Constructing knowledge

Children learn to communicate well before they can talk.

That’s all thanks to a very human ability to recognise patterns.

As adults, some of us loose that ability.

We loose our sense of curiosity.

And with it we forget how to construct knowledge.

Albert Rutherford1 explains that “we construct knowledge rather than having knowledge poured into our brains.”

The key he describes is learning how to recognise and describe patterns.

Learning how to tinker with big ideas and describing what you learn is how you create new knowledge.

Tinkering is taking a big idea or a pattern of behaviour, breaking it into smaller parts and putting it all back together.

Describing an idea is key to improving our understanding because “much of our understanding comes from the process of speaking. Though we think we might know what we want to say, we test, alter, and solidify our thoughts when we speak.”1

Patterns are all around us and all patterns follow a rule. Rutherford advises that we can teach ourselves this skill by asking these 4 questions:

  1. Does the pattern repeat?
  2. What part of it is repeating?
  3. Is there something that changes each time the pattern is repeated?
  4. What would happen if the pattern continued?

Sometimes you can physically take things apart and other times you need visualise it as a thought experiment or a mental model. Both can be equally effective.

In his autobiography, Einstein famously recalled his thought experiment of chasing a beam of light. This imaginative tinkering led him to develop special relativity.

To make it a habit to recognise patterns, tinker with big ideas, and learn how to describe what you learn by:

  • Take notes: Observe what’s happening.
  • Visualise: Break big ideas into smaller parts.
  • Describe: Put it back together in an order that makes sense to you.
  • Stay curious: Repeat.
  1. Albert Rutherford, Build a Mathematical Mind ↩︎

About the Author

Hi! I’m Aliyar.

When your marketing investments aren’t driving growth, ping me