I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Talk recently (that’s right, capital T!), and how it affects life in general. The reason for all this thinking is that my PhD supervisors thought that it would be a good idea for me to read a book that focuses exactly on Talk (The book I’m talking (hehe) about here is Julian E. Orr’s fascinating workplace ethnography “Talking about Machines”). And oh wow, were they right! So many reflections on my past life in various roles related to helping people use, come to grips with, or understand technology within organisations!
What they wanted me to realise is that Talk is done in order to do things. We catch up with people through Talk, we show affection through Talk, and in the case of the book, we (putting myself into my old Technician shoes here, and seriously, if you have ever done or supervised any customer-facing field service work, go and read that book! Now!) construct narratives that help us solve problems – through Talk.
But Talk is imprecise. The way each one of us humans does Talk is shaped by our previous life experience, by our surroundings (scientifically speaking, contexts), and of course our vocabulary. This is probably one of the reasons why subject experts tend to talk using different words for certain things – and also, why our own Talk changes as we get better at things (I still remember when what used to be simple plastic for me became a multitude of different things – PVC, ABS, you name it – all with different properties). So when I, as a young kiddy engineer in school, talked about plastic before, I really talked about an abstract thing that actually did not really exist – it only existed in my own reality, because those who knew what it really was, called it by a different name. Their Talk was different to my own Talk!
And this is where things get gritty. If my own word “plastic” means something different than my neighbors’, how can we make sure that we end up talking about the same thing? (There’s at least one other angle on this as well – see Schopenhauers “Eristische Dialektik” for his sarcastic treatise on how people use foul moves to “win” discussions – a funny and priceless (as in possibly free, because old) read for anyone whose work involves Talk… but wait a minute, isn’t that everyone?!)
So, the first step to communicating and discussing effectively is probably to realise that a mismatch of wording has happened (hopefully this happens before items are being flung around the room), and then explaining to one another what was meant in the words that were used. And this explanation needs to take into account the person we’ve been talking to – their history and context (you know, their surroundings 😉 )!
Therefore, and this is the heart of this post, the key to effective Talk (which can lead to Change, oh yeah, capital letters, folks!) is understanding others, either through acquiring the way they Talk and using that, or through enabling them to use your way to Talk – which, by the way, is one thing effective teaching (and its counterpart, learning) does.
And that’s that! That’s what I wanted this blog post’s Talk to be about.
Now, if you have any thoughts about this, let me know! I also, of course, don’t mind you sharing it 😛
good thing it was summer.
school was having a break, students enjoyed the weather (if and when it indeed was enjoyable) and farmers were busy bringing in this year’s harvest.
somewhere in between all these, I was doing bits of everything – helping out at my parents farm, hiking up lots of mountains and slowly getting my research on the way. and do even more hiking in the beautiful alps.
However, something has caught my eye recently:
Open schools, forest kindergartens, waldorf and montessori schools are examples for this change in the school world. they allow kids to discover the world guided by their interests, with or without control, but with full responsibility for their progress. models like these naturally depend a lot on the teacher (this is not unique to this model, but true for all forms of education), which brings us to the next quote in this post: “there is no need to educate our kids. these idiots just follow our example anyway”.
So one important fact to keep in mind is that the best way to lead is to lead by example. After all, this is how humans learn: we see how something works and then we repeat it… Or do we? I remember a paper that concluded in stating that if we learn from experts, we are able to apply the more abstract concepts in different but similar situations – so-called transferable knowledge/skills.
If learnings happen amongst peers (communities of practice? i really need to read more about those..), or if you gather people who face a certain challenge and let them learn from each other, they quickly become capable of solving this exact problem all in the same way; however, if the challenge is altered slightly, success rates are dropping.
I wonder whether this also extends to self-help groups (possibly even groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous). Furthermore, how does this apply to Maker Communities? Is it experts vs. novices, or is it communities of peers? I guess it’s probably bits of both…
So a few weeks ago I attended a public discussion on the future of art, culture and science in rural areas. The people invited to the podium included Xenia Hausner, a distinguished artist and one of the organisers of the summer academy in traunkirchen, Anton Zeilinger, distinguished physicist, internationally known for his discovery of instantaneus transmission of information, or “beaming”, and Martin Hollinetz, the founder of the open technology labs OTELO.
The OTELO educational workshop types and the Traunkirchen summer academies share some characteristics (though they are aimed at different audiences, and the processes of their inception worked very differently), in OTELO being a bottom-up approach based on individual interests of local community members, and the others taking a rather classical seminar style. Both of these apoproaches in combination would, in my opinion, work very well together…
OTELO and frag den freak
The reason why I’m thinking about these things is because of my own work in the open technology labs OTELO.
My role as the organiser of workshops at the open technology enabled me to create a format called “Frag den Freak” (no, not first-person-shooter fragging, it just means ask-a-freak). The goal here is to bring experts together with complete newbies and have questions answered that laypeople do ask themselves but usually can’t find answers to themselves.
This has been received exceptionally well and has expanded to topics such as bakery, acoustics in the household, to the design of functional clothing – and many more to come!
Find anything in here you don’t agree with?
Want to know more about the OTELOs?
let me know!
Last weekend I’ve abandoned my comfort zone yet again. I’d been given the opportunity to go and work with the lovely folks in the Taarifa Project. This blog post is aimed at letting you participate in the first day of my journey to Africa.
My first steps on non-european soil were loaded with new impressions, and the thing I found most interesting in the beginning, even more than the warmth at 10pm, was this very different smell of everything.
It was sweetish sensation that massaged my nostrils and filled my lungs with anticipation and excitement. Even though I had gotten up at 3am, I was wide awake, to an extent I probably couldn’t even reach through coffee. Everyone else had left the plane before me, because I didn’t realize the people that were still staying in were actually flying onwards, back to Amsterdam where I had just come from. It was a solitary experience, the walk to the (immigration?) point, where you handed in the forms saying you were entering greater Africa, but it also was my first encounter with a very different culture.
When I finally did catch up with the folks who were on the plane with me, I realised that I really should have filled out those forms they gave to us on the plane already too – leading to a frantic exercise in filling out forms that clearly were not made to contain a place of birth with 12 letters. But eventually I made it through, and it turns out I was too nervous to even notice what my fellow traveller Jeremy Morley pointed out how different everyone began to act when I answered the question of where I would be staying – the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dar es Salaam, where a room was ~USD120, and a single breakfast USD45.
We were picked up by a cab driver who, in a very friendly tone told us he had someone else to pick up at the airport in 15 minutes time, which was clearly not doable. I didn’t pay too much attention, too astonished by how subtly different everything outside was. a huge billboard in a language I had never seen before, next to a small but brightly lit ad for my former employer, Bosch. The roads were good, at least the vast stretches between the potholes wider than a witches cauldron, and probably just as deep. The product of short but wall-density-like rainfalls in the weeks before, as I was told.
“So if you’ve only ever seen the mediterranean once, then this is probably the first time you see the indian ocean too, right?”, Jeremy said, pulling me out of my pondering and gazing. “Where is it?” “Just over there, on the right” – and I saw it and what I presumed to be city lights in the distance turned out to be reflections of the stars on the water. (OK, this might sound a bit cheesy, but I swear I’m only making a third of it up 😉 )
After 20 more minutes of traffic that had me noticing how different the license plates were, marvelling at the traffic lights (that for some seemed to be of a rather suggestive than imperative nature) the cab dodging cauldrons, being honked at and honking at others (It seems like almost a social thing, people simply using the various communication facilites of their cars a bit more than back home) we arrive at an indian restaurant where the rest of the party had been waiting for a while already.
So first contact with food in Africa was made, and while the food itself was very good, the experience itself was as if we had entered another world. It was very clear that some of the group had gotten used to how we were treated, I however was not at all. The restaurant, apart from two other tables was empty and in my memory had what felt like the size of a quarter of a football field. Five staffers made sure we had everything we needed, without it being intrusive – just incredibly friendly.
After finishing the dinner, we left for our Hotel, which didn’t turn out to be the Hyatt after all, but the Rainbow Inn, substantially cheaper, and, as it turns out, still a bit overpriced. “They really saw you coming”, as it was put. Our vehicle on the journey, a tuk-tuk sporting three of us in the back, plus my overzealously packed big piece of luggage, braved the very calm roads, and we arrived in the city center, in a scene that could have been out of a movie. Well, actually, it’s probably just that that’s the only means I have to compare the two.
The hotel wasn’t as bad as everyone told me hotels in africa would be, but that could be just because they did so beforehands. The duvet sported a few faded stains, and when I saw the bathroom wet cell I realised what they were going for when they designed Mos Eisley in Star Wars: A New Hope (yes, that was the movie I was talking about earlier 😉 ). But it was fit for the job, I washed my feet and felt good. After brushing my teeth with water out of the bottle – good practice in africa, as the tap water doesn’t have drinking quality.
I went to bed, tired, excited, and most of all happy that after a long time of thinking about whether or not I should do it, I overcame my initial doubt and made the decision to work with the Taarifa Project.
So yeah, I’ve started a 4-year PhD Programme at the University of Nottingham‘s Horizon DTC, a doctoral training center (yes, that’s what the DTC stands for) dedicated to researching the digital economy.
And so far, two weeks in, everything seems really nice, the place is lovely, the flatmates are awesome, the colleagues impressive – everything as it should be 🙂
as we have to do taught courses as well, in the recommended readings of one of them was a link to a TED talk ( Kevin Kelly – How Technology evolves ) that I’ve found to be very interesting… but, following up on a mention of a colleague, the one thing that I think everyone should watch (und auf TED gibt’s Untertitel in vielen vielen Sprachen 😉 ) is this one by Dan Ariely:
(and: oh, wow, i just realized that’s from 2009! )
(on a second note, i don’t know what’s so exciting about the 2009 thing. GO WATCH IT ANYWAY 😉 )