Dreams Being Made of Broken Things

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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.

 

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Thinking With Our Telephone Minds

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I think a lot about the way we think.

  • How we think
  • What we think
  • When we think
  • Where we think

I even thought about the way that wifie sometimes sounds a little bit frustrated when I forgot things, which made me feel guilty and encouraged me to try those methods that are supposed to improve your memory.

They didn’t.

I considered whether I was simply too lazy to commit things to memory. I wondered some more about what laziness really was. Then I wondered whether wondering about laziness was also a form of work avoidance.

The truth, they say, is all around us, just waiting for us to join up the dots between the different events and happenings in our life. So it was in this case, where a breakthrough did not just happen as I was stepping onto a bus, it was more like the pressure of the meaning of events squashing my awareness into the body of reality until I felt there was no escape from asking my wife this question:

‘How do you find shortcuts when you are walking somewhere?’

A strange kind of question, maybe, but allow me to wind my life back to when I was a child. I have always been fascinated by maps for as long as I can remember, and I distinctly recall standing, at age 16, on a cold, flat and misty Romney Marsh arguing with other members of my Army Cadet Force platoon about where we were on the map. They said one place, and I said another – but I could prove it by walking to the end of our sodden sheep field, whereupon a church steeple, currently concealed by a dank and raven-ridden stand of trees, would become visible. I did. It did. They felt depressed. I slipped into a rushy dyke full of water. It was that kind of day.

Several years later and I went off to university, where I learned a rather interesting fact, one that glowered at me like a damp sheep in a wet pasture among the sparkling glories of the further reaches of education, and that was I kept forgetting where the roads went in my university town went. Well, except those I used regularly. It felt strange, because until then I believed that I knew where everything was as reasonably as the next student body. For years this memory kept returning, mostly after my frequent post-student moves to new towns and cities, where I took to keeping a local map in the car at all times. I pondered whether I had fried part of my brain with all that studying, somehow, and yet my map navigation skills remained as good as ever. Eventually, after living for nearly twenty years at either end of one long avenue with too many junctions, out popped the question.

There was more, though, because my wife also hated navigating for me in the car as I could become unreasonably angry in difficult traffic, while she became unreasonably unable to read the map, or even to remember to read it. Yet she always figures out the best bus to take, the most effective shortcut. What was going on? Her answer was to buy a GPS system, a brilliant answer, but then she wanted to switch it off the moment we got back into town while I wanted it to navigate me almost to our parking bay.

The pressure just built up, until I could no longer escape it, all the usual escape routes from thinking had been cut off.

As an aside, there are two kinds of thinking. The first is more a form of pondering through our memory to find something that fits our question, such as what suit or dress to buy, while what I wanted was a question to an answer that I did not yet understand: I needed to frame an answer to call into existence the actual question that I should be asking.

I asked her the question. She looked back at me, like she was wondering whether the biscuits were finally rolling out of my packet. I could see that she could not really answer, so I asked her more directly, how did she visualise the area where she thought there might be a shortcut. She thought, and then what she then described sounded a bit like a map: she could see the route in her mind.

Now I had the stepping-on-the-bus moment of illumination.

I visualise the bit of the world I am interested in as a three-dimensional environment, with something like photographs as entry points. Click the photo, and wander around the mini 3D world within. I always assumed that everyone thought in that way, because is this not what education really teaches us, that we are all essentially the same, that one education system essentially fits all? Take the course, then take the exam. Learn some stuff, then write the stuff down. If you do not fit, then there is something wrong with you, or your IQ is too low.

My next thought was that if she had a more 2D rendering, did this mean she could hold a larger area of the city in her head? Was the amount of data we could process in our heads some kind of constant, and that what we could remember was something to do with how we processed the data?

I asked her to describe where each side road went from my problem avenue. I could keep up as far as the first junction, then as she started describing the next I could feel myself desperately, and too slowly, trying to unfurl my 3D rendering of the next junction. I could not, and she raced ahead, joyously listing where each street headed. I could only cheer, impressed by how fast her mind worked.

I still do not fully understand how she sees the world, I just know it is not the same way that I do. When we are in a place she knows, like a town or mall, she can instantly figure out the best routes to take. When we are in an unknown place or out in the countryside, she struggles, but I can visualise the valleys or the streets and predict where they go.

This is noticeably different from the idea that memory is key, because we both quickly forget stuff that other people seem to be able to hang onto for decades, like people’s names.

And the smartphones?

It goes like this: every smartphone has its own memory and processing capacity, depending on the brand and model, and as humans we can all remember and do stuff that keeps us alive. However, a smartphone typically also has space for an extra memory card, but imagine that instead there were a range of cards available, not just for memory, but we could only choose one card to install.

  • Choosing a memory card would expand our available memory, giving us blindingly good recall but nothing special in how we process the memories. Translators are a bit like this, absorbing and recalling vast amounts of vocabulary.
  • Choosing a RAM chip card would give us blindingly fast processing, but memories that could be easily deleted. I would say this describes my wife, she can load up her memory with what she wants but just as easily delete anything she does not value or wishes to avoid – like remembering to check the map. She does not forget because she is lazy, her memory is more like easily overwritten.
  • Choosing a graphics accelerator card would give us nothing special in the memory department, but we would be able to handle huge systems of data blindingly fast. This is me, and my kind of ‘poor’ memory can never be fixed by repeating someone’s name after meeting them, as there is no direct path to recall single memories, everything is in huge 3D data sets where the flow of the data is more significant than any bit of data.

Back when we were growing in our mother’s tummy, we began to use a certain set of tools in our mind to process the world around us, and have continued to use the same set for all our tasks ever since. Maybe the reason is genetic, maybe it is more subtle, but the only thing that we can be sure is, unless something like a major injury that forces our brain to boot up other, unused parts of the brain to compensate for lost functions, we are stuck with what we are born with. Yes, we can grow our knowledge as well as our skills, and even add fresh ones, but we process everything in exactly the same way, our way. Maybe this has the purpose of giving us as individuals emergency brain capacity in the event of failure and our societies access to different kinds of brains to solve different kinds of problems.

At least I know better now why I cannot remember stuff. It is not a fault, but a sign that another feature exists in its place.

So that is the brain, a better kind of smartphone, where abnormal is actually normal.

The Embodiment of Anonymity

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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.

 

Short Fire Forms

Short Fire Forms.  I often wonder whether the classical view of language is the right one or, at least, the only valid one. Once more to the bar, my friend, to ponder short words and lost souls.

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.

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