Embracing the Problem

 

The first step to solving any problem is recognizing there is one.”

While you are chowing down on the hot dogs, swilling the Budweiser and watching the star spangled fireworks, invest 3 minutes to (re)listen to Jeff Daniels classic monologue. It should be required watching every Fourth of July.

Happy Birthday America. Another year older and ideally another year wiser.

Embracing the Mess

Messy baby

 

There’s an eating fast, and then there’s fast eating. So fast and furious that the whole escapade is a total mess. And for youngun’s, that might just be a good sign according to Today’s article “Why a messy baby may be brainier”…

  • “Next time your baby mashes his bananas, apple sauce AND carrots all together — not to mention all over his hands, hair and the high chair—don’t fret about the mess. Your little one just may be getting smarter in the process…Lynn Hall, now a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told TODAY Moms in an email. ’The easiest way to know which things are made of the same stuff is to touch them, smell them or eat them. And if kids are in a situation where they have a lot of practice touching and eating non-solid foods, then they know it’s okay to get in there and figure it out.’”

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to convince my wife that this process carries on well into middle aged adulthood…

Embracing Fasting

Ramadan fasting

   

Ramadan Mubarak!

The Muslim world is now in the heart of its holy month of Ramadan. A ritual of many dimensions and traditions but most people know it for the extended duration of strict fasting. Not just food, but no drink.

Such a period of failing to eat and drink for a prolonged time might seem to be brutally masochistic (note: a number of exceptions are granted to children, elderly, ill and other individuals for whom such fasting could be dangerous). But actually closer examination indicates that this period of weakness might just make one stronger. Not just in the spiritual sense, but in physical health as well. The article “Science of Fasting: How Does Ramadan Affect the Body?” describes…

  • “The practice of fasting isn’t unique to Islam. For Hindus and Jains, single-day fasts mark auspicious occasions. Over the forty days of Lent, Christians undertake a partial fast. On the night before Yom Kippur each year, Jews begin a 25-hour period of fasting and prayer. Mormons are encouraged to fast for a day each month… A 2008 study conducted in Utah found that people who fast on a regular basis lower their risk of contracting coronary disease. In 2014, a follow up study found that fasting instigates metabolic changes and lowers “bad” cholesterol levels, which in turn can reduce the chance of heart disease by as much as 58%.”

Article talks about other benefits…

  • ·Shared adversity bringing the community together especially in the breaking of fasts
  • ·Cleansing and de-toxing
  • Pause and reset
  • Break food habits

Another fan of fasting is Nassim Taleb who advocates it in his [bible] of embracing failure, “Anti-Fragile”…

  • Among other things, the role of religion is to tam the iatrogenics of abundance – fasting makes you lose your sense of entitlement…There is the this antifragiity to the stressor of the fast, as it makes the wanted food taste better and can produce euphoria in one’s system. Breaking a fast feels like the exact opposite of a hangover.”

Maybe that is why many “de-tox” regimes are mainly mini-fasts to counteract the hangovers of excess.

 

The Testing of Turing

Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

Nobody imagined anything of Alan Turing, born this day in 1912, but achieved the inconceivable task of breaking the “Enigma” cypher used by Nazi Germany.

His story is eloquently portrayed in the Oscar winning film, “The Imitation Game.” It is a movie about unorthodoxy (a common theme here as essentially the embrace of failure to conform)…

  • Unorthodox approaches to solving problems
  • Unorthodox managerial talent selection
  • Unorthodox sexual preference
  • Unorthodox gender roles in the workplace

It is literally a heroic tale of how unorthodoxy battles convention to do little less than save the world.  Unorthodox approaches saved western civilization, but did become his undoing in an age decades before Gay Pride Month celebrated those differences rather than tormented them.

Turing’s left a legacy of many dimensions. Of course, there is his historical legacy of cracking the enigma machine. He also left a scientific legacy as little less than the father of modern computer science. But my favourite is his philosophical legacy which will becoming more and more relevant in the age of increasing automation – the “Turing Test”. This subject is also explored in films like “I Robot” as well as the new hit TV series “Humans”.

The test was of true “machine intelligence” which specified that machine could only be deemed “intelligent” if a human submitted questions to it and another human. The tester would receive answers back, but he or she would not know whether the answers were from the machine or from the human. The machine would “pass” if the tester couldn’t figure out merely from the content of the answers which one was the machine.

Turing alludes to the test in the film’s interview with the Manchester police officer. He notes that one of the tricks to finding out a machine is that they don’t make mistakes. Maybe our failures will be the one thing that keeps us human.

Responding to Oops

Dilbert - celebrating failures

   

  • “[A comic strip] has to be drawn well enough, not perfectly. No one goes to a rock concert because the band is in tune. They have to be close enough to not be distracting, but being in tune isn’t the point…As creators, our pursuit of perfection might be misguided, particularly if it comes at the expense of the things that matter.” – No one reads a comic strip because it’s drawn well

Happy Birthday Scott. Scott Adams doesn’t just write about embracing failure, but he walks the walk. The quote above embraces his failure to do award-winning drawing. He takes a similarly positive view about the “oops” that he makes regularly in his writing…

  • “I’m well-suited for drawing comics and writing blog posts because I can erase/delete/adjust a thousand times before the public sees it. I’d be bad at, for example, walking a tightrope across a canyon or doing brain surgery. Those professions don’t respond well to ‘oops.’ I use this blog to practice my writing, try different styles, float ideas, and generally get into the heads of the public. It’s a bad idea in my profession to assume I know what other people want to read. I can only know for sure what is in my own head. And as a general rule, the people who go into my line of work don’t think like normal citizens, for better or worse. So I take a business approach to writing; I test different styles and topics, observe the reactions, and adjust accordingly.” – About the Bear Thing

Meaning from Meanness

 

  • “Forge meaning, build identity, forge meaning and build identity. That became my mantra. Forging meaning is about changing yourself. Building identity is about changing the world.” – Andrew Solomon

Today is the first day of Gay Pride Month. With the recent gay marriage referendum landslide in Ireland, one of the most conservative Christian countries of the world, the LGBT community has lots to be proud of and celebrate this month.

Andrew Solomon’s TED talk, “How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are”, lucidly articulates the many challenges the LGBT world faces on a daily basis. What is apropos in this blog are his perspectives on how his strength of character forged these difficulties onto positives…

  • My last book was about how families manage to deal with various kinds of challenging or unusual offspring, and one of the mothers I interviewed, who had two children with multiple severe disabilities, said to me, ‘People always give us these little sayings like, ‘God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle,’ but children like ours are not preordained as a gift. They’re a gift because that’s what we have chosen. We make those choices all our lives.”
  • We don’t seek the painful experiences that hew our identities, but we seek our identities in the wake of painful experiences. We cannot bear a pointless torment, but we can endure great pain if we believe that it’s purposeful. Ease makes less of an impression on us than struggle. We could have been ourselves without our delights, but not without the misfortunes that drive our search for meaning. ‘Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities," St. Paul wrote in Second Corinthians, ‘for when I am weak, then I am strong."
  • I would have had an easier life if I were straight, but I would not be me, and I now like being myself better than the idea of being someone else, someone who, to be honest, I have neither the option of being nor the ability fully to imagine. But if you banish the dragons, you banish the heroes, and we become attached to the heroic strain in our own lives.”

Age of Failure

Age of Failure

  

From failures of the ages, to the “Age of Failure”. According to no less an authority than the New York Times, it’s not just time to embrace failure, but embracing failure is a theme of our times – “Welcome to the Failure Age!“…

  • “For decades, entrepreneurs and digital gurus of various repute have referred to this era, in a breathlessness bordering on proselytizing, as the age of innovation. But Weird Stuff is a reminder of another, unexpected truth about innovation: It is, by necessity, inextricably linked with failure. The path to any success is lined with disasters. Most of the products that do make it out of the lab fail spectacularly once they hit the market. Even successful products will ultimately fail when a better idea comes along. (One of Schuetz’s most remarkable finds is a portable eight-track player.) And those lucky innovations that are truly triumphant, the ones that transform markets and industries, create widespread failure among their competition… An age of constant invention naturally begets one of constant failure… Our breakneck pace of innovation can be seen in stock-market volatility and other boardroom metrics, but it can also be measured in unemployment checks, in divorces and involuntary moves and in promising careers turned stagnant…”

The New York Times piece showcases a true temple to failure, “Weird Stuff” which is a “27,000-square-foot facility just down the block from Yahoo…A 21-person company that buys the office detritus that start-ups no longer want.” It riffles through the detritus of downfalls like portable 8-track players and disused partitions.

It also chronicles the human history of the “failure loop” which is becoming faster and faster in recent times. With every turn of the loop, new supplants old with life enhancing productivity and capability but also with displacing and painful disruption…

  • “Our breakneck pace of innovation can be seen in stock-market volatility and other boardroom metrics, but it can also be measured in unemployment checks, in divorces and involuntary moves and in promising careers turned stagnant. Every derelict product that makes its way into Weird Stuff exists as part of a massive ecosystem of human lives — of engineers and manufacturers; sales people and marketing departments; logistics planners and truck drivers — that has shared in this process of failure.”
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