Knowledge is more important than money

Those who work really hard throughout their career but don’t take time out of their schedule to constantly learn will be the new “at-risk” group. They risk remaining stuck on the bottom rung of global competition, and they risk losing their jobs to automation, just as blue-collar workers did between 2000 and 2010 when robots replaced 85 percent of manufacturing jobs.

Simmons, M. (2017). 5-Hour Rule: If you’re not spending 5 hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible.

As I mentioned in my Plans! post from a few days ago, I’m trying to make more space in my day for reading. It’s partly because I enjoy reading more than almost anything else and partly because of my growing conviction that reading is one of the most important things I could be doing with my time. Reading is also a pre-requisite for being able to write well and I’d like to improve my writing quality and output during 2019. This post is really just a writing exercise where I expand on one of the points that I made in the post I just mentioned, providing some background and rationale for why I want to read more (this may become a short series of posts where I unpack my thinking around my plans).

In the early stages of your career, you want to focus on building what Cal Newport calls career capital, which is a shorthand for the kind of credibility that you can only get through hard graft. It’s the characteristic that makes people trust you because you’ve demonstrated a track record of consistently good work. It’s not just about showing up on time; it’s about how you show up. While career capital can be turned into financial reward, it’s really unlikely (unless you come from old money) that you can have money without first putting in the work. So it seems to me that you should make choices, especially early on in your career, that increase your chances of learning something new rather than looking for a bigger paycheque. Promotions are fine things to aim for but they won’t always lead to better opportunities in the long-term if they’re not associated with a high level of career capital (and yes, it’s possible to promote without having done the work).

Kevin Kelley said that you should “move into spaces that increase your options” but you can’t do this without first having a solid foundation of broad and deep knowledge of the world, or at least in your domain of interest. There are few opportunities available for those who are left behind and in the second decade of the 21st century, it’s become increasingly clear that many professionals are at risk of being left behind. Automation and machine learning are likely to make many tasks that we consider routine, redundant. Imagine if 25% of your daily work was automated away; what would you do with those extra 2 hours? Will you simply work fewer hours (at lower pay)? Or will you be ready to fill that time with meaningful tasks that machines can’t automate?

I started this post by saying that knowledge is more important than money because a high salary is a poor indicator of your ability to adapt to automation, whereas knowledge is the one thing that can help you to move quickly. The only way to plan for an uncertain future is to keep learning and one of the best ways to learn is to read.

Moving between consuming and creating: Thinking about workflow


I use Pocket a lot. It’s not unusual for me to have more than 500 articles saved to read later, which to be honest, causes me a bit of anxiety. It’s a list of “things to do” that I know I’ll never finish. But I keep adding stuff to the list because I know that it’ll be interesting when I get around to reading it at some point. The recommendation from the guys at Pocket is not to think of the reading list as a list of things to “get through”. Rather, think of it as a queue of reading that you know you’ll never finish.

The key is to think of it like a Netflix queue. You are never overwhelmed or concerned about the number of items in your Netflix queue. You just keep putting things in there because you know that when you have the time to view something, you can guarantee you’ll have something great in there that you’ve been meaning to check out. If you view Pocket as a todo list then you better hope you have a LOT of free time.

– Nate Weiner

But this doesn’t work for me because it’s not the finishing that bothers me, it’s the cognitive space that the list represents. It’s the psychological load knowing that in that reading list are things that I’ve made a mental note to do something with. There are things in there that relate to projects I’m working on or to ideas that I want to develop. For me, Pocket isn’t just a reading list…it’s a thinking list.

That led to me start looking around for others who have had similar issues. I liked Emmanuel Quartey’s post (“Getting to Pocket Zero“), where he explores how Pocket is positioned as a reading app and how, if it were reconceptualised as a content creation app you would change how you use it.

Emmanuel Quartey's suggestion as to how Pocket could actually be used i.e. it's not just about reading great content.
Emmanuel Quartey’s suggestion as to how Pocket could actually be used i.e. it’s not just about reading content.

I’ve found this exact problem in my own use of Pocket. When I’m reading I’m often struck with a thought that I want to develop, or that links to another thought from another article (that is also probably also saved in Pocket). At the moment, I’m stuck trying to copy and paste quotes, links and my own thoughts from Pocket to Evernote. But what if I could create those links and drafts right from inside Pocket?

I’d like to be able to highlight passages within articles and then tag those passages only. Instead of thinking of the article as being a single entity (“the article”) we should understand that an article is created from words, sentences and paragraphs, and that each of those constructs are not only pieces of the whole, but can be complete ideas in themselves. By tagging these discrete items (words, sentences or paragraphs) we can add metadata (the tag name or description) to them that then allows us to perform operations on the item.

For example, “Create New Article from Tag” would take all of the tagged items at either the word, sentence, paragraph or article levels (with original URLs) and paste them into a blank editing space, with the option of rearranging, annotating, commenting and publishing into another space (maybe WordPress). What about “Share this Tag with others”? I could allow others to read the sections I’ve highlighted, and give them options to add their own thoughts comments in the same space. It’s not difficult to see how this could really make a reading app like Pocket far more powerful as an idea-curation-app.

As it is, I’ve tried to deal with the issue by moving my reading / thinking / writing process from Pocket into Evernote. I have a set of “Project” folders in Evernote that are mainly writing and research projects that I have going on at any one time. As I read something in Pocket that is linked to one of the projects I’m busy with, I share the article (the full article) to the relevant project folder in Evernote, tagging it and adding additional notes. When I have time, I go into the project folder and edit the articles I’ve saved. From there, I move the idea / note into the main note in the folder, which is where I integrate the ideas from the various posts. Evernote allows me to share project folders and with that enable collaborators to edit notes in the folder. It’s not perfect but it works for me right now.

I enjoyed reading (November)

Do you have the personality to be an Inquiry-based teacher? (Thom Markham): I’m finding this more and more in my own teaching…when I spend a lot of time engaging with students as people, rather than as recipients of information, they work harder and put in more effort. Of course, that often means that I need to work harder and put in more effort, which works for me but possibly won’t for others.

When a teacher comes out from behind the lectern, leaves the front of the room, kneels beside a student to coach them through a problem, offers feedback designed to promote confidence and perseverance, and becomes a true partner in the learning process, the relationship between teacher and student automatically shifts. It’s no longer about telling; it’s about listening, observing, and creating the channel of trust that opens up a personal connection between two individuals.

Although overlooked as an inconvenient truth by industrial education, compelling evidence from the fields of adolescent development and resiliency studies show that caring relationships are the key factor in helping young people flourish—a term that encompasses the core attitudes necessary for successful inquiry and deeper learning. Now science has provided the missing link and observable evidence: Emotional interactions between teacher and student drive physiological changes, and thus performance.

Facebook, professors, and students (Alex Reid): Interesting post that focuses less on the perceived moral and legal ambiguity of talking with and about students in public, and more on how the ways in which our teaching and learning practices might change in response.

What happens if student writing becomes public? What if the discussion between teachers and students happened in public? Well, it might look something like this. Scary, huh? I’ve been teaching in public, online spaces for close to a decade. I won’t claim that it is revolutionary. However, if we started to think of classrooms as public conversations, or at least with a public dimension, then perhaps it would alter our rhetorical orientation toward the class when we were inclined to vent. Instead of moving from one private conversation (with students) to another (with Fb friends), we would see public spaces that overlap. That’s not to say that there wouldn’t continue to be social gaffs, but it might shift this moralistic response.

The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational (George Dvorsky): Thinking of using this post, together with this one on logical fallacies, as a foundation for an ethics lecture on critical thinking.

Before we start, it’s important to distinguish between cognitive biases and logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an error in logical argumentation (e.g. ad hominem attacks, slippery slopes, circular arguments, appeal to force, etc.). A cognitive bias, on the other hand, is a genuine deficiency or limitation in our thinking — a flaw in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations (such as statistical errors or a false sense of probability).

Some social psychologists believe our cognitive biases help us process information more efficiently, especially in dangerous situations. Still, they lead us to make grave mistakes. We may be prone to such errors in judgment, but at least we can be aware of them. Here are some important ones to keep in mind.

Whitewashed: Unmasking the world of whiteness (Mark George):

Featured image taken from Alex Dunn’s Flickr photostream (Creative Commons).

I enjoyed reading (April)


Sudden site shutdowns and the perils of living our lives online (John Paul Titlow): When Google decided to shut down Reader and made the announcement a few weeks ago, this really made me think carefully about what I do online, and where I decide to do it. Obviously there’s incredible convenience in having someone else host all your stuff, whether it’s on Facebook, Google+ or any other service. They have beautiful user interfaces (sometimes), great sharing features and they are responsible for maintaining the site. But when they decide to close up shop, for whatever reason, there goes all your data. The more I think about it, the more I want to move my online profiles into my own online space.
Guns want to be free: what happens when 3D printing and crypto-anarchy collide? (Joshua Kopstein):

I approve of any development that makes it more difficult for governments and criminals to monopolise the use of force.

I’m not sure yet if this is a good thing or a bad thing. However, right now, it is a thing that we need to think about. The idea of printing weapons is definitely something that needs discussion, but we should also remember that we’ll be able to print other things too, like furniture, utensils, spare parts for devices, etc. The creative force that this will unleash is going to change society, especially when this technology is widely available. One day, 3D printers will be built into your home and will just be a normal part of your consumer experience (see Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age).


The Mendeley – Elsevier frenzy: I’m not going to summarise the discussion, just wanted to point out a few posts I found thought-provoking. It is interesting to note that a few weeks after the initial announcement, everything died down and the internet has moved on. I wonder how many of those indignant academics actually deleted their accounts? The links below are the posts that I thought were more considered and less irrational and emotional.


Network-enabled research (Cameron Neylon):

Suddenly there is the possibility of coordination, of distribution of tasks that was simply not possible before. The internet simply does this better than any other network we have ever had. It is better for a range of reasons but they key ones are: its immense scale – connecting more people, and now machines than any previous network; its connectivity – the internet is incredibly densely connected, essentially enabling any computer to speak to any other computer globally; its lack of friction – transfer of information is very low cost, essentially zero compared to previous technologies, and is very very easy.


Teaching as a subversive activity (Rick Snell): This is not a link to the book itself but a summary of the main concepts. I’ve been wanting to read Teaching as a subversive activity for ages, but still haven’t gotten around to it.

…once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have leaned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.

I enjoyed reading (February)

Is the lecture dead?

The real purpose of a lecture is to show the mind and heart of the lecturer at work, and to engage the minds and hearts of learners.

It’s important to understand that lectures in themselves are not bad but that they, like any teaching medium can be used badly. A good lecturer tells a story that inspires and motivates students, so we should use caution when speaking poorly of lectures. When the lecture fails as a teaching medium, it is the lecturer who is at fault.

I was asked (Stephen Downes)

…focus your work on serving others, not enriching yourself, because your work will have no value to you otherwise. Write from the heart; don’t be a slave to academic form, but don’t ignore it. Back up your reasoning with evidence, and reason soundly from what you know and what you have experienced, not what you have been told. Understand that argument rarely convinces anyone of anything, that an understanding of principles of reasoning is to protect yourself from error, not to correct other people in theirs, that time spent explaining what you are doing and why will often pay off, but not everyone will support you, and often nobody will, but if you are true to these principles, that won’t matter. And, at the end of life, the only thing that will matter to you will be what you gave to the world, not what you took from it. Share.


I used to think (Shelley Wright).

I used to think marks were important. Now I think they’re arbitrary at best. What does 82% really mean? I’ve asked my students that question. They don’t know, and the truth is, most often, neither do I. I would like to get rid of all marks, and move solely to feedback, and the more often this feedback can be verbal dialogue the better. When my students receive lots of formative feedback they know where they stand as learners. Then it’s about learning, not marks and grades.


Freedom to connect (Eben Moglen): Eben makes the argument that in a digital and networked world, open source software and hardware are essential if citizens are going to maintain control of their civil liberties. When governments and corporations control our devices and the code that runs on them, we will find ourselves with fewer and fewer private places to go.

So here we are, asking ourselves what the educational systems of the 21st century will be like, and how they will socially distribute knowledge across the human race. I have a question for you. How many of the Einsteins who ever lived were allowed to learn physics? A couple. How many of the Shakespeares who ever lived, lived and died without learning to read and write? Almost all of them. With 7 billion people in the world right now, 3 billion of them are children; how many Einsteins do you want to throw away today? The universalization of access to education, to knowledge, is the single-most important force available for increasing innovation and human welfare on the planet. Nobody should be afraid to advocate for it because somebody might shout “copyright”.

Doing more with less. Or, how to avoid distracting myself

I spend a lot of time online. A lot. And I’m beginning to realise that a lot of that time is spent bouncing around between applications, windows, tabs, etc, just checking up on things. When I get notified that new mail has arrived I have to check it, even though I know that I’ll probably just delete it, file it, or mark if for “Action”…later. A few months ago I wrote about how I was going to try and read less but with more intent. I began by culling some of the accounts I follow on Twitter, deleted some of those RSS feeds that I never read and unsubscribed from a bunch of mailing lists. It has worked to some extent, and I find myself feeling less pressured to scan everything coming through my filters.

More recently, I started using another strategy to try and do fewer things more effectively. Quite simply, I maximised every window that was open and put each one in it’s own Workspace. I’ve found that when all I can see is my browser, I tend not to think about email (although I still haven’t managed to ignore the “New mail” notification). When I’m working in Mendeley, my eye isn’t drawn to other open applications in the taskbar.

I find that I’m more able to focus on the task at hand and spend less time moving between applications. When I do change focus, it’s to accomplish something related to the task and I come right back to it. You might argue that there really isn’t anything wrong with the old system, other than my lack of self-control. However, I have been able to do a lot more work lately and I believe that this is at least partly because the maximised windows mean that I literally can’t see anything else. Out of sight, out of mind.

Just thought I’d share after reading this post on Presentation Zen, about “the intentional selection of less”. I was particularly interested to read, “Does this focus on the consumption of more and more ephemeral tools lead to a great distraction in many cases?” In my case, I’d have to say that yes, it did.

“Reading” less and thinking more

It may seem counter-intuitive that at a time when we know more than we have ever known, we think about it less.”

I spend an enormous amount of time reading, a lot of it online using RSS feeds. I used to think that I was pretty good at filtering the content to find what was meaningful to me but I recently became aware of how many feeds I just skimmed through, and how many emails I delete without even reading the title. I started becoming increasingly aware of how little value all of this “reading” was adding to both my personal and professional life.

I’ve just returned from a 2 week holiday during which I didn’t always have access to the internet, which meant that I was cut off from my feeds for a lot of the time. In the beginning it was difficult for me and I’d use any opportunity to “catch up” with the stream. After a while I noticed that without all the feeds to go through I was thinking more when I did read something interesting, rather than starring it for later (at that time I had more than 600 articles and posts waiting for later because I didn’t have time to read them).

I also noticed that as I was going through those starred (i.e. “important” articles), there were very few that actually added much value to my life. Sure, they were mildly interesting but often no more than that. I’d spent an enormous amount of time going through many posts, marking some of them as important, deleting the vast majority having read only the title or skimmed the text, and not had a whole lot to show for it. In contrast, during my (mostly) offline holiday I managed to finish 3 books which I thoroughly enjoyed (Game of thrones, The girl with the dragon tattoo and The girl who played with fire), none of which are quick reads.

So, to counteract this pollution of my “life feed”, I’ve started unsubscribing from blogs and mailing lists, un-following Twitter accounts, un-friending people on Facebook (you know, that guy you went to school with haven’t seen in 15 years but who nonetheless wanted to be “friends”), and making an effort to avoid wasting time on articles and posts that don’t add value to my life. I’ve started reading more long form posts (for example, the “Something to read” section in Flipboard).

I’m hoping that as I cut out the extraneous content that was taking up so much time to filter and “get through”, I’ll give myself more time to focus on the good stuff, do more thinking and maybe even more writing.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-09-19

  • @edtechdev never thought about using WP, might be interesting to explore. Thanks for that #
  • Looking for open source journal management software with “social” components. Any1 have any experience with any of these #
  • @mpaskevi looking for journal management tools, want faculty journal to go open access. Any experience with any of these #
  • @ihorpona Not necessarily, but beautiful spaces can be inspiring. The aesthetics may add value over and above the physical space…? #
  • @RonaldArendse when you die #
  • UCT moving towards open education practices #
  • Rethinking e-Portfolios Nice overview of the different uses of portfolios #
  • via @perkinswill_EDU: beautiful learning spaces #BLC11 #
  • What improvements in medical education will lead to better health for individuals and populations? #
  • @whataboutrob Haven’t read 1 or 2 yet. Just finished Book 1 of GoT, also almost finished Girl who played with fire…it’s OK #
  • Does God Exist? Ricky Gervais Takes Your Questions – Speakeasy – WSJ #
  • A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m An Atheist #
  • @whataboutrob Very cool. Loving Game of Thrones btw, you read Waylander II? Have another copy if you want it. How was London? #

Posted to Diigo 07/15/2011

    • For some time now the ‘slow food’ movement has questioned the value of ‘fast food’ and called for a return to more authentic modes of cooking and eating
    • For some time now the ‘slow food’ movement has questioned the value of ‘fast food’ and called for a return to more authentic modes of cooking and eating
    • an appreciation for the value of taking more time and care to make something
    • appreciation for the value of taking more time and care to make something
    • For some time now the ‘slow food’ movement has questioned the value of ‘fast food’ and called for a return to more authentic modes of cooking and eating
    • One of the traps which thesis writers fall into is over thinking everything, which can be solved by Fast. But recently I’ve started to think about Slow and how it might apply to academic work
    • you must absorb information and engage with other people’s ideas. In a way, doing a thesis is like a long, slow conversation with these ideas and things
    • A thesis is of you, but it has many other parents: scholars, research participants, archives test tubes to name a few. Consciously thinking about this sense of writing ‘taking control’ of you can be helpful
    • developing your relationship with the literatures who accompany your thesis takes time. While I can and do encourage you to ‘read like a mongrel’ (fast and furious), Fast reading is really a way of finding out which pieces and authors are worth investing time in
    • Deep understanding of literature needs repeated reading and thinking. as well as writing. In other words, a Slow conversation with the ideas
    • if applied correctly, a bit of Slow will ensure that your thesis has more flavour than most.
    • What if losing control is an essential part of writing a thesis? Realising you have lost control forces you to slow down. When you stop talking so much, you can listen better. Maybe then your thesis will tell you what it needs

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-06-20