The Missing Piece

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One of the least known things about change is how to deal with it before we have to deal with the negative results. No change is completely beneficial or completely non-beneficial. There is always a mix, including the lack of either a positive or negative benefit.

So often we see some new technology arriving that leads to a Rah Rah, gamechanging blah bah situation, with a rush of people joining in. I remember that about the time I moved to Poland there were dozens of computer shops being set up, all of which eventually closed to be replaced by mobile phone shops. If something becomes fashionable, there is a rush to be part of it. So does a large number of failures have to accompany change? Yes and no.

As a development engineer it was my job to create and then eliminate failures, because the finance had already been set aside to pay for the failures. Failures here are good, because they set the boundaries of what is possible and forces us to think about what we are trying to achieve.

In general business there is no finance for the failures, because failure should be avoided by appropriate learning beforehand, and then if failure is met then an expert can be called in to fix what has gone wrong. This is a largely unplanned failure process, one that can only be fixed by people who understand how to create a planned failure process.

Unfortunately, education teaches people to believe in the power of courses and experts, which leads to unplanned failure processes, because educators are mostly the products of courses. They are never there when we meet the unplanned failure.

Therefore, the next time someone suggests getting a cat to solve your problems, ask yourself whether they will be there for you when you meet failure.

 

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Knowing the Bill and Mary Story

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Involvement can be a wonderful thing.

Some time ago I began an occasional series of images showing a 1950/60s biker, often interacting with a woman I had begun drawing earlier. They are my wife and I, in a way, as we were born in the 50s and 60s and grew up surrounded with images of what was then the present or recent past. My wife rode many times on a bike as a pillion behind her father, and I can ride as well even though I have never had a licence. By the time we met events had led to me letting go all the bikes that I still had, even the one that I resuscitated and heavily modified from a rusty wreck We have never been on a bike together, but why should that limit our participation on the page?

Knowledge is an amazingly infinite thing – and what we know is a microscopic fraction of all that there is to know. Society encourages us to learn more, always more, even though not-much plus not-much is still not-much, so why is ‘more’ important? What drives this need to learn more? Well, I think I have an answer.

Knowledge is considered like the seeds of plants, in that it comes in many forms and should lead to growth and a fresh crop of knowledge. My question is: If we sat on a chair in an otherwise empty room, with a seed in our hand, how would we get that seed to grow to create a fresh crop? Logically, if we refrained from eating the seed, lay on the floor with the seed on our chest then it is conceivable that after we die our decomposing body could result in the seed germinating in our formally mortal remains. Knowledge, like a seed, is not enough, there has to be interactions with non-seed, non-knowledge things to achieve any result.

Now here comes the important part: knowing that an interaction with something else exists is a piece of knowledge in itself, but our memories are limited to a fixed amount of such knowledge. We know that we need soil and water to grow the seeds, but we do not know what else might also achieve the same unless we have learned about that as well. There could be hundreds of ways of getting a crop out of our seeds without using soil and water, but how are we to know when knowledge is infinite and we know such a small fraction of it?

Involvement is a good way of gaining knowledge, but experimenting with the alternatives can lead us to questions about the knowledge we never thought to learn. Placing my wife and I on a motorcycle is one way to create thoughts about our actual relationship, and how it would affect it.

Serendipity under Surveillance

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Kiosks in Hrubieszów, Poland

Ever since I first moved to Poland, I have been interested in the stories I hear and the films and series I see concerning Poland during the Soviet era, such as collecting whatever paper one could find and delivering it to the paper shop (and I mean paper, not newspaper) in exchange for rolls of toilet paper – which were in short supply. One returned home with one’s new, rough, cheap rolls of toilet paper tied together on a string, and hung around one’s neck like some kind of rosary.

I had the idea for this post after completing the above image, a period during which I begin to understand just what it is that I have done. There is this classical dream that one has an idea, which one beats into submission before finally presenting the final product to one’s public – after which observers can be learned in expressing on what the author has done. Real life is never like that, we just pretend it is to avoid thinking about all that we do not know or understand. How could we trust experts if we thought too much about all the things they do not understand?

So reality says that this picture was more like a knot in my thoughts as they progress between birth and death, a knot consisting of the things that I understand and those that I do not. It is also possible that I will die without fully understanding what I have done here. To make all this a bit clearer, let’s consider some philosophy that I keep in my back pocket.

We often talk of two categories of knowledge, the things that we:

  • know (my name is …)
  • do not know (your name is…)

This is a bit simplistic, and does not come close to describing our experience, so I have pushed this out to another layer. These are the things that we:

  • know that we know (my name is…)
  • know that we do not know (your name is…)
  • do not know that we know (oh, I had forgotten all about him!)
  • do not know that we do not know

It is the last of these that most people spend most of their time pretending does not exist, and yet it is by far the largest group. Neolithic man did not know that they did not know that atoms exist as a combination of protons, neutrons and electrons. Yet if our lives seem somewhat random, this is partly due to insufficient planning but also due to the things that we did not know that we did not know going ahead and happening anyway.

When I worked on this picture the original photo I used for the background was already several years old, so the exact circumstances and the surroundings were a combination of those things forgotten entirely and those forgotten until something re-triggered the memory. Once I started work on the image there were things I found there that I was not even aware of. These were those things I did not know that I did not know: the camera faithfully rendered everything that it saw, even the things I did not even cast my eye over. There were many things working to distract and attract my attention at the time; it was, after all, a corner of a town center on a saturday lunchtime. What I returned with was a mish-mash of experience conditioned by those experiences, very little of which I could have predicted when we set out that morning.

Well, other than the difficulty in finding lunch in small-town Poland.

At the time I just wanted to photograph those kiosks, as I could see then that they would not last – and indeed the next time we visited they were already gone, and a metal fence lined the street instead. I had no plans beyond scanning in the picture to put it on my website then store the print in an album to be enjoyed again later. Using the photo in the way I have here was an unknown: and yet I had already taken the first steps toward creating this image by taking the photograph.

What I mean is that we cannot fully understand what we do now, what we did in the past or what we will do in the future. All we can do is view something in the present, and then evaluate it by what we know now. This means that every time I look at this picture I understand it as the sum of all the things I have learned until that point, minus everything that I have forgotten. Every time I view it I am a different sum of what I know.

It is all a form of serendipity, rather than concrete conclusions resulting from our surveillance.

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