The Missing Piece


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.



Dreams Being Made of Broken Things

Broken Things 2 small

One of the things that I wonder about is why in management meetings a lot of people talk about thinking in the box, out of the box, up in a helicopter, down in a submarine, in fact anywhere rather than where it can occur most often – while driving.

In fact I would say that driving was the universally most wasted part of most people’s lives, or sitting on a train, on a bicycle, walking, or however else one might be travelling to or from work, or simply the shops. I even see people doing stupid things, like using their phones while driving, or those managers in their business expresses trying to win in their over-priced cars driving to their over-priced homes to live what is left of their over-priced lives in a manager-ghetto in a site formerly known as a village or small town – wasting that precious time doing anything but think.

By thinking I do not mean that stuff that passes thinking, which is running through one’s memories looking for some answer, and which our education systems excel at most – learning the answers. Even worse is that supposed answer to education of ‘they should be teaching children to solve problems’, but which is precisely what they are doing, solving pre-set problems.

What do you do if there is no known answer yet, and no known way of arriving at the solution? What should we call that? Pre-thinking? Or perhaps just plain old creativity?

When I was  a child I began learn something important about the world, and then, as is the way of things, many years later I came to understand what I had learnt. Remember when we were given some new toy and it was so wonderful and shiny that we were almost afraid that we might scratch its paintwork, and yet the adults around kind of expected us to somehow do something amazing with it without damaging it? Encouraging children to want new toys can be a terrible way of encouraging creativity, because they can either be afraid to damage them or become so accustomed to getting new things that the wanting takes over from creativity.

Now I am not going to whine on here about how better it was in the past – it was not, I remember being there, and we all plotted to escape into our present world. Well, except those so old then that they had realized the world they built did not give them the comforts of youth.

Broken things don’t matter, and because they don’t matter we are free to do with them what we will, even chop them up for firewood, unless they are so old that they have achieved classic status. The midlife of brokenness is our ideal, where we can smash one toy car into another with gay abandon.

The thing about creative thinking is that we need both a time to think it and something to think about, and travelling is a good start as we often consider it a broken time that we should really have more fun with. Creativity is never going to come out of a book, as books are already full of things past; instead it has to come out of our life and the things that are in our hands, or in our heads. The trick then is learning how to fill our hands and heads with broken things, and how to break things so that they become mere material for our further dreams. The knowing the when and the where of breaking takes practice, as it is a skill like any other. The more we fill our lives with nice, finished things, the less space there is for our broken things, less time for the practice.

But is it not sad to be surrounded by broken things? Yes, if we do not want to be creative and would rather sit in a gallery of other people’s work, no if we want our equivalent of an artist’s studio and see the things we have made that never existed before we thought them.

While we travel we have our own time to think through the plans we have for our broken things. For me it might be a composition for a picture, or some function for a program that I am creating in parallel to whatever is working now. Creativity follows a saw-tooth like path, where we build and build until whatever it is gets big, then we look into it for the patterns, and break those big things down into smaller, faster, cheaper things. And so it goes on.

Everything takes practice and time, and creativity requires the kind of time we never used before, otherwise we just continue to keep repeating the old thoughts, the old patterns, in new surroundings they no longer fit.


The Embodiment of Anonymity


What do you do better than most people?

Think about it for a moment, before continuing.

One of my best abilities is that of data analysis, best in the way that I am not just good,  I am probably better than you can imagine.

That probably sounds like boasting, but it isn’t. Let me fill you in with some background.

I have worked for many companies, and as a consequence have experienced many managers and people in business in general, as well as a whole lot of other people doing the different tasks that make up our working lives. If I was going to give one piece of advice to all of these it might be that life is not like Farmville – when one gets promoted one does not automatically power up on those skills one associates with that position. On the other hand, our ego may demand that we defend our position, that we have indeed powered up on those skills, especially if we have been in a position for some time.

I will be blunt, most people are fairly crap at analysing data in any way but in which they have been taught when working at the business level, but our ego may not allow us to accept this. However, I have lived in Poland for twenty years but I will not be writing any literature in Polish in the foreseeable future, and I can say this because I do not allow my ego to prop up my business persona. I only have one life, and I have both psoriasis and arthritis to contend with all the time, I do not need a set of fake ideals to make my life even more complicated.

So every day I watch managers deal ham-fistedly with data, and there is no resolution.

Skills have to be learned, and then practiced, intensely. Just as no one gets to speak a foreign language without specific kinds of consistent work, no one gets to speak data without a similar amount of perspiration.

Remember that I asked you to consider what you do best? And what does that blog title mean?

Right, if we allow our ego to defend our poor skills, then we are saying that those poor skills are as good as our other skills. Our good skills.

One of the hardest things to talk about with people is their good skills. They downplay them.

So: ( CrapSkill x 10 ) + ( GoodSkill / 10 ) = Mediocrity

Each and every one of us has a unique set of skills at which we naturally excel plus a set of skills at which we have worked hard to learn. These are our core skills, and these are the ones we need to be using to add quality to the processes in which we engage.What is more, just as we cannot imagine what someone thinks when they speak a really foreign language, or does some artistic work beyond our experience, then we cannot imagine what those people with other skills in our workplace see when they are applying their skills – and they cannot see what we see in our minds when we apply our own skills. We never really know how far our imagination falls short of understanding what they see.

My mind burns with a strange light when I let it go in its areas of experience, yet dies to a pale glimmer in other areas. Where does yours burn?

The classical vision is that we have all the required skills, and that if we have a superior position then we have all these skills at a similarly elevated level. This classical vision is only our internal vision – while what other people see in us is what we present, and if we follow the ‘mediocrity’ process then mediocrity is what others see. In a company with many people at a certain level following the ‘mediocrity’ process, then all the outsider to the company perceives is anonymity.

Think about this: of all the people you have seen or passed by today, how many of them do you remember? Those who you know plus some you see every day in your home or work space, plus a few more? How many of those will say anything but what you expect to hear?

Anonymity. It is all around us.

The purpose of a team is to create a group of people not with just different sets of knowledge but with different natural abilities that can cross the knowledge boundaries. The way forward to a better business team involves leaving the classical ideas behind that Qualification Z ensures that Person X is able to do Job Y, and that we should appear invincible to our team.

This has implications in our ability to choose further training, because if our ego or our lack of imagination oversells the skills we do not have, we are unlikely to choose appropriate training.

Fear, ego and mediocrity. The embodiment of anonymity.


Beliefs: Hate or Renewal?

via Daily Prompt: Renewal


Apparently I am an evil man.

I used to attend the Roman Catholic churches here in Poland; no more, because hearing evil from the mouths’ of priests just left me unhappy, plus I was tired of walking out of churches mid-mass. The church-goers were not the problem, just your usual people one meets anywhere, but I considered it unfair to burden them.

The primary issue was that, apparently, all evil comes from the West, making me feel all peculiar being the bringer of evil sat in the midst of the righteous. My opinion was that all evil comes from the heart, in which case the heart lies in the West, or maybe it was that the priests had forgotten the centuries of struggle with Russia, to the East. Perhaps, though, they thought that the end of Communism would mean Poles would be free to spend all their free time in the church, freely following their priests’ lead in all things in life, when it turns out that what most people wanted with freedom was to be, well, free.

As a man of science who believes in God, I discover that to those who are also believers in Science or those who are Atheists, I am evil because I believe in God. Am I thus taking evil with me wherever I go, bringing it fresh to the Godly and the Neutral alike, one evil for the former and another for the latter?

I consider part of the problem to be books. Did I tell you that I bring evil to the world of books as well? I was once rash enough to admit that I had thrown some books out with the rubbish, although in my defense I knew at the time that some of the poor of the city regularly went through the waste, collected any books they found and attempted to sell them on the streets.

Evil is my name.

Books live in the past, beginning their lives when they are written and then growing older, like some kind of civilisation where the citizens procreate and die, only ending when the last copy is destroyed. Books of science and books of religion are very similar, in that each states what the authors believe of the world at the time of writing, a summary of the thoughts of many people. Science books can be deceptive because most are fairly new, yet that is not the same as making them true in their entireties. Science grows in two ways: by adding new content to the old, and by replacing some of the old knowledge following the twists of our understanding.

Schooling, whether dealing in religion, the sciences or whatever, has a tendency to emphasis the idea that all ideas are known. The teacher gives a problem, and the answer to the problem is to be found in a book. Again and again. Therefore books are founts of all knowledge.

As a research and development engineer I have a different viewpoint, because in this field there are no books to give the ideas. Problems are met every day, and they have to be solved by experience, comparison with similar problems from the past, looking for patterns in the data that might suggest a new reality, or blind luck. New science books ultimately come from the work of people like me, not from teachers or priests – they merely exist in an old vision of the world.

Religious books can be very old, but that is not to say that what they offer is irrelevant, in fact they are quite remarkable as they have to speak to people from all kinds of backgrounds, classes, technologies and so forth, but they also have their flaws as nothing so general can meet all specific needs. These flaws are often deliberately selected by people who do not like religion as evidence that all the religion, all religion, is invalid.

Once the current thought in science was that heat and cold were separate fluids that somehow flowed through solid materials. The idea seemed to fit the evidence, until one day someone found a way to disprove it, and science moved on. That meant that the science books of the time were flawed, and still are, we just have no way of knowing which bits are true and which we assume to be true. On that basis, books of science and religion are indistinguishable from each other, we just make our choices which of which we believe.

Or at least, we should.

What often happens is that people make the choices that suit them, them spew vile hatred of people who state that they have made other choices, using clever-clever put downs based on how wonderful their choices are.

There are people out there who want power, and to get this they find it most convenient to climb an established hierarchy that heads in the required direction. These people only believe in themselves, but they pretend to hold the values of the hierarchy, and without a qualm will shake that hierarchy to make their passage easier, and to damage competing hierarchies. Up they rise, powered by their own hot air.

Education should allow us to solve problems, and make choices that suit us and our communities, so that when a problem presents itself we can respond in an appropriate manner. Each of us has our own set of skills, so there is no need for any of us to be able to solve all problems, but if we care anything for our communities we should be able to put our unique efforts to make life better for all. If we see groups apparently attempting to remove the freedom from other groups of people, then the people to defeat are the power-garnering leaders, not the others in the group. If we simply attack the group, all we are making of ourselves is another group who wishes to remove another’s freedom. No amount of self-justification of our group makes taking the freedom from another justified – it just makes us the problem.

So am I evil? Or am I just an easy target for other people’s frustration? People too inconsiderate to care that the people reading what they write are innocent. How many innocent people have to be abused every day until the abusers realise that they are part of the problem and not the solution?

Talking to the Artist


Did you know that artists and engineers share something significant? Yes, really.

Previously I talked a bit about the teaching of culture, mostly about the question of unknown or forgotten culture. This time we deal with the fear of the unknown, or why people walk or talk away from artists and engineers.

When I create a picture people can tell me what they think it is, which is fine, or they can tell me why they prefer something else, which is fine too. If instead I talk about my pictures while I am creating them most people cannot get away fast enough. The same happens when engineers speak about what they are engineering.

So I asked myself why. Then I asked whether other people experience the same under other circumstances. Finally, does this have any relation to the teaching of culture?

I think it mostly revolves around the unknown presented in its naked form. Education kind of encourages the view that things are fixed, as in fixed answers to set questions, or that if something new does come along it will arrive in a fully finished manner – fully tested and approved, presented by proper social actors, such as magazine writers.

When we talk to an engineer the product is unfinished, raw, and there is no social actor to give their approval. Oh no, the peasants cannot live on cake. Having one’s home remodelled is noisy and dirty. Old people do have sex.

So much of culture involves concealing the grubbiness of reality, the creation of an artificial environment that is remote from reality. Cleaner than reality. Superior to reality. The more artificial we make our life the more difficult it becomes to connect with people far from our safety zone.

Engineers talking engineering is too distant, too dirty, the engineering crude until the approved product lands on the shelves.

Artists talking about their current work is too distant, unless they speak the spiel as approved by the relevant social actors.

Fellow employees talking about some innovation is too alien, even if it will improve the way we work or the product we make.

When culture is taught to people from other cultures we have to pretend either that they are in our culture, or devalue their culture, the colonialisation of their culture with ours, because the one thing that is feared is that their culture is superior to ours. More than that, learning their culture takes away our superior position of giver to the masses, to that of receiver.

Hence, if we wish to teach culture effectively, one of our tasks is to learn not to steer clear of others when they describe the processes they go through in their work, for work they we consider distant from ours or dirty. We must be able to achieve meaningful dialogue with those who produce culture – not to talk the past, our knowledge, at the, to prove our knowledge, but to talk to them with the understanding that most of the learning will happen on our side. If we, as teachers, were treated the same way as we treat the producers of products and culture then we should feel offended, as we do not expect our students to walk away or to start talking about other things. It is worth remembering that we are mere manufacturers of standard knowledge.

It is something that takes practice, as in our minds we have to realign the social system that we carry in our head from a kind of hierarchy to that of placing everyone on the same flat plane, as our equals.

After all, no matter how distant or dirty a process may seem, they all appear from the same essential material – our minds.

Culture is Dead


Stand up if you believe things were better in the past. Good, the door is over there, we will stay because life is more interesting than that.

Culture dies – because one day everything dies, even the universe. However, if culture dies we can still make it live again, we just have to care. That is WE have to care, rather than complain that other people do not care. We can sum up culture as the sum of people caring, rather than the sum of people complaining.

When something is new it can seem interesting, then we get bored with it, pushing it to the back of our drawer of life.Sometimes, though, we are rummaging around in our past and we rediscover this forgotten thing. We buy a suit or dress, love it, forget it and then we or someone finds it and calls it retro.

  • Love
  • Forget
  • Retro

This is an important concept if we are teaching culture, because when we are at the bored stage someone else might be still at the interested stage. For years the Communist era was uncool in Poland, for example, but now people are rediscovering some of the gems from that era, like furniture they used to have. Foreigners have a different perspective: they have not been through the cycle, they are still at ‘Love’.

If we are teaching culture, what is boring to us may be very interesting to those we teach, the trouble is that we cannot know beforehand what will be interesting, because other people will never love all the things we have. And they will love things that we never did.

To make things even more complicated – we do not know some of the things that we could love, and our students cannot know everything that they could love. No questionnaire can discover the things we or anyone else do not know that we do not know. In other words questions imply that we know the question, just not the answer. However, what about a question addressing a completely new piece of technology that will appear in ten years time? We lack knowledge of questions as well as answers.

A good example is the British TV series ‘Escape to the Country’, where a couple is presented with two houses that fit the desires they list, and then with a house that goes beyond the list. The latter house is chosen more often than either of the two that fits the knowledge they brought with them to the program. The unknown element can be more interesting than the known. Questionnaires tend to question the status quo, of things in danger of slipping from Love to Forget.

Next… if we teach culture we need to experience some of it, and keep experiencing it because things keep on a-changing. We need to watch films, go to theatres, visit factories. Our students come from varied backgrounds, and they are usually polite enough to pretend that what we present is what they want. Education is often a bludgeon of compliance, preventing us from believing that things could be different, but is that our hand on the bludgeon.

Are we mindlessly programming our students with classical views that they will never really enjoy?

Are we mindlessly programming our students with culture we do not really understand?

Are we mindlessly programming our students full stop?

The argument goes something like theatres will not continue to exist unless we teach about them in culture classes. My counter-argument is that theatres do not continue to exist because a bunch of mindless teachers force the idea of theatre on students. Theatres continue to exist because actors make them interesting and interested people find the money to keep them doing what they do so interestingly, and this process picks up fresh people incidentally for the most part.

The hard truth is that not only must we experience culture to teach it, we have to accept that our way of experiencing it may not be the only relevant way, or even be close to the most interesting way.

Consider clothes shopping, a common element of modern culture. When you go shopping you might do what many people do: enter the shop, find a rack and then start going clack, clack, clack down the rack and onto the next one, looking for interesting clothes, colours and sizes all at the same time. Often people spend about 20 minutes in a shop, and see about 40 different items.

Consider my clothes shopping: I enter a shop, scan the clothes as I walk around, looking for interesting colours and patterns. If I see something interesting I approach it and put my hand on it to feel the quality. If it passes that test I might investigate further, if not I continue around the shop and move onto the next one. In 20 minutes I might see 1oo-200 items in 3-5 shops. I see more clothes, and only look for sizes if something passes all the visual and texture tests, so the chances of me finding something interesting is several times higher than the average shopper.

The point here is that we need to experience culture, and we need to do so in ways outside our previous experience. To find out how we need to experience culture with people from very different backgrounds.

Laziness as the Key to Innovation

Getting relaxed

Wiling away our lives in the sun

I believe that one of the most terrible things that we can do to each other is not to understand what we each need. I, for example, have always tended towards that habit of leaving things not done, then trying to fix things at the last minute. That is bad, in many people’s books, criminal in others, rather like my tendency to spend a friday night in a bar drinking beer rather than doing something constructive. I am irretrievably lazy.

But is laziness, or ‘delayed response’ as I languidly prefer to call it, necessarily bad? Has all that swilling turned me into an underperformer at the trough of life? Does society even need the socially pungent at its table, forever forgetting to keep its trotters in its lap, on top of its napkin, or sliding its cutlery to the twenty past four position at the appropriate moment?

As a shy lad I was usually last to hand in my homework, possibly last to even do it, although sensible enough to regularly create situations where I must confront my social problem so that I do not finally shrivel away in a house or apartment alone, dieing and being eaten by rats. In much the same way I joined the Mountaineering Club while at university in order to confront my fear of heights. Or my shyness of heights, as I also like to describe it. Shyness means that if there is a situation where I have to go see someone, I will delay doing so until I can no longer avoid it or the need for it disappears. So we could say that my apparent laziness is really a response to my shyness, hence my use of ‘delayed response’.

My wife, bless her, is much different, she is a planner-actioner, she gets things done, and will even change channels on the TV 15 minutes prior to the start of a program that she wishes to see so in order not to miss it (so I miss the last 5 minutes of my program and get to see 10 minutes of advertising on her chosen channel instead of mine). She is wonderful, but not so innovative.

Consider the situation: we each need to write a 500 word assessment. She will write hers ahead of time, based on what is known, having plenty of time to plan and check references, go to the library, search the internet and pump her acquaintances for the low down on this type of test. I, on the trotter, will wait until the last moment, well past any opportunity to gather suitable materials, forcing myself to be inventive and draw on any resource that is to trotter – but my brain will have to light up like a Christmas tree (or whatever) and burn some essential energy very rapidly.

Do you see the difference? If we are the kind of person who is rarely late, then on those occasions we are then we will quite possibly produce something that is visibly hacked together, or is lacking somewhere. If, on the other hand, we spend our life stepping from one crisis to another, we should start to get skilled at producing something worthwhile from apparently very little. A minimalistic, hermetic response that optimizes what we possess.

If we took a course in doing the long jump, then would this make us athletes? If we took a course in beer tasting, would this make us a suitable candidate for a job at professional brewery? Sadly, no, our body and mind take time and effort to become expert, including the ability to understand what is successful behaviour and what is not.

Conversely, if we do put long term effort into something, then we should reap some changes. OK, not always profitable changes, such as what we might achieve slumped every night in front of the television, but does this mean that if we design an education system to suit a certain kind of mind then we might be missing the creation of benefits that could accrue from training minds in other ways? Whatever, I wish I had considered all this decades ago.

Imagine you are down at your favorite haunt, and some idiot manages to set light to the table next to you, and assuming that you have not been trained for just this kind of incident, what would you do? Too late, decision time is over, if you stopped to think, by now I would be already at the bar asking, hopefully, for a refill.

I wonder if we might make a comparison with the different forms of muscle fibre, and I found this excellent summary on Athlepedia:

Muscle fiber types can be broken down into two main types: slow twitch (Type I) muscle fibers and fast twitch (Type II) muscle fibers. Type II fibers can subsequently be broken down into two types: type IIA, which is referred to as “fast twitch oxidative glycolytic”, and type IIX, which is referred to as “fast twitch glycolytic”.  Type I fibers are characterized by low force/power/speed production and high endurance, Type IIX fibers are characterized by high force/power/speed production and low endurance, while Type IIA fall in between the two.

Fast twitch and slow twitch brains, one type functioning optimally in sprint environments and the other in marathons? In which case my wife has the marathon sort – having had only the one job and gaining all the necessary qualifications, while I have the sprint type – having had many jobs and a series of more minor qualifications from a broader range of subjects.

In summary, if you see someone lazing in the sun with a beer in their hand, they may still be doing constructive, training their mind to relax and recuperate before the next time it needs to be engaged under pressure. Or they could be getting plain-old drunk. Who knows.

Polish Cottage Interior

Polish Cottage Interior. My abstract view of an inside view of what it used to be like living in a cottage, and commentary on the future for such buildings.

Polish Cottage Interior

Grandmother's cottage interior, in Poland

Dom Babcie

When one drives around the rural areas of Poland it is still common to see old wooden cottages, although there number is decreasing as they are replaced by homes made of cheaper materials, such as concrete blocks. The two issues of most significance are that wooden cottages are expensive to maintain, and most are still owned by people who, in some form or other, have work related to agriculture. In a way it is sad to say, but the future of cottages is often highly dependent on being bought by people with urban work, who can afford to pay the costs of living in rural housing. This drives up the costs of buying homes in the countryside and in villages, making agricultural work more difficult to achieve as a profession.

Since wooden cottages of the types found in Poland can be readily dismantled, it is not uncommon for them to be sold as a kit, ready for you to reassemble on your own land. Sadly, though, many are just allowed to decay until the only solution is demolition, although some are being clad in thermal blocks to continue their life emulating a more modern home.

To purchase a print of this image:

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