Let’s Go Brain-to-Brain, Birds

Chickens, I’m continuing to think about how “quaran-time” has us reconsidering our connectedness…collectively, we’re “distanced” from others in a way we’ve never been or imagined we ever would be…and it feels weird…it’s a unviersal ‘awkward-moment’ and we’re all dealing with this raging case of ‘separation anxiety’ in our own ways…

Me? Well, I think I’m doing what most of us do in times of crisis…fall back on tried ‘n’ trues…and for me, “distance” has always been a state of mind.

In other words, when it comes to “connectedness”…physical proximity isn’t a necessity…or even a priority. Physical proximity may actually distort our sense of connectedness…

It seems counterintuitive that people sitting together, in the same room… hearing-seeing-touching-tasting the same things…could leave the room being disconnected. However, not unlike the classic images above, the assumption of connectedness is illusory. Our “quaran-time” is a friendly reminder that sharing a classroom, office, or home with people does not guarantee ‘connection.’

How can it be? How can we be so far apart even when we’re not this far apart?

If you have a significant other, I know you’ve had this experience…you go somewhere together…dinner w/friends (remember those days?), a doctor’s appointment, a movie…and the next day, you talk about it…

but a few minutes into the conversation, you’d swear in court that he/she couldn’t possibly have been in the same place, at the same time…your experiences were so different…so disconnected…you actually start Googling AI-generated people. Are they a ‘thing’ yet??? Is there a Tom-‘bot’ living in my house?

Such are the building blocks of our experience…completely arbitrary…they are ingredients…if we do nothing with them, they remain a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, 2 eggs…only when our brains start to mix and bake…then, only then, do we have cake!

Only thing is…we each have our own recipe book…one that has been cultivated year-over-year with unique influences like perspective, preference, personality. So imagine…when we hear “Let them eat cake!” how motley our dining will be!

In my last post about teamwork, Kirsten Weir differentiated between ‘teamwork’ and ‘taskwork’ by identifying teamwork as …the interrelated thoughts, feelings and behaviors of team members— […] that enable them to work effectively together” which speaks to the true nature of connection …understanding how others think…what recipe they’re following, what cake they’re trying to make, and why.

Throughout ‘coronamunication’ (apparently portmanteaus are another pandemic pastime…gotta’ love English majors!) I’ve recognized a pattern in my communications that goes something like…

Sooooooo, here’s how my brain is working

then asking for reciprocation…

How is your brain working?

In other words…’let’s go brain-to-brain’ and figure out where and why we’ve disconnected.

It is no coincidence a ‘best-practice’ study strategy is called “mind-mapping”…finding a way to verbalize and visualize our understanding is essential to learning and learning is, ultimately, a process of connecting. Mind-mapping can be time consuming, but it’s critical if we’re to find out where our paths diverge…because divergent paths create disconnection in our relationships – personal and professional.

When we go ‘brain-to-brain’ we begin to uncover the real reasons for disconnection…things beyond the standard non-verbals like eye contact, posture, and inflection. While it’s true non-verbals like tone are hard to read in electronic communications…(even face-to-face when we can read the eye-roll, the “salty” stare, the slumped shoulders…these after all, are just superficial expressions of disconnection) unearthing the underlying causes and roots of disconnection will yield far more substantial and effectual results for teams and relationships, in general. But this is hard work, so we often stay on the surface…regardless of proximity.

‘Perspective’ is one such deeply-rooted facet that shapes how we connect with others…and perspective is a kaleidescope of experience, education, values, interest, survival, worldview, personality and on we go…

Consider:

…as the progression of images above from the picture-puzzle book ZOOM and the classic elephant example below suggest…

perspective shapes everything and it has a very complex relationship with proximity. It’s also heavily influenced by what we’re looking for. As an example, let’s really get into some “Monkey Business,” Chickens…

Keep in mind, an individual’s perspective is never right or wrong…it just is. So we have to give ourselves over to suspending judgment with regard to an individual’s perspective, but at some point, as Steffan Surdek suggests in his Forbes article on understanding perspective, personal perspectives have to adapt, to intersect, to merge, to at least run parallel, if connections are to be made and sustained. Surdek uses the term “perspective-coordination”…another way of saying mind-mapping or ‘going brain-to-brain.’

This is some high-level, Gordan Ramsey, Top Chef style cooking we’re into now, my Plumed Pals…and from my perspective we’ve scratched enough of the surface, done enough mixing (of, ahem, metaphors), to keep us connected for another day…but we’ll go ‘brain-to-brain’ again soon…and don’t hesitate to share your perspective in the comments section…show me how your brain’s workin’…map it our for me, Birds!

Kershaws Bespoke Gifts

How Does a Team Work?

‘Teamwork’ has become so cliche it’s been rendered almost meaningless…we take it for granted…kind of like ‘nice’ or ‘love’…or the calories in most drinks on Starbuck’s menu (I mean, they are not part of our daily count)…we click the thumbs up on ‘teamwork’ and just keep clicking…

But our current pandemic has me thinking a lot about teamwork. Come to think of it, Chickens, I’d be surprised if you weren’t thinking about it. Every commercial (…am I the only one impressed by how quickly the smallest local businesses right up through the largest international corporations have churned out new ads on all the major networks and streaming platforms?) reminds us that we’re “in this together” and “though we’re apart, we stay connected“…

And this is no coincidence…

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. ~John Donne

…pandemics, definitively, are continental. So our distance is giving me a new perspective on teamwork, though I readily admit I’ve been “socially distanced” from the concept for a few decades now. Maybe because I’m a passionate individualist, or an introvert, or competitive by nature, or as my mother liked to say “prone to an artistic temperament,”…when I think of teams…if I’m honest, I think…enh. I mean, I’ve had some great ‘team’ experiences, personally and professionally…and I’ve had some excruciating ones too…I don’t think I’m unique in this regard…but we are a social, civilized species so our survival depends upon our ability to function collectively, on a pretty ‘macro’ scale…to say nothing of the ‘micro,’ more nuanced implications that hold our days together like plain weave.

shorpy_29008u.previewFor many of us in ‘merica one of our first, official run-ins with teamwork is little league. I started playing softball when I was about 7 or 8…because I could throw the ball farther than most of the other girls (…accurately, well, I was less effective in this regard) but the distance was enough to land me a position on 3rd base. The thought of pitching, all about accuracy, terrified me (even with someone’s dad standing on the mound)…ditto catching and first-base (those balls come hard and fast, even at that age, and I was way too vain for a broken nose or busted lip)…and we all quickly realized the “right-field girls” didn’t much like to run. Or catch. Or throw. We also quickly learned that a win meant the whole team piled into the back of a Chevy-pickup to scream-sing our way to Dairy-Queen. To this day, ice-cream has never tasted so good.

All this to say, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what makes a ‘team work.’ In the Harvard Business Review, Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen claim there are 4 “enabling conditions” required for a team to thrive:

  • Compelling direction
  • Strong structure
  • Supportive context
  • Shared mindset

Compelling direction = purpose. Why are we doing this? It’s got to be a purpose that has substance (which is why the parental “because I said so” loses its effectiveness), it has to hit the “zone of proximal development”…some educational jargon that means it needs to be challenging, but not too challenging,…and it has to be consequential…another facet of human nature is that there has to be some perceived benefit…

Since we’re all members of ‘Team Education,’ this is revealing. So many of us struggle, as students, to feel connected to our team’s ‘compelling direction.’ I see it in my son as he approaches college…unsure about his purpose, how can he possibly plug global warming or WWII or 1984 or 5-paragraph essays into it…to say nothing of how algebra could possibly fit?!? Struggling with Kant readings, way outside his ‘zone of proximal development,’ in philosophy class…while rewards like being a ‘well-rounded citizen;’ securing a fulfilling, lucrative career; or heck, even earning an ‘A’ seem intangible to say the least.

Strong structure…Brady-Belichick-Gronk. The Ghostbusters. The Avengers. The 3 Amigos. The Rebel Alliance. Apollo 11 astronauts. The 90s Chicago Bulls. Every good team needs the right mix of members…there were 3 amigos, 12 Bulls…5 on the court, 7 on the bench…(most sports have a penalty for too many players on the field) so quantity matters, but quality does too. By this I do not mean that some human beings have more value than others and neither do the experts…only that high-performing teams are built to include members with balanced and complimentary skills…

  • Pete Venkman: charismatic, risk-taking, funny, outgoing
  • Egon Spangler: genius, logical, scientific, cautious
  • Ray Stantz: practical, optimistic, playful, flexible
  • Winston Zeddemore: questioning, loyal, quiet, supportive

ghostbusters-2020Structure is the right marriage of individuals with task. If the task is elimination of ghosts…Venkman brings in business, Egon knows the enemy, Ray builds the equipment, Winston questions everything and drives the car.

If the task is elimination of ghosts…Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day, and Ned Nederlander are not who you’re gonna call.

Supportive context…having a framework that provides incentives, information & access, training, and resources can eliminate a lot of dysfunction…less dysfunction means more productivity and efficiency.

Leo Beebe tried to impede Caroll Shelby and Ken Miles by withholding information, access, and incentives creating dangerous dysfunction within the Ford motor company…

Ford vs. Ferrari

and this particular clip further demonstrates how a compromised ‘supportive context’ can lead to teamwork being used as a weapon rather than a tool.

“Men work together,” I told him from the heart,

“Whether they work together or apart.”

~Robert Frost

Shared mindset...according to Haas and Mortensen’s research “distance and diversity…as well as digital communication and changing [team] membership…” lead to “us versus them” thinking…as the COVID-19 marketing clips above prove, the pandemic imperative that allows us to maintain “social distancing” and practice good hand-washing hygiene is that we all think of ourselves as “us” – one huge, human team (birds of a feather) – and the virus as “them.”

In APA article “What makes teams work?,” Kirsten Weir differentiates between ‘taskwork’ and ‘teamwork’ by describing teamwork as “the interrelated thoughts, feelings and behaviors of team members— […] that enable them to work effectively together.” …obvs why this one is a biggie, amIright?

We’ve all sat at this table a time or two, amIright? When it seems like thoughts and feelings aren’t so interrelated…

Despite the ease with which we ‘talk team’ (and I’m sure we’ll talk more soon), true teamwork may be the stuff of dreams. But we are driven to dream and team…at home, at school, at work…at home-school and work-from-home and schoolwork and homework…there is a team for you, a team for me, a team on which each and every one of us belongs, where we can scream-sing in unison…

We’re #1, 2nd to none

and mean it…even the “right-field girls”…

Did someone say Dairy Queen?

We interrupt your regularly scheduled quarantine to bring you this very important message…

From our “coop” to yours, a Farnsworth family production for any of you Thundering Chickens who may be feeling a little “cooped” up…

BE SURE TO USE CC FOR OPTIMAL VIEWING.

Producer, editor, videographer, and sound technician: Holden Farnsworth

Simon Cowell-esque Voice-over: Holden Farnsworth

Writer: CJ Farnsworth

Banned from karaoke bars all over the Ohio Valley: CJ Farnsworth

Sleeping on a couch in a room far, far away: Tom Farnsworth

So much and admiration to Gloria Gaynor for the original iconic song and unparalleled video.

Watch Ya’ Mouth

Always a good rule of thumb, but with so much more urgency right now….amIright? Cover it. Don’t touch it. Keep it to yourself.

Geesh…I’m feeling a little tired, Chickens…like there’s a fox in the hen house tired! How ’bout you? And I mean, we’re at home…you know what I mean? How can I be tired? I haven’t left the house?

But there are types of tired…there’s emotional-tired, overwhelmed & burned-out tired, bone-tired, bored-tired, depressed-tired, over-worked tired, too-much and too-fast tired, I-can’t-sleep tired, wired-tired, sick-tired, hungry and/or tryptophan tired, too-hot/too-cold tired, I-don’t-know tired, confused-tired, talk-too-much tired, alone-tired, social-tired, trying-tired, too-much-coffee-too-late-in-the-day tired, too-much-wine tired, if-my-dad-calls-one-more-time-to-ask-me-why-his-phone-did-“that-thing”-again tired, there’s-nothing-left-to-watch-on-Netflix-and-I-refuse-to-watch-the-Tiger-King tired…

So take your pick…any one of those and then some could be cause. Comes as no surprise we’re all feeling a little out-o-sorts. But if you’ve tuned in at all (…how could you not? Did I mention tuned-in tired?) there are plenty of great tips circulating to help us minimize fatigue and step off the COVID-19 Coaster…while we stay at home covering our mouths and washing our hands…because life, Chickens, has got to go on…so I’ll share how we’re trying to apply a few of these directives at my house.

Lay claim to your space…good-bye dining room and kitchen, hello work and school. Find a place in your house that is designated for your “outside” life…make sure it’s stocked …looking for ‘stuff’ you need leads to distractions and wasted time. If possible, use your designated space only for its interim “outside” purpose…this will help to establish boundaries between your “outside” (public/work/school) life and your “inside” (personal, family) time. At my house, there are three of us bringing our “outside” lives in…claiming our own space is helping us preserve our marriage and ensure our son is gracious if/when he has to choose our elder-care home.

My son (above) claimed space in the dining room, using every square inch…while my husband has set up on the kitchen table where he keeps it simple and compact.

Keep to a schedule…I suppose there are Type A’s out there who keep it all in their heads, but we…especially my son who, like students all over the country, has been catapulted into finishing the last 2-months of his junior year of high school, online…needs lots and lots of structure during a typical week at school…so making the leap to an online education is a crash-course in time-management and organization…there is no better preparation for college and more importantly…for life, my Best-Feathered-Friends…it doesn’t matter how you do it or where you do it…but get your daily/weekly schedule nailed down. Seeing it-is doing it…where tasks are concerned.

In the same vein…keep yourself accountable and establish boundaries… across the board. That’s our fridge…the Post-it reads…Don’t Be Stupid. Easter is right around the corner, Chics…and that means spring then summer and sun and shorts and maybe even the beach…(if not this summer, then next)…if now is not the time to be thinking about our health and taking care of ourselves… then when? I do love ice cream and sugar is my favorite afternoon slump-buster…but sitting in the house all day, less the 3-feet from the fridge…well, sometimes we need to see the writing on the wall…don’t be stupid.

Finally…laugh. You’ve kept “space” during the day…so in the evening…come together…because one thing I can tell you is we got to be free…

Before we were made to start “nesting,” Chickens…I bet a good many of us couldn’t recall the last time we sat with all of our family members…around a table…with nothing to do but Watch Ya’ Mouth

…and be free

And, Chickens, do not squawk to my husband about this video making the blog…see above about trying to survive COVID-19, marriage in tact.

Damn You, Earnest

Hemingway infamously advised wanna-be writers to cultivate

…a built-in, shockproof, bull*$#! detector

and mine has been sounding off recently. It’s not a system I’ve nurtured, rather mine is by nature…I can’t remember not hearing it’s blip-blip, so I took a strange comfort in this quote at first…it was one of those light-bulb moments…maybe more a lightning strike of self-awareness quickly dimmed by the thunder of social disapproval…

It is true that any activity requiring socialization is best undertaken by leaving your BS detector at home…at least on vibrate…while I do work to keep it muted so I can move more nimbly through each day, our current situation requires me to sound the alarm. I mean, we’re already “socially distanced,” so it might be a good time…since some of you may not like what I’m gonna’ say…

It is precisely that we’re doing everything at a “social distance”…not least, learning, our mutual concern…so before your feathers get ruffled…indulge this ‘processing moment’ (Wut?! See what I did there?? Threw it back to my last post…no she di’int?!?) with me…

...but online classes don’t work for me…I just can’t learn that way.

Sorry, Chickadees, this is where I gotta’ call it…

Beeeeeep…

You can, my Favorite Fowl, you can learn and be successful online.

You can successfully learn online, on the ground, in the air. 
You can be learner who learns anywhere! 
You can learn inside, outside, upside down. 
When you learn to learn with a smile not a frown!

Suessical as it may sound…it’s actually science. A 2018 Stanford brain-scan study confirmed what Sesame Street has been trying to tell us since 1969, the attitude with which we approach learning is just as (if not more) significant than IQ…and they’re not alone, Carol Dweck and many others have been telling us for decades that we need check our ‘mindsets’ at the classroom door…it’s really just simple ‘law of attraction’…if we keep putting out “can’t” vibes…that “I’m not capable” boomerang’ll be back to hit us in the teeth every time.

Once we’ve locked in our “my little engine can” mantra, next up is a check-in on our ‘preferences.’ We’ve disguised (really through no fault of our own) our lazy learning habits in “learning style” costumes and “study strengths/preferences” accessories for too long. When theorists like Gardner and Fleming came along throwing out multiple intelligences and VARK instructional preferences, we scooped it up like candy….

Suddenly, we had an easy-out for grades less than we hoped they’d be…e.g. Prof. X’s teaching style doesn’t match my learning preferences OR I just don’t have a mind for math OR fill-in-the-__________ class just doesn’t work for me...

While well-intentioned and not without merit, most of these learning theories have done more harm than good. Research demonstrating the weaknesses and misapplication of these theories continues to mount. Let’s consider learning styles, for instance. We’ve all taken surveys that aim to tell us how we “prefer” to learn…and our results may indeed reflect our penchant for visual or kinesthetic experiences…but just because we prefer one thing to another, doesn’t make our preference any more beneficial than our aversion…I would choose java-chip over mint-chocolate-chip everyday of the week, but it doesn’t make ice cream a healthy dinner entree.

In a 2018 study published in the American Association for Anatomy, Husmann and O’Loughlin reach the same conclusion most research on the subject does, “…the conventional wisdom about learning styles should be rejected by educators and students alike.”

Fortunately, there is plenty of research offering alternatives that have been scientifically proven to work. SPOILER ALERT: They require effort…the kind of effort that may lead to sweating or swearing from time-to-time. The kind of effort that years and years of “passive learning” can make seem much more intimidating than it really is.

Here are some of the things we know are effective:

  • Space learning/study sessions out over time (interweaving concepts and subjects)
  • Experience the material in multiple modalities (incorporate a variety of “intelligences” and “preferences”)
  • Self-test (using a variety of formats, including the one the test will be given in)
  • Elaborate on material (make content and personal connections)

As far as online learning is concerned, many students who think they “can’t” learn this way are probably suffering from a case of “stranger danger.” Anything unfamiliar can produce discomfort or downright panic, especially if we feel coerced into “taking a ride.” But we should take comfort, most students do find with time and use of good strategies, online learning can become a positive, productive, and even preferred mode of instruction.

It does require:

  • Daily planning and time management (you simply MUST schedule time every day and every week to be in front of a screen, working in all of your classes…setting a daily/weekly schedule and sticking to it is the MOST important element of succeeding with online courseworkset your schedule in stone and do not, under any circumstances, barring being ill w/COVID-19, stray from your schedule until you have confirmation that you have passed your courses!)
  • Careful reading & time dedicated to reviewing all course information
  • Self-awareness and initiative (there’s nothing passive about online learning…it requires students to ask when they don’t know and seek when they can’t find)

If you can implement these 3 strategies, you are well on your way to lovin’ learnin’ online! Any additional “preferences” are there for the taking…do you like working with a “human being?” No problem…reach out to a tutor so you have a “processing buddy,” email your instructor for a Zoom meeting to ask some questions, connect with a few classmates on *Discord, Google Hangouts, Skype, or your preferred platform for some group study time, enlist the help of your spouse, your parents, or your kids…make learning a family activity…read together, teach them about what you’re learning, or have them quiz you. My 16-year-old ‘schools’ me daily on his ‘preferred’ tech tools (*see Discord above)

Like to hear and see rather than just read…check out YouTube for excellent educational channels on every subject under the sun, use audio/voice accessibility features in Google, Microsoft Edge, Word, or Adobe…the options are endless and the choices are yours! The only prerequisite for success online is that you must become an “active” learner…and since we’re waving our BS detectors around…no real learning happens, even for a student with perfect attendance, who claims a seat in the back row and avoids eye contact until class is dismissed.

So Chickens, I may have your hackles up…but I hope you are reading the intentions between these lines…

And then some! With the right attitude, the right tools, and the willingness to actively engage…you can learn here, there, and most anywhere! If it isn’t easy – it will get easier. If isn’t your preference – focus on your options. If you doubt me, I will leave you with these wise words from Hemingway…who, let’s remember, got us into this mess to begin with…

Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.

It's a Process…

I would ask how you’re doing…you know…living through this unprecedented pandemic an’all. It continues to reveal itself, doesn’t it? The ripples extending softer and wider each day passing…but I think the better question is…how are you processing?

How are you processing, Chickens?

Let’s do be sure we all have the same eggs in our baskets:

As a verb, let’s consider how “processing” can be defined:

  • the act of performing a particular series of operations on information
  • actions that are taken to change raw materials during the production of goods
  • the use of a computer to collect, store, organize, and use information

And when we use our glorious gray matter to collect, organize, and apply all the “stuff” coming in…all the ‘sees,’ ‘smells,’ ‘feels,’ and ‘thinks’…we make this “raw material” into “goods” or something good…in the form of learning, awareness, experience…

And so when we ask “How are you processing?” we’re asking the most essential human question:

How are you making meaning of your life?

Dive with me, Chickens…this is an unusual time for us as individuals and communities…our lives have been interrupted in the smallest ways (have you tried buying toilet paper recently or avoiding memes and GIFs about buying toilet paper?) right on up through the biggest…the global economy, our health care systems, international relations, life and death, if we get right to it…

Many of us are experiencing our work, our families, our communities in entirely new ways, feeling the whole while like our heads have been separated from our bodies…so who has time to ‘process,’ you Crazy Chicken Wing-o, you may be asking.

But I think that ‘processing’ time has to be included on our ‘To-Dos’…it’s what has allowed homo sapiens to reach the top rung of the evolutionary ladder, after all. It is our ‘job‘ to learn and grow…to develop our self-awareness and our connection to the world. So what is a crisis, but the universe reminding us to do our jobs.

I know we are all just survivin’…but I also know we will. So let’s agree to step back and make time to ‘process’…we live our lives on continuums and ‘processing’ is no different…some of us can’t stop (to the detriment of everyday activities like recognizing we’re almost out of toilet paper) and some of us would rather extract our own teeth with a rusty monkey wrench…wherever you fall, there are ways to make time for ‘processing’…the following are some ‘breeding ground’ activities…

  • Go for a walk/jog, any kind of individual exercise
  • Sit for 15 or 20 minutes by yourself, if it feels weird…make a cup of coffee or tea
  • Find a ‘processing buddy’ – someone who likes to think deeply about life (you don’t at all need a Ph.D for this…my dad has only a high school education and worked in a steel mill his whole life…he was my first ‘processing buddy,’ an armchair philosopher…he has an endless curiosity for psychology, sociology, biology, astronomy, music…he is still, after almost 8 decades, fervidly passionate about living in the world and loves to spend time thinking and talking about “being human,”…he was and still is, for me, a most valued ‘processing buddy’)
  • Go for a drive to nowhere (stay in the car, social distancing an’all, and find some ‘country roads’) wonder and wander
  • Listen to music…it ‘frees the mind and the rest will follow’…music is always ‘en vogue’ (yikes! that’s a “dater”)
  • Do 10-15 minutes of “stream-of-consciousness” writing…write anything and everything that pops into your head…DO NOT CENSOR yourself, that’s super important…and surprisingly hard to do…to kick start your ‘processing brain’ write on napkins
  • Take a nap

These activities give your brain time and space…when your brain has time and space it defaults to ‘processing’…yep, we are literally built for it! Even when we’re sleeping, maybe especially because we’re sleeping, our brains are ‘processing’…

Usually, we’re so busy…often creating ‘business’ (e.g. distractions) for ourselves…socializing (virtually & F2F), shopping, eating, running errands, helicoptering and bulldozing for our children…and on and on…we work really hard to oppose ‘processing’ in the course of our ‘normal’ lives.

So Chickens, I hope to keep connected with you (I know I’ve failed fatly and epicly for at least a year now…) to keep ‘processing’ with you…

It is, after all, a ‘job‘ we share.