April 30, 2009

Great advice!

"Never put yourself in the position of being the best musician in the band." -- Roseanne Cash

I know that, pretty much every time I sit down with people, everyone else in the room knows more about something than I do.
However, almost all of them agree with the saying that it is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought an idiot, than to open it and remove all doubt.
So, how do you break the ice to get the experts sharing?
I do it by asking dumb questions. It's a tough job, but it's my job. Sometimes.

Great advice

"Never put yourself in the position of being the best musician in the band." -- Roseanne Cash

great question

During the Q&A at last night's "What is Music to Your Ears? The Science of Hearing," featuring Daniel Levitin (author, This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of Human Obsession) and musician Rosanne Cash, an audience member asked Roseanne, "If there is any question neuroscience could answer for you, what would it be?"

Roseanne responded, "How to cure addiction. What it is, and how to get rid of it."

April 26, 2009

Knowledge Sharing

Just as I was about to throw my Treo out the car window, Neil, a Verizon Wireless technician, called to see if my Treo had once again begun to access incoming email. It hadn't, and Neil had spent the time since our last call researching a solution - which got the device properly functioning again. [Wireless Sync passwords can not be reset to the previous password.]

I pointed out to Neil that four of his colleagues, over the past 24 hours, had been unable to assist me. I asked him if there was an internal server or some other mechanism for him to post this customer service solution, so that both technicians and customers could benefit. No, Verizon Wireless has no system for sharing such useful information.

Is it assumed that all technicians know this information, and sharing it would only make employees appear ignorant? They are ignorant! Neil did a great job, and his story - my story of becoming a happy customer - should be shared among Verizon Wireless staff.

Neil knows something that his colleagues do not; this knowledge must be shared in the easiest way possible.

April 23, 2009

Proofreading is important!

The Washington Natinals (sic) baseball team took to the field...

April 20, 2009

Oh, but I had my heart set on one...

Anyone receiving NIH funding under the stimulus bill American Recovery and Reinvestment Act should be aware that such funds cannot be spent on an "...aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool."

April 19, 2009

more on "in media res"

At yesterday's Golden Fleece organizational storytelling conference, someone described "in media res" not simply as "to start in the middle", but as "to start in the mess."

What is the inciting incident? This is a compelling, and meaningful, place at which to start your story.

April 16, 2009

all data tell a story

Data without emotional context are meaningless. If you wish to better understand data being presented to you, ask the presenter:
  1. What happened that made you commence the collection of this data? Why did you begin the search?
  2. What happened during the collection of the data? Did any surprising incidents occur during the collection of the data? What was the biggest obstacle in gathering information?
  3. What has happened as a result of collecting this data? Have any people, places, or things been changed as a result of this data?
And, prior to presenting any data yourself, ask and answer these questions. Create the story of the data.

April 14, 2009

convergence of story, Buddhism, and Improv

I am, right now, deep in thought developing a framework of persuasive messages for a large national non profit; preparing a presentation on the use of narrative intelligence and anecdote for sharing knowledge; reviewing notes from a lecture series I recently attended on Buddhism, therapy, and the ordinary; and in the middle of a difficult course of Improv. At last night's Improv class, all three paths of thoughts converged upon and reinforced each other. The lessons and their applications:

* The importance of sharing knowledge. We were taught that when your scene partner offers you the information required to frame a story - who, what, where, and emotional context - your partner "is giving you the gift of who you are."
What a delightful analogy to the importance of sharing a personal reflection early in conversation! This is especially important to presenters: when you tell the audience why you are there and why you care about your issue, they can truly reflect on why they are present and listening.

* "It's not about creativity; it's about connectivity."
This is my new mantra for overcoming resistance to the important idea of sharing anecdote and story for enabling trust and personal connection. Don't hesitate to share your story because you don't think it meets Disney or HBO standards. You don't have to be a creative genius; you can enjoy being authentic and sharing your passion.

* "You make it easy on someone by giving them clear information."
Meaning, well, everything, but especially: if you want to help someone take the next step, be clear and benevolently strategic in the information you share.

* "Embrace the ordinariness of your plight in each scene." And, "You don't want to solve your problems, you want to have your problems."
Mark Epstein, a psychotherapist who integrates Buddhism into his practice (and has written several books), spoke about rejecting the notion of the ordinary as nothing is happening. Only then can one fully live in the present. Mark talked about "The adventure of enduring possibility: if you are in the moment, you do not know what the next moment will be." The idea of giving up control is what I am finding so appealing (and frankly, so difficult) about Improv. My Improv teacher also instructed us to:

* "Give up control and play!"

Mark defined anxiety as "attempting to make the future known." He stressed, "Become that in the moment," and summarized the basic teaching of the Buddha as, "we take ourselves too seriously."

April 11, 2009

thinking about twins thinking alike

Yes, twins think alike. What's more, "Genetic Contribution to Variation in Cognitive Function: An fMRI Study in Twins" is way cooler than the title suggests, for two reasons. First, "variation" understates what they're measuring, which is more like different mental strategies – a difference in kind, rather than degree – ; secondly, participants were not just twins, but sets of three brothers: two identical twin brothers, and a non-twin brother. That third brother is crucial to the experiment, because he shares about 50% of his genes with the others, allowing an estimate of the heritablity of variation in mental strategies. 

Another great thing about the paper is the structure of the discussion section. The authors ask: 
If genes affect typical as well as atypical areas of brain activation subserving cognition, this raises three questions: (i) Are brain activations under genetic influence interpretable in terms of cognition? (ii) Are the two mechanisms for genetic influences on brain activity related to behavior? (iii) May genes affect neural networks that are highly individualized in nature?
And then they go on to address each of their three questions, in turn. I found this organization very helpful! Tell me what the questions are, then answer them. 

April 9, 2009

brain surface current density

That phrase-repeating thing that Zippy does? Where he grabs hold of a phrase – or it grabs hold of him – and he just repeats it?

Lately, I've been learning more about neuromagnetism and magnetoencephalography, and "brain surface current density" has been going through my head. Repeatedly.

Brain surface current density. Brain surface current density. Brain surface current density.

April 6, 2009

specifics result in understanding

Sarah Treem, a writer for the HBO show "In Treatment", was quoted in yesterday's New York Times saying, "For some reason when you bring in a very specific situation, it will open up something that all sorts of people can relate to."

Yes! Details are essential when sharing a story. Too many speakers either shy away from details when sharing a story, thinking that ambiguity and a lack of particulars are more welcoming, or add too many details, in an effort to appear authentic. To be sure, both of these communication errors stem from generosity, and an honest desire to connect with the audience.

The most effective communicators add just enough detail so that the listener can walk around inside the story, but not so many so that the listener is shut out and prohibited from seeing themselves as a part of the story.
Remember, communication is a gift. Do not drown your listener in extraneous facts, but blanket them in sensory details that allow them to relate to your story, and find personal meaning in what you are sharing.

April 1, 2009

"The care of the sick unfolds in stories."

The soundtrack album for "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus" opens with the words "Back then, everything was stories, and stories was everything."

Well, it turns out that medicine is stories, and that is why Columbia University is offering a Master's Degree in Narrative Medicine.


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