As the last few hours of voting for my proposal on Change This remain, I would like to thank everybody who took the trouble to vote. At my last look it was 110 votes putting me in third place for now. I’m not clear whether voting stops today or tomorrow, so if you are visiting today or tomorrow and haven’t voted yet, it may be worth try.
The whole process has been fascinating and has sparked off a number of ideas I will be writing about later, but in the meantime, once again thanks to all you voters for your support.
I’ve just spent the past few days in deepest, rural France without TV, internet, newspapers and only a few minutes of the BBC World Service as it faded in and out of interference from another noisy, crackling station. It was a curiously refreshing experience being freed from the mixture of incredulity and incoherent rage that has marked so much of my recent encounters with the media as I desperately search for some sense among the Orwellian noise of so much that is presented to us. It make me wonder whether an austere diet of news consumption might be better for my mental health than the media gluttony I too often indulge in.
I first came across Bob Sutton at the same conference in Berlin where I encountered Ken Robinson, who I wrote about a few days ago. I was impressed by Bob Sutton’s talk and still more impressed to find him an approachable, unpretentious man, who was happy to talk informally about his ideas after his talk was over. One of his recent themes has been as he puts it is:
“If you think you have a new idea, you are wrong, Someone else probably already had it. This idea isn’t original either; I stole it from someone else.”
I have been reminded of this many times in the thinking I have been doing about purposive drift over the years. For example it took me years to remember, that as an impressionable teenager, I had read and then ‘forgotten’ Jean Renoir‘s biography of his father and the many references to Renoir’s “cork theory” of life, which bears a strong resemblance to many of “my” ideas about purposive drift:
“… the ‘cork’ you remember…You go along with the current…Those who want to go against it are either lunatics or conceited; or what is worse ‘destroyers’. You swing the tiller over to the right or left from time time, but always in the direction of the current.”
Then there is the ‘already done’ phenomenon. You spend a lot of time developing what you think is an original idea, only to find that someone has already done it some years before, often with more elegance than you are capable of. I hit this one with Geoffrey Vickers.
I have been coming across references to his work for decades, but it was only a year or so ago that I came across some snippets of his work and realised that he had a very distinctive take on cybernetics, that were very close to my developing views. Still more recently that I managed to get hold of his “Freedom In a Rocking Boat” that contains gems, such as this one below:
“Human life is a tissue of relationships with the physical world and with other people. The object of policy at every level is to preserve and increase the relations we value and to exclude of reduce the relations we hate. But these ‘goods’ cannot be simply accumulated, like packets on a supermarket’s shelves. They are systematically related; some require each other; some exclude each other; nearly all compete with each other for limited resources, especially time and attention which are, of all resources, the least expansible. We may want more abundance with more leisure, more freedom with more order, more interaction with less interference, and so on; but we know that if we pursue each independently of the others, we shall attain none of them. In trying to make life ‘good’, we are seeking not to accumulate ‘goods’ but to impose on the flux of affairs a form which will yield what seems the most acceptable combination of the goods within our reach. Thus the good life to which we aspire, at every level, is a work of art and like every work of art is achieved by selecting, and therefore also rejecting what is incompatible with the chosen form.”
Geoffrey Vickers, “Freedom in a Rocking Boat”, Pelican Books, 1972, pp 125-126
John Seely Brown tells a nice story about a lesson he learnt when he first joined Xerox. He gives this account of an interview with one their leading trouble-shooting maintenance engineers. It revolves around a discussion of how to identify an intermittent copying problem. The trouble-shooter tells Seely Brown about the laborious, bureaucratic process that Xerox lays down and then goads him into coming up with a better solution. The answer, it turns out, is to look in the nearest waste paper basket. Here is a short extract, but read the whole thing, a lesson worth learning:
“And he said, “You know, John, what do you do if you discover a copy quality problem? You know, you don’t classify it as a copy quality problem. You classify it as a damn, damn bad copy and you throw it away. So why don’t you let the world do a little bit of the work for you. Why don’t you work with the world, and see that there’s a natural way to have the world collect this information for you. Just step back and read the world a little bit.”
Now maybe you can see where I’m heading with you. ‘Read the world a little bit’ is almost a kind of judo, or a better term from the French, bricolage. And so he said, ‘This waste basket was ready at hand. It was already there. It was already full of this stuff. Learn to work with the world, and you’re going to find your life a lot simpler.'”
I’ve just put up a proposal on Change This to write a manifesto supporting the notion of Purposive Drift. I need all the votes I can get, so if you would go to http://www.changethis.com/proposals/737 and click on Vote it would make this purposive drifter very happy.