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What are we talking about?
A better way for humans to learn.
Why is a better way of learning important for the future of work?
As we move to the future, humans are going to be focused on the objectives for which there isn’t a roadmap. We will constantly need to learn new things and do so quickly, easily shedding what was holding us back.
What did Collin Jewett teach us about a better way to learn?
Collin is on the front lines of automation as a Global Manufacturing Engineer, automating jobs. So, he thinks a lot about where humans will spend their effort when we can automate everything else. While we know automation is certain, we don’t know what humans will spend their time on yet.
However, we need to start with how we learn. Collin says, “In order to have a holistic understanding of the future of work, you really have to consider education.” The American education system is optimized for workers, and optimized to teach facts and one style of learning.
“The future of education is helping people learn how to think and how to embrace their humanity, rather than just be programmed to output.” Collins says, “The education system needs to move away from teaching people what to think and towards teaching them how to think. It’s taken for granted that people know how to use their brains effectively. But the truth is they don’t.”
One of the key factors in how we learn is how we memorize. Most people think memorization is a waste of time because it seems like a machine task, but Collin says good memory skills in humans is a good indicator of critical thinking skills, problem solving, and other higher order tasks. Bad memory is a cause and symptom of many other cognitive problems.
A good memory allows you to understand things more and make more connections. It helps you see things from a different angle quickly and move to more complex solutions faster. The more connections you create, the faster you can learn.
Curiosity is a foundational skill to build a good memory and cognitive function. It unleashes your creativity, which boosts your memory,
Companies need to consider how they are training their people and how much time and money they waste trying to teach them things in a way that doesn’t fit with their ability to learn.
More from Collin Jewett
Collin’s book – Out of Your Wheelhouse
Today, our guest is Collin Jewett. He’s a global manufacturing engineer and a SuperHuman Academy coach. This episode is Work Minus Mindlessness. Hi, Collin. How are you doing?
Doing great, Neil. Thanks for having me.
Yeah, excited to have you on. You got several different roles you want to talk through here. But I want to start with your current work. Tell us what does it mean to be a global manufacturing engineer?
That’s my job by day. So, my team focuses on big picture improvements and standardization of manufacturing processes across our international plants. One of our main focuses is exploring new technologies and finding automation opportunities to improve quality, maximize efficiency, and also reduce direct labor.
This is great because we always love to talk to people who are on the frontlines of automation and going through that. What is it like for you as you’ve come into this industry to feel like you’re on the frontlines of finding solutions for automating jobs?
I think one of the important things to define there is what we mean by automating jobs. If we look at what that’s been historically, if we think of examples like the printing press in 1440 when that was invented, that would ultimately displace millions of hours of manual copying jobs. Obviously, modern day printers are doing the same. If we get back to the question of how I feel about it, if we define automation in that way in terms of leveraging technology to displace human effort, which is how I think about it, I don’t really feel that much at all. It’s more like being a passive observer almost in the inevitable progression of technology, I guess you could say.
You don’t go home feeling guilty at night?
Not so much. No. I guess the reason this has become so interesting lately and controversial, and people think of it in terms of taking people away from their jobs, is because historically, when we’ve displaced that human effort, there’s always been somewhere for it to go, it’s just moved somewhere else. And the question now becomes, as we get to the point where we can automate almost anything, where does that human effort go? Are we approaching this metaphysical cliff or are we discovering something totally new? We don’t really know at this point. I suspect that we’re still going to displace that somewhere, it has someplace to go. We just don’t really know what that is right now. That’s why this has gotten so interesting all of a sudden.
We started off on this path and this plane, we just don’t really know where we’re going. But there’s no stopping it. We’re in the middle of it. So, another passion of yours I know is education, which leads into figuring out, what are we building next? Tell us why you’re so interested in education.
I mentioned I’m an engineer by day. By night, I’m something of an evangelist for the transformation of education. The way that I see it, in order to have a holistic understanding of the future of work, you really have to consider education because education is structured around the labor force. It’s designed to feed into the labor force and whatever the demand is there, that is what education is supposed to supply. The experience that you have in those formative years of education, it really defines, in a lot of ways, what the rest of your life might look like, even if you don’t end up doing something directly in line with your degree, if you go to college or anything like that, it still has a huge shaping effect. I’m really passionate about bridging the gap between education and the rest of people’s lives. Because the way I see it, the education system was designed to support the labor market, but the type of labor has changed dramatically, and school hasn’t. It’s remained pretty much the same for several decades now. The rift is only going to grow wider. And it’s my desire to bring awareness to that issue, and also to help bridge the gap.
This is a big topic that we need to talk about. Education, how do we prepare children and even adults for the future of work? We can’t just throw people in and assume that everything we were doing beforehand is still working. As you look at the entire education system, obviously, it’s a huge task to change everything. But what are some things that you feel like are central to, we need to at least start here, start in these certain areas for reforming our education?
Like I mentioned, the education system is designed to supply what the market demands. The American system is optimized to produce workers, right now anyway, that’s how it’s designed. It accommodates the other people, artists and philosophers, but it’s not really designed to produce that type of person. Most people, or most children, of the last several generations have been encouraged to follow this life path of go to school, get a job, and then work until you can afford not to or you die. It’s morbid, but most people follow this model pretty closely. The amount of time they spend in school or working varies, but the order of operations remains pretty much the same. If we’re talking about what needs to change, and where do we start, as we reach that point of absolute automation, this model doesn’t really make sense anymore. So, you can still go to school. But what happens to the job? If there are no jobs, then there’s no demand for workers, at least not in the way that we have thought of them for a long time. What is the role of education at that point? Like I said before, I don’t think that labor is going to be eliminated completely. It’s just going to be transformed and we need to see what that means for education. I think the only thing that robots, machines can’t really do and never can do is be truly human, no matter how much they can be programmed to act in a human way. You have Siri on your phone. They can never be human. I think that the future of education is helping people learn how to think and how to embrace their humanity, rather than just be programmed to output a certain type of work.
Let’s define what you mean by human because what somebody may have said, okay, being human means being able to do certain tasks, like robots can do some of those tasks. So, in your own definition, as you’re thinking about and planning about these things, what do you feel like it means essentially to be human?
When we consider that in terms of of work, I guess it might be easiest to provide an example of the difference. So, consider, for example, right now, there are a lot of apps out there on the market that can generate custom workouts, diets, schedules, all these things based on someone’s physiology and preferences. These apps can remind you to do your workouts, to drink your water, eat your veggies, and all that good stuff, get to sleep on time. You’d think if that were the case, that personal training, fitness coaching, things like that would just completely disappear. And I don’t think they will. The reason is because the difference between what the trainer does and what these apps do is that human element, so what is that? If we think about it, no matter how much Siri tells me to work out or whatever those reminders, tells me to eat right, gives me all these different guidelines to follow, people still ignore those all the time. You’ll see things like Noom has become really popular recently. It’s because there’s a human on the other side talking to you. That’s why programs like that have become so successful. Even though what people are interacting with is almost the same thing. Just the knowledge that there’s a human on the other side completely changes the success rate though. Humans want to be liked, they want to be appreciated, they want their coach to be proud of them. That’s why I don’t believe a robot can ever replace that role because they can’t have a relationship with you in the same way that a human can. As long as humans have that relational desire, a robot can never replace us completely.
I do think looking into the future, though, that we will develop a different kind of relationship with AI type services that will be there. Some people perhaps may even prefer those types. I think they will be different in nature when you know that you’re interacting with a machine of some kind or a program. And you may not know sometimes as well. But I think you can develop those feelings a little bit of, it’s not really empathy. Maybe it is empathy, but the desire to make that connection, but it is different in nature and those types of things. One of the more interesting parts of your title is that you’re a SuperHuman Academy coach. Tell us a little bit about SuperHuman Academy coach. What does that mean? What are you doing? And how does that affect how we learn things?
Like I mentioned before, I think the education system needs to move away from teaching people what to think and towards teaching them how to think. That is the role that we fill at SuperHuman Academy and are trying to spread to the rest of the world. What we do and what traditional education doesn’t do, well, let’s just go to schools nowadays, and I just want to put out a disclaimer out there. This is nothing against educators or teachers. I think those people are wonderful people and doing an excellent work. It’s not their fault that the education system has somewhat fallen behind. But we’re trying to help and support those. So, anything I say, I don’t want it to reflect poorly on those people. It’s not the goal.
It’s always a system problem. There are good people inside of a broken system a lot of times.
The way that school works right now is taken for granted that people know how to use their brains effectively. The truth is they don’t. The human brain is the most complex thing in the entire universe. And yet, we just expect people to figure it out through trial and error. So, this is apparent if you go and see the way that students study. If you go to any high school, and hand out a list of 100 random words, and just ask the students to memorize them, what will they do? They’ll start reading the list over and over and over again for hours. Some of them will make flashcards, the more clever ones might make a song or story out of them. But it will take an average of two hours of intensive study for a student to memorize the list. And this is assuming they actually try and don’t get sidetracked. So, if you take those study materials away, and come back the next day and ask the students to recite the list from memory, the average student will have forgotten at least half of the list at that point. And that’s pretty amazing because the truth is, the average person has the capability to memorize that entire list in 10 minutes or less with the right training and retain it indefinitely without ever reviewing the original study materials. And if you think about that, that means that students who have been in the current education system as it is right now, for nearly their entire lives, take 12 times longer than they need to to commit information to memory and will lose half of it or more within 24 hours if they don’t have the chance to review. That means that something is wrong with the system. That means we don’t know how to use our brains.
I’m just thinking about what you said about knowing how to use our brains, knowing how to memorize things, how to go about things. So, are these just memory tricks you’re talking about? What is the context of this?
It’s not just a matter of memory tricks. I do use that example a lot because memory is a fantastic indicator of several other functions. It relates to critical thinking, problem solving ability. If your memory is impaired, or you don’t know how to use it, your ability to think through complex logic is also limited. It can be an indicator of untrained creativity, a lack of mental clarity and focus. It’s a cause and a symptom of many other cognitive deficiencies. But it’s not just a matter of techniques. By training this, you can improve all those different areas and understand how they work.
That’s really interesting because, in general, I would associate memory as one of those things that’s like, hey, the computers can do it better than we can. So, why do we need to worry about it? I don’t need to worry about when the date of some historical event was. I can just Google it. And my employer doesn’t stop me from doing that, like a school would do. You can look up the answers anytime you want to. So, help us a little bit more with this. You lead us into it, but make a compelling case for why memory and how it’s connected with these other higher functions that helps us use our brains better.
If you think about it in the most short-term level, so the memory works on a lot of different levels. And it’s not fully understood how it all works. But if you think about the application, the super short-term, so what we call the working memory, it can hold five to seven items. You’ll hear that in the memory space a lot, seven plus or minus two. That is what lets you remember the beginning of a sentence by the time you get to the end. So, if that was impaired, if you couldn’t remember how a sentence started when you’re listening to it by the end and you couldn’t connect those together, it’d be really hard to understand anything. Even though this is a memory function and not necessarily a matter of logic or critical thinking, those two things are connected because if you can’t remember the beginning of a sentence, by the time you get to the end, you don’t know what the sentence means. And if you just expand that to a higher level, and you keep getting longer and longer, you understand that that connection continues to exist. If you cannot think through the beginning of a paragraph, by the time you get to the end, again, you have that loss of comprehension and understanding of what you’re doing.
Then that’s true with anything. For problem solving, if you cannot grasp or think through a process from start to finish, then you’re not going to come to the best solution. That’s thinking in terms of just being able to retain information, but then also think about the effects of study. I mentioned that students will lose half of what they try to remember within 24 hours if they don’t review the material. If you’re able to store information effectively in your brain, then you can review that material whenever you want without having to go back to the source. That ability allows you to consider things from different angles without having to always pull out a book or pull out your phone, or anything like that, you can just consider it within your own mind. There’s also the value of, if you think of a database, everything is associative. The connections between different data points in a database are connected by tables. I won’t get too much into that for people who aren’t familiar with databases, but your brain works in a similar way where there are connections between everything that you learn. Everything that you learn enables you to learn more because it creates more connections in your brain and allows you to think more creatively. It’s not just a matter of having information so you can look it up so much that it allows you to learn more and understand things more quickly over time. So, the more that you put into your brain and create those connections, the more connections you can create and the faster you can learn.
This is really challenging my understanding of things because as we talk about, okay, we need to be more human, we need to be less machine like as we go about things, memory seems like a more machine task. But what you’re saying is that memory creates the basis of both machine tasks and human tasks. And without these memories that we hold on to, they really essentially make us human and give that foundation for other higher order activities we need to do. That’s really fascinating. I want you to talk a little bit more about your work. You do coaching, and it’s not just for people who are trying to master a test or something like that, but you do actually business coaching with people that are there. So, what does that look like? If you’re working with a client who’s in the business world, what types of things are you working on with them?
As a coach, actually, I’ll rewind a little bit to what the coaching looks like. And then I’ll talk about how it applies to business. So, when I’m not doing engineering work, I am working with SuperHuman Academy. My personal brand is called Curiosity Jump. That’s my coaching business and the platform for a lot of my content. When we’re talking about memory and learning that is related to our flagship course, which is the super learner masterclass, teaching students how to utilize both their memories and then accelerate the learning process. As a coach, I work with students to perfect the techniques and apply them to their personal and professional goals. One of the things I really like to focus on with my clients is unleashing their creativity. And this might come as a surprise to most people who haven’t seen the connection between creativity and problem solving before. But creativity is actually one of those foundational things that allows you to remember well. I call my company Curiosity Jump because curiosity is even one layer below that. What I teach people is that if you’re able to access your curiosity, then you’re able to unleash your creativity, which then boosts your memory. And then your memory, like I mentioned before, is related to all those other things.
In the context of business coaching, once a person has unlocked their creativity and built some confidence with visual processing, which is the basis for a lot of what we teach, we dive into some incredibly powerful memory techniques. This is where we start seeing results that really blow people away. For example, I have seen professionals in sales that I’ve worked with, technical sales who have been in the field for years, and memorizing scripts and presentations, and all these technical details and details about their clients and what they need. One of the ones that I worked with, he said it typically took him about six hours to memorize the information for all these presentations he had to give, and he had to do it really fast. He’d spend night after night memorizing these things. And after just working together for a couple weeks, he was able to cut this down to two hours, so down to a third of the time. The same thing can be done in practically any field, you can accelerate that training process and the process of retaining information, usually 3x, it can be done even faster with additional training. But the impact on this can be pretty insane when you multiply it over the course of an entire company.
So, a lot of companies invest heavily into training, learning and development, lots of different things. What do you feel like understanding the way the brain works, if we don’t come out of school knowing that, why is it important that leaders of organizations go back and give their people the tools to understand how the brain works?
Great question. So, you mentioned that there’s a big investment there. And that’s true. The companies across America spend roughly $90 billion on training every year. If you’ve worked anywhere, then you know that a great deal of that $90 billion is wasted. Even if the training materials are good, and they usually aren’t, the employees that you are training are the product of that education system we’ve talked about earlier. So, they’re going to forget half of what they learn within 24 hours. It takes a lot of repetition to make anything stick. In our fast paced world, who has time for that? So, if you imagine if you just walk up to one of your employees, hand them work that they’ve never done before, something that they’ve never learned, and they could learn that on their own, learn the skills that they need, the knowledge they need three times faster than anyone else, that person would be your best employee hands down. Now, if you imagine that what was all of your employees, what would that do for your business? And what would that do for the entire economy? And that’s what gets me excited, and that’s our goal with the businesses that we work with. How can you transform your company so that you can trust that all of your employees will learn whatever skills and knowledge they need to perform their job faster than anyone else?
It’s true because when you think about training people, you think about, I need them to perform a function. I need them to learn this thing very well. But again, if we’re just expecting them to just brute force start to memorize things or get through things, that’s really a terribly inefficient way to run a company, to run a training program. Starting with these things is great. Collin, this has just started things in my mind. I know there’s so much more to talk about and so much more to get through. Where should people go if they’re curious about this, like your company Curiosity Jump, where should they go to learn more about it?
You can connect with me and find my content, which includes a lot of resources, free resources as well as links to SuperHuman Academy, and that is all at curiosityjump.com. There’s a ton of information there via that website for anyone who is looking to improve their own learning ability, as well as that of their teams. That is curiosityjump.com.
Great. Well, Collin, it’s been fun. This has really opened up a world for me to realize that there’s a lot out there that we don’t know about our brains and how they work and how we can focus on them. So, I appreciate you coming on and sharing these thoughts with us.
Thank you, Neil, for having me.
Collin is a Global Manufacturing Engineer by day and a coach with the Superhuman Academy by night. He’s the founder of Curiosity Jump LLC, and author of Out of Your Wheelhouse. He loves helping people rediscover the joy of learning, and embrace their superhumanity.