My Desk Was My Fortress

I remember back in elementary school the day we rearranged our desks to face each other in groups or pods.  Each pod had four or six desks facing each other.

elementary_classroom2I was living through the beginning of the new “group work” in schools.  We see it everywhere these days.  Children are set to work in teams even for apparent solo activities such as math or writing.  Many learning activities are group related.  No matter if many of the kids are quiet and focus their energy inward.  Learning is now more social.

Is it the best approach to learning?  Is “pushing our desks together” better in the workplace?

I promised more posts coming from my reading of, Quiet: The Power Of Introverts by Susan Cain.  Once again I do highly recommend the book.  In a chapter titled, “When Collaboration Kills Creativity”, Susan makes several important observations:

A New Groupthink is Growing – This is where we elevate teamwork above all else.  Creativity and intellectual achievement come from a gregarious place.  As Warren Bennis says, “None of us are as smart as all of us”.  This is both true and untrue.  We need to be careful to allow time and space needed by those quiet introverts who very often are the most creativity in the group.

We Organize By Team – It has grown for years and today nearly all corporations organize by teams.  Through team building and constant face-to-face meeting time, there is precious little time to be alone with one’s thoughts.

The Walls are Disappearing – In many organizations the only walls are the ones holding up the building. The open office plan is the rule.  By one estimate 70% of today’s employees work in an open environment.  Once again no space for the individual.

Deliberate Practice gets Lost – It is a quiet solo activity and a key to exceptional achievement.  When we practice deliberately we find the tasks or knowledge that is just out of reach.  We practice to improve, to create and to achieve.   In our groupthink  team-based, office space without walls environment … this level of deliberate practice becomes nearly impossible for so many of us.

Much for us to ponder in our leadership roles.

Alas I return back to my early school days … Even though my teacher pushed the desks together into pods, she did a wonderful thing.  Each of us was given cardboard shaped into three sides.  When placed on the desk, the student shut off the other students.  When the student looked forward, left or right, there was this boundary.  Each student was effectively alone.

cardboard_spaceshipWhat was the purpose of creating such a wall, especially since we just pushed our desks together and more social learning was starting?  My teacher was wise enough to know that each student needed quiet and alone time – to do math problems, to write a story, or to just read.  For introverts this is a necessity.  For extroverts … not a bad idea either.

We decorated and painted our cardboard walls. We loved using them.  There was time for social learning and time to get lost into self when each student pulled out their cardboard dividers.

As I look back now my desk was my fortress.

What do you think?

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