Calculated un-business

“I remember how when I was a young man I was troubled, – as I daresay you have been troubled – by the seemingly contemptible intermittentness or fleetingness of my thinkings. I fancied that real thinkers could go on wrestling with an issue continuously, perhaps for hours on end, without pauses, or switches of attention. They, I supposed, stuck to their intellectual tasks like plough horses moving unremittingly up and down their furrows. Yet there was I, meaning well, but just drifting, flitting, alighting, flapping, sipping, resting and taking wing again – a mere butterfly, instead of a plough horse, Of course, I did not then realise that the task of excogitating something is, like angling, a chain-undertaking, in which a considerable sporadicness or intermittency of the infra-acts of infra-moves is perfectly compatible with the prosecution of the total undertaking being cumulative, progressive and even sometimes successful. The housewife spring-cleaning her house works but with all manner of pauses, interruptions, telephonings, re-reading letters before throwing them away, watering the flowers, chatting to her neighbours, looking out of the windows, and so on. Yet by the end of the day her house has been properly spring-cleaned. The wheat-farmer can take his seaside holiday in February without postponing or diminishing his September harvest.
Puppy-training has to be a sporadic, intermittent and repetitive thing; yet it may result in a well-trained sheep-dog within a few weeks or months. There is a lot of sheer waiting in angling, and in pondering; but the angler and thinker do not have to make excuses for these spells of calculated un-business.”

Gilbert Ryle,”Courses of Action or the Uncatchableness of Mental Acts”, 1974 (Unpublished until the Nineties, see the link for the circumstances)

A useful reminder

I first came across the reminder that dinosaurs,far from being unsuccessful, had been around for longer than mammals and make our history look pretty puny, in one of the late John Brunner‘s novels. So I was pleased to find this fact used as an example again in number 7 of Jamais Cascio‘s “Twelve Things Journalists Need To Know to be Good Futurist/Foresight Reporters”:
7. Dinosaurs lived for over 200 million years. A favourite pundit cliche is the “dinosaurs vs. mammals” comparison, where dinosaurs are big, lumbering and doomed, while mammals are small, clever and poised for success. In reality, dinosaurs ruled the world for much, much longer than have mammals, and even managed to survive a planetary disaster by evolving into birds. When a futurist uses the dinosaurs/mammals cliche, that’s your sign to investigate why the “dinosaur” company/ organization/ institution may have far greater resources and flexibility than you’re being led to believe.”

On a shorter time span, I wrote a piece at the time of the Tsunami at the end of 2004, with what may also be another reminder of our relative frailty and could be a useful corrective to the arrogance we display about how we live today:
“What we often forget is that our taken for granted world is an experiment that has been running for much less time than the Norse Colonies in Greenland. No doubt for much of the time the Norse thought things were going pretty well for them and ignored the signals that things might not be as they seem.”

Tapping the value of networks

Paul Miller, co-editor of Demos‘s “Network Logic”, has this advice for young people thinking of starting a business:
“If you’re a young entrepreneur trying to emulate the current generation of internet success stories, you’re going to try and think of business ideas that are like Google or eBay, that tap the value of networks of active participants for the simple reason that those are the most likely business to thrive in a network age. At the moment, we just don’t have that culture of understanding network business in the UK.”

Managing by form-giving

One of my daily rituals is to visit Abe Burmeister’s site Abstract Dynamics. His usually thought provoking posts are fairly infrequent, but he does do a good link. (One reason for his infrequent posts may be that he does lots of other things including writing a book, under his other name,William Abraham Blaze, “Nomadic Economics” – which you can look at free here and then go and buy here)
One of his recent links that caught my attention was to an article by Richard Farson “Management by Design”. In his conclusion he remarks:
“Design has many definitions, but if design is the creation of form, then it surely applies directly to leadership and management. Everything we see and hear and do has form. By its form, everything sends a metamessage. Therefore, everything is amenable to design. If we are going to seriously and systematically incorporate the approaches of social design into management, we have much to learn, and much to invent. But we can do this with the comfort of knowing that we are embracing the perspectives and approaches of an ancient, distinguished and thriving discipline, with greater relevance for the 21st century than ever before.”

I point to this article for two reasons. The first is that it deserves to be read and ponder upon. The second is that it gives me an excuse to point to some of my earlier posts that relate to aspects of what he is talking about and contain links that amplify some of his points:
“The Designer as a Good Host”
“Integrative thinking”
“The Manager as a Designer”
“Nobody smokes in church”
“The Design of Possibilities”
“Second thoughts”

Muji is magic

Just got a bed from Muji. It slotted together in a matter of minutes. No pain, no fittings to screw in, just good design. (And much cheaper than the collapsed bed it replaced.) If only all flat pack furniture were like this.

Can’t you do that at home?

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy of “Peoplewar: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister, which I ordered immendiately after reading some extracts on Kevin Kelly’s excellent Cool Tools site. My favourite extract that rang a number of bells from my own experience was this one:
“In my two years at Bell Labs, we worked in two-person offices. They were spacious, quiet, and the phones could be diverted. I shared my office with Wendl Thomis who went on to build a small empire as an electronic toy maker. In those days, he was working on the ESS fault dictionary. The dictionary scheme relied upon the notion of n-space proximity, a concept that was hairy enough to challenge even Wendl’s powers of concentration. One afternoon, I was bent over a program listing while Wendl was staring into space, his feet propped up on the desk. Our boss came in and asked, “Wendl! What are you doing?” Wendl said, “I’m thinking.” And the boss said, “Can’t you do that at home?””

Pushing a moral code

Wise words from Philip Alcabes:
“… Risk reduction is the new religion. Americans today make risk sound like sin, the way earlier generations did with communism, atheism, or, well, sin. We talk about “risky sex” and mean not that you might fall in love and get your heart broken, but that you didn’t use a condom. We no longer label habits “bad” because they smell nasty, like smoking; make you unattractive, like eating a diet of fried foods; or startle your neighbors, like having sex in public bathrooms. The old language of bad habits invited the uncomfortable discussion about who really suffers and therefore about who gets to dictate mores and morals. Disguising revulsion as a concern about health lets you push your moral code on everyone; nobody can be against health.
This is the newest incarnation of an old trend in public health in this country. Some Americans with a moral agenda have always wanted other Americans to reform their behavior and have often used public health as one way to advance their case. Segregating black people, vilifying those who drink alcohol, and keeping girls at home and celibate until they were married were all, at one time, justified as ways of controlling epidemic disease. Now health officials push sexual temperance, sexual conformity, and abstention from “addictive substances.” Worst of all, public-health practitioners have been so indoctrinated in the risk-reduction religion that most disease-control programs today emphasize stamping out “risky behavior” — and in so doing, promote a moral agenda — instead of changing society.”