Sarah’s Diary Episode Seven

After the previous class, several students came to Jenny and asked her if they could change their rankings. They wanted to place Ben higher. Jenny refused. “Wait until the other stories. You may see other dimensions of the innovation traits that reinforce your original rankings.”

“Today I want to read another diary entry. Again, I want to reflect on what this entry tells us about the development of innovation traits. This entry is from January 20, 1889.

“I won the question hour today. My question was simple but one that no one else had ever thought about: Why does the hair on our arms not grow like the hair on our heads?”

Jenny stopped reading the quote and said, “I have more to read to you, but I want an honest show of hands. How many of you have asked that question?” No hands were raised.

“Now let me read the rest of the diary entry.”

“I asked Dr. Jean if she knew the answer. She told me: ‘Great question, Sarah. Here’s what I can tell you. God has given us many mysteries about our bodies. He has also given us brains to figure out those mysteries. You know I couldn’t take medical classes because I’m a woman so I learned medicine from my father. Unfortunately, that’s a question I never asked him. Sorry I couldn’t help you, but just thinking about that question tells me you are very curious.’”

When Jenny finished reading the diary entry, she asked the class what they learned about innovation from what she just read. As she expected, the class focused on the importance of asking questions in the innovation process. But there were two other elements to the diary entry that they didn’t pick up on.

“Remember weekly challenges from a previous diary entry? Now we have a daily question hour.. This is significant and another example of repetitive practice. You can’t get good at anything unless you do it a lot. What we are now learning is that you can train your brain by doing things repeatedly and reflecting on each experience.”

“The other important aspect of this diary entry was the competitive nature of this repetitive practice. You may think that competition in this case may have bad results, but in the next class I’ll share with you a diary entry that shows why competition is good when it comes to innovation.”

“I want to comment on something now with regard to these diary entries. Hiram and Mable were building consciousness in their children. Contrary to popular belief, new ideas don’t happen in a eureka moment. Actually those ideas go through a fermentation process in our minds. I’m sure that Sarah’s question didn’t just come to her, nor did Ben’s idea for heating the house. Today we know a lot more about the brain than did Hiram and Mable, but it’s striking that they were developing their children’s neural pathways in the 19th century better than we are today in the 21st century.

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“Asking the right questions is as important as answering them.” – Benoit Mandelbrot (mathematician)

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