Day: February 27, 2019

Why Didn’t You Just Say So?

During the winter months, not only am I employed in the Office of Continuous Improvement here at Michigan Tech, but I’m also employed at our university ski hill, Mont Ripley. At Mont Ripley I’m a certified professional ski instructor and instruct two advanced PE classes throughout the week. Last week I was working on helping my students to learn how to pole plant and the importance behind it. This is a lesson I’ve taught many times to many students with highly variable demographics. Normally I would start this lesson by relating to down hill skiing to other sports, I would segway into asking if anyone has heard of a pole plant, then I would explain how to go about pole planting and why it is we pole plant, then I’d do a demonstration and move the group into an activity to practice for themselves. For this particular lesson I followed my regular lesson plan progression, except I unintentionally left out the piece about why pole planting is important.

This single, simple slip-up made such a dramatic difference in the flow of this lesson compared to all of the others in the past, while also making my job incredibly hard to succeed with on this particular day. We were 50 minutes into our 90 minute lesson when I was scratching my head in confusion, “was it because this group was international? Have I lost my touch? Where did my deployment fail?” I honestly couldn’t figure out what was missing. Until one of my students asked me, “What is the point of this lesson? Why are we learning this?” Ah! Why hadn’t I said that in the first place?! I finally figured out what I was missing. The funniest part about this whole lesson was that as I was going through the flow of my lesson in my head, I did “mention” the importance of pole planting, but I never verbally communicated it. I may have demonstrated its uses and applications implicitly but I never broke it down and communicated it explicitly – so the value of the first 50 minutes of my lesson was lost. Luckily I had 40 minutes left and I was able to apologize and answer the questions I meant to display earlier.

One of my favorite things about down hill skiing is the chair lift rides. After every run, you are granted a minimum of three minutes to reflect – whether that be on your lesson plan, your skiing, your day, even your life. Last week I reflected heavily on leaving out that one piece of information, I reflected to try and identify other pieces of inherent knowledge that I possess but may not have communicated because it was so inherent to me. I also reflected on where I’ve experienced this sort of thing before.

Being a student employee for the Office of Continuous Improvement has allowed me to act as outside eyes on a lot of kaizens. Each time I’m in a kaizen I find myself listening to the current state of the process and intentionally visualizing the steps, trying to catch areas of vagueness, this is my trigger to ask a question, “Is there something more happening here that’s second nature to you?” I have trained myself to ask questions of team members to challenge their implicit knowledge into communicating it explicitly. I like to think I’m good with this skill, but last week reinforced a few ideas on this topic of inherent knowledge:

  1. Communication is hard, but just like skiing, there’s always room for improvement
  2. When we leave things out, even one thing, we can hit a wall that we can’t progress beyond unless we communicate the things we didn’t say.
  3. Inherent knowledge that isn’t communicated plants a seed for assumptions, this allows five people to leave a conversation with five different understandings of what the conversation was.
  4. Communication must be open and mutual, I knew I was missing something in my lesson last week but I wasn’t able to correct it until my student brought to my attention what I left out.