The Story of the Imprisoned Tinsmith

The ability to seek and identify structures, patterns and designs below the apparent surface of experience is the secret to success in communication, relationships, accelerated learning, languages, and many other things besides.

Someone asked me the other day why I chose to call myself a designer, rather than a consultant and I told them the story of the Tinsmith.  The story originally came from an order of the Sufi’s called the Naqshbandi Order.  Naqushbandi quite literally means “designer”.

“Once upon a time in a city far far away in a time long gone, a tinsmith was falsely accused of a crime he had not committed.  Being poor and without any powerful friends to influence the judge, he was imprisoned.  

He was given a wish before being sent to the cells and he asked that he be allowed to receive a rug which should be woven by his wife.  In due course, the rug was made and delivered to the prison.  Upon receiving the rug, the tinsmith prostrated himself upon the rug, day after day, to say his prayers.

Prayer Mat

After some time, he said to his jailers: “I am poor and without hope and you are wretchedly paid.  But I am a tinsmith.  Bring me some tin and tools to work with and I shall make small artifacts which you can sell in the market – and we will both benefit.”

The guards agreed to this and presently they and the tinsmith were both making a profit from which they bought food and comforts for themselves.

Then, one day, when the guards awoke to find that the cell door was open and the tinsmith was gone.  Some spoke of magic or perhaps a miracle because no prison in this kingdom had ever been escaped from.

Many years later, a convicted thief confessed to the crime that the tinsmith had been accused of.  As a result, the tinsmith was pardoned and two weeks later the tinsmith and his family reappeared in the city.  The governor of the province heard of the tinsmith’s return and summoned him to his palace.

The governor asked the tinsmith what magic he had used to make such an impossible escape.

The tinsmith replied “My wife is a weaver.  She designs rugs, mats and carpets.  She weaves patterns into the wefts and warps of her fabric.”

“By design, she found the man who had made the locks of the cell door and got it from him, by design.”

“She wove the design into the rug at the spot where my head touched in prayer five times a day.  I am a metal-worker and this design looked to me like the inside of a lock.  But I lacked the materials to make a key, so I made a business proposition to the guards, by design.  I then used the materials that the guards provided me to make many small artifacts, including a key that would unlock the cell door.”

So, by design, I escaped.”

“We are all born with a brain”, said the tinsmith.  “When we begin to understand the patterns and structures of our thinking, we can start to liberate ourselves from the enslavement of our limitations.”

Story adapted from the book: Sufis: The People of the Path: The Royal Way by Osho – Chapter 5 – Design within Design

Picture from Museum of London

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A Time to Re-solve

A very happy New Year!

It’s that time of the year again where we set goals and objectives and personal New Year’s Resolutions.  Sure, there are the normal ones about losing weight or taking more exercise or spending more time with loved ones.  Yet I have been digging a bit deeper this year about the whole process.

It stems from my two previous New Year’s Resolutions Resolutions and Revolutions in 2011 and On Sustaining the Gains (and Losses) in 2012.

Both were concerned with my personal weight.  Each year I have lost a decent amount of weight between January to March (between 7-13 pounds).  Each year I have put that weight on by the following New Year’s Day.  As I identified last year, it is not just about losing weight (I reckon I can do that now).  It’s about keeping it off.  That is the problem.

LM Weight Chart

It is not just my personal resolution of attempted weight-loss that this pattern can be seen.  As the Guardian so cuttingly put it earlier in the year:

“Failed plans fall into three categories. There are good plans that are poorly executed, as in the blueprint drawn up by Count Alfred von Schlieffen for the invasion of France in 1914. There are strategically bad plans that are well executed, as in Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812. And then there’s the coalition government’s deficit reduction plan.”

 It got me thinking about the whole word “RESOLUTION“.  Made from the base word “RESOLVE” – or “RE-SOLVE” or “RE-SOLUITION“.  The idea that we are solving something again (not for the first time).  That somehow we need to re-solve the problem because the first solution did not work fully the first time around.  Or we need to re-dissolve the solution, as it were, because the solution was too saturated with whatever it was we were trying to dissolve.

Yet it is so much more difficult to withdraw than to re-draw.  Much more difficult to cut-back than keep the status-quo.  It reminded me of an old military saying:

“Of all operations of war, a withdrawal under heavy enemy pressure is probably the most difficult and perilous.”

On this theme, it is recorded of the great Helmuthe von Moltke the Younger, that when he was being praised for his generalship in the Franco-Prussian War, and was told by an admirer that his reputation would rank with such great captains as Napoleon, Frederick, or Turenne, he answered: “No, for I have never conducted a retreat.”

So as we see the US apparently fall off the fiscal cliff and the UK economy continuing to groan on with its deficit, the need to resolve to re-solve the problem becomes even greater.  The solution is in the re-solution.  That we need to re-think our way through the problem is clear.  Yet it is unfortunate that the political cycles and systems in the West seem to get in the way of a sensible resolution, a sensible re-solution, a sensible re-think.  Democracy is stuck.

So, this year, I resolve to lose weight and find new solutions for keeping the weight off.  I’m not obese – but I am overweight.  And being normal weight is where I want to be.

So here goes for the third year.  I resolve to be in a different (better) place this time next Year and hit 2014 at 13st 7 lbs.  No, really!

 

 

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Beehives and Business Colonies

I took part of the afternoon off yesterday to sort out a friend’s beehive.  He had started keeping bees earlier this year, having been given a new hive by his parents for his birthday.  After two inspections he called for help for me to take them away.  The bees had stung him so badly that he had dramatic side-effects.  Last weekend, I took a new hive over and yesterday I went to put the bees into my hive.  The bees were one of the most aggressive colonies I have ever opened – and it became clear that they were not the best colony for a beginner beekeeper to start with.

It got me thinking of a few visits that I have recently done to business incubators and business colonies around the country in the past few months.

The first was in London, near Kings Cross at the Centre for Creative Collaboration (C4CC).  My good friend, Brian Condon, has just started a new phase of development by taking on a full-time role running the place.  The C4CC is based near Kings Cross and funded by various parts of the University of London.  The way that the centre attracts projects and develops ideas is outstanding.  A particular success has been Pavegen – which creates paving slabs that generate electricity from footsteps.  They started with the founder and a desk in C4CC two years ago and have now moved out to a local office employing about 30 people.

The second example was in Edinburgh, where I was shown around a new venture called “The Tech Cube” .  The building used to be the home of the The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies until last year when the School moved to new purpose-built facility 7 miles to the south.  The vision for the Tech Cube was impressive – though the building was still under refurbishment.  What was interesting was the link between the Tech Cube and the University – with the idea of taking some of the young ideas that will be incubated on the top three floors of the Appleton Tower (part of the Informatics Department) about half a mile away and then to commercialise them further in the Cube.  Again – a strong link between University and the commercial sector seems to be the trend.

I was also lucky enough to be shown around O2’s new Business Academy in London – part of a network of accelerators owned by Telefonica under the brand name  “Wayra“.  19 start-ups in London (from a total of 171 worldwide) are each given about £40,000 as a loan by Telefonica to catapult them to the next level.  They each spend 9 months in the accelerator in a cube on the edge of the building bounded by corner-less walls of black that can be written on by passers by.

There is an interesting map emerging – which is summarised on the TechBritain website:

All this got me thinking what the similarities were between my apiary and the successful custodianship of these new businesses accelerators / incubators around the country:

  • Projects and/or businesses are bounded physically (like a hive is within an apiary)
  • Each project has a leader.  Some are more successful than others – depending on the leadership qualities of the boss (queen bee)
  • The organism depends on cross-fertilisation of ideas between the various colonies (a role performed by the drone in the bee world)
  • The workers of each project (hive) collect ideas (pollen and nectar) and enrich their organisation
  • Some incubators (like C4CC) have private rooms that projects can keep their Intellectual Property (honey stores) from the competition
  • Each building (apiary) needs a good leader (beekeeper) to ensure the right treatment is given to each project (hive) to ensure they flourish and survive
  • Each business (hive) has a different path, a different energy, a different future.  Predicting which ones will win and which ones will fail can be difficult!  Just as with bee hives.

Colonies of Artists are not a new thing (see previous post on the Cranbrook Colony.  However, with all the mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing, offshoring and MBA-ification of our business fabric, I somehow think that the only way we can get the UK back on its feet is to get back to the level of the hive and re-learn the art of business within a colony, or business apiary.

This is backed-up by thinking from the Futurist, Thomas Frey, in his analysis of the future of work and how business colonies will become a growing force in the future of how work works.

This weekend I will move the hive from my friend’s garden to my out-apiary where I will have to decide what to do with it in the spring.  Some colonies are just too angry for an amateur beekeeper to want to keep.  Below is a rather quaint scene from the French Alps of an apiary that has probably not changed for a hundred years or more:

However, on the up-side, they are often one the most profitable hives for producing excess honey.  After  this appalling year of honey production, I might well encourage them to flourish next year.  The again, it might be good to encourage them to swarm – so I lose the queen that produces such aggressive daughters.  As in beekeeping, so as in Wayra’s motto: “The rules are not yet written!”

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Two-Speed Engines and Wonky Gearboxes

I was with a client yesterday and drew attention to a recent article Two-Speed IT: A Linchpin for Success in a Digitized World from BCG Perspectives on how some organisations are being forced split in two with the pressure of the internet.  The BCG paper describes a “two-speed IT” – but in many ways, the IT is only part of it – and BCG have taken the two-speed analogy far further with other thoughts on organisations, economies and governments.

It would appear that, in order to survive, successful organisations now need to have (at least) two speeds or engines  within in them.  One is there to cope with traditional “industrial speed” business and the other need to cope with innovation and customer interactions at “digital speed”.

There is no finer example than Telefonica-O2 – which has recently split itself in to two companies.  One which manages the more traditional “industrial” network and handset business.  The second (called Telefonica Digital) was set up to manage innovation and all the different aspects of interconnecting the network business to new technologies and services.

I’m with O2 – and it was disappointing that even after splitting itself in two, the industrial part of the business, they still managed to knock-out my service for 24 hours in the early summer.  Even more reason to believe in the importance of  creating and adapting organisations so that they can take both the expected and unexpected demands placed upon them.

A better example of success is probably BT’s execution of the Olympic Games.  I am sure the stories will start to come out in the next few months, but I heard at a conference recently that there were over 50 severe attacks on the Olympic Network that could have brought it down – had BT not had the right protection in place.  In the industrial network game, true success normally means not failing!

As many of you know, I like to draw analogies, and I thought that this client that I was working with had a problem of shifting from first gear to second gear.  Somehow, they had all the parts to make very solid machines for the industrial age, but they were not thinking of designing and creating smaller, lighter, more nimble components to put in the small engines of the digital age (for new organisations such as Telefonica Digital).  To use a truck-car analogy, they were still assembling large-scale gearboxes for big trucks – (where each component takes days and weeks to manufacture and assemble) – whilst missing the market opportunity to provide new, smaller gearboxes (or even components) that will allow emerging digital organisations to engage with the bigger industrial engines of the past.

 

 These new gear boxes are going to be smaller, cheaper and faster to assemble.  It might even require a new, separate  organisation to design, market and support them.   The possibilities were very interesting.

So I was charmed by the Queen of Coincidence, when, whilst I was preparing for the client presentation, a good friend, Jo, sent me this brilliant recording of a telephone conversation between a guy who has just bought a BMW with a “wonky gearbox” – Listen and enjoy!

Please click here to listen to the WONKY GEARBOX STORY

Sometimes we simply get this whole technology thing completely wrong by not reading the instruction manual!

 

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The Shapes of Stories and How to Write Them

A good friend and regular reader, Anthony, sent me the link to a great anonymous blog a few weeks ago – Farnam Street.

Yesterday, they pointed to a brilliant set of rules on how to write a short story by Kurt Vonnegut:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

There is another video which is even more worth watching on the Shape of Stories:

It got me thinking about how we all love stories, the ups and downs of life, the drama unfolding, the game(s), the chase, the great ending!

Please share any insights or thoughts you have on this great subject below!

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The Lords’ Verdict

For those who have followed this blog for a while, you will know I presented evidence at the House of Lords’ inquiry on the present UK’s government’s policy on Next Generation Broadband.  So it was at midnight on Tuesday, the Lords published their report which can be found <HERE> entitled “Broadband for all – an alternative vision”.

Lord Inglewood was interviewed in a video:

“Our communications network must be regarded as a strategic, national asset.  The Government’s strategy lacks just that – strategy.  

The complex issues involved were not thought through from first principle and it is far from clear that the Government’s policy will deliver the broadband infrastructure that we need – for profound social and economic reasons – for the decades to come.”

The report has had a mixed response.  Supporters of a truly open-access fit-for-purpose National internet Infrastructure applauded.

Other analysts were eless complimentary:

Matthew Howett, lead analyst of Ovum’s regulatory practice, said many aspects of the inquiry’s report are “simply odd”.

“With nearly 50 recommendations and no indication of costs or how they should be met, it’s likely to be dismissed as nothing more than a pipe dream,” he said.

Odd it was for me that so many Peers took the time out to learn about the industry and the pros and cons of various options for technology and business models.  It was a piece of work that involved many hours of  their time to see the problem from different perspectives.  It challenged the status-quo and came up with an alternative vision for what the UK’s national internet access infrastructure might look like.  It was bound to be unpopular in certain quarters as it threatened the status-quo.

Sure, the government and BT’s in-house analysts might dismiss the ideas as pipe-dreams, but one wonders where the whole BDUK process is heading.  It might be the Games in London – but this particular game will go one well into the Autumn after all the athletes have left London.

It is definitely time for the status-quo to be challenged.  BDUK is at best a strange construction and at worst a totally bonkers policy for a government set on Localism and Community Engagement.  The Lords’ report went to the heart of this matter and has suggested a framework for a truly revolutionary approach to fixing the monopoly of BT’s infrastructure – particularly in the middle-mile.

At times, I think of giving up banging this drum and doing something more conventional and toe-the-line.  Yet at one minute past midnight on Tuesday, I had a new surge of enthusiasm that the ideas that we have been working on for several years now are getting some traction and that a body of revered and highly intelligent Peers actually understood what many on the fringes of the industry have been saying for a while.

If only the Government could stand back and listen to some of the concerns about the current vision and understand that they have alternatives that are better, faster and cheaper that will help the UK’s international competitiveness, we  might actually come up with something that really does get the economy back on its feet in a fairer way, based on an infrastructure that no single part is too big to fail.  Surely there is a lesson here from the banking system that is staring us in the face?

Come on, Jeremy.  Put the bell head back on the stick, put the bell down and start listening again.  Unless, of course, you get reshuffled – in which case it is round-and-round we go!

Source of quote and more on this story at:

http://www.cbronline.com/news/lords-uk-broadband-strategy-heading-in-the-wrong-direction-010812 

http://www.totaltele.com/view.aspx?ID=475352&G=1&C=4&page=3

 

 

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Inventories, Unread Books and Generation Why

Last week there were no Thursday Thoughts.  I was in Edinburgh and thinking far too much to write about it.  Today I had to go up to London and got writer’s block until a chance Skype conversation with Malcolm about random stuff.  It got my right brain going and I am now back in the flow.

In much of the work I do, I am drawn to creating order from chaos by documenting the present situation.  One very useful tool is to take an inventory of what is.  A version of the truth that is accurate enough to be good enough.  It is like the difference between German and British accounting: German accounting is always exactly wrong: British accounting is almost roughly right!

So it was I was chatting to Malcolm on Skype who was listening to Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time – a discussion on James Joyce’s UlyssesAt the start of the talk, Bragg points out that it is one of the most famous books of the last century – and one that few have read cover-to-cover – myself included.

It got me thinking about the fact that 95% of books are never read.  Mine included……

So I thought, what about an inventory of all the books I have – and then work out how many I have actually read?  More than 1,000 books – and less than 5% read?   I suppose that the types of books I collect are not novels.  They are more like factoid books, text books, “how to” books.  Bee books, personal development books.  I don’t read novels.  My father used to say “Life has enough drama in it that I don’t need to go to the theatre”.  I think the same about reading books.

So the inventory, used with the mirror, forces to look at yourself, your behaviour, your reality.  But the Skype conversation I was (and still am) having with Malcolm on this touched on another interesting thread.  The fact that I am of a generation where physical books represents learning, knowledge and intelligence.  But for my children, the world is very different.  An Amazon Kindle could contain the same number of books as on my bookshelves and many more besides.  For generation Y (which I call Generation Why – because they always seem to be asking the question Why?)  the value of owning physical books is almost diametrically opposite to mine.  To take an inventory of Apps on my MacBook (which I also collect) takes less than 5 seconds.  The software can be updated across the internet when new versions arrive.  Information is more transient.  More connected, near-free to produce.

So what?  Well it is time for me to start to clear the clutter of my bookshelves.  To stop ordering physical books on Amazon.  To change my behaviour.  One of the most difficult things to do.  But the inventory and the mirror are perhaps the most powerful tools to help change behaviour.  Question is whether I can  reduce my inventory without being distracted by workload, the bees, the dogs, the children – oh and that urge to go onto Amazon to buy another book on my Wish List!

Time for an inventory.  Time to put the mirror up!  It works with clients – but is so much harder to do to oneself!

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Lorne at the Lords

I gave evidence at the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications on Tuesday – all about the future of UK Internet Access.

There is  a video of it here:

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The Scale of Things

I was chatting to Oscar the other night and he pointed me to a really interesting site:

If the frame above does not work for you, then you can link to the site HERE.  It makes you think how extraordinarily small in the Universe we are.  And how big we are too!  If you did not see my previous entry, the great 1977 video from IBM: “The Powers of Ten”, then have a look at that too.

The day before, I had come across another rather more abstract view that sets a new world record for representing a Mandelbrot Set – which gives a bit more of a zany trip towards infinity.

Oscar liked it – and called it “trippy”!

I hope these two views stretch your mind to think a bit more about our place in the Universe, touching both your left and right brains.

As ever, please feel free to comment below.

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