Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Course correction

“He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.”

If everything you knew was only everything that you experienced, and language, and history, and education never existed, then we would still be cavemen. Each generation would rediscover fire and reinvent the wheel (literally).

Think of it like a relay. The baton is the knowledge gained by the previous generation, and it is our job to further it and hand it over to the next. If instead we started over from the start line, and dropped dead at the 100 meter mark, we would never complete the race. We would never move forward.

And so we have the forward thinkers, who hold learned science as true and then go discover something more. But we also need a different kind of thinkers: the kind that look backwards.

Let us change the relay to a maze instead of a straight path. There are times we must make a decision, and that can impact where humanity ends up generations from now. Forward thinkers would not begin from the start but would assume that the decisions so far were correct, and carry the baton further.

But what if there were some runners whose job was to go back to the last decision point and reconfirm with their greater wisdom (they are drawing on more years of experience remember) whether the path taken was indeed right. If not, these "backward thinkers" would take the baton back until they find a new, better path. These are the people who question what is "known". They are dissatisfied with what their ancestors did and want to go fix things: course correct, so to speak.

I think we need both kinds of thinkers. Indeed, in our own lives and our careers, we need to be both within ourselves. We must make decisions, and our future then depends on these decisions. But there are times when you realize that the "past you" made a mistake, and so you decide to go back and start over, a little slower, but also a little wiser.

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