Learning in the (Right) Moment | Timing and Context in Comedy and Content


One of the cores of comedy is timing.

(Pause, wait for it…)

This is true for content and learning as well. (Not a great punch line was it?)

For the first several minutes of the movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) pesters George (Richard Burton) with the question “’What a dump!’ Who says that?” Lacking the answer, they go back and forth building tension and anger. George lacked the information to answer the question, and the means to get to it instantly.

Today, George would have pulled out his smartphone, pressed a few keys and answered:

“Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest. Released in 1949, the film tells the story of Rosa Moline, a neglected wife of a small-town Wisconsin doctor. She grows bored and becomes infatuated with a visiting Chicago businessman. She extorts money from her husband’s patients and uses the cash to flee to Chicago, but the businessman does not welcome her. She returns home and becomes pregnant by her husband. The businessman has a change of heart and follows her to Wisconsin. He wants her back, but not her baby, so she attempts to abort by throwing herself down a hill and gets peritonitis, dying in what Bette Davis called ‘the longest death scene ever seen on the screen.’”

Admittedly, such a complete response may have upset Martha nonetheless – another example of comic timing gone wrong.

The (DIKW) Hierarchy represents the relationship between Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom or Intelligence. Timing is one ingredient in the move from one level to another – the association between the need and the data. Something may be data at one moment (the name of the movie) and information another (answering the question).

Information at our fingertips certainly changes much, and settles many discussions, but one of its greatest impacts is allowing the alignment of information and need. It greatly increases the value and reach of shared knowledge and collective intelligence, and reduces the need to be knowledgeable, or even informed, in advance of the need.

We are no longer left to our own knowledge to answer the questions we face. We no longer need to memorize the side effects of drugs, the timing of a 1964 Corvette engine, or how to add a sound to the roll over of a button when programming a website. In fact, we no longer need to “learn” these details at all – we can look them up as needed.

Context is another ingredient in the move from Data to Wisdom on the DIKW Hierarchy. For example, data (32) in context (32 degrees Fahrenheit) is information. Information in context (freezing point of water is 32 degrees) is knowledge.

Few would ever have needed to know how to calculate the time on Mars, or considered it part of their formal education. Yet now there is an app for that and with the Curiosity Mission (@MarsCuriosity), more contexts for this knowledge then ever.

Before so much content, data, and information were available at your fingertips (from “official” and user generated sources), you were expected to become knowledgeable (and intelligent) by learning and remembering – at schools, workshops, seminars, continuing educations, etc.

Today, is there still a need for formal education at all, much less for the content coming from events? Maybe we no longer need to waste formative years and hours at conferences learning if everything will be available to us when we need it. Why should I attend a session to hear what I can get when and where I want it?

Given the continued importance of “content” at events (over 95% saying “very” or “its the reason they come” in the short survey done for the Event Marketer Summit) how does this change the content mix and alignment at your program? How do you ensure that your program’s content is more than a modern game of trivial pursuit?

One downside of “available at your fingertips” knowledge is the threat of becoming researchers instead of scholars. Simply getting the information at the time and in the context needed does not mean comprehension, understanding, or seeing the connections to other knowledge. Building this intelligence seems an important place to focus for both formal and program based content. [Knowledge and Intelligence are indeed different – see here]

T.S. Eliot wrote:

“Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

In an article in the New York Times Sunday Review, Andrew Hacker – seemingly from the edges of conventional wisdom – proposes one approach when he asks “Is Algebra Necessary?”

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.”

And this is where the birth of a Janus Moment occurs – a new thought that brings a new view to the question. Hacker proposes:

“I hope that mathematics departments can also create courses in the history and philosophy of their discipline, as well as its applications in early cultures. Why not mathematics in art and music — even poetry — along with its role in assorted sciences?”

Can we move teaching to a time and context where it is needed, desired, more easily understood? Would mathematics in context with history, economics, arts, manufacturing, etc. increase our knowledge and possibly intelligence? Internships, apprenticeships, and on the job training certainly show a history of success.

For marketers, the challenge is much the same – how, in an age of instantly available data, information, and knowledge, will you deliver relevant information and knowledge where and when desired by the learner, not the teacher?

Note: As always, the desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretakers for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.



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