Embracing Duality


Dreams are stories we tell ourselves.  These stories get us out of bed in the morning. And today of all days we celebrate those stories on World Storytelling Day.

But I personally adopt a contradictory perspective on stories and dreams. They are essential to our well-being…which is why they should be regularly attacked and even killed. One example is the set of stories we tell ourselves about how the world works. These models are the foundation to us going about our daily life and how all our modern technology works, but the sceptic in me seeks to constantly seek new answers and alternative perspectives. Another example are our “dreams” themselves which I argue repeatedly need to be sunsetted on a regular basis.

One of the best TED talks on storytelling is Tyler Cowen’s “Be suspicious of stories”.  An undercurrent of embracing failure pervades the presentation from the title to comments like the following…

  • “Probably I was wrong”
  • “It’s the people who realize that they don’t know anything at all who end up doing pretty well.”
  • “Be a little more messy…be more comfortable about agnostic.”

He asks a powerful question not about stories themselves, but at Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter would say, the ‘un-stories’ – "What are the stories that no one has any incentive to tell?"

For me, one of those themes is “Duality”. The notion that something can be both ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ at the same time. The classic, though often misapplied, metaphor for this is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. One of the reasons I enjoy the writer Douglas Hofstadter so much is that he regales in such paradoxes.

Curiously though, this story mode has become an incrasing staple of current day TV hits – Sopranos, Lost, Dexter, Homeland, House of Cards. The “bad guy” as protagonist. Is Walter White doing good or doing wrong?

My favourite “duality” portrayal is the episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” titled “The Can Opener” (below)

And everyone lived happily ever after (or did they?)…


Eire-bracing Failure

25 more letters


Is fheàrr teicheadh math na droch fhuireach.” Better a good retreat than a bad stand – Irish Proverb

Some Gaelic inspiration on St. Patrick’s Day ((thanks Valerie for the graphics).

Embracing Meltdowns



What’s the best way to prepare for and learn from mistakes? Even the disasters of the worst kind? Make them happen. That is what scientists are doing with one of the most nightmarish failures of modern life – the nuclear reactor meltdown. Like one of the biggest in history that happened four years ago today at Fukushima.

The Argonne National Laboratory have contrived a way to create an nuclear meltdown in a controlled laboratory environment as described in this article, “First look at nuclear fuel in a meltdown”…

  • “Scientists have managed to take their first close-up look at what happens to nuclear fuel when it becomes molten, as it would in a nuclear reactor meltdown. In an innovative lab experiment, they discovered that uranium dioxide fuel behaves differently when molten than in its solid state…Uranium dioxide melts at over 3000°C, far too hot for most furnace container materials which would melt and react with the test samples…The melting of the uranium dioxide fuel represent the first stage of any nuclear meltdown…In a real nuclear reactor core meltdown, such as occurred at both the Chernobyl and Fukushima Dai’ichi plants, the molten uranium dioxide melts and reacts with the zirconium metal cladding on the fuel rods, and with the surrounding steel and concrete structure, forming a lava which scientists have called corium.”

The researches want to witness first-hand what actually happens in such an event. Standard operating procedure for such tragedies is to escape as quickly as possible. So there is not a lot of opportunity to hang around and check out what’s going on. Unless, you make such a failure happen on your own terms.

As it happens, our son Chase landed in Japan today. He is chronicling his 300+ mile walk from Tokyo to Kyoto along the ancient “Tōkaidō” (East Sea Road) connecting them with field recordings at each of the 53 stations along the route. He will be sharing his work on his own blog, “Dōchūki”.

Why Most Things Fail

Paul Ormerod - Why Most Things Fail


“Gales of creative destruction” – Schumpeter

World Book Day today. And I have no shortage of books on failure. They are a regular gift item and recommendation from friends and fans of this blog. The one I just finished is Paul Ormond’s “Why Most Things Fail”. It’s less about the dynamics or process of embracing failure and more about the imperative of embracing failure…

  • “Failure is all around us. Failure is pervasive. Failure is everywhere, across time, across place and across different aspects of life. 99.99% of all biological species which have ever existed are now extinct…More than 10% of all companies in America disappear each year…From biological species to companies to government policies, there appears to be an Iron Law of Failure which is extremely difficult to break.”

Ormond recognises that failure is all about risk and he makes an effective delineation between “risk” and “uncertainty”…

  • “Uncertainty in its strictest sense, refers to situations in which the probability of various outcomes is itself unknown” (eg. flipping a coin is not ‘uncertainty’, but the chance of an alien visit from outer space is).

Frozen Failure

Frozen is the gift of embracing failure that just keeps giving. Its “Let It Go” is an anthem to embracing failure. The song was celebrated with an Oscar win last year which is now legendary for the #FAIL by John Travolta introducing the song’s singer Idina Menzel (aka “Adele Dazeem”). This year’s Academy Awards gave that embrace just a bit more of a squeeze bringing John and Idina/Adele together to announce the Oscar for best song.

It turns out that Idina is a master of embracing failure as she reveals in this BuzzFeed interview “Idina Menzel Had The Best Response To Missing A Note From “Let It Go

  • “There are about 3 million notes in a two-and-a-half-hour musical; being a perfectionist, it took me a long time to realize that if I’m hitting 75 percent of them, I’m succeeding. Performing isn’t only about the acrobatics and the high notes: It’s staying in the moment, connecting with the audience in an authentic way, and making yourself real to them through the music. I am more than the notes I hit, and that’s how I try to approach my life. You can’t get it all right all the time, but you can try your best. If you’ve done that, all that’s left is to accept your shortcomings and have the courage to try to overcome them.”

Someone to Chase


The for most, the Academy Awards tonight will be the successful culmination of a life’s work and dreams, but I was particularly struck by last year’s acceptance by Matthew McConaughey’s of the award for Best Actor embracing failure in his own way…

  • “I had a very important person in my life come to me and say ‘Who’s your hero?’…I said, ‘I’ve thought about it and you know who it is?  It’s me in 10 years.  So I turned 25 (10 years later) and the same person comes to me and says ‘So are you a hero?’  I said, ‘I’m not even close.  No, no, no.’  She said, ‘Why’.  I said, ‘Because my hero is me at 35.’  So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero is always 10 years away.  I’m never going to be my hero.  I’m never going to attain that.  I know I’m not.  And I’m just fine with that because that keeps me with someone to keep on chasing.”

McConaughey’s anti-goal is very aligned to Scott Adam’s “System Principle” (eg. “goals are for losers”) and reminds me of a recent piece by Hugh McLeod…

  • “I spend a great deal of time every day, telling myself how much better I could be doing. In life, in relationships, in career, there’s no shortage of reasons to feel inadequate…It’s not all bad news. The good news is,this itch is also what keeps us moving forward.”


Gapingvoid - are we our potential

Embracing Ugly Marks

Cindy Crawford


Happy Birthday Cindy Crawford. This beauty icon won’t be fudging the number of candles on her cake. She has embracing her imperfections for years and won’t be embarrassed by her number of years (49… real 49, not euphemism).

But her embrace of beauty failings go way back as described in the article “My Mom Convinced Me to Keep My Mole

  • “Cindy Crawford is the envy of many a lady (and the love of many a Pepsi drinker), but the brunette beauty, 48, wasn’t always enthused about her looks, most notably her trademark mole. In a recent interview with Into the Gloss, the former supermodel discusses how she got a little family support when it came to self-criticism during her youth. ‘[My mother] talked me out of getting my ‘ugly mark’ — as my sister called it — removed,’ she said of her mole. "Apparently if it was on the right side it was a beauty mark, and if it was on the left it was an ugly mark. I would get teased by the other kids in school, so I definitely wanted to get it removed.’ But, thankfully, Crawford’s mother made her ponder the alternative: what would she look like without it? ‘My mother always said, ‘You know what your mole looks like, you don’t know what the scar is going to look like.’’ Today, says Crawford, the mole is so much a (welcome) part of her face — a characteristic that undoubtedly helped launch her decades-long career. "It’s the thing that made people remember me, and it made a lot of women who also have beauty marks identify with me. They set you apart."

In fact, this week, pictures have been spreading virally displaying her un-retouched middle age self in full bikini swagger proudly showing off her mature look…

  • “No matter where the photo came from, it’s an enlightenment—we’ve always known Crawford was beautiful, but seeing her like this only makes us love her more. And as she told us at the premiere of her new documentary last week: “I really think—at any age—it’s learning to be comfortable in your own skin. …If women would treat themselves with the same kind of love they give to their friends, that would be such a great gift we could give ourselves. …What makes you the most attractive is self-confidence. That’s what people see.”


Cindy Crawford unretouched


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