Why We Learn

Shatter, splatter

You hold a white mug full of hot chocolate. Steam rises from the cup. When you feel the moment calls for it, you toss the mug to the floor. The mug shatters, the liquid splatters. Repeat thirty times, in thirty different rooms.

Shatter, splatter.

What changes? What is changed?

At the cafe, the patrons (mostly new moms and white-haired retirees) whip their heads in your direction. Their eyes flash half-fear, half-amusement.

At the opera, hundreds of tastefully-dressed men and women crane their heads and glare. You hear a dark murmur of resentment. A lady on stage misses a high A-flat. Several attendants rush in your direction.

At the football game, nobody notices or responds. A few wonder why their shoes are sticky on the walk to their car.

On stage, the audience shuts up and pays sharp attention. They did not expect your company’s keynote to open in this fashion. They wonder if this is some sort of performance art. Bloggers openly speculate about which rival toward whom these “shots” were “fired.” Your company’s stock price ticks up. Speakers at TED Talks adopt the “subversive” custom of opening their presentations with a sharp, destructive gesture. WIRED magazine writes a feature on you for their November issue (sales are modest).

The mug explodes every time, the froth flies more or less the same.

The reaction tells you more about the action than the action itself. A few consequences of this:

  1. We can unfollow the news; we will learn a greater amount by following only peoples’ reactions to the news.
  2. Reactions change depending on the room. To be indignant about the popularity of anything is to be stunned that the opera does not appreciate dropped mugs.
  3. Investigate surprising reactions, seek to map out the many rooms.