One of my favourite mental activities is seeing connections between different disciplines and ideas and one of my favourite out-of-my-head activities is seeing connections between people. Our informal New Year party, a mostly annual event, connected some people as well as giving me some connections between ideas. We held the party, despite my concerns about Omicron and gatherings. We are all suffering from COVID fatigue and it felt like we have a brief window for fun before the new wave arrives (possibly courtesy of a UK DJ who couldn’t be bothered waiting for his COVID test in isolation – don’t you just love his sad face, after he found out that people on social media really don’t like entitled visitors risking our holidays?).
John is a strong proponent of the Frankton airport land near Queenstown being used to create a vibrant new town centre for the Wakatipu (rather than as an airport). The airport is not in an ideal location, from the point of view of mountains, cross winds and noise for existing houses. The land would be an excellent central location for a new town centre, designed for today rather than yesteryear. I asked how this fits with the Christchurch Airport Company proposing a new airport in Tarras, taking away a major form of revenue from the district.
Davey has long term experience of politics at local and national levels, and in finance, and he said a Tarras airport would be a great advantage. Rather than the Wakatipu fighting this proposal, he reckons the QLDC should say, ‘Yes please, you go build and run a very expensive airport which is not something that anyone makes much money off.’ The QLDC can figure out a rapid, efficient public transport system from around the district to the airport and make much more money from leasing the current airport land long term for the new town. You could have a well planned town of 300,000 people in the Wakatipu, creating all the advantages of healthcare, arts and culture, research and innovation, and education that you get from a larger mass of people.
John and Davey are planning on carrying on this conversation electronically, hopefully feeding new ideas into the district at a level that our councillors don’t seem to be able to achieve. Who knows what will or won’t come from this, but new possibilities have been created by new people meeting each other.
We discovered a further connection, when riding with Davey. Davey was telling us about a 7 day ultra running event in the Gobi desert 12 years ago. He mentioned a New Zealander, Fiona Tayvice, for whom the Gobi was her first ever ultra. “Hey, I just met Fiona.” I said. She was running a 100 mile trial of a new event (the Wild100), with 12,000 metres of climbing in a loop from Coronet Peak, in a group that included another friend of ours called John. We went and saw the runners at the 60km mark on Saturday afternoon then I walked an hour with them on Sunday night as they wobbled their way to the finish line from about the 140km mark. Social media meant I could find Fiona, tell her Davey from the Gobi said “Hi”, Fiona said “Hi” back and I told runner John about the coincidence. Connections like that give my day a buzz, for no greater reason than that I intrinsically like connections between human beings.
My final example is connections between ideas, in relation to our story telling. I have terrible trouble getting ‘my’ researchers to write the point of their story first. I want them to tell me, and all other readers, the point first, because if you don’t know why you are reading a piece of text you will likely stop reading it. Every time a coconut (turns out this slightly antiquated phrase is from a fairground game), the researchers write a long contextual statement, often forming about half of the text, before they explain what they are actually going to do.
I have attributed this failing to researchers, on the basis that there is emphasis in science, and in writing of scientific papers, on providing the context for your statements. I have also assumed that there may be a specific failing in researcher training, that we don’t point out to researchers that they should get to the point fast. I have always assumed that marketers or sales people will know this intrinsically, because if you want to make a sale you have to get to the point before your potential customer’s eyes glaze over and they wander off.
Turns out I am quite wrong. I was talking with my brother’s partner Jam, who works in marketing through use of social media. She said that it is incredibly hard to find marketers to contract who will write the point first in a piece of text. I was incredulous, “Don’t marketers know and do that intrinsically?” “No, definitely not. They start at ‘Once upon a time…’ and wind up with the main message.”
Well, there you go. It seems like telling a whole lot of apparently boring and pointless detail first is common to human beings in general. We are so entrenched in our own stories, in which we definitely know the point (which is us), that we forget that everyone else is not so entranced by our existence and narrative as to hang on our every word until a gem drops out.
I have tested many people to find out what they would like to read first – the context or a long backstory? The universal answer is that people want a hook at the beginning. It’s the same in a book, or in a song. You want the hook to pull you in and then you are willing to tolerate the detail of the context. What a dichotomy! We want a hook but we write the backstory. I wonder how many other examples there are in life, of us being blinded to the desires of others by the essential centrality of ourselves in our own existence…
Wishing everyone a 2022 in which you have or acquire the resilience to take the slingshots, arrows and lemon meringue pies that life throws at you.