The best class I took in college was Professor Micklus’s upper level English elective, “Evaluating Literature.” I learned to vivisect a text to see how it worked, to pull back the skin to see its beating heart, how the blood moved through its veins, where its muscles connected to its bones. I learned that my impressions of the text were starting points to be probed for their origins; my opinions were not really mine and not really opinions at all–they were reactions the author constructed with similes, with caesurae, with motifs, with word choice. A different word here, an adjusted theme there, and you’d have something new.
This mode of interrogation has become part of how I move through the world. I don’t see finished products so much as I see the tiny choices and processes that make them up. It’s not much of leap from there to see how you could make better tiny choices and create more elegant processes to end up with a better final product. My professional life has revolved around that kind of problem solving. I’ve built a reputation for having good, constructive suggestions on how to improve things.
In a large meeting this morning, my colleague Camilo held a post-mortem on a cool event we held last month. He walked us through feedback we’d received from external participants, then opened the floor for our ideas and comments. He walked across the room with a handheld microphone; “Now I want to hear from you all about what you thought worked well, and what could we improve. And I’m going to start with Kerry Grannis.”
I protested that I hadn’t raised my hand, but Camilo said, “Yes, but I know you always have suggestions.”
And I did. I took the mic.