Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Confusion, naivete, and walking through walls

On the first day of the Interactivity conference this year in Portland, I shared an elevator ride with a tall fellow with a white beard. He saw my badge and asked where the conference was being held so I told him that that's where I was headed and I'd walk him there. Trying to make friendly conversation, I asked him what museum he was from. He said he wasn't with any museum. A firm? I tried. He shook his head and smiled. On the board? Nope. I gave up. When I said I was confused he smiled again and said it was good to be in state of confusion. A half hour later I watched him give the keynote speech, introducing himself to the audience as John Seely Brown, Chief of Confusion.

Sometimes I can feel self conscious about being the new kid in a group of highly experienced professionals. But the truth was, they were all really excited to give me advice and introduce me to people I should know. The more questions I asked, the more answers I got.

As much as I look forward to gaining experience and some day becoming one of the Children's Museum Elders, I realize that I have something to bring to the field as the new kid. My naivete. And I don't mean ignorance. I think there's something valuable about not knowing your own limits.

One of my favorite science fiction novels is Robert Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. The title character is a cat named Pixel whose naivete is his power:

"...Pixel got the tag 'Schrodinger's Cat' hung on him because he walks through walls."
"How does he do that?"
Jane Libby answered, "It's impossible but he's so young he doesn't know it's impossible, so he does it anyhow."

I like that quotation so much I named my own cat after the cat who walks through walls.


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