Where do you want to go?

And do you trust that the people you’re following can get you there?

Have they been there before?

Has anyone been there before?

For interesting work, there probably isn’t a map of the route, so you’ll looking for:

  • People who have been to similar places
  • People who have been part of the way
  • A cohort of fellow travellers
  • Compasses, not maps

Motion sickness: change and stability

If you’ve ever suffered from motion sickness in a car or on a boat, you probably know that it helps to look at a fixed (or at least slower moving) point on the horizon. A stable reference point helps your body to make sense of the continual movement and to stay oriented and balanced.

Lunettes Seetroën - Inspired By You
These amazing glasses from Citroën contain rings half-filled with blue liquid to create an artificial reference point as your body moves. More on Cool Tools.

Rapid, continual change creates its own kind of motion sickness as reference points (people, places, ideas, institutions, traditions) disappear. It’s easy to feel rootless, unsettled and insecure. Karl Marx’s economics were wrong, but he wrote eloquently about the rapid social change brought about by the industrial revolution:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

Karl Marx – The Communist Manifesto

Some thoughts about dealing with rapid change

The faster things change or seem to change (we seem much more aware of change as we get older), the more valuable stable reference points become. Here are few ways of establishing or preserving ‘points on the horizon’ in the face of change:

  • Examine your uncertainty and unease in the face of change. What are you worried about? Are your worries well founded? Is the change disturbing because it’s change for the worse, or because it’s compelling you to “face with sober senses your real conditions of life, and your relations with your kind”? Face them – the better our science becomes, the more we need the liberal arts – that is, to know how to live as free people.
  • Guard relationships with old friends – people who knew who you were, remind you of who you are, and help you to see who you might be at your best;
  • Be deliberate about putting down roots in places that are important to you – move less, go deep;
  • Establish traditions – in your family, in your organisation – things you do together that remind you somehow of who you are, and what’s important. “People like us, do things like this.”;
  • Make room for quiet, disconnected reflection in your life – slow down, see what you think about, mull and pray.
  • Read old books, listen to old music and watch old movies. Share them with friends and children to create common reference points.
  • Ask questions – especially of people who have been around for longer than you have – absorb their cultural knowledge and the story of how things have already changed (a better view of change before you arrived on the scene is often helpful for making sense of – or feeling comfortable with – the change you’re facing now).
  • Stick around. Become a point of reference and stability within your family, town, organisation, network or scene.

Seeds (2): bikes, planes and automobiles

Many of the seeds of the automobile industry came from bicycle manufacturers (I touched on this in Use, Copy, Repair, Make), and on a visit to the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu I learnt some more of the story.

Karl Benz, widely credited as the maker of the first practical automobile, started in mechanical engineering and ironwork and started experimenting with petrol engines to power industrial machines. In 1883 he joined forces with Max Rose and Friedrich Wilhelm Eßlinger who owned – you guessed it – a bicycle repair shop. Benz & Companie Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik made petrol engines for industry, which allowed Benz to develop his expertise and finish his first Patent Motorwagen in 1885.

Other companies that grew out of bicycle manufacturers include Rover, Peugeot, Opel, Skoda, Humber and Hilman, Sunbeam, and Calcott.

There’s a parallel trend with weapons manufactures: Royal Enfield and B.S.A. (British Small Arms) turned their expertise in machining from guns to motorbikes and cars.

And it doesn’t stop at cars: the Wright Brothers were bicycle mechanics turned manufacturers who turned their hand to aviation instead.

We needed bike companies to innovate and start making cars, becoming cross-breed or hybrid companies before second generation ‘pure’ car companies picked up the torch and made further innovations as specialists.

So what, Sharky?

Right now, somewhere, in something that already exists, the seed of the Next Big Thing is taking root and getting ready to grow.

  • If you have an idea of what the future looks like, what might the seeds look like? Can you shape your project with the Next Big Thing in mind?
  • Looking at things from the other way round, what might your organisation be the seed of? What’s The Future for your field?
  • Is there a hybrid step (engines and bicycles, bicycle engineering and wings) that you could take to open up possibilities for your organisation?

On inequality

Inequality is inevitable (because we’re all different), and it isn’t necessarily wrong (if we value the freedom to make meaningful choices) and doesn’t necessarily have to be corrected (because we value diversity).

Once we’re clear on this, we’re forced to be specific. We can ask which kinds of inequality we’re not prepared to tolerate, making sure that we’re clear about where they come from and why they’re damaging (“because I believe in equality” isn’t an answer) and start talking about what we can do to make things better.

Then we can be the ones to go first and start to do those things.

Project phase, organisation size and specialisation

A friend shared this great analogy* for how teams work at different project phases.

Early phase: Golfing Buddies (2-3 players)

In the early phase of a project you and a partner or two (if you have any!) do all the work. You do a lot of your work together with quite a lot of crossover, share tools, might carry each other’s golf bags. There’s camaraderie, little need for planning or job descriptions, and most things you face can be worked out informally as you go. You need to do the work of compensating for your weaknesses yourself.

Intermediate (small) phase: Basketball team (5+ players)

There are more players and each has a position and you start to benefit from specialisation but you interact a lot and in many ways are still basically interchangeable. Plans and strategy matter, but tactics are king. You’re fast and responsive.

Intermediate (large) phase: Rugby team** (15+ players)

The team is getting bigger. Everyone still plays together but there is definite specialisation and team members stop being able to cover each other’s positions. Communication and chains of command become increasingly important and plans become harder to change. Danger of silos and factions.

Mature (large) phase: American Football Team (40+ players***)

There is very deep specialisation and there are clear teams-within-the-team – whole sets of players can play in the same game but never play together. Planned plays and frequent stops for communication are the norm. Management and support structure becomes increasingly important – and expensive. Danger of suffocating bureaucracy.

*Results from Google (like this post on LeadStrategic) suggests that this analogy comes from Larry Osborne‘s Sticky Teams – Osborne also has ‘Track Star’ as a category for solo performers.

**My addition.

***I’ve been a bit fast and loose with the numbers on teams: basketball and rugby teams will have substitutes that take the number of players higher, and American football teams only field 11 players at a time, but have separate offensive, defensive and special teams that all play during different phases of the game.

Shakespeare: sleep no more

Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep’, the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast,–

Shakespeare – Macbeth (2.2)

How are you sleeping?

Ah, the curtained sleep, neglected partner of exercise and eating well.

Ravel up the sleeve of care; be nourished in life’s feast!

Typo (4): (no) Standard English

[The task of documenting all the words in the English lanuguage] no longer seems finite. Lexicographers are accepting the languages boundlessness. They know by heart Murray’s famous remark: “The circle of the English language had a well defined centre but no discernable circumference.” In the centre are the words everyone knows. At the edges, where Murray placed slang and cant and scientific jargon and foreign border crossers, everyone’s sense of the language differed and no one’s can be called “standard.”

James Gleick – The Information

Seth Godin on fear and reassurance

The way [of handling fear] that doesn’t work is reassurance. Reassurance doesn’t work because you need an infinite amount of it. Someone can give you reassurance for five minutes and then ten minutes later you go “Ooohh no no no.” So the number of times that you need to be told by someone you trust and respect that you’re going to be fine is too high to even ask for it.

For me, the alternative is generosity. That is an excellent answer to fear. That if you are doing this on behalf of someone you care about, the fear takes a backseat. So if you want to figure out how to make books, go to a charity you care about and make a book for them, because now your fear feels selfish. If you want to figure out how to make marketing work, go and market for an organisation that you believe in. If you can find a lonely person and make them unlonely, a disconnected person and make them feel connected, you can make a practice of that. And the upside is it helps you walk straighter and stand taller.

Seth Godin – on Love Your Work with David Kadavy

Typo (3): the myth of correct spelling

Ironically – considering the frequency with which school children use it for exactly this purpose – the Oxford English Dictionary never set out to specify “correct” spelling.

For “mackerel”, the second edition in 1989 listed 19 alternative spellings. The unearthing of sources never ends, though, so the third edition revised entry in 2002 listed no fewer than thirty: maccarel, mackaral, mackarel, mackarell, mackerel, mackarell, mackeril, mackreel, mackrel, mackril, macquerel, macquerell, macrel, macrell, macrelle, macril, macrill, makarell, makcaral, makerel, makerell, makerelle, makral, makrall, makreill, makrel, makrell, makyrelle, maquerel, and maycril.

As lexicographers, the editors would never declare these alternatives to be wrong: misspellings. They do not wish to declare their choice of spelling for the headword, mackerel, to be “correct”. They emphasize that they examine the evidence and choose “the most common current spelling.”

A new entry as of December 2003 memorialized “nuclar”: “= nuclear, (adjective, in various senses).”

James GleickThe Information

All spellings are made up, and exist as dynamic parts of the complex adaptive system of language. Conclusion: we waste too much attention on typos.