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11 September, 2012

Using Questions to Unstick Yourself

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While some students worry that asking a question is a sign of weakness, in reality questions are powerful tools that can produce new and original thinking. Questions are the foundation to good thinking. The more questions students can learn to ask, the better!

Questions acknowledge and honor the fact that we don't know everything. (We aren't supposed to know everything!) By nature, a question points out something that is unknown and then provides someone the opportunity to go searching for an answer to that unknown.

Questions help us see things from a new perspective; they let someone consider a problem or that "unknown" from a new angle. This is what can lead to that new and original thinking.

But the best part about a question is that it is an antidote for those moments—in school and in life—when you feel absolutely stuck. I mean, hardcore, can't think of a thing, no idea which way to turn or what to do stuck. Feet in the cement, stuck.

I asked some of my students to tell me how they know when they are stuck. I asked them, in particular, to tell me the physical reactions they have. I volunteered the fact that I feel a tightness in my chest when I'm stuck, and a lot of the times I can feel myself wanting to cry. Some students volunteered the idea that they feel pressure in their forehead; others said they could identify with my answer of feeling a tightness in the chest. Many of us agreed that the experience of being stuck leads us to feel sleepy. That couch or bed can look so good for a nap when we just want to run away from what we are finding hard, so our challenge becomes differentiating between when we are actually tired and in need of a nap between when we are just trying to escape our challenge.

Recognizing—being aware—of when you are feeling stuck is the first step to getting unstuck. Asking a powerful, open-ended question can be the next step. Give your mind a chance to start moving again.

Good questions can lead to good answers.

05 September, 2012

Criticism is a Badge of Honor

People leave impressions on us as we interact with them. Parts of who they are or what they said can cling to us long after they've walked away. The same is true for books. We walk around with impressions and ideas clinging to us.

With this in mind, I asked my students to reflect upon what from one book you read this summer has stuck with you until now? 
I feel like the oddball in our department, but I didn't read any fiction this summer. It was all nonfiction, and I'm not even sure what genre they all really fall into. One book I read is called Tribes by Seth Godin. Godin is a professional blogger and also a marketing expert. This book is about the tribal mentality that we can use to look at people. 
People want to be led. They want to get excited alongside other people who are excited about the same things. The trick, then, is to be a leader around something that is interesting, worthwhile, and something you care about and then build some sort of structure that lets others get interested and excited right along with you.

It can be scary being a leader, though. When someone becomes a leader for a tribe, she steps up to play a bigger game, and in playing a bigger game she is more visible. This means she is also more vulnerable to criticism.

Godin writes about criticism and how he views it. One thing  he said that stuck with me was that he views his challenge when creating a product of some kind--whether it's a book, a website, or whatever--is to ask himself, "How can I create something that critics will criticize?" He says that if he doesn't receive criticism once he reveals his product, he believes that he has then simply produced something that is unremarkable, mainstream, and did not confound anyone's expectations. Things that are not normal to us do not get criticized, and the way to actually be a leader is to change the status quo. Leaders should receive criticism, and they should see it as a badge of honor.