pospreterito: a list of the books in the cataclysm trilogy ({stories} ..cataclysm series)
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A colleague of the great scientist James Watson remarked that Watson was always "lounging around, arguing about problems instead of doing experiments". He concluded that "There is more than one way of doing good science". It was Watson's form of idleness, the scientist went on to say, that allowed him to solve "the greatest of all biological problems: the discovery of the structure of DNA." It is a point worth remembering in a society overly concerned with efficiency.
Adapted from John C. Polanyi, "Understanding Discovery"
Assignment: Do people accomplish more when they are allowed to do things in their own way? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on the issue. Support your question with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.


What, exactly, is productivity, and how may it be achieved? The given answer differs from person to person. Some say that they can only work at their own pace. Some find external deadlines to be a comfort. All or almost all agree that they can't imagine working in a way other than what they're accustomed to and not minding it. But is letting everyone go their own way better? How will we be sure anything will get done?

From early childhood we get used to working around other people's requirements and schedules. Even if the "work" an eight-year-old is doing isn't that important, he's still being taught to work around an already-established timeline. While he goes home and does his homework before dinner, the girl who sits next to him in class sped through hers at recess, and his next-door neighbor is waiting until his mom comes home from work to help. These little disparities will persist even if they all grow up and work at the same office; they've each had a lifetime of living with themselves to get used to how they're comfortable working (or not working).

Even so, most jobs, schedules, and even societies skew towards an average in how they arrange work. Who won't acknowledge, by adulthood, that surely everyone else works and thinks differently than they do? And yet when presented with a blank spot they fill in their own experiences. For a lot of mainstream jobs, being average in your work habits is a blessing -- someone who feels his best work gets done at four in the morning may get used to arriving at seven but might still resent it a bit.

Of course, someone evaluating their own capabilities raises the question -- are they right? A tenth-grader who says he works best the night before things are due will be looked on askance. If he is telling the truth, it will still seem obvious to an observer that last-minute work won't suffice for most people.

I believe that there's a limit to allowing people to do things their own way but that they do work a lot better when they're comfortable. The difference is a bit blurry -- one of scale instead of opposites -- but it's there. If I'd been allowed to do a certain animation project my own way in tenth grade, it would have taken years. But when my class is being taught by someone who insists on policing the pace at and manner in which we solve exercises, everyone suffers, even the people who normally work like that.

Did Watson's apparent indolence work for him? Definitely. But someone seeing that and forcing people to work the way he did will end just as badly as obliging him to experiment at a breakneck pace might have. Guidelines help most people to see where their work is going, but they must still get there their own way.
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