into the industry, and that we focus on skills versus soft skill attributes. 

I was struck by Enspiral Dev Academy talking about the "safe" soft skills they were teaching their graduates. How to react to stress, how to work in teams, how to deal with prejudice, how to think critically, how to care for themselves and others. It sounds so simple, but it is fundamental. It's also incredibly psychologically aware, teaching students about cognitive thinking process rather than a database is genius. 

Mike Riversdale talked about how we plan too much, pontificate, and just don't get on with it. He's right. We don't. We get very tied up on how to do something and then paralysed. What's the worst thing that could happen?

All of those bind together in New Zealand to create some interesting opportunities. 

Nicolas Erdody, based in Oamuru, spoke about the Square Kilometer Array, which New Zealand is involved with. It will provide the highest resolution images in astronomy and we have never seen anything like this in history. It is expected that when it goes online it will generate one hundred and fifty terabytes of data per second

Gisborne is developing the rocket lab and the first out of line of sight drones that can lift one hundred and sixty kilograms. Gisborne Net has a wireless network that covers nearly 25% of New Zealand. 

You can be sure that all those examples did not rely on traditional ICT thinking and process. 

So how did they do it? 

You'll have to wait for the next installment.

Ian Apperley is well known to many in the ICT industry as both participant and commentator. He blogs on all matters IT related at WhatIsITWellington.



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