David Crosby (croz) Tue 14 Dec 04 09:31
yes it is a new one ....it's on the new C/N record .....I wrote the words and Dean Parks wrote the music .......
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 14 Dec 04 10:12
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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 products? 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.
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.
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.
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 (www.manchesterguild.org). There is The Met in Providence, Rhode Island (www.bigpicture.org) and High Tech High in Sand Diego, California (www.hightechhigh.org). And there is a developing project in Austin, Texas called the Texas Legacy Arts Incubator (www.microenterpriseworks.org/projects/ruraldevelopment/atm/programguide-artis an.htm#11).
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 16 Dec 04 19:06
What a treasure trove of knowledge you bring!
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?
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.
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 Well. I will be away for a while over the holidays but will drop in occasionally after that. Happy holidays to everybody.
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.
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.
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 visit.
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.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 17 Dec 04 15:00
What a fine interview. Thank you Pamela and Mike!
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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