The Flip Side of Google Search

Rahul, a fresh engineering graduate,  was trying his hands at rubik’s cube. He said,” after doing google search and watching youtube videos, I have been able to crack the code. The world’s fastest player  can solve the puzzle in barely a minute. I have studied his instruction set 15 times and I am able to crack the code in approximately 4 minutes.”  What happens when you a solve a puzzle without applying your mind; relying on google search or  a guide in the first go?

In this process of solving a puzzle, I was wondering whether the goal is more important than the journey or the end is more crucial than the means?

What happens when we are obsessed with the goal (scoring marks, getting a job, expecting  a promotion)  without giving due importance to the means ( thinking, creative problem solving, putting the right efforts in getting results etc) Students may score marks without a deeper  understanding of the subject. Managers may get short-term results by taking short cuts (quite relevant for sales managers in March, the year-ending) and  feel that the company is doing great because of them, quite often,  it is in spite of them. In short we tend to remain mediocre.

The following two examples of Nobel laureates underscores the importance of fuzzy logic and creative  thinking over the desire to get the right answer.

A physics professor asked his students, “How would you measure the height of  our department building if you are given a pressure gauge?”  Most of the students gave the expected answer which  is based on the correlation of pressure with altitude.  One of the students said, “There are different ways you can calculate the height of the building which include:

  1. Tie a long rope to the pressure gauge; drop it from the terrace, the length of the rope corresponds to the height of the building.
  2. Take the same contraption, use it as a pendulum, calculate the time required for one oscillation. Based on the time you may arrive at the length.
  3. Traverse the height of the building by using the gauge like a foot-ruler. The length of the gauge multiplied by the times used will show the height of the building.
  4. Offer a cup of tea or coffee to the admin manager and get the building details.

The professor asked the student,” Don’t you know the right answer?” The student said,” I know the answer but it is quite boring and routine.”

The professor was Ernest Rutherford, considered as the father of nuclear physics, recipient of Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908 and the student was Niels Bohr, a Danish Physicist known for atomic structure and quantum theory and Nobel Physics recipient in 1922.

Enrico Fermi, the Italian-American Physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics had a novel way of problem solving. He was heading a team of scientists working on the project of the Atom Bomb. The first bomb was detonated in July 1945 in the New Mexico desert. The shock waves reached the base camp forty seconds later, where the scientists stood in stunned contemplation. Just a few minutes before the blast, Fermi took a page from a notebook and shred it into pieces. The moment the shock was felt, Fermi released the pieces over his head. The pieces landed at a distance of 2 metres behind him. Within a minute, Fermi estimated the strength of the bomb to be 10,000 tonnes of TNT. The sophisticated machines which analyzed the voluminous data of pressure, temperature and wave velocity took weeks to come at a similar conclusion.

While teaching his students, he asked them, “What is the approximate circumference of earth?” The students expressed their apprehension that without referring to an atlas or an encyclopedia the answer would be difficult. (There was no google search then!)

Fermi then said, “the distance between New York and Los Angeles is 3000 miles (4800 kms) and the time difference between them is three hours. As the earth takes 24 hours to rotate around itself; which is 8 times the above distance, the approximate circumference is 4800 x 8 which is 38,400 Kms.” The actual circumference of earth is 40,075.5 kms and the variation is 4%. ( ref: Contextual Selling, A New Sales Paradigm for the 21st Century, Rajan Parulekar p101)

Google search has its own relevance and validity but should it replace human thinking, creativity and ingenuity?Let us see what happens when we depend excessively on GPS devices  for navigating through streets without applying our brains? According to the researchers at University College, London, (UCL) using GPS navigation to reach to your destination, may ‘switch-off’ parts of the brain that would otherwise be used to simulate different routes.   The study involved 24 volunteers navigating a simulation in central London while undergoing brain scans. Hugo Spiers, one of the researchers from UCL says, “Our results fit with models in which the hippocampus simulates the journey on future possible paths while the pre-frontal cortex helps us to plan which ones will get us quickly to our destination. When we have technology telling us which way to go; however, these parts of the brain simply do not respond to the street network. In that sense our brain has switched off its interest in the street around us.”  ( Deccan Herald, Bangalore 23rd March 2017)  Remember the adage, use it or lose it!

It is said that India produces the 2nd largest pool of science graduates and engineers in the world. ( I have not done Google search on that!) In spite of that different surveys reveal that 75% of the graduates are unemployable.

My Guru, (Late) Dr. Gopal Valecha was an eminent Industrial Psychologist. After receiving his Ph.D. from Iowa State University his guide asked, “Gopal, what do you think you have accomplished now?” Gopal Said, “ I think I can prefix Dr. with my name.” His guide replied, “ more than that, you will know how to read a book.” On similar lines, can our universities create a thought process in their students, “now that you have graduated from our university, can we expect that  you will know how to think, rather than looking out for readymade answers elsewhere?”

Rajan Parulekar| Paradigm Trainers Private Limited, Bangalore| 98450 14098|rajan@paradigm-info.com |

4 thoughts on “The Flip Side of Google Search

  1. Shoaib Ahmed

    Loved the article Rajan ! The aim of technology has always been to make life easier !
    Progress of mankind has been possible thanks to the restless few who are not happy with status quo and are driven to do something meaningful and create an impact.
    We live in a age of plentiful opportunities , a framework to potentially solve world hunger!
    The key as you rightly pointed out is the need to solve the thinking , and if I can add mindset !

    Reply
  2. MV Joharapurkar

    Nice perspective. In a sense, too much of anything is undesirable, beyond a point. And that point, however, keeps shifting!! For me technology is a tool, created by a genius human brain. Time will come when a human brain too would be created in a lab, how will life be then, atleast I have no answer…

    Reply

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