inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #0 of 96: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 1 Dec 04 10:08

Our next guest is Mike Rose, author of "The Mind at Work: Valuing the
Intelligence of the American Worker," which has been acclaimed by Studs
Terkel as "an eloquent -- as well as scholarly -- tribute to our working men
and women."

Mike is a member of the faculty of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and
Information Studies.  His books include "Lives on the Boundary: The
Struggles and Achievements of America's Underprepared" and "Possible Lives:
The Promise of Public Education in America."

Leading the conversation with Mike is Pamela McCorduck. Pamela is the author
or co-author of eight published books. Two are novels, five are focused on
the intellectual impact of computing, especially aspects of artificial
intelligence, and one, written with Nancy Ramsey, is four possible scenarios
of women's futures. Titles include: "Machines Who Think," "The Fifth
Generation," "The Universal Machine," "Aaron's Code," and "The Futures of
Women." Her books have been translated into all the major European and Asian
languages, and her work has appeared in journals ranging from Cosmopolitan
and Omni to the New York Times and the Michigan Quarterly Review. She was a
contributing editor to Wired.

Welcome, Mike and Pamela!
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #1 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Thu 2 Dec 04 06:38

Thanks, Cynthia.

"The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker," is one
of the most interesting books I've come across for a while.  It's about the
thought--the cognitive dimensions--necessary for what's usually considered
physical work.  It is also the story of our social biases about
intelligence: what we think constitutes intelligence and what we overlook or
just plain dismiss.  Those biases inform the judgment of who we are, what we
can do, and by extension, who's valuable in our society and who's less so.

Mike, let's begin with what you call the dynamics of occupational status and
social class.  Would you explain a little bit about that?
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #2 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Thu 2 Dec 04 12:43
First, let me thank Cynthia for that nice introduction, and let me say
how pleased I am to begin this exchange with Pamela McCorduck, whose
work I greatly admire.  

Well, let's start with social class, which is a big, broad term used
by many people who write about the way society is organized.  For our
purposes, let's say that social class refers to categories of people
who share particular economic and social characteristics.  

In America, we are not as used to talking about social class, because
historically our citizens are somewhat less stratified than they were
in, for example, 19th century England.  Also, we Americans believe very
strongly in social mobility and in the possibility of people rising up
the economic ladder.  A classic American fable is the Horatio Alger
story, in which an impoverished boy through hard work becomes hugely

What is indisputable is that American society does make
differentiations among people based on factors like their family
lineage, their income, and the kind of work they do.  So, for example,
all of my forbears were blue collar workers (machinists, welders,
laborers) or worked in the service industries--my mother was a
waitress.  Most sociologists would classify them as working class or
perhaps lower middle class.  (The very term "blue collar" stands as a
symbol for a particular class position.)  The Kennedys, on the other
hand, would be categorized as upper class.  How strongly you believe
that these class distinctions are fairly rigid or fairly fluid--and how
damaging you think they are-- would be determined by your political
outlook, your personal experience, and so on.  

One of the ways that Americans make class distinctions is through
occupation.  Occupations carry status.  There are all sorts of real and
symbolic differences in the status of a waitress versus a surgeon. 
What troubles me--and becomes a theme in The Mind at Work--is the fact
that we make judgments about people's intelligence based on their
occupational status.  That is, we tend to assume that folks who do
service work or blue collar work are not involved in activity that
requires much thought, and by implication may not be all that bright. 
This becomes one of the "hidden injuries of class," to borrow a phrase
from the sociologists Sennett and Cobb.

What I try to do in The Mind at Work is to demonstrate the
intelligence--the learning, reasoning, problem solving--involved in
everyday work.  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #3 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Thu 2 Dec 04 12:53

You demonstrate it conclusively, I think.  One of the best things about the
book is its specifics, its case studies, so to speak.  Let's start, as you
start the book, with waitressing.

What kind of skills does a successful waitress need?
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #4 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Fri 3 Dec 04 10:34
Let's begin with memory.  As my mother put it during one of the
interviews I had with her: "To be a waitress, you have to have one hell
of a good memory."  Especially in the kind of restaurant that my
mother and tens of thousands of waitresses and waiters work
in--economical prices, quick turnover--the waitress is remembering who
ordered what dish, extra items requested, the preferences of regulars,

The efficient waitress also gets very good at prioritizing tasks, and
she does this on the fly as she is moving through the busy restaurant. 
So if she is simultaneously getting a request from one customer for a
refill on his coffee, and from another for more mustard, and from
another who dropped her fork, how can she order these requests so that
she doesn't run herself ragged.  

In line with the above, she also gets very good at grouping tasks,
that is, what can she do, let's say, as she is going back to get a food
order, can she grab both the fork and the mustard at the same time.

The waitress is also attending to her environment, she is vigilant,
and again this is often while she is in motion.  She keeps an eye on
things.  She also has a general sense of how long different orders take
to prepare, so a flag will go up for her if she notices that her
customer waiting for the shrimp plate has been sitting there for a
period of time longer than it should take to prepare that item.

Also, I think it's important to note that all of the social stuff that
the good waitress does--what tends to get labeled as pleasant
service--involves certain intellectual moves.  She is good at reading
social cues, at understanding all the different aspects of interaction
in a restaurant.  She also has to be aware of what's going on
emotionally with her co-workers, the manager, the cook, the busboys. 
Let's say the cook is in a particularly foul mood this morning, and one
of her churlish regulars wants to send an item back.  How does she
negotiate that?  

So all this and more is going on quickly, and the waitress has to be
able to handle it all in the flow of work.  It involves a lot of
processing of information, decision making, and a pretty decent
knowledge base about the restaurant and its various routines and
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #5 of 96: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 3 Dec 04 11:50
(NOTE: Offsite readers who have comments or questions can email them to to have them added to this conversation)
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #6 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Fri 3 Dec 04 12:44

It struck me how careful waitresses and waiters need to be about reading
emotional cues--not only from customers (upon whose tips they depend) but
also, as you say, the cooks and other people in the restaurant.

It's only recently that emotional intelligence has even moved on to the
radar of most psychologists, isn't it?
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #7 of 96: Up from Management (archipelago) Fri 3 Dec 04 19:21
Waitresses( and waiters and bartenders and hairdresses )do  very
critical community work. In a small town especially,the better a
waitress performs, the busier her joint can get. Some people, like
Studs Terkel's waitress in _Working_ literally perform. But the real
essential service work lies in keeping track of the history and
patterns of relationship within the small town called Clientele,
serving,eciding which news to pass on to whom, etc. Indeed, some people
become so accomplished at reading the tracks that they begin to read
pheromonal records. I've known woman in servicwe positions who were
aware of pregnancies before the woman who was pregnant.
I wear my hair long, and often it gets so tangled that I go to a
hairdresser to get it untangled. Once an old friend came with me to
visit while the hairdresser shampooed my hair, dressed it and then
began to carefuly, almost lovingly, remove the snarls.The woman's
touchh was an almost magical combination of intimacy and
neutrality.Shortly after she began my friend and settled into a kind of
rapt state, and my friend began to talk about something which was
really bothering, something he had not been able to bring up.
Apparently just watching me relax put him at ease enough to unburden
himself. I don't often hear of hairdressers described as
psychotherapists, nor do I know of any psychotherapists who shampoo
their patients' hair as a way of facilitating dialog.... I'm sure that
there's something wrong  with that.
 When I was young I had the good fortune to work as a garbageman in a
city large enough to be cosmopolitan and small that I could cover all
kinds of neighborhoods in a week. In a month's time I had a
socio/economic/ ethnic profile that was totally accurate, totally up to
the minute.I or any of my colleagues could have run marketing
campaigns with deadly accuracy. We could have informed the medical
professionals about the increases in diabetes in certain ethnic groups
(which are going on even as I type).There  seem to be many crippling
epistomological prejudices built into our social and economic
structures. Garbagemen are untouchables, but untouchables are the only
ones  who get to observe other people  intimately enough in some ways
to know what's really going on. Perhap that's why they're
I am fortunate to be in a racket where the mind and the hands
constantly have to inform one another..where executive decisions can
mean your life as well as your living. ( I'm a commercial
fisherman).There is no room in fishing to believe that only one form of
knowing is valid.The function of working people in society is wel
described in a book by an anthropologist named Douglas Harper: Working
Knowledge- Skill Craft and Community in A Small Shop. In societies like
Alaska where there are still healthy   resources, certain technical
skills determine  patterns of resource allocation as effectively as the
banker's participation.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #8 of 96: Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Sat 4 Dec 04 07:18
It is interesting that these prejudices continue, but they are
nonetheless real.  When you say, "My mother was a waitress, an I am a
university professor,"  the reply is not "Gee, too bad you don't have a
great memory and are saddled with poor people skills, otherwise you
might have made something of yourself."

My work experience includes a lot of time in factories.  When I have
"professional" work, I am a technical writer.  Otherwise, I have driven
a forklift, run a drill press, and so on.  Teaching robot operations
and programming, most of my client learners were electricians.  They
carry a lot of mathematics in their heads.  The daily grind consists of
clamping the red wire to the red lead.  Even so, there is a constant
need to know the theory, especially when installing new equipment,
versus fixing an established workcell that has failed for some simple
reason. Even that requires insight if not intuition that is seldom
appreciated.  One of the truths in robotics is that in the 1960s the
engineers and managers thought that if they could install enough
intelligent machines, they could get rid of these pesky unionized
workers.  The truth was quickly learned.  If you want good welds, train
a welder to program a robot.  If you give a robot to a programmer, you
do not get good welds -- though you do get elegant programs. When it
comes to making automobiles that sell, good programming does get you
what good welding does.

The continuance of prejudice against blue collar work comes from many
sources.  The workers themselves know that they are in abusive,
dehumanizing employment and want "something better" for their children.
 That does not translate into: "Don't die of work-related cancer like
me. You kids have the opportunity to become middle managers who will
die of stress."  

There is also a curious denial of the obvious -- what has been called
"the fallacy of the stolen concept."  Imagine a book called DOCTORS ARE
NOT ARROGANT.  My wife is Microsoft certified and has worked as a
waitress for most of her life.  Even a few years ago, to buy a new
laptop, she got a job at the local "Big Boy."  The fact is that not
everyone who serves food is an empathetic logician.  The ones who do it
_well_ are.  I think that the truth is that anyone who does any job
well is accomplished because they take pride in themselves and apply
all their skills to the tasks at hand.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #9 of 96: David Gans (tnf) Sat 4 Dec 04 08:08

Welcome, Mike - thank you for joining us.

> What troubles me--and becomes a theme in The Mind at Work--is the fact that
> we make judgments about people's intelligence based on their occupational
> status.  That is, we tend to assume that folks who do service work or blue
> collar work are not involved in activity that requires much thought, and by
> implication may not be all that bright.

I remember a big deal being made of Eric Hoffer, "longshoreman-philosopher,"
when I was a kid in the early '60s.

And thank you, archipelago, for this in <7>:

> Garbagemen are untouchables, but untouchables are the only ones  who get to
> observe other people  intimately enough in some ways to know what's really
> going on.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #10 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Sat 4 Dec 04 09:36
First let me respond quickly to Pamela's question about emotional
intelligence.  Actually, there is a fairly long history of writing
about "social intelligence", although it was not necessarily called
that.  Then about five or six years ago there was a best seller called
Emotional Intelligence, so we are much more aware of the notion that
reading and responding to social cues and other forms of social and
emotional processes involves some kind of cognition.  In the final
analysis, whether there is a separate mode of intelligence for the
social and emotional, or whether smart social response is simply part
of our intellectual capacity, I can't be sure.  But it seems pretty
clear that, for example, the good waitress and hairstylist have certain
emotional and interpersonal smarts and sensibilities.  

I would also like to respond quickly to the three commentaries.  Up
From Management: thank you for bringing up Douglas Harper's Working
Knowledge.  I love that book, and it influenced me when I was working
on mine.  I also really like your notion about the knowledge that
garbage collectors acquire through their work.  Most people who work at
a job over time acquire all sort of knowledge, some of which would be
surprising if it were made public.  I was also really taken with your
observation about the role that folks like waitresses and hairstylist
play within a community.  I think you are right on the money.  In fact,
a while ago some community mental health psychologists trained
hairstylists in counseling techniques because they realize how much
informal counseling goes on in the hair salon.  Thanks for your
thoughtful response.

Micheal E. Marotta: Michael, I couldn't agree more with your
observations about robotics, automation, and the on-the-ground
knowledge, the knowledge from experience that seasoned factory workers
have.  In chapter six of The Mind at Work (entitled "Two Lives: A
Welder and a Foreman"), I write about my uncle who worked at general
motors all his life, beginning on the line.  He certainly possessed the
kind of knowledge you're talking about.  Thanks for your response.  

David Gans: Oh my Gosh, David, I remember Eric Hoffer also.  He became
quite the celebrity.  A long shoreman-writer who I like a lot better
is Reg Theriault.  Have you read his How to Tell When You're Tired.    
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #11 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sat 4 Dec 04 10:52

For me, one telling experience is to watch one of these "unskilled" jobs
done badly.  THEN you know how hard it is!  My husband and I went to the
Culinary Institute of America, where chefs-in-training also must work the
school dining room.  It was so achingly hard for them, your heart just went
out to them.

In short, it takes a lot of training and smarts to do these jobs well.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #12 of 96: Alan Turner (arturner) Sat 4 Dec 04 12:50
As someone who can't remember what I went downstairs for, I'm always amazed
that waitresses manage to keep so much in their heads.

A couple of years ago I started working in an industrial environment, and I
was amazed at the things that some of the machinists knew.  The best of
them had an amazing kinesthetic sense, when welding or cutting or
drilling.  It only comes with experience, you could read about it all day
long and never actually learn it. But this knowledge is discounted:  You
weld this to that, what's the big deal?

On the other hand, one shop I worked at had a rather routine job of cutting
pipes to certain exact lengths.  One worker there had a cheat-sheet written
on the back of a business card that the shop foreman made for him.

1/8  1/4  3/8  1/2  5/8  3/4  7/8  One inch.

It was just sad and depressing to know that good as this guy was on the
Kalamazoo bandsaw, he needed notes to help him figure out fractions more
complicated than one half.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #13 of 96: Chris (cooljazz) Sat 4 Dec 04 18:16

 Mike, just catching up, and forgive me I'm still reading the book.
 "...One of the ways that Americans make class distinctions is through
occupation.  Occupations carry status..."

  Following the threads here, one of the professions (or should I say
occupations) to be named
 are the butchers at the local supermarkets. 
 Some wonderful posts on waitresses above, 
"...I'm always amazed
that waitresses manage to keep so much in their heads.
so I wonder if
 you've had time to spend with the meat cutters and 
 the butchers?
 I shop "European style" (buy it, cook it, eat it, same day)
 and the butchers at the local store recognize me when I arrive 
( as they recognize many other customers).
 I've noticed many times that the people behind the counter
 remember what I ordered the day before. I've always thought
 that to be a remarkable talent.  (And, as butchers, I notice they
have all ten fingers!)

  Please let me know how these folks fit in your worldview.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #14 of 96: Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Sun 5 Dec 04 06:19

When I was reading about your Mom waitressing, what I was struck by was what
a strategic thinker she was.  It's a word not traditionally applied to the
types of work in your book.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #15 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sun 5 Dec 04 07:49

Yes, it's strategic thinking on the fly--it's very hard.  And physically
hard on you--some people who wait tables can do it into their fifties and
sixties, but most burn out before that: bad feet and varicose veins sideline

Mike, your chapter on waitressing also mentions how central her work was to
your mom's sense of self  and "engagement with the world."  Perhaps you
could say a little more about that too.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #16 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Sun 5 Dec 04 09:42
This is a wonderful series of comments.  Let me respond to each in

Pamela: You are so right about how revealing it is when a "simple job"
is done poorly.  I experience it all the time when I try to fix
something; I am continually surprised and flustered at my ineptitude. 
And then I am further surprised and more than a little humbled when
someone else comes along and fixes the damn thing with an adroit turn
of the wrist.  In the chapter "Two Lives: A Welder and a Foreman", my
uncle says there is no such thing as an unskilled job.  The tools that
he used for his first job at General Motors were a piece of sand paper
and a water hose.  Hour after hour he would sand the side of a car body
and rinse it.  Yet the people who could do this work well and without
collapsing had developed all kinds of routines and tricks to get the
job done.  

Alan Turner: Alan, I very much like what you have to say about the
kinesthetic sense that is developed.  As someone who is pretty
ham-handed, I am amazed by it.  You raise a further issue, though, that
I think is important when you mention that little cheat sheet with the
numbers.  One of the awful things about way too many jobs is that they
put such constraint on what people can do and learn.  (A good book on
this issue is Barbara Garson's All the Live Long Day.)  I guess the
good thing about the example that you cite is that this fellow was able
to use the skills he did have to make a living.  The sad thing is that
the job did not afford him the opportunity to develop further skills. 

Chris: I think you are exactly right about butchers.  They possess a
solid knowledge base and are manually adroit.  Furthermore, as you
note, part of their job is interacting with the public, and as we have
been saying, that brings its own knowledge base and interpersonal
skills.  I did not get a chance to study their work in any detail, so
I'm glad you brought them up.  

Lena and Pamela: I'm so glad that you both bring up again the business
of strategic thinking.  We talk all the time about strategy in
everything from sports to wall street, but seem to forget that we are
surrounded by people thinking strategically--and often in difficult

Pamela: Yes, I think this business of identity is really important. 
For those of you reading The Mind at Work, you'll notice that the last
part of the chapter on my mother deals with this issue.  My mother  had
a very limited formal education, but waiting on tables was something
that she could do very well, and it gave her a sense of pride--even
though it was also punishing work.  Given the significant
social-economic constraints she was born into and grew up in, with
waitressing she was able to find a way to "be with the public" (which
was very important to her), to exercise competence, to have the sense
that she was supporting her son and her ailing husband--and all this
contributed to her sense of who she was and of her self-worth.  

I think there's also an important political and theoretical issue
here.  Too often discussion of working-class folks, either from the
right or the left, tend to paint them in one-dimensional ways.  What I
try to show in the discussion of my mother is that her work was both a
source of physical punishment, frustration, and hardship and, as well,
a source of income and satisfaction, and was a source of her self
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #17 of 96: Up From Management (archipelago) Sun 5 Dec 04 19:37
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #18 of 96: Up From Management (archipelago) Sun 5 Dec 04 22:15
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #19 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 6 Dec 04 08:37

Post 17 above has been hidden by its author owing to its length (alas, this
is a medium that lends itself best to short bursts).  I've ported some of
what <archipeligo> says about welding because, in fact, Mike's book does
address welding, and no reason why we can't move to that topic ourselves.

So <archipeligo> says:

We of the calloused hands might have certain questions about
 automation, such as by what sort of intellectual legerdemain did we
 come up with the idea that since a tool was *Programmed*  the art of it
 could be assumed to be an integral part of the operating system?That's
 quite a rabbit to pull out of such a small hat... I've never worked
 with robots, but it occurs to me that the next step in the robot's
 evolution would necessarily be that the whole system programming would
 need to be done by programmers who had been taught to weld. It also
 seems to me that teaching a welder to grow into programming whole
 systems *might * be easier than teaching  a programmer to weld well
 enough to see the REAL bugs in the programs.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #20 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Mon 6 Dec 04 10:49
Archipelago raises an important point about automation.  The point is
that though human skill is, in a sense, built into the technical
system, the system still relies on human knowledge to troubleshoot
problems with it, to assess the quality of what it does, and to refine

And then, of course, there's all sorts of situations where something
like welding cannot be done robotically, where human flexibility, and
touch, and experience are crucial.  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #21 of 96: Gail Williams (gail) Mon 6 Dec 04 11:37

The economics of the matter, and the kind of general education level in
American society, at least, really rob of of some kinds of intelligence that
could make life better in general and make some jobs more fun.

Imagine if gas station attendants were trained in map reading, tutored on
what was near the station, and encouraged to help with naviagition.  Not
only would this improve transportation in a broad sense, it could make a job
more rewarding, and bring more pride into a mundane task.

That example comes to mind -- since I have asked for directions at gas
stations enough to know that in general the workers don't know, and have
evidently been told not to care about helping with navigation, even when
other higher priorities do not conflict.  I know the people doing the hiring
are not paying enough to be able to ask for the ability to read maps, by
conventional wisdom, but all kinds of other learning goes on on the job.
Why not honor the intelligence of workers by expanding into desirable and
valued skills?

Just a thought arising from a lot of twarted attempts to get information
from people who'd seemly enjoy giving it with just a little preparation and
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #22 of 96: (billcostley) Mon 6 Dec 04 13:35
Growing up in a one-principal empoloyer/factory city, like my father,
I first worked hands-on 'service' then industrial jobs, but then moved
on to clerical jobs in the military-industrial engineering complex,
then to the skilled 'symbol-manipulation'verbal-trades (marcom, PR) in
the computer trade. I also taught twice, most recently multi-lingual
male community-college students in a Toyota-sponsored program to move
up from being car-repair techs. to certified automotive engineers (at a
beginning level.) Through a close friend who taught art-appreciation
at the same school, I found out how much those students would earn on
their first job ($80K), so I told them: "Look, here's my real resume
(handing it out); as you can see I'm not just a high-school writing
teacher, I'm a real, working writer. I know what you'll be getting paid
if you finsh this program: about twice what I was paid in the local
major computer companies as a PR-writer. We both want you to finish
this program, and to do it you have to pass this course. I don't
believe in flunking anybody, so you've already passed. Now let's see
how you did it, in writing." I soon got 'better' writing out of them
than any previous teacher had, and I'm told previous classes like them
had mercilessly ragged previous teachers, esp. if they were women. My
writer-wife (with a background like mine) said I just alpha-dogged
them. Maybe so. But to do it, I let them know that they were about to
become better paid dogs than I will ever be. Conclusion: I not only
didn't patronize them, I told them the truth; shared socio-economic
truth helps, rather than hurts. I gather this is the underlying premise
of this conference. Good; it should underly everything else, too
(including education, politics, and on-line communities - like The
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #23 of 96: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Mon 6 Dec 04 18:00
re: #19, I agree that teaching a programmer to weld, or a welder to
program, might be kind of difficult (though certainly not impossible). 
But you shouldn't have to do that.  There's no reason a programmer
couldn't work with a welder to write good welding software, and they'll
both learn something from the experience.

That actually points out a different problem - in many companies, the
programmers never talk to the end-users, let alone work with them.
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #24 of 96: E M Richards (booter) Mon 6 Dec 04 20:11

I started reading the book a while ago, but one thing that I am having
trouble wrapping my mind around is the inclusion of all the desribed
professions in the same general premise that some folks look down on
them as "less intelligent".

I can see the bias against wait staff and hairdressers, but I just
don't see that kind of bias against plumbers and electricians. The
joke is that their services are expensive. The general feeling I get
is that they are viewed as professionals.

The interesting thing I've picked up about waiting tables is that I think
it is a great profession for people who are training to be film and TV
actors. They have to have a good short term memory to carry those lines
in their heads and need a good sense of where their bodies are in a space.

Something that did not come up is that, within these professions, there
is a kind of class strata. In hairdressing, there are the shops that do
little more than apply press-on nails and do hair that is so awful that
the cutter uses a curling iron to cover up the mess. Then there are shops
that do a serviceable job to their not-too-high-income communities, like
places with skilled hair weavers and colorists. Then there are the hair
designers who have extremely skilled cutters and colorists catering to
the upper classes. In waiting, there is the maitre d' at Chez Panisse
Cafe in all his black-clad, shaven headed elegance and there are the
"warm your cup, honey?" folks at diners.

Did you, in your research, see that kind of difference and how it is
manifested? Also, are the skill sets significantly different for the
haughty maitre d' versus the homey waitress?

(Usual disclaimer: I come from blue collar, so what do I know?)
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #25 of 96: Alan Turner (arturner) Mon 6 Dec 04 22:47
One thing that you mention in the mechanical trades is the "aesthetic" of
the work.  It might seem odd, at first.  If all the wiring works, then who
cares if it's a tangled mess or not?  It works, right?

Wrong.  There are a couple of reasons why it matters.  In first place, the
neater the work is, the easier it will be for someone to troubleshoot or
modify it in the future, should that be necessary (and that almost always
happens eventually, anyway).  But the second, and perhaps more important
reason is that people who don't know the details of a trade can at least
notice if it looks nice.  They have no way to evaluate the actual quality
of the work, but they can and will notice if the wires are run neatly, if
the pipes don't have unnecessary bends, and so on.  And THAT's the only
thing they have to go on, and that's how they judge the job.

In a way, it's almost the opposite of something where the look is what
people are buying.  Wedding dresses are made to look pretty for a few
hours, but often they are not made well - they're only going to be worn for
a few hours anyway.  Or certain makes of car that look great, but have a
terrible record of reliability.  Looks count, quality may not.

In the mechanical trades, the customer, usually a layman, has no way to
judge the reliability of the work.  All he has to go on is how it looks.
So while it might seem odd that an electrician or a plumber or a welder
puts an emphasis on the mere appearance of his work, that may well be the
only way his work is evaluated.  Quality counts, looks don't really, but
the look of it is what the client goes by, having no real way to evaluate
the work.


Members: Enter the conference to participate. All posts made in this conference are world-readable.

Subscribe to an RSS 2.0 feed of new responses in this topic RSS feed of new responses

   Join Us
Home | Learn About | Conferences | Member Pages | Mail | Store | Services & Help | Password | Join Us

Twitter G+ Facebook