It’s a room filled with adults who never grew up. To the casual observer, it looks as if, like four year olds, the class is more interested in the toys scattered randomly across their tables than in the lessons being presented by the speaker. Across the room, plastic, rainbow colored Slinkys tumble from hand to hand. Bobble-headed dogs and cats are flicked by idle fingers. Little balls of cheese wax are being molded into cubes and mushrooms. Pens click and keyboards beat out a rhythm better fit for modern jazz than for an astute note taker. To many, it would appear that the room is in chaos. But those of us in the room know better. It’s our company’s annual writers’ conference and the toy-obsessed four year olds are members of our staff.
It’s a scene that you won’t see played out in many other professional forums. Here, the speakers recognize that the sign of an engaged audience is activity… and that the activity often has little to do with the topic at hand. We are tactile people and our fingers are inexplicably connected to our brains. In fact, for many of us, thoughts flow more freely through our hands than through our mouths. Ask any one of us to answer a question out loud and, at least for a moment or two, you’ll be met with silent stares. Request that we pick up our pens and compose an essay and we’re on it in a heartbeat!
Sadly, what keeps a room full of writer’s focused isn’t always appropriate elsewhere. So I sit in class, doing my best not to distract a professor by the excessive flipping of a pen between my fingers. I strain to keep my note-taking to a minimum. To make no sound. To avoid movement.
As I do, my mind wanders. What does my schedule look like for the rest of the day? How much reading do I need to do when I get home? Should I consider writing a Facebook post about this?
My name is called from the front of the classroom. I can’t recall the answer to the question, so like a Sunday School student who knows that the three acceptable answers to any question are, “God”, “Jesus”, and “The Bible”, I blurt out the business equivalent: “The Dynamic Environment”. Good enough for now, but it won’t be when it comes time for that next test. If I want an “A”, a solution will need to be found – one which releases the inner child who ran so freely at the writer’s conference, but doesn’t distract students and faculty.
I contemplated the issue for some time before settling on what seemed a brilliant idea: therapy putty. Designed to help medical patients improve their grip, it has much the same look and feel as the silly putty I used to play with as a kid. I can feel it mold to the form of my hand, smooth out at the touch of my fingers, and take on the shapes I envision. More importantly, it’s easier to hide the putty (even the rainbow colored variety) under a desk than it is to hide a cell phone. My hand is moving, but no one can tell what’s inside. And with my fingers active, my brain is tuned in.
The plan worked and I was able to pull straight “A’s” through the entire semester. But it didn’t stop me from missing that big conference room with all its sounds and color. Or the presence of others who, like myself, think with their hands. In my mind, there will never be anything quite like the overwhelming cacophony created by writers with widgets.