Saturday, September 21, 2019

Throw a Flag

Having devoted a big chunk of my adult life to serving academics, I've been around a lot of academics (and pre-academics... even pseudo-academics). I don’t think of myself as an academic... more of a para-academic. But I enjoy the sport... a lot.

Often times academic discussions might be characterized as experimental speech. Sometimes there may be explicit rules, such as “what is said here stays here.” Often, in academic contexts, the rules are merely implied, allowing participants to float ideas for the community to debate. The productive tension found in a robust community results in better, more sound ideas that may then serve as foundations for action or further thought.

I’ve found a handy tool suited for this sort of tension-filled, robust debate or experimental speech. Empower people to throw a flag. We sometimes get so focused on the ideas that we disregard the people. A highly productive team should self-police and throw a flag when necessary.

So I tell colleagues: If you find me committing a foul, please throw a flag (I've been known to commit unnecessary roughness, pass interference, and such, during exuberant, academic debate).

Sometimes people throw a flag; there are those more tuned-in to feelings and perceived attacks and those valued members throw a flag… for themselves, but often on behalf of others. Throwing a flag gives the team a moment to refocus, and perhaps the speaker to clarify, or apologize. Just knowing that there are those empowered to throw a flag gives people freedom to speak, to float ideas and advocate for their positions. The presence of such a guard rail usually results in more productive discussion.