Debate Magazine

Where Should the Sidewalks Go?

By Stevemiranda

My wife is a fitness instructor, and we were talking about a new gym opening near our home. The gym will be offering group exercise classes, but it plans to roll them out little by little, collecting feedback from members as they go.

This reminded of the (possibly apocryphal) story of the developer who would build expansive campuses but put down no sidewalks. He would just plant grass. Six months later, he would return and put sidewalks down where all the paths were worn. In this way, he assured that the pavement would be where the people were mostly likely to walk.

* * *

It’s so tempting to want to centrally manage people’s behavior. It appeals to the logical side of our brains. But, alas, human beings are complicated. Often it pays to listen more than to speak.

On Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, contestants who don’t know the answer can ask the studio audience, which collectively chooses the right answer every time.

When marketing guru Seth Godin was selecting a few lucky students to participate in his MBA program, he first invited all the applicants to a social event. Then as he mingled among them, he asked individuals to point out the most impressive people they’d met. The names that came up again and again were the ones he invited to enroll in the program.

There is wisdom in listening.

* * *

When PSCS teachers are trying to figure out what courses to offer, they start by listening. First, they write up course descriptions of classes they’d love to teach, offering perhaps twice as many classes as could possibly fit in one academic term. The students then prioritize the classes that are most important to them. A teacher might be really excited to teach a class in Newtonian physics, but if students would rather dissect frogs, then Dissection is what’s going to get on the schedule.

It’s simple really. We put in the sidewalks only after we know where pedestrians want to walk.

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