In Depth: What Are We Learning From “Just Google It?”

To pass my accountancy exams, almost all I required,  apart from a fairly basic -keeping skill was an ability to learn data by rote.  For 6 weeks before my exams, I utilized mnemonics to create words effectively covering everything in the textbooks. Page by page and book by book using the first letter of the keyword in each sentence relating to a particular subject within each page, I created a word to memorize together with a link between that word and the subject matter to which it related. In the actual exam, I read the question and the connected links would almost automatically come to mind followed by those all important words.

For example, I might be asked the question “What are the important factors to be considered on commencing a new company audit”. No problem! 50 years ago I had memorized  that  New Audit to make me think of a New Baby who DAMPS BIB. in turn each letter in DAMPS BIB  reminded me of one of the keywords that would enable to reproduce all the bullet points for the answer. Use of Mnemonics alone should not have been sufficient for me to pass exams, to add letters after my name and be qualified to advise anyone on anything -but it was!

In real life increasingly failure to google and relying on memory will leave you behind your competition whilst opening you up to a charge of negligence should you make the wrong decision because you were ignorant of some matter readily available to a novice let alone a professional on Google.

Only after I had written the previous paragraph did I google ” problems on commencing new audit” to be presented with a wealth of information on the subject of new audits. Why should one today have to try to learn by rote or otherwise for exams or for any reason data that in real life can be summoned up at a moment’s notice? Google will usually provide, on any given subject, a wealth of information that is not only far more comprehensive than could have been memorized by rote or any other method from textbooks but also more up to date and contain the sometimes differing views of multiple respected experts. In real life increasingly failure to google and relying on memory will leave you behind your competition whilst opening you up to a charge of negligence should you make the wrong decision because you were ignorant of some matter readily available to a novice let alone a professional on Google.  Do you agree that the syllabuses on most subjects continue to require students to memorize data on the basis of its historic importance disregarding that much of it will become increasingly redundant and completely ignoring how Google has changed the world?

Even 50 years ago education should have provided a deep understanding of a particular subject and in my case a deep understanding for example of why laws and accounting standards were what they were, what they were seeking to achieve and the part that I should be playing in the commercial world in my professional life. instead of the data I memorized assumed everything in my business world was black and white and unchanging.

The real business world I encountered I found was mainly shades of grey and ever-changing at a faster and faster rate. My studies and those of my contemporaries whatever our future careers did not adequately prepare us to cope with the realities of the world where 80% of current data would within ten years become no longer useful and in some cases shown to be wrong. Not only that my book-keeping skills were to a great extent replaced by computers. You may be surprised that at the time this happened my Institute still viewed time trainees spent keeping accounts by computer as not qualifying as suitable training.

When  25 years after I qualified, my son produced his thesis on International Leasing at University, the shades of grey existing in the real world were considered to some extent of increased importance.  Unfortunately, it was not his own thoughts on those shades of grey that were important but only those of others. He was required to quote the opinions of experts on those shades of grey and not his own own opinions unless they coincided. Worse still the examiner could give lower marks to my son’s unsupported opinion however well reasoned and at the cutting edge because the examiner was not deemed able know that my son’s opinion was “correct”. In other words, expert opinions on grey areas were treated as yet more data to be reproduced as necessary for marking.

The blindness of the educational system to a world crying out for more and more people able to innovate and able to cope with an ever-changing and interconnected world and less and less people performing repetitive tasks, where the borderlines between individual subjects are becoming increasingly blurred. Instead, the focus was on more and more specialization as if that blurring did not exist. Where one expert had previously been needed before we now needed say 10  being 1 for each of the 10 narrower subdivisions.  Each expert in each sub-division could easily have a  view well founded if only based on his narrow area of expertise was inconsistent with the well-founded view of an expert in one of the other sub-divisions. Both could rightly claim that not being an expert in the other expert’s area of expertise they could not be expected to be aware that the advice being given was wrong.

What was needed was an expert generalist to be in chargeable to adjudicate between the subdivision specialists and iron out the inconsistencies. In the medical field, the lack of this expert generalist can be fatal. The general practitioner will often refer the patient to a subdivision specialist whose advice will be implemented without reference to a specialist with expertise in another subdivision

My son trained to quote the opinions of others became an accountant required to express his own opinion on various matters and not relying on an opinion of a third party. In our world of shades of grey, this was notwithstanding an education system not designed to give him this ability. His governing body like many others in different professions, other regulators of his activities like most regulators in most activities and the legal system all still continue in the fashion of the educators to treat the world as if everything were black and white.  An accountant’s opinion should follow preset rules and thus m be either correctly reached or not.  However, in the end, it is simply his opinion in a world that is mostly shades of grey.

His view on a set of accounts should be “correctly formed if they show a true and fair view. However, woe betides him if they show and true and fair view but were not compiled in accordance with preset rules. The full weight of his governing body, the regulators and aggressive lawyers would hover above him ready to fall upon him as a transgressor. Better he follows the rules in producing the accounts even if the result is a misleading set of accounts.

In the medical world, defensive medicine seems to be the order of the day – unfortunately defense against legal actions, actions from regulators and professional bodies. What you want from a medical advisor is for him to form an opinion as to your probable condition and focus in on the most likely diagnosis and treating it until if and when evidence to the contrary shows a decreased probability of that diagnosis is correct as opposed to an alternative diagnosis. This might require the collaboration of two or more experts with differing narrower expertise. In an ideal world, your medical advisor with his overall knowledge of you and your condition would receive the views of the subspecialists and form an overall view after arbitrating on any conflicts between those views of the subspecialists.

There should be a timetable observed dictated by an order of priorities in light of how critical your condition is should the most probable diagnosis be proved correct. He would not waste time conducting a series of tests if this increases the probability you would be dead by the time the last of test results are in.

What actually happens in many cases is a reference by a general practitioner to only one subspecialist. No conflict with the views of a subspecialist with a different expertise can arise and therefore require to be resolved by the general practitioner who has effectively devolved any responsibility on the chosen subspecialist. The sub-specialist conducts a box-ticking exercise where tests on remote possibilities take place to protect him from legal action for negligence, delaying any treatment for most probable condition perhaps endangering his life whilst the tests are conducted and the results awaited.

Each patient is somewhat unique with a holistic assessment of treatment necessary which all takes account of the wishes of the patient. Operations can be undertaken and or drugs supplied which carry the risk of death at a level far higher than the risk of death was no operation performed and or no drugs supplied and without the patient being made aware of these odds.
If the death resulted from a reason outside the area of expertise of the subspecialist which would have been apparent to a subspecialist in another subspecialist expertise had they been approached on the basis of the holistic coordinating general practitioner being the appropriate party to have overall responsibility this may never be known.

In the fast-moving world google, today may reveal the latest views, the latest treatment and the latest odds published today and not known yesterday and of which the busy medical practitioner may not become sufficiently aware for some time. How to use Google was not part of his education.

Doctors, legislators regulators, and lawyers need to be educated to work in a nonblack and white world. The question should be whether they form their views in a responsible manner on a holistic basis based on risk assessments, latest treatment methods, views of all necessary subspecialists but having regard to the urgency for treatment should the most likely diagnosis prove to be the case.

Whatever the subject, the legislators have been educated to believe in boxes. Produce as long a list as possible of all the things that should have been done in all possible circumstances. If any of boxes are not ticked in any case this would be negligence.  If the customer, client. patient needs to be told anything,  produce another series of boxes for him to initial to show he has been acquainted with some point which he may or may not understand. Of course, even if he signs every box some lawyer would say that the adviser did not take sufficient time to ensure the patient understood which would inevitably increase the length of future lists. Lost a long time ago was whether, on a holistic basis, the adviser was acting reasonably. The choice for the doctor might be possible between saving a life and risk legal action or ticking the boxes, avoiding legal action, and risk letting the patient dying.

Clive Russell
Clive Russell
CLIVE currently serves as Joint President of Russell Business LLC (“RB”), which is the collective name for a community of synergistic and complementary activities and businesses encompassing the International Property Market. RB is engaged in business activities that combine cutting-edge structured finance and technology geared to maximize returns from various sectors, including residential and commercial property, hotels and energy-related assets. Over the years, Clive’s forte’ has been the ability to develop and/or identify “below the radar” concepts, strategies and opportunities ripe for leveraging and ultimate success.

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