I’m spending most of January and February with two subject-matter experts who are also exemplary performers. My home office is just above our kitchen, which on Sunday evening looked like this:
I’m not much of a handyman, much less a craftsman; as an interested observer, though, I catch glimpses of technical jargon and insider shorthand, the kind of communication that flows when there’s shared expertise.
The contractors and I were talking this morning about expectations and understanding. Rob, who specializes in painting, talked about a coworker he once told to “prime the rock” (put a coat of primer on some freshly hung drywall, one brand of which is Sheetrock, to get it ready for painting).
The coworker (as you figured) didn’t have any experience working with drywall, and was apparently inclined to take instructions literally.
Part of the great fallacy behind Telling as Training, of course, is the assumption that because you know what you’re talking about, other people will get what you’re saying. (That’s apart from the idea that being talked at is an effective way to form new mental connections.)
Shortly before the remodeling began, I started reading Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought. He looks at how we use language as a way of exploring how the mind works.
In part he argues that a relatively small number of fundamental concepts–event, cause, change, intend, having, knowing–are the major elements that our thoughts are built from.
It’s an entertaining read (though perhaps not as exciting as the brief flood fifteen minutes ago when things went awry near a water supply line). Pinker works hard at countering the notion that language determines thought. Clearly, language affects thought, in that to express our thoughts we select works and assemble them in forms consistent with the rules of our language.
But the way we think in order to speak is not the same as the way we think. In words, we can use “window” to refer both to a pane of glass in a wall and to the opening in which the pane sits.
We’re clear on the underlying concepts, which is why we almost always understand what someone means when he says, “I saw her through the window.”
Some of the spark of creativity and insight comes from playing with those concepts. The photo on the left get s a special twist because this post heightened the ambiguity that “through the window” can carry.