Deep End, Shallow End

Laura’s take on things: inside Keith’s head is a pool of neurons, all freely associating and calling out “Pick me! Pick me!” I pick one at random and the words appear, formed, unformed, uniformed, completely naked… it makes no difference. Then I pick another one.

Which reminds me of a lecture I was filming this week. Well, two lectures actually. The first one was by Robert E. Quinn who was talking to high ups in the U of M medical school about leadership.

Leadership is Mr Quinn’s specialized subject and the random neuron in my head prompts me to write that it’s about dealing with the unexpected, about culture change in the face of chaos, about making things happen, creativity, all that good stuff. Management on the other hand is about order, stability, keeping the comfort levels high. It’s not about creating anything. It’s about maintainance and lessening anxiety.

Make sense so far? Good. Bob said a whole lot more too. He’s the author of a book which I’m sure Lucy would love, Building the Bridge As You Walk On It. But “Pick me! Pick me!” Okay, little neuron. Simmer down. You’re up next…

Lecture number two was also about leading and given by Karl E. Weick. He spent the morning talking to the same business and med school leaders about how we revert to learned—or over-learned—behaviours in times of crises. Look at a company in trouble, said Karl (who’s relatives’ names all start with the letter K), and you’ll often see the people in charge behaving the way they did in the jobs they had just before the ones they’re doing today.

Karl showed us a video of life on an aircraft carrier. One runway, hundreds of people, hundreds of take-offs, explosives, all pitching and yawing, slippery with oil and sea water, and crewed by a lot of people straight out of high school and college. Scary. But it works. Why? Team work was part of Karl’s answer. Team work, based on trust in the leader and in the team. Trust based on being open and honest. Clearly defined roles based on overlearning and some very tight choreography. Celebration of the individual within the team. Pride in the team. Humility of true leaders who value the result and the team above their own ego.

We saw a video of smoke jumpers following a catastrophe in which a number of them died. The leader created an escape fire. “Jump in!” he shouted. No one did. They didn’t trust him. They ran while he jumped and most of them died. Why didn’t they jump into the fire? The answers to that were the essence of Karl’s talk. Fascinating. I prefered the video of the aircraft carrier, though. Something about dangerous noisy jets and beautiful photography I find irresistable.

Karl provided various very concrete examples about human behaviour and groups in particular that shed a bright light on leadership. Karl also defined what a good lecturer should be. He was smart. He knew his subject, thoroughly. He’d researched his subject first-hand. And he was extremely entertaining. He was so good, I’ll probably buy the book. One of them, anyway. Once I finish the Dune series. It could happen.

Now I go to finish editing and then there’s work to do on a feature. Yes, that’s right. A feature. Pilot Fish written by Norm Roth and Jim Selleck. Directed by Keith Jefferies. Will people jump when I shout frog? I think so. I think I built up those leadership skills with cable TV. Keeping a diverse group of people together in a tightly choreographed team to create something. Many things. “Pick me! Pick me!”

Another thought. A social pyschology experiment where the subject is placed in a room with unknown individuals. They all swear identical lines are different lengths. The subject knows it’s not true. Yet he goes last and he agrees with them. Black is white, white is black in the face of group pressure. But the effect disappears with one other dissenter. A second person to back up an observation based in reality. Trust in the light of honesty.

“Pick me!” And then there’s the escape fire. Fire is the result of fuel plus oxygen plus heat. Remove any one from the triangle, the nice man from Herts Fire and Rescue once told us, and the fire goes out. The smoke jump leader removed the fuel. The fire couldn’t burn. Science is always relevant and the simplest science is the easiest to remember. Triangle of fire, hydrocarbons plus oxygen burn to create water plus carbon dioxide. Hot air rises, reactions occur faster when you increase the surface area to volume ratio, light follows an inverse square law.

“Me! Me!” Cognitive dissonance. The start of this thought train. Learning happens when our perception of reality and our internal knowledge don’t match. Dissonance. Leadership is about being creative in the face of this dissonance. Some of the solutions won’t work but that’s not what’s important. The important thing is to keep creating. Learn more. Try new things. Try some more. Keep trying. Avoiding falling back too hard on old, over-learned behaviours, past habits. That’s what it takes to make progress.

Publish and be damned. But publish! The neuron has spoken.

One thought on “Deep End, Shallow End

  1. Inspired…

    with a little help from a single malt from old Blighty maybe(-;

    Building a bridge as you walk on it is just what you do best.. keep up the good work.. just don’t try and explain it to anyone!

    Learning is what happens when our perception of reality and our internal knowledge doesn’t match. True. Happens every day if you want it to! Bring it on! Or you could spend a fortune on replacement cognitive therapy or (CAT) Cognitive analytical therapy.

    Free neurons are happy neurons – jumping!


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