This is the second of three
installments of a conversation between Joyce Stenstrom and Marian
Goldberg. Joyce Stenstrom was formerly the Ergonomist for
the Mayo Clinic and now works as an independent consultant. She has been
an Alexander Technique student of Carol and Brian McCullough and
has been taking private lessons since 1996. Marian Goldberg is
an Alexander Technique teacher and the Director of the Alexander
Technique Center of Washington, D.C. Teacher Training Program. The
conversation took place on September 14, 1997. The first two parts
of the conversation appeared in the Fall 1997 and Winter 1998
NASTAT (AmSAT) newsletters.
The conversation focuses on how ergonomics relates to and
compares with the Alexander Technique as a field of study and as a
September 14, 1997
Marian: You mentioned that a number of ideas and things
that are currently popular and known as “ergonomic,” for example
wrist rests, are not necessarily part of ergonomics. Have these
misunderstandings about what is ergonomic affected ergonomists?
For instance, has it affected how you deal with clients?
Joyce: In some ways it has made
things obviously worse because anything that is diluted is
troublesome. But in other ways it has prompted people in
ergonomics to be more deliberate and to care more about
professional standards. I think it may have spurred them to have
more respect for what they do and develop a stronger philosophy
themselves whereas otherwise they may not have. For instance, I
was just going along my own way and I wouldn't get too excited
about the profession as such, but now I feel that some things done
in the name of ergonomics could be harmful.
There are some other aspects of the popularization that may
have been helpful. Someone once said that when a discipline
becomes overspecialized, uneducated cults slip in. I think that
the ergonomic profession hadn't matured in many areas of the
everyday workday world. With the rapid growth of computerization,
the profession did not have ready answers to the many questions
that began to surface. That's the way things will happen, if there
is a wide gap—a lot of need—someone is going to fill it. So in
a way the sudden popularity forced us to go into an important
territory of the work force. I am not sure we would have gone
there if we had not seen other people go into that territory.
Marian: So it was the co-opting of ergonomics that got
the profession working more with the everyday work force. Have you
gotten feedback from people who come to you for help who have
preconceived ideas from the popular version of ergonomics?
Joyce: Yes. I think people get very confused. People
say, “How should I feel?” when being set up at a work station.
Marian: That is very interesting. I've had the same
experience with people who've experienced a supposedly “new and
improved” version of the Alexander Technique. “What should I be
feeling?” “What specific images should I be thinking of?” And of
course they get tense thinking about how to do it and it's
Joyce: With ergonomics, the clients are accustomed to
the idea of prescriptions of exactly at what angle they should
have every limb of their body and that only an outsider can view
these angles and say “Now you've got it right.” They don't realize
that they themselves have information and insight. Having had
Alexander lessons myself, I've become aware of how much this
insight can be developed.
Marian: Unfortunately, a lot of people think the
technique is simply about doing a little movement or picturing
specific things happening. This is supposed to release whatever it
is they want to release so they can move or stand according to
their preconceived ideas and preconditioned feelings of what is
the “freer” or “natural” or “right” way. They assume it's simply
about specific instructions of things to “do” and don't know the
larger picture of what inhibition is and what the means whereby
is—the basics. Seeing the bigger picture and truly thinking and
changing is a very different process.
Joyce: Yes, it's a curious thing. It's a statement of
our prevailing notion of ways of doing things. Where some
authority with information tells you, “this is it.” It is the
paradigm that behavior changes through information and that
someone else is the expert.
There is another interesting facet to the ergonomics
profession. Some of the best people I've met in terms of what
they've thought about and how they approach things have been
product designers, rather than the researchers. What I've found is
that product designers get quicker feedback about what doesn't
work. Some of the more creative designers are people I've come to
respect a lot because they're not in some ivory tower where they
just imagine what the world needs or wants. I have found some
designers to be very advanced thinkers.
designers’ thinking that is different?Joyce: I would say curiosity, playfulness, honesty. When
you think about the person who started the Alexander Technique and
the people who started ergonomics, those same attributes that they
had—curiosity and persistence—are still the keys.
self-confidence and humility?Joyce: Yes. You have to be willing to give up false
notions. You can't just add new information to what you already
relating his experiences in developing the technique.Joyce: Which is why I think that you shouldn't try to
dilute your message to make it more palatable. Given what I know
about the Alexander Technique and physical therapy and the other
medical therapies I wouldn't say that the Alexander Technique
necessarily complements these therapies. Rather, I think the
technique is a paradigm shift. I know it wouldn't be as popular to
say this but I don't know that all of these things can actually
interesting. Because although you are talking about something that
may not be as popular at the moment and may happen more slowly,
you are also talking about something that means real change.
It's not just “and oh, by the way, we'll do the Alexander
therapeutic professions, it's become clear that it is very
difficult to avoid compromising the technique. Perhaps a more
long-term view could encompass the possibility of the technique
being an eventual means to making a fundamental change in the
paradigm used by some of these therapies.
of the efforts to sell it to the public?Joyce: Well, there are a lot of people who have just
fallen into the role of ergonomists who are trying to do the best
they can. They didn't necessarily ask to become ergonomists; for
instance, someone may have been working in the safety department
and all of a sudden someone just appoints him/her to the position
of ergonomist. So they're just struggling and trying to do the
best they can.
from other professions and they see this as something that the
public wants right now. They may be out doing superficial task
analyses of jobs or making very superficial recommendations to
companies with a simple walk through, not realizing the complexity
of the human body and the complexity of the company they are
talking about. So it's very spotty and there are a lot of problems
Technique group workshops and classes. It's very easy to
oversimplify the fundamentals into little instructions and end up
with people having very artificial ideas of the technique and how
it works. A lot of people lose interest.
about ergonomics: lumbar supports, wrist rests, 90 degree
computer desks now come with wrist rests built into the
would be a total question mark from the scientific point of view:
mixed results, very meager evidence either way, and just
questionable from the physiology standpoint.
becoming so accepted and popular that they are built into work
stations? You can’t take them off! What have been some of the
effects of this kind of surge in the popularity of one thing that
is supposedly ergonomic? For instance, people find out that it
doesn’t work or that it might even lead to other problems. Or
wrist rests might seemingly work for some people, but for most
people it turns out that they don’t. Does that kind of situation
lead to further problems with people’s perceptions of ergonomics
in terms of their no longer being interested in ergonomics?
semi-ergonomics. That’s a play on words: if a semi-load
[tractor-trailer] backs up to a company and delivers one
thing, like a back belt or a wrist rest, or an adjustable chair,
so that someone can say, “We did it; we bought ergonomics; we did
what we could; now, let’s get on with other things.” And of course
it doesn’t work. It just can’t work. It was illogical to try to
cover the world with just this one thing. So I do hear the
statement, “Well, we bought ergonomics and it didn’t work.” Well,
you can’t buy ergonomics.
Marian: So a lot of people wanted that quicker,
short-term solution which didn't really involve any new ways of
thinking or questioning any assumptions they had. They want a
does need to think. And this whole issue of how the profession is
seen is important. For instance, an ergonomist walks into a
workplace where they have tried something that was called
ergonomics. A monitor has been placed too close to their eyes
based on some notion that it should be placed in a certain way and
they're getting headaches and they're wondering, “what’s this all
about?” So people say, “we bought ergonomics and it didn’t
backlash.Joyce: Yes, it’s a backlash. But if ergonomics is done
well there is no way it cannot work because by definition the
ergonomist is always seeking feedback. If it’s really ergonomics,
you think of it as a system and you wouldn’t put anything out
there without monitoring its effect.
Alexander was doing.Joyce: Yes. There is another popular notion that both
the ergonomics profession and the Alexander world may experience.
Recent research presented in the New England Journal of
Medicine takes a broad brush to education for work-related
disorders and says that education doesn’t work. Unfortunately,
we've defined education to be, “Here’s Joe’s spine; here's why he
should lift like this” and so forth. When that doesn’t work, we
say that education doesn’t work. We don’t question what we mean by
are very different from the simple paradigm of education that the
medical profession apparently uses. People coming from the medical
profession will see certain words and probably assume they mean
certain things that we don’t mean by them.
that the New England Journal of Medicine was referring to.
I think both Alexander teachers and ergonomists would say “This
kind of education can’t work; we know that. Don’t study that;
we've known for a long time that it doesn’t work that way.”
themselves to the medical profession, using such general terms as
“education,” unless we define these words for them, and the
medical profession is willing to listen to these definitions,
they’ll assume a misconception immediately.
advantage because most people have seen this article in the New
England Journal of Medicine. Capitalizing on that and saying
to them, “We agree and we've been aware of this for 100 years.
This kind of education doesn’t work. The Alexander Technique is
something very different.The marketing dilemma for services such as the Alexander
Technique and ergonomics consists of two opposing concerns. One is
that marketing won’t work; the other is that it will work and the
service is not ready for the demand. The first one is the more
obvious and perhaps the lesser of the two problems: that the
marketing efforts, including the money spent on marketing, will be
in vain. Anybody who does the kind of stuff we do should read a
new book called Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith.
It’s called a field guide to modern marketing. He explains that
the biggest dilemma for people marketing services is that the
model for marketing comes from product marketing and that service
marketing is an entirely different animal. If you’re going to
really develop a marketing plan, it can’t be based on the
traditional marketing products model.
advertising/marketing agencies are used to doing.Joyce: Right. And it’s typically get the word out, get
your name out, and tell a bunch of information about it. That’s
what product marketing is all about. Whereas, the core of service
marketing is the service itself. You better first look at the
service. It's not that the service can get you there completely;
there is a need to be known and understood. But if the service
isn’t right, then that’s a big problem. The book also talks about
how we tend to market, as if we’re marketing to rational people.
And that's just not how people buy. For instance, if you want to
market to doctors you really have to know what doctors are
thinking. What their life is like, what their work is like, etc.
But there is just no comparision to having a satisified
customer/student in a service. Another interesting thing is that
we mistakenly assume that if we tell people we’re the best, and
here are all the reasons why we’re so good, that that's what sells
the service. But really every potential purchaser or recommender
of service has certain fears. And you have to first and foremost
deal with those fears one by one and eliminate them. I would guess
that one of the fears that physicians would have about the
Alexander Technique is that it might be kooky; it might be just an
unproven new age thing—something that their peers will criticize
them for doing—that type of thing. To me the issue that you have
is no different than the one I had as an ergonomic consultant: I
don’t know how you can market to a whole profession. I can see
developing a relationship with physicians in your community one at
a time by demonstrating your worth. That takes time and trust.
© 1997 Marian Goldberg, Joyce Stenstrom
Alexander Technique: The Insiders’ Guide
maintained by Marian Goldberg, MSTAT
Alexander Technique Center of Washington, D.C.