As I was writing a previous blog about Russ Ackoff, I remembered the many wonderful interactions I had with Russ.
While we were working on the Idealized Design of the University, Russ and three of his graduate students came up to Merrimack, NH to work with my staff. I invited everyone over to our house for dinner and drinks on a delightful snowy winters NH evening. I had shared with the kids that a famous Ivy League University professor was coming over to dinner. When we showed up and every one had a chance to settle in with a drink before a roaring fire, Russ pulled out his pipe and was very professorial with all of us eager students surrounding him. My never shy seven year old oldest daughter Elizabeth (the PhD in Cognitive Psych) walked over to Russ and asked him if he was such a famous author had he ever won a Newbery Medal Award or a Caldecott Medal Award.
Russ had no idea what she was talking about, so I encouraged Elizabeth to go to her book case and get a couple of the Newbery and Caldecott award books that she had. She brought them back to Russ and he quickly realized these were awards for children’s books. So he shared that he never had won one of those awards. Elizabeth in her inimitable way, turned around and looked at me and said “I thought you said he was a famous professor. He hasn’t even won a Newbery Award. What good can he be?” Out of the mouth of babes. We all laughed till we cried and everything loosened up for the rest of the evening.
Many years later when Elizabeth was a freshman at Dartmouth she did a similar thing with Professor Mike Gazzaniga who is one of the leading professors in Cognitive Neuroscience. She was wandering around the Psych Department and walked right into Mike’s office and simply said “What do you do here?” She had no idea who he was. He just laughed and told her to sit down and he spent 30 minutes with her. She then asked him if he had any part time jobs and he said as a matter of fact he did. So she joined his research group as a freshman and she got to program and run subjects on the new fMRI machine that Mike had just gotten for the Psych department. She loved the work with the fMRI machine and that’s what she ended up using to study the VisualSpatial system of the human brain for her dissertation at U of O and four years of post doc at Stanford.
Now she takes that same curiosity to her work as a User Experience researcher at AnswerLab in San Francisco.