Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Factors of Significance

Dr Kamal Jit Singh who writes for The Edge recently introduced his readers to a new catchphrase: Factors of Significance. Say it with me, “Factors of Significance.” I like it. There’s a nice ring to it, and it sounds terribly, uhm, significant. But what does it mean?

It’s the in-thing in constructive thinking tools. Factors of Significance “works on the basis of isolating what are known as ‘aggravating factors’ and then attempting to understand their significance or relevance to the problem.”

Let me see if I’ve got it right:

For instance you have a problem in hand, say, reading. What is it that stops people from reading books in Malaysia? Aggravating factors may be any or all of the following: people have no time, books are too thick, too dense, too boring, uncool, books are too expensive, English language deficiency, lack of education, internet pull too strong, gaming too tempting, movies too attractive, bookshops too far, libraries too few... the list could go on.

Then you look at the number of people who made Dan Brown a millionaire dozens of times over by buying and reading his overwrought Da Vinci Code. Or perhaps you could refer to the Harry Potter series. Some educationists laud J.K. Rowling for making reading pleasurable again for millions of children. Though not writer and critic A.S. Byatt who called her books “....derivative motifs from all sorts of children's literature...written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons...”

But I digress.

What’s it about Da Vinci that sold over 100 million books? Malaysians who hardly ever read their PC manuals were all over themselves telling others how they read the book 2 years ago – long before Tom Hanks inked a deal to star in the movie.

And what about Harry? Suddenly kids were queuing up in droves to be the first to read Harry’s newest misadventure. Weren’t these the same kids educationists and teachers wrote off as pretty much brain-dead, zonked out by too much TV and computer games?

Now if you want to find out what is it that makes people read, you would want to sift through all these aggravating pointers and figure out factors that are genuinely significant. Okay, maybe you want to find out why the above books found millions of readers. Factors of Significance. Hmm. Not all factors are equally aggravating you see, and not all are equally relevant too. So you really have to examine all possible factors that are causing the aggravation, including the least expected ones. Then scrutinise the checklist again to find out the really significant ones.

Bet you can come up with quite a few.

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