Renowned business writer and marketing expert Seth Godin frequently writes about the “need to ship.” To oversimplify, per Godin you can have all the great ideas you want; but unless you ship, they don’t really matter. In other words, you have to deliver the product. Literal in certain areas, the idea of shipping becomes a metaphor for just about any endeavor. When people don’t ship, says Godin, it’s frequently because their “lizard brain” takes over. This is the brain stem, the reptillian base of our brains, and we react in the simplest possible fashion and allow the fear to take over. If we could, we’d drop our tails and flee.
Writing this blog, I feel real pressure to ship at least once per week. As someone pointed out to me, “You create a monster; then you have to feed it.” At first this was easy: I was new to my school, wanted people to learn about me and my ideas, had plenty to say. It was purely rational, grounded in my cerebral cortex. Now, shipping has become harder. I find myself asking questions that, while logical, still drip with juices of the lizard brain. What am I going to say this week? Haven’t I already written about that? Is this worth posting on? What are people thinking about my posts? Have I gone too far in some of my points and overly offended someone? Would anyone notice if I didn’t post for a while? If I stopped posting at all? Why isn’t my mind working the way I want it to? When did I forget how to write? How in the world does Godin manage to post every single day, and it’s almost always great?
Suddenly I think about students, and the dominant emotion turns to empathy. We demand that they ship, on time and at a high rate of production. Some of the work is fairly mechanical, and students can simply churn out the product. But the really important higher-level stuff such as creation, analysis, synthesis? We bring kids along so that they can do that sort of work, and they often do it surprisingly well for their respective ages. At any level such work takes time and space for reflection, yet we keep kids hopping. I have to wonder how this affects deep, long-term learning.
Consider the demands of a school day for a developing child. (I’ve shadowed kids in various grades for a day, and it’s exhausting.) Now imagine that you have to go home and have products ready for the next day. Meanwhile, the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex don’t fully mature until the late teens and early twenties. All told, it’s rather amazing how well kids can keep the lizard brain at bay.
Another blog post seems a bit less daunting.