A dog, ready to play

Playful Play: How to Learn More at Work

Somehow, the animals are always first to know

Clark Boyd
9 min readSep 26, 2022

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In the dusty old days of the 3rd century BC, at Ptolemy’s university in Alexandria, Euclid is teaching a class.

The great Greek geometrist is working through his Elements with a group of impatient beginners. Euclid teaches the very first proposition in the lengthy list that stretches to 13 books of detailed material:

Proposition 1: To construct an equilateral triangle on a given finite straight line.

One restive upstart in the class raises his hand:

“Now that I have learned that, what is my profit?”

Euclid scratches his beard (probably) and gestures to a servant, before demanding in clear irritation:

“Give him threepence, for he must always make a profit of what he learns.”

Our desire to draw a straight line from ‘learning’ to ‘earning’ is nothing new.

Euclid knew it, and he was on more than nodding terms with the merits of a straight line.

Yet he understood that the acquisition and application of knowledge are rarely linear.

His Elements of Geometry is a pedagogical masterclass that starts with the dot, then the line, then layers on more complex concepts. It is meant to be read in sequence, with each proof building on those that preceded it. Students of the Elements — and there are still many of them — may later use this knowledge profitably, but that is their own concern. First, they must master the eternally true propositions of geometry.

With that in mind, I would like to turn our attention to our modern-day skills training in business. It is taken as true that we are experiencing as “global digital skills gap”, and that it only widens as technology advances and we stand still.

The list of problems in the modern British economy could easily fill 13 books, but the first proposition should really run as follows:

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Clark Boyd

Tech/business writer, CEO (Novela), lecturer (Columbia), and data analyst. >500k views on Medium. I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was.