Cross-pollination

Given the “pollenpocalypse” we’ve experienced here in North Carolina, you might think this post is related to spring and how to survive allergy season. I covered that topic last year so click here if you need to review those tips. Instead, I want to share two recent experiences that demonstrate the power of cross-pollination and collaboration.

The non-botanical definition of cross-pollination is “a sharing or interchange of knowledge, ideas, etc., as for mutual enrichment; cross-fertilization.” The term first popped up for me a month or so ago as my fellow Triangle Nia teachers and I were planning our annual spring retreat on the NC coast. The retreat involves a teacher jam, where we all select two to three songs to teach when we dance together. Every Nia class has a focus and intent and the jam is no different. A few teachers tossed out ideas related to spring and the idea of enriching one another through cross-pollination. With a little finessing, we eventually came up with the following:

Focus: Visioning how we enrich each other with cross-pollination with the intent of buzzing into the magic of limitless possibilities.

This focus and intent became the theme for the whole retreat and manifested itself in a number of different ways. The weekend involved a great deal of sharing personal stories of growth and development, both in our roles as Nia teachers as well as other personal and professional pursuits. It was amazing to see how seven women from various backgrounds found ways to connect and share knowledge and advice with the goal of nurturing one another.

I was grateful to be on the receiving end of this cross-pollination. At one point I shared with the group some of the challenges I’ve had around my desire to engage in creative writing. I currently have a couple of projects underway, but I tend to work on them in fits and starts. I’ll have a spark of inspiration that translates into just a paragraph or two on the page and then I’m not sure where to go from there. As much as I enjoy writing, it can also be a painfully slow process for me. I’m not sure how or when it started, but I developed the habit of editing as I write…which any good writer will tell you is a no-no.

Enter Robin, fellow Nia teacher who also happens to have degrees in Creative Writing and English. She shared a story with me that led to an “a-ha” moment. It had to do with the composition styles of Beethoven and Mozart. Apparently, Beethoven experienced a great deal of angst as he composed – he would scribble a few notes, then scratch some out and start over. It was almost as if he had to pull the notes out of his mind, one at a time, and perfect them on the page before moving on. On the other hand, Mozart would essentially “vomit” an entire composition onto the page and then go back and tweak it until he was satisfied. Such different methods but both ending in musical masterpieces. The amazing part was that I hadn’t even mentioned my own writing style to Robin before she shared this story, but I am clearly more like Beethoven than Mozart.

Robin had a couple of suggestions for me to make writing a little easier and hopefully more enjoyable. She recommended meditating before I write and more importantly, she advised either turning the monitor off completely or lowering the brightness so that I can barely see what is on the screen. The idea behind this approach is to just get the words and thoughts out of my head without the need to edit as I write. Genius! I am definitely willing to give it a try although I am curious about how it will work if I can’t see what I am writing. (Confession: I did not try it as I was writing this post, but I do plan to give it a shot when I work on my other writing project later this morning. Baby steps!)

Given the gift I received from Robin during this retreat, I hope that something I said or did had a similar impact on one or more of my Nia sisters. I did experience the benefits of mutual enrichment in my next venture, which was a workshop I attended in Philadelphia last week. For the last 18 months or so, I have been part of a group of health coaches who contribute items (questions) for the national Health & Wellness Coach Certifying Exam. We draft the items individually and submit them to the organization that administers the exam. We receive suggested edits to address on our own, then we come together as a group to finalize the items, ensuring that they are suitable for use on the exam.

You might be surprised to learn that there is a whole science behind constructing test items. I had no idea initially how challenging the task could really be, but I have learned so much being part of this process. Even with feedback from the testing organization, I sometimes struggled to format the questions appropriately. Thus, I relished the opportunity to go through the editing process with other health coaches.

We came together for two and half days to tackle about 125 exam items. Some items were easier to finalize then others. For example, there were some simple recall questions related to general health and wellness content, such as risk factors for certain chronic conditions. The more difficult items involved scenario-based questions testing the examinees’ knowledge and application of various coaching skills. I noticed that my items were quite wordy compared to my colleagues, so I appreciated their ability to help tighten up the scenarios I drafted. They seemed to have a knack for getting the same idea across in two sentences versus the four or five I had written. I think I contributed to the process by helping bring clarity to the central idea the item authors wanted to test.

It took working through several items before the group hit our stride, but then it became clear how we each brought our unique perspectives to the process. In the end, the exam items were stronger as a whole based on the input from each group member. I also gained some insight into how to draft stronger questions next time around, which will hopefully help the writing process go a little more quickly in the future.

I think the bottom line on cross-pollination is that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. I know it seems cliché, but it is hard to deny when you see the enhanced outcome based on the contributions of many versus just one.