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I recently went on an African safari where I learned tons of cool facts about animals and plants that I had never even heard of before. One day, we sat and watched an elephant tearing off branches from an acacia tree. Our guide told us that elephants are the cause of some very serious damage to trees, between tearing off limbs and frequently knocking the entire tree over.
It seemed a little odd to me that an elephant would destroy his own food source. What I learned was the tree and elephant actually have a predator and prey relationship. When an elephant breaks off a branch of the tree for his mid-morning snack, the plant recognizes that it is being preyed upon and begins to spike its levels of tannin production.
The tannins cause the leaves to not taste good, so the elephant will stop eating from that tree. In addition to making the leaves taste bad, the tree can send its signal out to nearby trees, making them spike their tannin levels as well. To avoid this, the elephant will knock over the tree so the neighboring trees aren't affected.
This made me think about how people learn. (It's what I do). I knew a few things about elephants, I knew of the acacia tree, but I had no clue why an elephant would ever knock down the very tree it likes to eat. My guide knew all that and put all the pieces together for me.
Yes, I could have searched the internet and found out all about those things at anytime. But, I never had the motivation to do that. It was more significant to learn about it right then, while I was watching this elephant tearing off a branch of this tree. I needed to know the next nugget of information that would get me to a better level of understanding.
Learning has to be relevant and the learner needs to be motivated. I want to know what I need to know right now. I want to take what I know, and what you know, and put them together to tell a bigger story. We have a lot of crazy smart people here at Ping. Everyone has a lot of common knowledge but every single person adds one more nugget into our sea of knowledge.
When you add Ping customers, partners, and the identerati out there, we've got a tsunami of thoughts and ideas. How do we harness all that knowledge?
We need to build communities where we can easily share our thoughts and ideas in a safe environment. We need to identify what individuals know and connect them to the next piece in their learning path. We need to motivate each and every member of our community to participate and help one another learn. We just need the setting, and we're working on that.