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  • Both Interesting and Sad

    Posted by David Foster on January 23rd, 2014 (All posts by )

    A commenter at a post on value stream mapping, at the Manufacturing Leadership Blog, says:

    I saw a group of women who hated each other for over 20 years come to tears when they realized what the workflow was doing to their relationships.

    Hopefully, outright hate isn’t all that common, but I do suspect that many painful relationship problems in organizations are caused by processes and incentive structures that create conflicts of a pointless, perpetual, and unresolvable nature.

     

    7 Responses to “Both Interesting and Sad”

    1. Jonathan Says:

      A powerful insight that may apply also to personal relationships.

    2. Ginny Says:

      This silo thinking might be useful in stepping back from tech writing – is it better taught in English departments (with people who look at writing as both art and communication) or in specialized departments (in business or engineering departments, where the purposes are clear)? A specialist in the Elizabethan sonnet is not necessarily a better tech writer than a civil engineer. And should sophomores master MLA when their discipline’s style sheets are better designed for their topics and ones they will use later.

      We have a campus of 16000+ that is a feeder for a research school and even merges with it in the health sciences; the administrators are over forty miles away at a rural campus of around 2000 that prides itself on its football team. The question of whether disciplines or campuses should be “siloed” or merged comes from two different ways of looking at what we are doing. Not surprisingly miscommunication is common.

      I suspect we could use someone like David’s analysis and opinions. I suspect we will get those of people with EdAd Ph.D.’s. On the other hand, more analytic thinking of the kind you discuss may be appreciated if Reynolds’ (and many others) are right that the bubble is about to burst.

    3. David Foster Says:

      Ginny….I would think that if someone learns *just plain writing* really well, he’d be able to master either tech writing or English-department writing, or both, fairly readily. From what I’ve heard, though, many if most English professors don’t really enjoy teaching basic writing skills to freshmen…indeed, it would be better learned in high school, but that doesn’t seem to be happening with any reliability.

    4. Ginny Says:

      Writing, yes. And it travels. But tech writing works within different constraints and formats – as poetry does. Mastering those is part of the task. Teaching writing requires reading a lot of student papers which is time consuming – and we are becoming more egocentric. Losing yourself in another’s bad prose is not a particularly fun way to spend your life. As for tech writing – my husband enjoyed teaching it on all levels and abroad. I think that is because, though he’s published a lot of standard lit crit., his style resembles Jonathan’s – remarkably clear, direct, and concise.

      As far as teaching writing, I’m not sure what works. My suspicion is that the experts don’t – texts vary dramatically. For the twenty years I’ve been back teaching the intro to lit, those texts haven’t changed much, nor has first half American lit. But rhetoric/comp courses have. Partially being “timely” is more valued in that area – although its origins as a discipline are older. Either little has been found that works reliably or freshman comp can be so tedious every author wants to find a way out. Lately I’ve used some of the old Corbett exercises from when I was an undergrad (50 years ago)- but the new texts aren’t as focused on syntax and diction. If basic grammar hasn’t been mastered by the time they reach us, it may well be too late – or too late to learn it easily. Like acquiring a language.

      One subject of controversy in our department is how much to mark up. I was trained by a guy who’d gone to NY to become an editor in the thirties but post WWII returned to Lincoln. Our sentences provided openings for torrents of comments on our grammar, our thinking, and what else we might explore. I got a C the first go round, retook it under a different number and got an A, and, starting grad school, ended up his grader. He respected me, I think, but still claimed I was the cross he had to bear, since then (as now) my comma splices multiply. The problem: he spent time (his readers did a first go over and then he did an intensive second & gave it a grade) that might have been more usefully spent publishing by any modern department standards (he didn’t, not surprisingly). Students – witness my continued comma splices – didn’t always absorb. But I did believe my musings had an engaged audience that was taking me seriously – if critically.

      I’m curious about the opinions of those who care about writing – as everyone does here. My friend has moved into administration and she instructs new teachers (and hints to me) to mark lightly, apply rubrics. It is true that thinking they have an engaged audience may be offset by a sense of disproportionality (summing up a core problem like lack of depth or organization won’t be communicated in marks throughout the paper like syntax & grammar problems will). And a remarkable number of students don’t look at the comments. I’ll retire in a year or so, but those were arguments 50 years ago and may be into the future.

      Sorry I hijacked your thread. I’ve long wanted to write about Gaffney, but have become absorbed in the problems of today – mastering now the second on-line delivery system. And these are matters of efficiency, end-product, and organizational responsibilities – no matter how much we pretend we aren’t workers within an industry, we are. I suspect thinking from a more “what works” point of view would be helpful.

    5. David Foster Says:

      Not hijacking at all; it’s all about the organization of work and the effect thereof on the relationships among the people doing the work.

    6. Michael Kennedy Says:

      ” won’t be communicated in marks throughout the paper like syntax & grammar problems will)”

      I correct grammar and syntax in medical students’ write-ups of patient histories. I expect that the electronic medical record, which has a very clumsy interface, will destroy doctors’ writing. When I was in practice, I always wrote an extensive letter to the referring doctor describing the patient’s history and the problem, as I saw it. Many of them were very pleased to get such a thorough summary. I used the letter as the initial note in the chart.

    7. David Foster Says:

      An executive at Amazon who wants to get a major project approved needs to write up a short proposal (6 page max, IIRC) in text form…this puts a considerable premium on the ability to write concisely and persuasively.

      In most companies, this would be done via a PowerPoint presentation (possibly backed up by a very long document which might or might not actually be read by anybody)