inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #76 of 96: David Crosby (croz) Tue 14 Dec 04 09:31
yes it is a new one's on the new C/N record .....I wrote the
words and Dean Parks wrote the music .......
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #77 of 96: Gail Williams (gail) Tue 14 Dec 04 10:12
Tender lyrics.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #78 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Tue 14 Dec 04 10:30
Croz: Dear David, thanks for the tip.  I will tell my friends as well.

Pamela: This is a really interesting thing to me.  The term "problem
finding" comes from an old book called The Creative Vision and it is a
study of artists.  But in line with the orientation of THe Mind at
Work, I wanted to see if the qualities that we tend to attribute to
high-status and high-brow activity could also be found in the everyday.

Essentially, problem finding is a nice counterpoint to problem
solving, and it has to do with the ability of seeing a problem, of
understanding something as a problem that can be solved, or of framing
a set of circumstances as a problem worthy of study.  You can see that
this is a bit different from solving a problem that is already
formulated and presented to you.  I bring it up in the chapter that
deals with the welder and the factory foreman.  

THe foreman was my uncle, and as we have mentioned previously, he
started out on the assembly line at General Motors and managed to make
his way up the ladder.  What I thought was important was that this work
gave him a first-hand familiarity with all the assembly processes.  So
he was able to use that on-the-ground knowledge in the work that he
did as a floor manager.  

THe problem finding emerged in the way he was able to look at the
assembly processes that had been used for years and see their
limitations and the ways that they could be improved.  One small
example involved the nozzle on a paint sprayer.  The guys on the line
would have to tape off large sections of the body and spray a wide arc
of paint that would splash back onto them.  My uncle got together with
the supplyer of the nozzles and asked him if he could fashion one with
a much narrower arc.  This would save time and paint, and would protect
the worker from getting all that paint blown back.  

What I thought was interesting here was that where other people saw a
messy procedure, my uncle saw a problem that could be solved.  And his
ability to do that I think came from his immediate knowledge of the
processes of assembly.   
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #79 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Tue 14 Dec 04 10:35
Pamela: I am itching to talk a little bit about another thing that
intrigued me as I did this study: it has to do with the role of
informal talk at the work site and the way that talk can becomes
another element in the conduct of work, the solving of problems, the
relaying of information, etc.  I can say more about this over the next
few days if you and the other folks are interested.  Of course, I am
also happy to follow everybody's lead as we have been doing.  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #80 of 96: Alan Turner (arturner) Tue 14 Dec 04 11:23
I'd like to hear more about that.  I've seen that happen a lot of times.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #81 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 14 Dec 04 14:33

Absoluely, yes, please.  Meanwhile, I was describing to my hairdresser today
some of the topics we've talked about here.  He laughed knowingly, and added
one more thing:  "It's like doing twelve one-hour turns a day as an actor,"
he said.  "You're always on.  You have to tailor that act for each customer,
because the 3:00 p.m. customer isn't the same as the 4:00 p.m. customer.
You, for instance, laugh at any joke I tell you; another woman might be
offended."  All this and style hair?  "All this and style hair.  It's
exhausting, it's draining."
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #82 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Wed 15 Dec 04 10:07
Pamela: I love your hairdresser's comparison.  And I will be sure to
ask some of the folks I observe about it.  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #83 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Wed 15 Dec 04 10:26
So here's some thoughts about this business of informal talk.  I
apologize if it's a little long.  

One of the wonderful things about doing the research for THe Mind at
Work is the way that it helped me to see the familiar in a new light. 
One interesting surprise was the way I came to understand the role of
informal talk in the cognitive dimension of work.

Let's take, as an example, the construction site.  You'll hear chatter
about all sorts of things: spouses and kids, vacations, sports, sex,
you name it.  And the chatter is often comical, combative, and bawdy. 
No wonder that the construction site has made its way into popular
culture as a working class stereotype: a bunch of rowdy, sometimes
brutish, men.  (Although lately there are some women at these sites.)  

But if you hang out there, you start to hear information flowing back
and forth in the chatter, information about all the above mentioned
topics.  (Where the best deal is on sports equipment, how to fix
something in the home.)  But some of the information is about the task
at hand on the job site, drawn from training or experience.  So
knowledge is being transmitted, problems are being solved, alternatives
are being weighed in the flow of chatter.  

Another quite different example can be found in the beauty salon--and
this hearkens back to Pamela's post.  

Depending on the particular stylist and client, their history, etc.,
the conversation between the two can be rich in information that
contributes to a pleasing outcome.  Amid the chit-chat about
relationships, current topics, kids, work, there are questions,
requests, and directions from the client, and the same from the
stylist.  It is also the time when the stylist is checking in: How'd
you like the last cut?  How'd it work for you?  Are you using any new

Sometimes a client comes in with a specific style in mind, a specific
request.  But other times, the request is less exact, even, at times,
vague, little more than a feeling.  One woman said, "Oh, I don't know,
give me something light and summery."  And through questions, gestures,
a picture or two, and more questions, the stylist was able to
translate that request into a pleasing style--all this in the flow of
gossip, jokes, etc.  

I've come to think of informal talk at the work place--at least at
some work places--as an open channel through which all kinds of
important work-related information flows.  It's almost like another
tool, another mechanism by which work gets done.  

I would be curious to know what you folks think about this.  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #84 of 96: Alan Turner (arturner) Wed 15 Dec 04 18:28
I think a lot of that idle chit-chat passes on lore that isn't taught
formally.  I can't think of a specific example off the top of my head, but
more than once someone has seen me struggling with something and said
"You're doing it the hard way.  Do this first and THEN that".  And of
course if someone is helpful to you, you try to be helpful to them as well,
so these undocumented techniques get spread around.

At a place where various specialties are involved, there's another level,
too.  Bob really knows the tricks on pipe bending, and rather than go all
the way up some management channel and back down, someone with a pipe
bending problem just asks Bob, and the work continues in a few minutes
instead of two days later.  So a certain amount of that unnecessary yakking
actually speeds up the work overall:  you need to have a rapport with your
co-workers before you would offer or ask for that kind of advice.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #85 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Thu 16 Dec 04 17:25
Alan Turner: I think your observations are right on the dot.  It is
the tricks of the trade that flow back and forth in this kind of
chatter.  And everybody on a crew knows who is good at what because
they get to see evidence of it daily.  I also like your observation
about the importance of rapport here.  If you don't like somebody, you
might not pass on that handy trick.  I have enjoyed tapping into your
wisdom on this stuff, Alan.  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #86 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Thu 16 Dec 04 17:32
Several times over the past two weeks, we've discussed the way our
schools tend to separate hand from brain.  I kept meaning to offer some
examples of experimental educational settings where that does not
happen.  Let me list a few now.  

There is the venerable Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh, PA 
(  There is The Met in Providence, Rhode
Island ( and High Tech High in Sand Diego,
California (  And there is a developing project
in Austin, Texas called the Texas Legacy Arts Incubator
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #87 of 96: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 16 Dec 04 19:06
What a treasure trove of knowledge you bring!
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #88 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Fri 17 Dec 04 08:47

One more thing, this about education.  You say that as you're describing the
teachers you've watched, you realize that none of them is talking to his
students or to you in a way that suggests that some kids have got it and
some don't.  There's no talk about innate talents or of deficits vs.
giftedness.  Though this attitude prevails in other cultures (e.g., Japan--
you fail the university exams, you try again next year, and the year after
that if necessary) it's nearly absent in the U.S.  We really do carry on as
if some people have it and some don't.  Could you say more about that?
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #89 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Fri 17 Dec 04 10:30
Gail: That is very kind of you to say.  Thanks.

Pamela: This is something that has puzzled me for a while: that in a
country that has long defined itself as a non-aristocratic, supposedly
classless society, we develop other ways of stratifying ourselves.  The
impulse goes back centuries.  18th century mechanics were as a group
sometimes referred to in editorials as illiterate and incapable of
participating in government.  Whether it is through occupation;
geographical region; gender, race/ethnicity, immigrant status; or
scores on an I.Q. test we have this predisposition to classify entire
segments of our population as being more or less intelligent.  And the
notion that we have about intelligence is that it is a pretty fixed
thing.  I guess that's one reason that I wrote The Mind at Work, to try
to get us to reflect on these long-standing, seemingly commonsensical
ways of dividing ourselves up.  Maybe this is all just another
manifestation of the aristocratic impulse.     
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #90 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Fri 17 Dec 04 10:34
To all: This has been a wonderful experience for me, and I'm honored
to have been part of The Well community.  I have rarely encountered
such a group of engaged and articulate readers.  I learned a lot from
the exchange--I really mean that.  Thank all of you for the chance to
talk with you.  

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge Pamela for her
thoughtful accompaniment, Cynthia Dyer-Bennet for her guidance, and Jon
Lebkowsky (and his friend Ruth Glendinning) for inviting me into The

I will be away for a while over the holidays but will drop in
occasionally after that.  Happy holidays to everybody.  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #91 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Fri 17 Dec 04 10:39

The Japanese certainly excell at notions of aristocracy, but apparently it
doesn't necessarily relate to brains.  If you haven't passed your university
exams, it isn't because you're lacking the wherewithal, it's becaus you
haven't studied hard enough.  Different world-view.

But yes, we've got a long history of discrimination by class in this
country.  It's just that the lines change, part of what you referred to as
"amnesia".  What was once honored is now dismissed as negligible.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #92 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Fri 17 Dec 04 10:41

Whoops, Mike slipped as I was composing the posting above.

Before you rush off--or maybe after you get back--I hoped you would say
something to blast away these dualities that have plagued us: brain vs.
hand, abstract vs. concrete, intellectual vs. practical, academic vs.
vocational, pure vs. applied, reflective vs. technical, new knowledge work
vs. old industrial work, neck up vs. neck down.

Meanwhile, happy and peaceful holidays to everyone.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #93 of 96: David Gans (tnf) Fri 17 Dec 04 12:06

Thank you for joining us, Mike.  I am glad to read that you'll continue to
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #94 of 96: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 17 Dec 04 12:50
I echo David's thanks, and want to add thanks also to Pamela McCorduck for
lending us her fine talents in leading this conversation. What in
interesting, thought-provoking two weeks this has been.

Though our virtual spotlight has turned to another author, this topic will
remain open and available for further discussion. I know that Mike Rose is
busy and might not be able to check in much, but we'll look forward to
anything else he's able to contribute and welcome further discussion here.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #95 of 96: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 17 Dec 04 15:00
What a fine interview.  Thank you Pamela and Mike!
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #96 of 96: If gopod's on our side s/he'll stop the next war (karish) Mon 3 Jan 05 10:10
I apologize for coming late to the conversation; an emergency pulled me
away just as it gained momentum.

Between episodes of college attendance I worked for six years in a
job shop that specialized in abrasive machining.  It was striking how
much of the specific knowledge that made the company viable was held
in the minds and hands of the "unskilled" workers.  The engineers who
designed the machinery and the tasks couldn't have specified how to
do the work well enough to have replaced workers who had a feel for
how to get the most out of the processes.

On another note, I'm a bit disappointed that this discussion didn't
dig deeper into the issues Mike considered in his conclusions to
"The Mind At Work".  How can our educational system recognize the
value of learning skills not usually considered to be intellectual
without slighting the importance of the skills on which the schools
now focus?  This book wrestles with values in the abstract in a way
that reminds me of Robert Pirsig's battle with Quality in "Zen And
The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance".  How do we want to communicate
to the next generation what our society values?

And thanks for that song, <croz>.  You sang it for us in Redwood
City just after I learned that we'd discuss this book on the Well.
It was a great lead-in for me.

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