Monday, June 30, 2008

Pandas and palaces

I am posting from an internet cafe in Vienna. In a few hours, my son Chris and I will get on a train and head to Zurich. We hope it will be easy to get a connection to Paris tomorrow, but when the worst thing that is likely to happen is that we will gain a few hours to explore Zurich, there are no worries.

Today we spent at Schonbrunn, an immense palace whose grounds include parks, gardens and a really cool zoo with a baby panda and baby polar bears.

During the palace tour, we saw quite a small, dark room with a rather ordinary desk where the Emperor associated with the palace began work at 6 am every morning. Apparently he often ate both breakfast and lunch at his desk, and believed one should work until exhausted. It was a very small space in a palace of 1500 rooms, in a country that had immense wealth and power at the time.

At the zoo, we watched a polar bear pace the same ten yards, back and forth. He was pacing when we passed again, hours later. Back and forth over the same ten yards, vigilant and unsatisfied.

Wide open spaces. Growing things. An immense, open view over a prosperous city.

We were grateful that we were not in cages: even tonight when we sleep in a tiny couchette, we will be rushing forward into new adventures.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Teaching by letting people do

Just got in from a concert in a beautifully ornate hall with great
acoustics here in Vienna. A crowd of tourists heardfine musicians play
Mozart while dressed in sort of silly period costumes.

It was really quite marvellous and way more fun than I had expected.

The conductor got the audience clapping under his direction during
several pieces. He let them do what they wanted to do - to applaud and
participate - and as a result he had the chance to teach them subtle
lessons about how to listen and how to take direction.

I wonder who I would lead better if I started by letting them do
something they want to do anyway.

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Milton, Emergence and the Wisdom of Crowds

In his most famous prose work, the Areopagitica, John Milton argues that we need to allow lots of different ideas because truth cannot be found in any one place.  The metaphor is brutal but not more brutal than our experience: truth is an organic whole that has been cut into thousands of pieces and scattered across the earth.  Our task is to seek out those pieces of the truth, knowing no one of us will ever find them all.

This is not unlike the argument that James Surowiecki constructs in the Wisdom of Crowds.  He argues that groups make better decisions than individual experts, under certain conditions. Those conditions include the kind of diversity and access for which Milton is arguing in the Areopagitica.  All of us can be smarter than any of us - when we find the right way to put the pieces together.

In Emergence, Steven Johnson introduces other explorations of what is generated when simple components - components that represent a piece of the truth, for instance - come together in systems with unpredictable properties.

Cast a wide net today. Things useless in themselves might turn out to be the piece that catalyzes the emergence of something you need. They might seem useless because they are so different from your own thinking that they could produce the tension necessary to a truth you would not find on your own.  In a world where truth is in pieces, the way forward is to collect different pieces of the truth.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Posting on holiday

I am waiting now to board my flight from Paris. If the tech works I
will be posting short updates as my adventures unfold.

It will be an amazing two weeks. Regular posts will resume July 8.
Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Integrating Opposites to Succeed

I am reading The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin.  It's his extended definition of integrative thinking. Here's his working definition:

The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each. (p. 15)

Martin quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald on the test of first-class intelligence: he does not mention that Fitzgerald was paraphrasing John Keats. In a letter, Keats said, "It at once struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement . . . . I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

The phrase itself, "negative capability," is an example of what it means.  It is a pulling back out of self and out of the limited frame self constructs.  It is a capability, an ability to engage, to have an impact.  It is two ideas for the price of one: and it is just one idea.

Martin is asking the question: when does tension present an opportunity to move to a larger frame and change the game so that we can win more often?








Monday, June 16, 2008

Because I am stuck

Today, I feel stuck. Everyone feels stuck now and then. Even people who know how to get unstuck.

I know how to get unstuck.  Tonight I am heading for the gym.  I will put music on my nano that makes me feel alive and I will stretch and move and maintain a rhythm.  And I will leave feeling better.  My body will prove that I am not stuck.

Later this week, I will get on a plane and fly to Paris.  In a bigger realm of stuck, it's a bigger way of opening perspectives and remembering that dreams are also part of reality.

Everyone gets stuck from time to time. You don't have to stay stuck. Staying stuck is a choice - just like jumping clear or walking away.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

When you are having one of those weeks

Sometimes it's only a day.  Sometimes it's more than one day.  Sometimes it's even a season.  We all have them: times of disruption and frustration when we notice everything that works against us. At the time, it seems like everything is working against us.

When we jump out to look at our lives logically, we become aware that much is still going right. We are able to breathe, to talk, to move, to make decisions.  Most of cause and effect is still working as we expect.  We are still right more often than we are wrong.  If only we felt right.

First (and second and third), take some slow, relaxing breaths.  Look out at the sunshine (even if you need to look at a picture of sunshine).  Really notice colours and sounds and flavours.  Notice that you can tense each muscle, and that you can let them unwind.  You are not entirely in control but you have not been entirely in control on your best days, either.  You can live without complete control.

Patience is a virtue, they say (who says?).  What will patience teach you about how to get what you want?  If you knew that these hassles were moving you forward, you might endure them with patience. Know that these hassles are moving you forward. Know that you are pitting yourself against problems you can master so that you can develop the strength and the flexibility that you really want.  Notice that you can cope with things you do not like.

You can deal.  Deal.  

Yes, the world was really this annoying yesterday.  It will be this annoying tomorrow.  With a little resolve and a little luck, tomorrow you will be too busy to notice.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Getting the most (work) from my holiday

In just over two weeks, I will be on a plane to Paris.  It's already very exciting. I am already seeing and hearing and smelling and tasting.  

And. . . I am already thinking about leaving my business for more than two weeks.  

Those of you who work alone or in small organizations know what I am talking about. So do those of you from bigger organizations who habitually have more to do than hours to do it in. Like many of you, I love what I do and I love it for lots of hours.  Most of what I do cannot be done by someone else.  

For two weeks, my work will not get done.

I have a choice. I can leave part of my brain at work while my body goes to Paris or - I can focus on how much I love my business and then leave it for two weeks.  In those two weeks, I can know that the best thing I can do for my business is to gather fresh resources - to experience my holiday fully and joyfully and playfully.  When I come back, all those fresh stimuli will have attached themselves to my goals for my work.  

Guess what I plan to do?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

System 1 and System 2

I just read an interesting blog post on decision making.  It referenced two process: one automatic (System 1) and one "controlled" (System 2).  These correspond roughly to intuition or unconscious process and conscious attention or reasoning.  Most people believe that most decisions are made automatically and then evaluated in conscious attention.

Yes, there is some hedging in that sentence.  Conscious attention would not be much use in deciding to jump out of the path of oncoming traffic.  So there are times we act - or react- and make judgments about our wisdom after the fact.  On the other end of the scale, we have all had to solve puzzles to which we have no instinctive reaction.  You look at the exam question and absolutely nothing happens in the automatic side of your brain.  So you begin to pick at the question consciously, the way you might pick at a tangled chain.

It is interesting to me that people feel more control when they are more conscious.  After all, none of us invented the rules by which we judge things consciously: from science through logic through religious principles, we are guided consciously by things beyond our control.  Unconscious process is probably more unique and therefore a better representation of the self. So why does conscious attention feel like "us" and unconscious process feel like "instinct" or "magic": a gift or a curse? It is not that unconscious process robs us of control. We just do not recognize the "us" that running the unconscious process.

Control may not prove a very useful concept in human thinking.  Out of control, we have access to our fullest selves: the selves that think 'automatically' and the selves that follow rules other people devised.  In control, we have effort, struggle, and learning by mistakes.  There is certainly value in all of these things. I wonder if that value requires a concept of control or if there is a more useful frame for how we make decisions.