Saturday, March 10, 2012

Luxury Items No Longer

It was a long time ago, but Plebe Year at the Naval Academy is an experience I will never forget.  As time goes on, the memories may become a little exaggerated, as we recall "The last real Plebe Year" just as any graduating class, but certain experiences will remain crystal clear.  I will never forget certain menus, the names of some influential upperclass, the friends I made, or our five basic responses to the many questions that came our way...

- Yes, Sir/Ma'am!
- No, Sir/Ma'am!
- Aye, Aye, Sir/Ma'am!"
- No excuse, Sir/Ma'am!
- I'll find out, Sir/Ma'am!

"I don't know, Sir/Ma'am!" was unacceptable and with good reason.  We had a responsibility to know and we made a commitment to learn (or at least memorize).  Back then (pre-internet), finding out often proved to be an arduous or at least time consuming task.  It might mean a trip across The Yard to the library, it might mean endless searches through various editions of Jane's Fighting Ships, or it might mean tutorials from classmates and upperclass inquisitions.  I have been away from The Yard for too long to even guess at what may or may not have changed, but that is not the point.  The commitment to finding answers to questions and not being satisfied with "I don't know" is something that was deeply ingrained in each plebe, year in and year out.  What has changed is the ease with which the answers can be found.

Last week, one of my many great Shipmates hosted a brown bag session about Safari Books On-line.  (If you are currently serving in the Navy or are a dependent, I highly recommend you get an account).  During the session, he astutely told the audience that "Being informed is no longer a luxury we can't afford."  Yes, there was a time when knowledge was a luxury item because the barrier to informing ourselves was too great. We needed access to teachers, involved parents, or other authority figures who had the knowledge and were willing to share.  We needed to purchase encyclopedias or find our way to the library that may or may not have been all that local.  Today, there are no barriers, there are no excuses, and the answers are at our fingertips.  In fact, information is so available, many are beginning to question (myself included) the value of the rote memorization and multiple choice test model still so prevalent today.  We ought spend more time learning critical thinking skills and demonstrating application of those skills, and less time regurgitating facts that in many cases we are likely never to use.  When we can "Google" the answer to any piece of trivia, do we care that we know the specific date of a historical event or that we understand and can apply the lessons we learned through the experiences of others as a result of said event?  I think the show "Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" demonstrates the fact that 5th Grade doesn't matter in the real world, and our current approach to elementary education does little to produce life skills of any meaningful value, but that's a different discussion.

Like many of the people with whom I serve, I am a big fan of creating growth opportunities and providing all interested parties with the tools needed to realize our individual and collective potential.  The challenge is in seeing so few people capitalize on the opportunities or take us up on our offers.  There was a time when people may have wanted to learn and become more informed, only to lack the resources needed.  Nowadays, the only resources needed are desire and follow-through.  People who don't walk through the doors others open for them need only look in the mirror when they don't get promoted, achieve a previously stated goal, or receive a less than stellar performance appraisal.  People who choose to go through life uninformed are fine with responding with "I don't know" and have trouble taking responsibility for a given outcome.  People who truly care enough to know rarely utter those words.  My Shipmate nailed it, "Being informed is no longer a luxury we can't afford" unless, of course, you don't care enough to "Find Out".  We have the tools, why not use them?


  1. Safari is an amazing resource. One of its lesser known assets is its video archive. It is very unfortunate that accounts are no longer being given for at home use:

    from NKO:
    Accounts/seats are no longer available! Limited funding provides access to limited accounts/seats. If you had an account and it is now disabled, it is permanently disabled. An OSD MWR Policy Office Initiative with the DoD MWR Libraries funded this service which proved to be immensely popular. Additional sources of funding have been sought to no avail.

  2. Definitely my favorite post. I'm fond of saying that any success I've managed to get is never based on what I know, but what I'm willing to figure out and learn. So many people simply don't try to solve problems and are content to let their lives go by. Maybe that works in some places, but there is no place for that as a Navy leader.