Unpack Your Process

Like working in theatre, working in the art of pyrotechnics is always instructive. This seems to be particularly true when I am occupying a mentoring position. This July 4th was no exception. We were working on a show of significant size and the crew was made up of people with a mix of knowledge and experience. One person had had experience with wireless, computer-driven shows, but was going to shoot her first manual, wired show. It was also the first time I had left a site in the middle of the set-up, so there were many new things going on.

Before I left the site, I talked with the most experienced person on the crew about running the cables from the firing board to the trailers which held the pyrotechnic product, stressing the order in which the cables needed to be laid. We were sure that we understood each other, so I left for a time. I was confident that all would be fine. During the time I was gone, we texted back and forth confirming the cable order and placement. That worker then left to go to another site.

When I arrived back at the site, everything looked great. Only when we began to check the circuitry did I realize that the entire show had been wired backward. I had a small fit, proclaiming quite loudly that wiring was “always, always, always” done a certain way. After I calmed down and assessed the situation for what it really was, I realized that this had become a learning situation for me too.

It turned out that even though the person in charge of placing the cables and I had full agreement about what went where, we were using completely different terminology in referring to the orientation of the trailers. Our perspectives were 180 degrees off. Thus we ended up with wiring that was perfect—from her point of view, and completely backward from mine. It had never occurred to either of us to verify how we were thinking about something as basic as trailer orientation. We both just assumed that we were correct. After all, it wasn’t the first rodeo for either of us. Once I figured that out, everything became clear.

Another thing that became clear was that I had no idea why cables were “always, always, always” attached to trailers in a certain prescribed order. The order of cables had been drilled into me by those who trained me and who had decades of experience. Most of the things they taught me had to do with safety and efficiency, so I just presumed that cable order did too. But faced with my own pronouncement, I realized that the reason was never explained. I did it that way for the weakest of reasons: because that was how I was taught to do it.

Upon examination, I realized that there were indeed reasons to attach cables the same way every time, and there were reasons to wire that same way for this particular site, but those were really after-the-fact realizations that while valid did not provide a rationale for doing it that way in the first place. So far as I can tell, there is no intrinsic reason that cabling the way I had learned is better than any other approach. I had just never thought to question it.

So, I re-learned some things this July 4th that I obviously needed to be reminded of: (1) never assume; (2) successful communication depends on the basic definitions upon which the communication rests; and (3) if you are directing, the result of communication is your responsibility. However, the biggest lesson I learned was a completely new thing: It is useful—at least every once in a while—to unpack your process, and examine why you do what you do.

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Date: Sunday, 7. July 2019 23:40
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Communication

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