in the palm of your hand

A couple weeks ago, John Cook sent me to a clip of Grace Hopper speaking on the Letterman Show. She talked about her life as a computer programmer in the Navy (that’s an understatement). She talked about nanoseconds and picoseconds.

More accurately, she showed Dave a nanosecond and a package of picoseconds. The former, the distance light travels in one billionth of a second, was a piece of wire 11 inches long. The latter was a package of pepper from Wendy’s (or it’s the distance light travels in a trillionth of a second.)

coffee cup of beansThose images remind me of the importance of translating the abstractions we teach into tangibles, into things that can be held in your hand and handed to your audience, your students.

  • What if you want to remind people that you and they live in real places, even though you know each other online? You hand them a rock from your backyard, from the path outside the window where you write.
  • What if you want to remind people that you learned your craft of relationship the old, interpersonal way? You hand them a matchbook with the picture of a neighborhood tavern where you are only a stranger once.
  • What if you want people to understand how their writing goes beyond the walls of the room they are sitting in? Rather than writing on a whiteboard, you write on the windows and give them markers.
  • What if you want people to understand sacrificial death? You give them bread and wine, elements found across cultures.

What if you want people to understand “Make your own game”, a key concept in Chris and Julian’s Trust Agents?

You hand people small boxes, 3″ by 3″ by 1″.  with their name on the top. In the center of each table is a bowl, filled with small blocks of wood, pieces of string, pebbles, fragments of credit cards, shreds of newsprint, and coffee beans. Next to each bowl is a stack of 3×5 cards. The challenge for each person is to write on the card the thing they love to pursue. And then to sketch the gameboard for getting there. And then to gather the game pieces for the pursuit from the bowl.

For each person, the pieces are different, as is the game board.

At the end of the session, however, each person has a game, thought through, with a personalized carrying case.

No one else ever need look in the box, sitting on your desk, as you write your future.

The concept, the game you are playing, the thing that you are working on doing better than anyone else in the world, is there for you to carry in the palm of your hand.

3 responses to “in the palm of your hand

  1. Grace Hopper’s tangible illustration of nanoseconds has spread. I’d heard of it before I knew she started it. I’ve heard people say “One day my boss tossed this wire on my desk saying ‘this is a nanosecond’ and I never forgot his point.”

    When you make the intangible tangible, no telling how far your message will spread.

  2. John,

    good insight. it is amazing how word pictures and better yet tangible symbols of abstract ideas can help people get a concept. thanks for the post.

  3. John – thanks for that link. I had forgotten about it and the timing was perfect.

    David, so often word pictures and tangible objects overlap and reinforce each other. my guess, from your golfing and coaching, that you understand the tangible very well. Thanks for stopping by.