Convention and invention

The world we live in is one that is governed by law and order, consistency and congruence. School in particular is often a place of stricture and specification; the results of your learning are evaluated carefully, usually in a challenging fashion, and always standardized and rules-based. You’re often asked to solve unorthodox problems, occasionally with no warning whatsoever as to the difficulty of the task. (Those end up being the most interesting tests — and anecdotally, bell-curved the hardest.)

I think the evaluations asked of me in this communications course were definitely unorthodox, but in a different way from the above. It’s a kind of challenge meant to pry us from our comfort zones and instill in us a mastery of common communications techniques that students fresh out of university often lack. Past courses have made an attempt at this, but this specific course was less nebulous and more systematic.

It turned out to be an interesting and educational experience, though not in ways I would expect.

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As an avid reader of works both fictive and otherwise, I’ve subconsciously adopted a number of writing mannerisms from authors whom I admire. Such is the case with everyone. Awed by literary masters and expert wordsmiths, I’ve always considered writing to be a kind of art, and treated it as such in personal life; but the writing needed for much of the coursework required simplicity rather than flourish. Moreover, formulaic and methodical writing was encouraged – sensibly so, since workplace communication favors directness and accuracy.

I cannot claim erudition, but my personal understanding is that a truly excellent piece of writing is never limited by convention. It mostly follows convention, but always finds creative space to break into heterodoxy. This is in line with my understanding of creative endeavours in general: unless you are a true genius in the vein of ZUN (the sole mastermind behind the extensive Touhou Project, noted for its intriguing and rich music despite the man not having any formal musical training), a good understanding of the rules is imperative in an attempt to surpass them.

However, innovation requires mental energy. Work, whether academic or professional, is fairly demanding. Rather than force myself to conceive an original style of work all the time, I found it easier to follow guidelines and create a product that I may only be 80% satisfied with, but is definitely (… probably?) good enough. Prioritization of tasks is an importance workplace skill.

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The TED talk simulation was far more invaluable in terms of personal development. My spontaneous oral communication skills have always been fairly weak; I heavily prefer script-writing since it allows me to plan out every small detail effectively, down to the inflections of individual phrases. However, one of the requirements of the TED talk was that we should have the talk memorized, and after a reasonable amount of practice I found that having a slightly different presentation each run-through was actually fine, as long as all the important things were covered each time. With enough practice, an organic presentation is just as smooth as a more routine presentation, and takes less time to prepare. Finding convenient time-savers is also a useful workplace skill.

As an additional minor benefit, I am thankful that the coursework gave me some additional exposure to formal report-writing. I do have some personal thoughts on the matter, though, based on past experience. In the workplace, reports are often written in imitation of prior work (as in the case of annual reports, where often the previous year’s complete report is used as a template), and phrasings of industry leaders or major competitors can be used as a reference as well. Therefore, rather than following a strict format taught by this course alone, workplace communication should take care to follow organizational principles, but the foundational ideas of clarity and understandability are the same.

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As a wrap-up, I think my acquaintance and interaction with the course is likely quite different from the average student’s. Despite my tendencies for overly elaborate language – an unfortunate weakness that I’ve been aware of for many years – I find writing to be, ordinarily, an enjoyable and cerebral activity. This view is uncommon among math students, and international students especially (though I’m not part of the latter group). In my opinion, the course is a reasonable introduction to workplace communication and its norms for an unacquainted student. To seasoned journeymen, it has a thing or two to offer as well.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

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2 Comments

  1. I appreciate the comments here and the insights. I particularly appreciate that you did not try to praise me – something other students have done in their posts, and it really does ring hollow, I’m afraid. You are right – once you know the rules, you can break them and should to interest and engage the reader even further. You are also right that the course uses templates which will likely be broken in the workplace. Like you say though – rules first, then push back.Great post 0 much appreciated.

    Like

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