Herding Cats

Post 11 of 30

Have you ever heard the expression ‘managing academics is like trying to herd cats’? Now every time I hear this I nod knowingly and laugh. Now actually why is this? I mean it’s not as if I ever spoke to a professional cat herder. Have you?
Apparently, the guys from EDS and Fallon have made a documentary:

Okay I can see if you are herding academics, scratches to your ego are inevitable, and after the debate about academic dress code, and here, and well there is Tumblr you might need that lint-roller.

I was wondering where this reputation comes from.

so my theory is as follows:

Number One

We are very good in finding answers and solving problems. We are even better in finding problems, and more problems, and then some. Problems you didn’t even know could be problems—we are very creative when it comes to problem finding. I would even go as far as to say we do love problems—and therein squats the toad. We are on a perpetual quest for cognitive dissonance.

Number Two

We have honed our critical thinking skills and reasoning for years, and years, and decades. We are very good in providing valid arguments to make a point. We will have shiny data, sparkling spreadsheets, pretty figures to support our argument and we will have found other academics who think like us and support our shiny data and valid arguments. We will also have found colleagues who contradict us with equally pretty data, whom we conveniently ignore. So we become very excited when we are convinced we are making a valid argument—a proper one, not like politicians during election year, using tautologies, hyperbole, and thinly veiled fallacies to make an argument. Oh no we do have the real deal!

Number Three

We are therefore also really confident and enthusiastic when we share our shiny arguments. Not to say our enthusiasm could be frightening—or off-putting as some postgrads may or may not have said. The enthusiasm could potentially be compared to a tornado set on its way. We only mean well because we love our data so much, it’s so cool, look at what it does! We just want you to be as happy as we are.

How to stop the enthusiasm tornado?

IMG_2936.JPG

Now to all of the above add the funny stuff The Brain does (emotional dis-regulation, impaired executive function etc) and you have the perfect storm. My strategy for preventing the enthusiasm-tornado is to build in checks and balances that force The Brain to be grounded and slow down.

Context dependent I identify colleagues who are usually more experienced, and have a much more senior perspective. To The Brain these colleagues look as if they have build-in scales. It’s difficult to describe but from their perspective very often comes a much more measured and balanced view of the enthusiasm tornado. A stronger awareness of institutional and/or structural inhibitors, and the most feared question of them all:

How does this contribute to the project’s aim?

Some years back, I had a chat with an Alchemist at a medieval fair, and he showed us all of his astounding experiments. When I asked him why he was doing these things (because there was a lot of ‘look at what that does’ and to my academically institutionalized brain not enough of ‘why does it do that’) he gave me a genuinely confused look and said:

Well, because I can.

So you can see where this story leads: we are living dangerously on the brink of a never ending story when we engage in research. There is always one more white rabbit to follow, there is always one more problem coming out of the woodwork, it’s never over. And all of these new problems are so darn interesting. Hence, the fear of, and the dire need for said question.

cof

Another, check to my balance is to involve colleagues who think diametrically opposite of The Brain. Because they ask all these questions The Brain would never consciously consider. And all these questions slow down the tornado very often so much so that it becomes a nourishing summer rain.

 

 

 

 

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