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Verbalize Your Thinking

·3 mins

If you spend any time with an expert in a field you know little about, you will soon discover that they recognize distinctions in their area of expertise that you simply don’t have. In fact, one characteristic of expertise or mastery is the ability to recognize fine distinctions that are invisible to a novice. Whether it’s the subtleties of a fine wine, intricacies of a perfect baseball swing, or analysis of a complex business problem, experts see the factors the differentiate among good, better, and best that beginners can’t. This can produce frustration in novices because the distinctions are literally invisible to them.

As a leader you may be frustrated when people on your team don’t see problems or potential problems that seem obvious to you. This is especially common when working with colleagues who have less experience. In those moments, recognize that the distinctions you’ve gained through experience and by making lots of mistakes may be invisible to your less-experienced colleagues. Since teaching is a core leadership function, it will serve you and your colleagues well to adopt two practices:

  1. When you are around someone who has skills or knowledge you are curious about, ask them to verbalize their thinking as they watch, listen, or otherwise engage in the activity at hand. For example, if you would like to learn more about jazz, put on a jazz station when your jazz-loving friend is around and ask them to say out loud what they’re thinking of as they listen to a particular song. They will describe subtleties of melody, harmony, improvisation, and rhythm that you didn’t notice until they pointed it out. Through that experience, you will begin to embody those distinctions too, and your experience of listening to jazz will be heightened.

  2. Begin verbalizing your thinking more often when working with junior colleagues. Hard-won lessons that have been ingrained in your thinking may not be obvious to others unless you say them out loud. It’s a bit like teaching someone to drive. Sitting in the back seat of the car while you drive will help a teenager pick up some of the elements of driving, but you can accelerate their learning by verbalizing the subtle signals you pick up from other drivers and decision-making processes you go through that have become largely transparent even to you.

A Thought to Ponder #

The more people have time to experience the joys of creativity, the less they will be consumers, especially of mass-produced culture. I see that as a kind of new wealth that counts for more than owning material things. I also see art as something people will do rather than consume, and do it as a natural part of their lives; creative endeavors are a form of profound spiritual satisfaction.
—Theodore Roszak

Something Delightful #

The development of low-cost computers like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino along with a variety of programming languages like Python and Node.js (among many others) have empowered a generation of creative hardware and software hackers. The “Maker culture” those tools have fed has inspired creative people from elementary school students to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to build amazing products.

Here’s one that will likely never see the light of day as a commercial product, yet exemplifies the hacker spirit. I give you, the “Yayagram!”