Saturday, March 03, 2018

Big picture, small details, collaboration, and The Good Place

Figure 1. If you're not watching The Good Place, you should be.
I've mentioned before that I'm part of a collaborative project that's been going on for some years. (Think editing a journal, running a conference, or working on a grant.) We all have the same background but our strengths differ slightly: one knows MLA style up, down, and sideways, etc.

The details are important in this project. What I'm good at, though, is the big picture stuff--organization, logic, and sense-making in the writing that we're dealing with. I might not pay attention to whether the comma after an italicized phrase is also italicized or not, or even notice it, but then, my collaborators will, so I'm not worrying about it.

So far, this has worked well, and we work well as a team. But in one recent facet of the project, there's a huge problem that I'm having trouble convincing them is a problem. I've done the work to show why it's a problem, and explained it more than once, but no dice.

 A few analogies may help.


Dried Leaves
  1. Someone gives you a nest of crumbly dried leaves and you have to put it together as a folio of coherent writing that makes narrative sense. 
  2. Wait--you also have to put it together in the order that the person who gave you the leaves implies, but will not tell you, is the one, true, and correct order. 
  3.  You investigate over many hours, find evidence that helps, put it together, and write up an explanation. Aha! you think.
  4. Your collaborators say, "I think that there is a pixel of green on this leaf. We have to discuss that at length."

You say: "If we take this route, we'll get to a lifeboat."

Your collaborators say, "these gates across the third-class east stairway should be painted black, not blue."

The Trolley Problem

You, as Chidi from The Good Place: "Logic and ethics make this the best solution! Also, arrrgggghhh!"

Collaborators, as Eleanor and Michael: "Did you notice that there are 14 spikes holding the rails on the left side and 15 spikes on the right side? We have to discuss that at length."


This will all probably work itself out, but right now, I'm Chidi.

Or not, and I need to get out of this project, when they praise each other for their mad skilz and brush past my genuine intellectual contribution to say "thanks for keeping track of the edits."  Yeah, I might be done. 


Anonymous said...

they are waving smoke in your examples. Acknowledge they communicated and redirect back to the problem you are seeing.
GOOD LUCK!!!!!!! sounds quite awful.

sophylou said...

I am chairing a four-person committee which has had two new, completely inexperienced people assigned to it (and the fourth person-- the only other one with institutional knowledge) keeps missing meetings. So meetings go like this:

Me: [institutional background on how things are done]
Inexperienced person who has worked here for four months: That's terrible! How do we fix [giant thing which is admittedly not awesome but which is waaaaaaaaay beyond the scope of this committee] [comes up with inappropriate strategy for fixing giant thing]
Me: [blinks]

Lather, rinse, repeat. I get emails like this, too, and the amount of tact I have to use in shutting down these strategies without discouraging the new person is WEARING. ME. OUT. Sometimes context is just context; this one committee isn't required to SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS.

I am required to rotate off this committee at the end of June. Not that I'm counting the days or anything

Anonymous said...

The president of my AAUP chapter had big plans for us in the fall and I did my part toward realizing them. Then president (and others) stop working and I realize I cannot bring these events off all alone. I say look, we must officially cancel since this has become unfeasible. So president quits as president, with orders: says you are now president and I order you to do x, y, and z. I say I cannot. President says you have no choice. I say well you refused, so can I.

My question: this isn't just any freakin' committee, this is the AAUP. President is being destructive and also passive agressive. It is all on me, in this situation, to save the chapter, or not. I think the only option is not. And it will be my fault!

I have been strongarmed by this chapter into office before. I am just so done.

undine said...

anonymous--good suggestion! I lost this one decisively & have indicated someone else can "keep book" on the edits next time & that I'm not available for the next month, so at lest I feel better.

sophylou--are we in the same department :)? I have a colleague (tenured) right now like this. His answer to everything is to abolish all tenured ranks, b/c inherently oppressive and racist, and run things as an anarcho-syndicalist commune from Monty Python. It's good of you to use tact to shut it down. I'm deleting his emails and it feels good.

profacero--This is awful. Can't you quit?

sophylou said...

Sadly, I'm pretty sure this committee person has been put on my committee with the idea that we (really, *I*) will mentor her on... everything. But this pattern of "I will listen to background and show how perceptive/proactive I am by asking how to fix LARGE UNFIXABLE PROBLEM... which actually means that SophyLou will tell me what the right channels are and do all the legwork, while I get cookies for being perceptive!" is DRIVING ME NUTS.

Your colleague reminds of an exercise I had to do in high school world-history class: we were all put into groups with different political persuasions ("Utopian Socialists" "Capitalists" etc.) and had to read a formative document on that group in order to answer questions from the teacher about how we would solve various problems. I was in the "Communists" group, we read the Communist Manifesto, and our answer to every question was "There's gonna be this REVOLUTION, see..."