Are you asking the right question? (Part 2)

are you asking the right question - part 2

When I started studying Cybernetics, in 1982, we were asked to read ‘Introduction to cybernetics.’ (Ashby 1956).  After sleeping on the first three pages I produced the following chart:

Cybernetics processes to apply to information tight systems/machines developed from the ideas in the introduction of ‘Introduction to cybernetics.’ (Ashby 1956 from Hibbs 1992)

I noted that Ashby suggested that by working out a cybernetic example of ‘all possible uses’, one may identify important information gaps.

This was something that I could get my head around at this early stage, so I decided to explore it.  I first chose a ball-point pen to analyse, but soon abandoned that as being too complex. A lead pencil seemed more promising.

I started with iterations of a spider graph and before long would have needed paper the size of my room to put all the possibilities.

The analyses included attempting to use the concepts from the chart above.  I decided that ‘represented by’ might be some form of transformation or substitution, in which the wood might become charcoal and the paint molten paint drops.  I noted that there are many possibilities for using the whole or parts for unusual purposes: mini building blocks, cogwheels, wedges, dice …

When I started to think about the ‘lead’ I quickly realised that it was not the metal, lead, but graphite!  My research showed me that graphite is active with very strong oxidisers like fluorine, chlorine. Because except in a vacuum where its layers are not so slippery, it is the ‘universal lubricant’, excellent for door locks because it does not become sticky.  Usefully it is stable to minor trauma, but abraded and transferred to surfaces that are not microscopically smooth, like paper. So, that explains why it does not work if there is grease or oil on the surface.

I found no ideas for ‘ultrastability’ but some ideas for ‘feedback’ by observing written marks, hearing it crack or feeling or seeing it break.  Then I decided that a database of feedback mechanisms might be useful in future and suggested that the new Exercise Physiology Department (now part of Brunel University) would have useful components for such a database.

In a similar way, I continued to work through the chart.

When I came to the next seminar my supervisor asked about it, “Would anyone else be able to follow the paths that you have taken?”  I said, “In theory, yes, but many of the databases have yet to be built.” He said “Fine. Leave that now and learn Cybernetics.” In the appendix A of my thesis, I provided instructions to follow my thinking.

So, what is the question that you should ask? — ‘What are all possible uses?’, rather than the usual one, ‘What else could I use it for?’.

If you think about it, lots of things that we do are reusable with modifications, but most of us treat a lot of what we do as single use, not thinking that one might be able to use them to leap-frog on another occasion.  Storing whole entities or single components in retrievable form with a suitable address, could save hours of work.

Those of us in innovation too often ‘miss a trick’ by asking ‘all uses’ rather than ‘all possible uses’, a question that takes your creative brain forward to exciting reverie and possibly some great ‘aha’s’ in the hours, days, weeks that follow.

My thesis is: Information handling: concepts which emerged in practical situations and are analysed cybernetically.  1992 Accepted for PhD. ISBN 1 873015 03 8. The online version is available for free download here. Full copy at Brunel University and the official deposit libraries including the British Library.

 

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor, mayor and a member of the Lucidity Network. To connect with Genevieve and the other wonderful members of the Lucidity Network join our free Lucidity Facebook community for clearer thinking and better results.

Are you asking the right question? (Part 1)

Are you asking the right question

Are you asking the right question?  What question might lead you to unexpected answers?

To help you to answer these questions I have to take you back to the very first days of my Ph.D. studies in Cybernetics. And, I hear you say, as many have said before, ‘What is Cybernetics?’

Cybernetics, as a discipline, started between the two world wars. Three people were having a conversation and they realised that they had important ideas that they could not share because they were using mutually exclusive language, which is to say, words and ideas that each other could not understand. The three were: a mathematician, a telecommunications engineer and a neurophysiologist.

They said, ‘we must form a language that will enable us to talk across the disciplines’. They called it ‘Cybernetics’ using a word that Plato had used, almost in the same way that Plato had used it.

Fortunately, the word turns up twice in the Bible. Once where in the letter to the Ephesians, there are ‘gifts to the churches’. Unfortunately, in the UK, but not in Germany for example, we totally devalue it. The word is usually translated to ‘administrators’ or ‘helps’. If you think about it, without good administrators, nothing much would be able to happen!

The other time it turns up it is much more instructive. The Bible says that Paul talked to the ‘kuberneis’ of the ship. He was the ‘kuberneis’ of the ship in two respects. First, he was the manager of the people on the ship. He did not provide them with their energy and motivation, they came with that. His role was to monitor all that; damp it down and provide negative feedback to get them to do what he wanted them to do.

Secondly, he was the steersman of the ship, and this is more informative. As steersman, the wind, the waves, the people rowing and the currents provided the energy. His job was to monitor all that and then steer providing force in the opposite direction, providing negative feedback, to get the ship to go in the direction that he wanted.

The examples are useful in understanding how Cybernetics is such a valuable discipline. It can be applied to something mechanical like steering a ship, or to something much more nebulous like people management. Indeed, it can even be used with disciplines that involve values and justifications such as economics or theology. That makes Cybernetics unique among the sciences.

Cybernetics is uniquely a multi-disciplinary discipline, that one can use to analyse huge complex problems, when all other forms of analysis have failed. Cybernetics has indeed supplied the ‘black box analysis‘ for problems like that. Another Cybernetics analysis may be applied to a complex problem that has resisted analysis by all other means. To do the analysis, first, one tries to describe the problem in the best possible way and then one looks around all the other disciplines to see if there is anything that resembles it in any way or see if it reminds of something about it.

Without cybernetics we would have some form of computers, robotics and artificial brains, but they would probably be very different. The Russian space programme was run on a very mathematical form of Cybernetics.

So, that has not answered the original question. The answer will come soon!

Note: The Wikipedia article on Cybernetics is excellent, as are the references in it.

Look out for part 2 of Genevieve’s blog on Cybernetics coming next week.

 

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor, mayor and a member of the Lucidity Network. To connect with Genevieve and the other wonderful members of the Lucidity Network join our free Lucidity Facebook community for clearer thinking and better results.

Negativity, creativity and our online, collective Karma

Negativity, creativity and our online, collective Karma

Have you seen My Name Is Earl?
It was a TV comedy series that ran from 2005 to 2009.
Earl was a redneck bully, a thief, slob and cheat. One day he wins the lottery and after being hit by a pickup truck, decides to make amends for all his wrong deeds.
He writes a list of everything bad he’s ever done then sets about re-balancing his karma.
It was funny, touching and for me very meaningful.
Now, this isn’t the best platform for spiritual debate, so let’s just say, whether you like it or not, whatever you do in this life will eventually come back to bite you on the bum.
Everything.

The Internet doesn’t need any more negativity

The Internet is amazing. It’s also a bitter and twisted place.
Supposedly educated, creative people use the Internet (particularly social media) to spread great big, stinky bucket-loads of tittle-tattle and twit-twattery.
They think it’s witty to pick other peoples hard work to pieces.
Most critics seem to think they could do better. Maybe they could, maybe they couldn’t. Either way, how does a public flogging help anyone?

Mud sticks (even to the one who’s throwing it)

We all know that it’s easier to point out the faults of other’s than it is to correct our own.
It really isn’t clever, but even more than that, it’s actually damaging – even to the one slinging the mud.
Your posts and tweets, like sound waves, can go on forever. They’re re-posted and re-tweeted and wherever they filter through, they’ve got your dabs all over them.
And the more shade you throw, the darker the world gets.
Nobody wins.
There are thousands of armchair critics out there who are getting plenty of cheap laughs. And admittedly, they’re also getting re-tweets, comments and ‘likes’, but ultimately does anyone really like them, at least, the online versions of themselves?
What gives anyone the right to name and shame? Haven’t we all got something more important to get riled about?
As the old saying used to go (referring to print advertising), this is tomorrow’s chip wrapper we’re arguing about.

Start with the end goal

I received a priceless piece of advice a few years back that’s especially useful whenever I’m tempted to wade into something that could end in tears.
All you have to do is think to yourself, “what outcome am I hoping to achieve here, will my actions logically lead towards the result I’m looking for?”
I would suggest that if the end goal that’s driving you to shout into the ether about something you don’t like is to feel bigger, smarter or happier; then it’s probably better to keep it zipped.

Criticism is a good thing

For anything to get better, feedback is essential, but the only criticism we should be doling out to each other is constructive criticism.
To grow as creative individuals we need our weaknesses pointing out, but it has no benefit when it’s done by a snidey toe rag at a distance, hiding behind a keyboard.
If you’ve got a suggestion on how someone can improve, by all means pile in and tell them how they might go about it. But tweeting about it after the event is like planting dog turds, hoping that apple trees will grow.

When you see work online that you don’t like (it is only a subjective opinion after all) all you need do is take note and avoid the same mistakes in your own work.
Anyone can criticise someone else. But before you get keyboard happy, ask yourself, “Why do I do what I do? Is it to do good work or to humiliate others who are also trying to do their best?
Next time you feel like venting in a public arena, pause for a moment and imagine how you’d feel if you were on the receiving end.
And if that doesn’t work, rent all four seasons of My Name Is Earl and that should sort you out.

Rant over.

Jonathan Wilcock
Jonathan Wilcock

 

 

Jonathan Wilcock is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can read more here.
Or drop him line here jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

 

 

Jonathan is a member of the Lucidity Facebook community – a safe place to rant, offer help and give or get advice. Come join us.

Why do we still hide failure?

When I told some ten ‘Health Product People’ in ‘Conference Room One’ that they had to be able to make mistakes — they paid attention.

This elite group of government and NHS digital product developers and leaders had met to share a presentation on methods to evaluate the progress and direction of their digital projects, and to learn from the experience of the leader.

The leader had made the point that if it became necessary, one must, and he had ‘pulled the plug’ on an expensive digital development project because it was clear that the direction was not leading to achievement. This was clearly a difficult thing to do, with the ‘press’ so keen to ‘be at their heels’, but he and ‘they’ had pulled the project.

Hiding failure is still major in our culture, in the NHS, in academia and the corporate world and social sector. So what those specialists were advocating was not only hugely important but still often incredibly difficult for hidden cultural reasons, like scapegoating, losing face or your job … They needed to be reassured of doing the right thing, and aware of why such decisions may seem to be SO difficult.

I have been demoted for whistleblowing in my career and seen many examples of inconvenient issues being covered up, but I could have told of when, in 1970, the senior medical officer of a blue chip company had given an injection incorrectly — and I had needed to tell him.

The effect of the too-quick-effects of that injection would probably have given the patient a fever for a few hours, but not done any major harm, other patients should be spared that experience! In the 1950’s I had seen similar doses of the same vaccine used to induce fever in patients with skin conditions.

I was shocked when he reacted by urgently telling me not to tell anyone about what had happened. That anyone, especially a senior doctor, should be so afraid as a result of someone knowing that he had made a mistake is wrong.

Fortunately, especially among major corporate digital developers, having to halt a development is recognised as being better, cheaper than trying to keep it going when it should be stopped. The press, unfortunately, still enjoy publicising expensive failures, and the public sector is especially exposed to ‘the press’.

The culture is being changed, it has to be.

There are major efforts to make it safe for staff to acknowledge mistakes in health care, without that, improvements are delayed. Scapegoats are still far too common as was the case with Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba who recently won her appeal against being struck off. No one should have to suffer so unjustly.

We who have to make decisions in our work will make mistakes. I hope that we will have leaders who will be constructive when we acknowledge that. In any event, there may be HR people or other professionals and in Lucidity Network we have a group of supportive and experienced professionals to consult.

If we lead our organisations, can we offer suitable supportive environment for our people to ‘fail quickly’ and ‘safely’ and move on? What is the policy and is it robust enough? Successful organisations have such policies and practice them.

If you would like to be part of a network of dynamic professionals, making mistakes and making improvements check out the Lucidity Network. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline practical tools and advice as well as access to a dynamic network of expertise to help you take the lead in getting the results you want. We are open to members several times a year. Sign up here to join the waiting list. 

Genevieve Hibbs

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor, mayor and a member of the Lucidity Network.

Running a home business on a hectic schedule

Running a home business

A guest blog from Eva Benoit.

There are a lot of reasons you may not be able to run your home business on a regular 9-to-5 schedule. Perhaps you are in school and you have a great idea that you can only capitalize on once you graduate. Or, maybe you’re nursing an infant at home and your schedule is their out-of-whack sleep schedule.

Whatever your reason to work outside the normal full-time parameters, it’s not impossible to do so. You can make your not 9-5  home-based business work with these helpful tips.

Your own space

The one thing every person trying to run a home business needs is a designated workspace where they can get what needs to be done without distractions. You may not have a whole room available for an office, but at the very least you need a corner or a desk where you can file necessary papers, set up your computer, and have a home base for whatever it is you need to run your business. Optimizing said workspace for productivity ensures you make the most of what limited hours you can work in your bonkers schedule.

Lighting is important; as light synchronizes your circadian rhythm. You can use artificial light to help your body switch into productivity mode even if you’re working the night shift. If you really have a hard time staying awake and motivated, consider light therapy.  It can be helpful in the winter when symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can rear their ugly heads.

Other ways to optimize a home workspace:

  • Add some life to the area! Houseplants and fish tanks can help people think in a more creative manner. They may also improve performance, ease anxiety and aid in your ability to focus on your work.
  • Use color psychology to curate a workspace that motivates in the specific way you need.  For instance, those who find themselves needing a pick-me-up when it’s time to work can benefit from energizing shades of orange and red in their office. Those who thrive in a practical and ordered environment can work with neutral tones that emit cleanliness, stability, and practicality.
  • KISS- Keep it simple, stupid! Having too much clutter in your workspace is a huge bane to productivity. Embrace minimalism and learn to stay organized from the get-go so you don’t have to waste time on major clean-out and reorganization projects.

Save money wherever you can

Funds mean flexibility. Cut costs wherever you can and pocket those savings into an emergency fund, making sure you have something to fall back on if you have to take a hiatus or you fall behind because of your crazy schedule. Instead of embracing a “spend money to make money mentality,” use these helpful tips to pinch pennies:

  • When outfitting your office, buy furniture used. Look for deals through newspaper ads, bankruptcy sales, Craigslist and surplus offices at nearby schools.
  • Connect with other home-based business owners to pool your purchasing power. You can save major moolah when you buy in bulk. However, when it’s just you on the team, you don’t really need 100 boxes of printer paper for the month. When you split the costs and products between multiple business owners, it makes more sense while saving your pennies.
  • Work with local suppliers. Not only will you save on shipping if you pick things up yourself, but you establish real relationships with people that can make a difference in your professional success. Their connections and word-of-mouth endorsements are worth more than anything some marketing agency can do.

No more excuses! You can start the business of your dreams despite your crazy schedule. Establishing a designated space for work helps shift your mindset to work mode. You can increase productivity even in your wonky hours with lighting, color, houseplants and minimalist decor. When you save money at every corner, you can turn those savings into a safety net for your business. Buy used, pool your purchasing power and shop local to save big all the while making valuable connections.

Eva Benoit specializes in helping professionals with stress and anxiety, but welcomes working with people from all walks of life, visit her site.

If you’re thinking about setting up from home you might also benefit from the Lucidity Network – a pick and mix of online and offline practical tools and advice as well as access to a dynamic network of expertise. We have designed the Lucidity Network to help you take the lead in getting the results that you want. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.