Sunday, November 14, 2010


Back during the spring quarter, I took Business Law. An eye-opener, since I wanted to be a lawyer as a kid. Not that it was a total waste, since I got to learn about contracts, but what I really didn't like was being forced into a study group. I was number six and so were five other people. I set up a wiki, so we could communicate and not one of them could figure out how to use it--or email. But they were big on meeting face to face.

I'd almost managed to do brain soap, but watching the "extra chunky" video brought it back.

If you haven't seen it, it's hilariously funny, even if it "is" about food science.

I'd never listened to Gladwell before. A good thing, because it's easier to form your own opinion when no one is trying to tell you what to think.

The people in my study group were a lot like early Ragu. Stuck in their high school mindsets, rolling on to take "study skills" in college. Trained--you know? To think a certain way and do things right. To conform.

Conformity, group work, and respect for authority figures--the system perpetuates itself, over and over as people leave school to become authority figures.

What brought it home to me were the presentations. Each month we had to pick a case and rotate through different parts. The first month, I got the conclusion, which included implications and possibilities.

To me, implications and possibilities meant ripples, and what that might trigger. Since we were number six, there were five presentations in front of us. I spent the whole time shaking my head. I'd gotten it wrong. Obviously, implications meant a summary of the facts and what happened next.

Five times. Five summaries.

By the time our presentation rolled around, everyone else in the class had gotten crappy grades and I was thinking, "Great." I sighed, clicked the powerpoint--and launched into my spiel. This might happen, that might happen--see here? Since this did happen, right here, sometime in the future, this might also happen, given things don't change, but if they do, this might happen over there.

Appalled silence. I kid you not. Thirty five faces, all staring like I'd let out a fart. Squinched up and pained.

Then the teacher asks me a question. He was the only one who understood implications and possibilities--out of the entire room, all thirty-five people, from all walks of life, at all levels of education. He could "see", but no one else could.

When you do it in the real-world, it's called out of the box thinking--when you do it in a system, it's called non-conformity. I got a good grade, but the rest of my group were freaked out and I was rotated into questions where all I had to do was parrot the facts. I slept for the rest of the quarter, head down, full out, and truthfully--let the group carry me. It made them happy.

Gladwell says back in the seventies, Ragu did a lot of market research. They'd put people in focus groups and ask, "What do you want in a spaghetti sauce?" and people would say "authentic" and "Italian"--you know, all the normal stuff you think when you think spaghetti sauce, when what they really wanted was extra-chunky.

Every time I hear someone say, "I don't have a degree in English." I wince. You don't need a degree in English to write. You don't even need to know the difference between Dickens and Bradbury, or what all the devices are named. Because none of it matters.

The reason the teacher could see was because he was old, and maybe that's why they used to say old people are wise--because it takes decades to get rid of behavioral conditioning. Whether I have a system, someone else has a system, a doctorate in English, or taken classes in creative only works if works for you.

Everyone is different.

The auto-response to writing is "English degree." I remember English. There were study groups there, too.


Kaige said...

I actually like some of Gladwell's writings. Not all of it resonates, but I like the way he looks at things. There's some stuff I disagree with too, it's not all extra chunky. :)

Just shows that labels hardly ever match up exactly to what we're thinking too. It's just easy and convenient and hopefully the person we're trying to communicate with has a similar definition behind the label. When that doesn't line up, yup, non-conformity.

Great post!

Eva McKellen said...

Oh my, I've been in groups like that, Jodi it can be very tiring I've found!

I really enjoyed how you used pasta in this. Limp noodles are fun only when they are falling off your fork. :)

Anonymous said...

I LOVE Gladwell, and that was just so not about food. Brilliant.

...looking on your sidebar to see if you ahve the magic potion to answer my writing question...

Lauren Murphy said...

Do you live in my head? I have been on the receiving end of too many of those blank stares and I am super young according to the rest of the world (not counting my kids who probably think I'm all wise and ancient lol). I am so out of the box I don't think I even remember what one looks like and it scares the living crap out of people. Great post!

jodi said...

Thank Kaige!

And Hi there, Eva! Glad you made it over.

Hi Anon! Side note--I love the word "anon", too much time in Shakespearean English in High school. If you haven't found the answer, let me know. Sometimes I carry a few extra in my spare pocket. :)

Lauren!! ((hugs)) (don't tell anyone) :)

Lauren Murphy said...

You're secret is safe with me. ;)

Hailey Edwards said...

Every time I hear someone say, "I don't have a degree in English." I wince. You don't need a degree in English to write.

I'm living proof of that. Long story short--I'm running off a tenth grade education. While that means I have had to kill myself the last two years learning basics I should have already known, it also means somewhere in my yawning void of ignorance is something uniquely me. A freedom I have, probably because I don't know any better. ;)

I was in chat doing sprints last night and someone screwed up the courage to ask what I was working on after I've been participating there for weeks. I sort of like that while I'm beneath notice, my words on a page are not.

Conformity in writing is a bad thing. I'll buy there are only so many building blocks for any given story, characters too. Worldbuilding possibilities, though, they are endless. The potential for glimmers of originality--infinite.

jodi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jodi said...

Hailey, in some ways I think education does writers a disservice. It makes you think certain ways, you know? That's why I can never go back to school, because I felt myself changing. Like that song, right? Numb by Linkin Park.

I think you're fine the way you are. I once listened to a lecture by...was it Hilary Sares? that broke down who'd sold to her recently by their education level and organizations, and most of them were independents with a high school education or lower.

In a lot of ways, I'm glad I got kicked out of college the first time. And you know they're jealous of your gorgeous cover. :)