What's your question?

4 minute read
Binoculars (US Navy image)

Once in a while you come across a person who cracks your understanding of the world wide open. It may be through supportive encouragement, a swift kick in the pants, or a combination of the two that force you out of your comfort zone, help you break through your own limit in thinking, and help you learn to perform at the next level, whatever that may be for each of us. These are powerful experiences that shape the way we look at the world, look at learning, and most importantly see ourselves.

One such professor I studied with had this kind of impact on me, insisting the real definition of intelligence was IQ = PQ + CQ (Intelligence = Passion + Curiosity). OK, he may have adapted some Thomas Friedman to get into my head, but it has stuck with me ever since. His classes challenged not only what I thought about in learning required material, but how I thought about my own learning style. I’m curious by nature. Learning to ask the right question became as much about discovering myself, as it was learning more about my environment.





 Study materials for the US Naval War College course
Study materials for the US Naval War College course

I’m not sure if I ever heard the term ‘lifelong learner’ before attending the Naval War College but, once they preached it, wow did it make sense. I can remember reaching distinct plateaus of thinking throughout my life.

One was in college – living past 25 seemed impossible to fathom (the year 2000). Another was earning my wings as a naval aviator. 

The most important – meeting my wife and fathering three amazing kids. She motivated me to earn a master’s degree, meet that pivotal professor, and learn to overcome future plateaus. Fast forward to today, being stationed in England with my family amidst a global pandemic was definitely on that list too. Ironically, I find myself at that place again, though, that plateau in thinking. That is what led me to Oxford. As I’ve gotten older, consciously committing to lifelong learning has helped me learn how to grow, breakthrough intellectual plateaus, and navigate new challenges.

Arriving in London
Arriving in London

I have always wanted to study at Oxford. There is prestige, there is tradition, there is history, and there is quality. When I came across the Facebook advert for the Oxford Executive Diploma in Artificial Intelligence for Business back in December, it seemed like the right programme for me. I thought about it at length, talked with my life coach (my wife) and, after considering the rising importance AI was given at work, decided to apply. There are definitely challenges – time, budget, and family to name a few – but I keep faith that following my instinct is the right choice, at the right time, in the right place.

I am not a computer scientist, why on earth would I pursue this?  What resonated with me in the programme literature was the commonality the questions of responsible AI posed with that I had studied in aviation automation, human-centered design, and operational risk management. This was not just a techie question, but a coin with equally weighted questions on both sides – tech and ethics, risk awareness and risk management, hype and reality. I was intrigued.

We completed the first module of classes a few weeks ago. My classmates are all incredibly gifted people from across industry and from around the world. The discussions in class are rich and informative, they challenge not only what I think, but again how I think about the topics. I was blown away by Lubomira Rochet’s discussion on adapting L’Oréal’s e-commerce business model while navigating coronavirus disruption, Teradata’s Yasmeen Ahmad and her powerful insight into successful digital transformation strategies, and Martin Frost and CMR Surgical’s revolutionary work with AI-complemented robotic keyhole surgical techniques.

The faculty are fun and fascinating to engage with, and I sense over the next year will further demonstrate their deep commitment and that of Oxford to delivering a world-class experience. I think I chose wisely; it is the right time for me to adapt how I think again.

As I learned stepping onto my first ship one early terrifying morning in 1993, challenges are intimidating and can rock you to your core. They can make you question your fortitude, your intellect, your worth – courage demands you take a breath, think, and get to work. I think Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney said it best in The Martian – ‘you do the math, you solve one problem, then you solve the next one, and then the next, and if you solve enough problems you get to come home!’ Who knows maybe I am home with AI….

Credit (main photo): US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Donovan M Jarrett/Released