Sunday, May 6, 2012

Drinking from a Fire Hose

Do you get the sense that the world has sped up?  Does time seem to be passing you by faster and faster?  Do you find that the rate of change, new products, services, and amazing capabilities is accelerating?  Well, you would not likely be alone in sensing this.  drink-out-of-a-hose (debevansce.com-time-management-vs-drinking-from-a-fire-hose)We live in unprecedented times of rapid change.  I spent a few days last week at the annual Microsoft Canadian Leadership Summit in the Microsoft Executive Briefing Centre in Redmond Washington. About 300 technology leaders from across Canada converge for an information and networking packed few days where clearly, we were treated to a drink from a fire hose, metaphorically speaking.

Author Steven Johnson spoke to us about innovation based on his bookWhere Good Ideas Come From”.  He talked about how ideas are more likely the result of a Slow Hunch than a Eureka Moment, percolating slowly over time.  Ideas often generate based on ideas mixing in ‘liquid networks’ such as coffee houses and now of course, on the Internet.  In his book he argues that size matters whereby “a city that was ten times larger than its neighbor wasn’t ten times more innovative; it was seventeen times more innovative. A metropolis fifty times bigger than a town was 130 imagetimes more innovative” (Kindle 144).  He also points out that “it is one of the great truisms of our time that we live in an age of technological acceleration; the new paradigms keep rolling in and the intervals between them keep shortening” (Kindle 169-170).  Thus, this is the fire hose we drink from as we try to absorb the information and the changes.  At conferences such as the one I attended we find that “it’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network” (Kindle 678).  Think about this in the context of schools.  We need to ensure our students and educators are connected, not only to each other locally, but to the broader network of minds.  No one knows who they need to know to be able to generate the next great idea, the next breakthrough in energy alternatives, potential cancer cures, etc, given that ideas take many years to gel into innovations.  Doesn’t our education system have an obligation to remove the barriers to idea mixing?  I think so…  I like this observation from Steven “the secret to organizational inspiration is to build information networks that allow hunches to persist and disperse and recombine” (Kindle 1468).  I see schools in this description.

Cloud computing is clearly a key theme from Microsoft this year.  They are reengineering all of their products, it seems, to be able to run in the cloud or directly interact with it.  Their approach is interesting in that they aim to create products that will run optimally in the cloud using any standard web browser, on main stream mobile devices such as the iPad/iPhone/iPod, Windows 8 tablet, Android, and conventional PCs.  This is a rather different vision for Microsoft and I look forward to seeing it play out.  They appear to be advocating an agnostic device model where they merely wish to be the best on any device.  It was interesting to see the number of iPads in use by these technology leaders at a Microsoft conference.  Microsoft executives and product managers actually demonstrated many of their new products using the iPad.

We were treated to a view of the next generation (estimated for 2013 release) of the Microsoft Office family (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Sharepoint, Lync, etc.).  This product family is designed to run with full fidelity in a web browser and to take full advantage of PCs, Macs, and mobile devices, whatever capabilities they offer.  I think this hints at Office on iPads in the not too distant future.  I think Microsoft Lync has tremendous potential to support student and teacher collaboration.  With presence (availability) information, voice calls, messaging, video and audio conferencing, whiteboard, application and desktop sharing, etc. on the web, PCs, and mobile devices, the ability to work together at a distance is a rich experience.  It is also being implemented for millions of office workers around the world as a communication hub which includes replacement of traditional phones.  I look forward to conversations within my District about taking this tool to all staff and students as a core communication and collaboration hub.

Windows 8 was front and centre in the presentations at this years event.  Samsung was showcasing sleek, thin, light tablets running Win8.  They are not the traditional thick and heavy PC tablets, rather they are more like the iPad. These are compelling options.  They come with a small dock/hub, wireless keyboard, and mouse.  Assuming these are priced well, I can see them competing well with iPads and laptops.  Win 8 tablets are full function computers with multi-user log-in (can easily and safely be shared by students), full software applications and “apps”, and full IT management and software deployment capabilities.  Also, these devices work equally as well as tablets – you get the best of both worlds.  Look for Win 8 tablets by fall 2012.

We heard from Rick Rashid, Chief Research Office for Microsoft who runs their Research division with a budget of $9B!  Breakthrough products like Kinect are invented as a result this division’s work.  Because it is a true pure research division, all sorts of breakthroughs in science, technology, medicine, materials, etc. are discovered here.  One research product (free download) he showed us was Cliplets.  With Cliplets you can freeze a video clip but then unfreeze a portion to create a merger between a still picture and motion.  It has some interesting creative possibilities.

Shifting back to education, I wonder how well we are preparing students to drink from the increasing pressure of the fire hose of information and change.  The pace will only increase over time.  I also wonder about the consequences of this change on the human mind.  It’s exhausting to be always on, always reading, listening, interacting, learning, innovating, etc.  What might the mental and physical health consequences be?  Perhaps our schools should equally provide safe havens for our students to be shielded from the pace while gradually preparing them to drink from the fire hose of relentless information, knowledge, and ideas.