Head spaces

Adaptability has its limits, and I notice this most when I travel for business. As hated-on as it is, the standard office cubicle has it benefits for facilitating work flow: compact space with no potential for physical exploration; a consistent environment with regular neighbors; lower volume levels, neutral color palettes, a relative lack of embellishment. As a creative person, it’s weird that I find myself longing for this space when traveling with work in mind. It brings up ideas of finding the “‘right’ head space” for facing and accomplishing tasks, how subtle changes in environment can impact the thinking/learning process.

Unforgettable moments at Gate B71

After my first flight, I decided I loved flying — a decision quickly reversed by my second trip, which involved 3 layovers and a total travel time of 14 hours. Yes, there’s still that vague feeling of “adventure!” when you step into the terminal with your roll-y bag, but I don’t think I’m the only one who feels a slight nausea and anxiety when they see a packed terminal. Last week, I traveled to Orlando. I had plenty of extra time to sit at my gate and work some, but trying to review my meeting itinerary and respond to emails was hopeless. The combination of self-consciousness, feelings of ill-preparedness, distracting co-travelers, and ansty-ness to catch the flight culminated in me seriously being unable to focus… but not only that. I found myself feeling more and more impatient– super unusual for an early riser like me. Why did I feel so unlike myself? Who had the power here: my environment or me?

I was traveling for Calibration: a big, weekend-long meeting my sub-committee takes every year to hash out a bunch of decisions and pitch new ideas for current and future conferences (some background: it’s a sub-committee for the Student Volunteer Program for a little conference called SIGGRAPH.).

cal·i·brate
ˈkaləˌbrāt/
verb
gerund or present participle: calibrating
       mark (a gauge or instrument) with a standard scale of readings.
  • correlate the readings of (an instrument) with those of a standard in order to check the instrument’s accuracy.
  • adjust (experimental results) to take external factors into account or to allow comparison with other data.

The idea of going to Orlando wasn’t just spurred by the fact that it’s off season for theme park resorts.  Sometimes it takes new scenery to break yourself out of your usual patterns and think outside the box. In order to bounce ideas off each other and speak with complete honesty, we needed to be in environment that wouldn’t allow us to fall into the usual traps we do at home; mindless escapes into the computer, biases reinforced by everyday happenings, and even the barrier of a screen are all things that can hinder truly productive collaboration.

Three days of collaboration in the strange-smelling house let us work our brains to the max in a total “control” environment. In the same way the hectic airport brought out the negativity in me, being in the blank slate AirBnB allowed some of my inborn personality traits emerge. Instead of feeling the need to behave a certain way (a pressure you typically can’t escape in any situation but solitude or family time), I could let go of my self-imposed “shoulds” and play to my individual strengths. Without any external pressure influencing our behavior, we revealed ourselves to be a pretty well-balanced team of talkers and listeners, passives and aggressives).

The idea of environment dictating personality plays into another I had an idea for another blog posts about hallowed halls of learning and how feelings of reverence for historic sites/figures can affect the way students approach work. If all modern classrooms were actually located at the site of Aristotle’s Lyceum, would lessons feel more meaningful? If my Calibration meeting had taken place in Boulder, Colorado at the site of the very first SIGGRAPH conference, would we behave any differently? It’s strange to consider how many factors can potentially shift the way you think.

The experience was very revealing and brought to light another important aspect of collaboration, too: bonding. Connected learning via the internet is a big thing at my work (and that’s a big understatement), and though I know it’s great from an academic point of view, there’s something to be said about learning from, connecting, and engaging in-person with people you trust and enjoy spending time with. The fact that we came together being completely ourselves amplified the learning experience. One of my teammates said something really significant: we come to Calibration with the objective of accomplishing a few specific tasks, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about accomplishing objectives while learning about one another, feeling out the group dynamic, and gauging what efforts are needed to become the most successful, happy team possible. This is an idea that I’ll certainly carry with me into my own work, especially as it connects to collaboration and connected learning.

At the airport, I learned that Psychology Today is actually not that awesome of a resource for finding academic articles about psychology; BUT it does make you look smarter than everyone else in the terminal as you enjoy your $17 muffin and coffee.

The takeaway from all this is a potpourri of “be yourself,” “be aware of yourself,” “be aware of your surroundings,” and “don’t underestimate the power of friendship.” Oh, and “don’t go to Harry Potter World thinking you’ll accomplish anything.” You think you’ll sit down and discuss the last of your meeting agenda, but you won’t. Too many dragons.

E

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One thought on “Head spaces

  1. Pingback: Rambling – Part Two: Milwaukee | Lather / Rinse / Reinvent / Repeat.

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