Sometimes I watch these stupid recorded classroom lectures at Stanford University, aired on Japan’s NHK US channel. They really are silly, although I can see the attraction. The classes focus on abstract things like happiness, problem-solving, or unconventional brainstorming exercises (which at the end of the day are still brainstorming exercises if you ask me, for it doesn’t matter if you switch out a poster-size pad of post-its for a folding screen of dry erase boards attached to the wall, arranged in small stations for groups to gather around, forcing people to stand throughout the exercise vs. sit—it doesn’t change the experience, which for many students, will continue long after their college days in an artificially lit, windowless office where management will oddly continue to hail brainstorming sessions as innovative and creative when in reality, 90 percent of the time they will be a complete waste of time. Trust me, I’ve participated in plenty of brainstorming sessions, including a few rare ones that were actually very productive, and at the end of the day, it’s not the tools or the layout of the brainstorming experience or whether you are sitting or standing that creates results—it’s the people participating that make the difference and the quality of their input, not the volume. Having all these ingredients in place is actually quite rare, if you ask me, and for this reason, I find the majority of brainstorming sessions a complete waste of time).
So call me cynical, for while these topics are fascinating in theory, the filmed classroom discussions that follow are a bunch of all-American fluff—rainbows, unicorns, and cotton candy—conversations about ideals that are completely detached from reality and what it’s actually like to operate or simply survive in the working world today, outside of Stanford’s sheltered walls. In all honesty, I put these classes on as background noise while quietly wondering if these kids’ parents knew what kind of education they were paying for their children.
I was watching such a class last night, and following the lecture/exercise, they were interviewing the professor who described the rationale behind her day’s lesson and how it was meant to teach students that they can do anything if they have the right attitude, that being that problems are opportunities and issues waiting to be solved. (Really? Just how many clichés can you fit into a single sentence? And you’re calling yourself a Stanford University professor?) The example she gave was the idea of putting a man on the moon. Sounds like a crazy, irrational idea, right? Especially back in the day. But someone with the right kind of attitude, she claims, thought it was possible and made it happen.
I had to think about that for a few minutes. And as I did, I had to admit that as tacky as it sounded, she was actually kind of right. And I started to see how her classroom exercise attempted to demonstrate that. She had groups of students brainstorm solutions to the problem of not having enough hours in the day to get things done, and told them that as they thought of solutions to this problem, they should not let rational limitations influence their recommended solutions. So as a result, she was getting out-of-this-world responses to the problem such as “growing more hands,” and reprogramming the human body to be in a constant dream state for up to as long as seven hours straight during which time, a person would dream up solutions to some of the world’s pressing problems, or something wild like that (I admit, I didn’t fully catch, nor understand the rationale behind that one, but it was pretty unconventional).
So then I got all introspective and started applying her comment to a personal dream or goal I have in my life, and the challenges I foresee in making that dream a reality. And I thought to myself, “OK, as hokey as her class was, she actually has a point, although instead of just going through that entire exercise, she could have just said what she said in her interview and give us all an hour of our lives back. However, in all seriousness, thinking of her comment, if I reprogram my attitude to convince myself that what I want to do, my personal dream, is actually possible, then my mind will take the steps necessary to get me there.” Or at least it should. For history has indeed shown us that it’s possible, and placing a man on the moon is a great example.
So I thought about it some more in the context of my own life, my own goals and the challenges I have identified that make achieving my dream seem impossible, keeping me awake at night. I just sat there, thinking, digesting, chewing this over, inside and out. And then…Cynical. Mind. Blown.
I’m just grateful I didn’t have to pay for a Stanford University education to figure this out.