Thursday, February 11, 2010

Quick Thought

In many organizations, a guaranteed way to raise some eyebrows is to be caught reading a book or to sit quietly and think.


Larry Sheldon said...

I decided that a career in the enlisted Navy was not for me after all the night an officer chided me for reading "because it would make me think."

Off and on over the years I had difficulty with people who could not grasp the notion that I could compose a lengthy paper in my head over (perhaps) the course of several days, then blat it all out to paper in an hour or two (or maybe more for really large papers).

I know, but lots of other people don't, that my best work is done without mu conscious participation.

There are a number of incidents of me orally describing a really good idea, with me learning of the idea at the same time as others in the room. Some of them required somebody convincing me that what I had said was a good idea.

Michael Wade said...


Interesting observation. That's another illustration of how we need to learn how we learn.

It is not always a case of think, then talk. Sometimes we need to talk about something in order to determine what we think.


Eclecticity said...

Come on Michael, you not actually suggesting that people think at work now are you? Say it isn't so. You could get many people in trouble. Like Larry, they might get caught.


Larry Sheldon said...

I am not a psychologist or anything credentialed, never-the-less I have developed some ideas about how the mind must work.

My most important observation is that not all parts of the mind (or the brain, if you prefer) are connected to all others.

The eyes have paths to parts of the mind that the ears do not, and so on. That is why note-taking, recitation, and so on are all important to learning.

After that comes the notion that the conscious mind does not have paths to all of the mind which accounts for the things I mentioned earlier.

The hard part is letting all that work for you in a world that does not like some of the manifestations of it.

I have a couple of personal experiences that illustrate some of this stuff.

Years ago I was what would now be a consultant to other programmers within the company. I got to work one morning to be greeted at my desk by a man that had apparently been up all night working on a problem.

This was back in the days when there were no "on-line" terminals and stuff, so he had a collection of "printouts", stacks of 11 x 17 fan-fold 3 or 4 inches thick.

He arranged the stacks and flipped them open as he talked, pointing to things and going on to another stack, while I was hanging up my coat and taking my seat.

Eventually he started folding and stacking his printouts, thanking me profusely for solving his problem as he left.

The whole time I had no idea what he was talking about, worried only about the jelly doughnut that I had put down on desk.

I think two things happened. One is that as he spoke, his ears carried information to the parts of his mind that could solve the problem that had not previously been informed.

The other thing that I think happens in those situations is that when he organized his thoughts for speech, he organized the information for the first time. Sitting silently at a desk staring does not require (or foster) organization. (I teach people to never work by themselves--to stop and explain what was going on, out loud--to another programmer, to a wife, a dog, doesn't matter.)

The other incident that I will relate now happened when I was working on a thorny problem of my own.

I finally gave up in exhaustion and drove the nearly 50 miles to home, ate and went to bed.

Some hours latter I awoke, and was overcome by a compulsion to drive back into the office to look at something--I didn't know what.

I did in fact drive back in, sat for a while looking idly through printouts without an good ideas, and finally went back home again, and to bed. Several hours later I again woke, but this time with a clear idea of how to approach the problem that pretty quickly led to a solution.

What happened? I am convinced that my sub-conscious mind (or what ever that turns out to be) was missing some key information (and to this day, I don't know what that was, I never got an "aha! that's what I missed" sensation). By going back in and going back through "all that I knew" I must have seen the missing key data.

There are other stories, but I'll spare you.