conversation is an engine

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Collaborate Starts S l o w

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Catch me if you can

One must slow down to understand.

Way back: I’m thinking back to a statistics class in college. The theater-seating room in the Psychology building at UW-Madison was packed with well over 200 people. And at the last possible minute the professor would make a grand entrance, rushing down the side of the room with flowing scarf, his cologne preceeding him and wafting across the room. Then he talked nonstop for the next 50 or 75 or 100 minutes. In my mind a bell rang at the end, but I may have imagined that. He took no questions. His purposes were served to assume everyone was with him.

Few were, naturally.

Teaching assistants did the actual work of slowly going through the ideas and problems sets. They were the ones taking the time to tee up concept after concept and watch as some statistics-averse philosophy student slowly worked it out. That’s how a multi-layered idea passes between people: slowly.

Today: Sometimes Mrs. Kirkistan will ask how teaching went today. I consider teaching a success when we have had a robust discussion about the central concept for the day. When people bring in stories and draw connections—usually there is laughter—that is what engagement looks like. It is satisfying. Once upon a time I thought if I got through my slides in time that was success. Today I believe slides are the least important thing—because delivering slides to an audience largely absent is one of the more vacuous activities on the planet.

Tomorrow: My smelly, scarf-toting statistics professor from way back didn’t care about engagement. But that attitude won’t get anyone very far in a culture pivoting toward collaboration. Broadcasting an aroma and putting on a costume scarf doesn’t actually carry all that much weight for those interested in slicing and dicing a subject. What does carry weight is passion for a topic that slows and shares enough to bring others up to speed. Collaboration takes time while we each catch up and synchronize our language. But slowing to a human scale of understanding is worth the effort.



Written by kirkistan

February 6, 2014 at 8:01 am

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