Geo Week News

February 4, 2014

Time Trying to Keep it Simple

I have several serious hobbies that I try to maintain. However, it can be a bit sad when I have to admit that I will never be as knowledgeable as I want to be about any of them that are not my full time job. The reality is that each hobby is someone’s full-time job and the more time they spend at it the more there is to know, and the further behind I fall.

I’m not sure if it is human nature or just the nature of the way we define knowledge but the longer we work at something the more we define it. That only increases the amount and complexity of information. At some point, this level of complexity becomes a barrier to entry for newcomers. When I catch myself droning on about technical details of 3D imaging to a newcomer I try to fall back on a key lessons learned for a SPAR presentation I gave back in 2010 on Information Theory.

The concept is a more specific version of the K.I.S.S. concept (Keep It Simple, Stupid). In 1956, George A. Miller wrote a piece for the Psychological Review in which he outlined examples of a human being’s ability to process information. The highlights are as follows:

• Tests show we have a channel capacity of 2.6 bits…
o 1 bit = 1 decision
o 2.6 bits = 6.5 categories or things you can remember
• …And when you reach channel capacity?
o Processing reverts from Pre-frontal cortex (rational) to older more emotion based parts of the brain
o This is bad for us as we are introducing new things and New=Change=Risk=Fear
o Best reasons for 3D imaging are just that; Reasonable

While the paper goes on to explore ways of increasing the amount of things that a person can retain in short term memory through recoding and such, the basic principle is that in a conversation or presentation a person is capable to holding on to about seven points. Now think about your sales pitch, presentation, or typical introduction. How many points are you trying to get across? It is important to remember that each piece of information that is new counts as a point! We are able to recall massive amounts of information because we have recoded it all into chunks that represent many more bits than we could remember on first read. Our clients have not spent the time in our industry to do this. They have been spending their time learning their job!

These capacity issues are actually one of the reasons that 3D imaging is such a powerful tool. One method of recoding is to present the information in a format that the user already understands. There are few formats more familiar than the way in which most of us view the world with stereoscopic vision. Why learn a map legend or coding system when you can simply view it as it looks in reality? However, the how and why all of this comes together can be a lot to take in for the uninitiated.

The bright side can be seen in one of my side interests- computing. I probably know less (as a percentage of all there is to know) about computing today than when I was plugging away on a Commodore 64 in my parent’s living room. I certainly know less about the inner works of my iPad than I did the Commodore 64. However, when I look at the level of computing power and productivity afforded by the iPad there is no contest. I know less and can do more. Apple’s success is a testament to keeping it simple for those of us that are not spending our working life as a computer scientist. I think our job is to do the same for our clients. Enable them to do more, even when they know less.

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