memories

Richard Hackman was almost in tears in his Psych 1501 Psychology of Organizations lecture as he hammered home a point in my 19 year old ears: "revolutionaries get killed." He'd recounted the story of a gentleman killed for sticking to his ethics. It was as if this struggle defined Richard: how do you make contributions and stick your neck out far enough, but how do you do so in an ethical way that doesn't cause contextual effects and detractors to interfere to undermine your goals? Little did I know that he would shortly be advising me as a manager and board member at Harvard Student Agencies, later offing to advise me on my thesis on why some melodies are remembered (and others not), and finally hiring me later as my employer and co-author on the Group Brain project. Hailing from Central IL like I did, and with a brain that could not turn off, I always felt a special connection to Hackman. It took a mind like his for me to be motivated - I feared (and loved) his ability to ferret out an exaggeration, to ask a pointed question, to frame someone who slacked, to prod an advisee in the direction of something "useful" and a line of research that would "make a difference." He wanted me to go in the direction of academia, instead I've gone outside it. He thought if I left academia, I would become a lawyer, often later baiting me with quotes like "I've got the right recommendation letter for you when you decide to go to law school." I think he was in the last era of titans who will have the cocoon of the academy to explore fully projects of interest. Social media has and will launch his area of research on teams forth with increasing relevancy and legacy, while undermining the ivory tower that enabled his contributions. Hackman often accused me of not finishing what I started. His ability, no matter how procrastinated, to eventually get to the things he meant to complete was a hallmark of his multi-level, multi-tasking way. I used to put food in the kitchen on 15 in William James Hall, and it didn't matter how busy he was, he would always find where I hid the potato chips. Attempting to throw him for a loop, one day I put the chips in the back of the fridge. About two hours later I ran into Hackman in the elevator and he asked "why did you put the potato chips in the fridge?" I replied "to keep them fresher," I lied. "Oh really, wouldn't they get soggy?" I replied "not at the speed you seem to find them." He ended with "am I moving too fast for you?" meaning his mind of course -- to which I would say "no, because you brought mine up to speed." I will very much miss him.

-Sean Bennett