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The names of the most valuable things in the world become worn out. Over time these names lose any but a personal sense of meaning. Each person invests a little emotion into that name when it achieves meaning for them. This emotion arrives when they can say "ah, so that was what the ancients meant!" This emotion is detected by the manipulators. The big words, the words that politicians like to use, become larded with emotion and a million personal meanings- and are, therefore, useless.

Meanwhile new names come into being for these valuable things. 


exhaustive versus iterative

Enterprises can be divided into those suited to an exhaustive approach and those suited to the iterative. That is- do you do the thing in one concentrated powerful blow or do you take bites out of it from time to time. Do you do the intensive French course or do you study and hour a week for ten years? Well, on the language learning front the exhaustive wins hands down- I taught a woman in Japan once a week for six months. At the end I can safely say her English might even have been worse that at the beginning. My teaching? It was the same teaching content as that applied to the intensive group who achieved fluency in three months.

Exhaustive works best when you are trying to turn a fledgling skill into something solid and useful. Iterative works best when you are trying to maintain something. Though I heard Steve Martin learnt banjo by putting a banjo in each room and strumming away whenever he had a free moment. Weeding the garden- iterative- a day spent weeding is a day wasted-just do a bit whenever you pass by the flower beds. Improving a book or poem- iterative. Writing a book or poem- exhaustive- get the guts of it down in as concentrated a burst as possible. Some lifestyles are better suited to iterative processes than others. If you can’t block off concentrated periods of time do more things that need this nibbling approach. But understand that some of your enterprises will fail unless you can be exhaustive about them. Blog writing is iterative. Those who give up on a blog have an exhaustive approach usually. They think about their blog, how they should be doing something for it. It becomes a drag. Instead one should write a post only when an idea strikes- and then get it down asap. Over time a massive amount of work can be done but it feels effortless. I couldn’t write a book like that though because a book has a central unity that isn’t suited to the iterative approach- for me at least. I think the key is to understand and observe yourself and find where you are on the exhaustive/iterative spectrum and then understand what approach best suits the task at hand.


best aid to problem solving

All the important things in life have to be sidled up to sideways on, crab fashion...head on very rarely works.

If a problem seems insoluble don't try and solve it.

Instead of trying to solve the problem refuse to. Instead work on defining it. The clearer the idea you have of the problem the more its solution will be blindingly obvious. The many 'problems' of the world that seem insoluble are probably in need of greater definition without any attempt at solution.


best aid to creativity

If you feel 'uncreative' it means you've got jammed up somehow. Being creative is a normal state, so you have to focus on removing blockages not adding extras. Creativity is about being open to what is out there and just letting it flow into you. One of the best aids is to remove the 'I'. It isn't YOU that is or is not creative. YOU are just a channel for all the stuff, ideas, innovations floating ready formed around in the ether. So act being someone else to get access to this free idea store. If you feel inhibited pretend you're a hippy. Act being a hippy and say to yourself 'how will the hippy solve this one?' If you're feeling 'not artistic enough' pretend you're a millionaire businessman, act quickly with decisive vim, tell yourself, 'how will the millionaire businessman' solve this one?


definition of a nerd

"My best definition of a nerd: someone who asks you to explain an aphorism."

Nassim Taleb.


snobs and yobs

A yob is someone who appears aggressively low status. A snob is someone high status. But actually the yob employs 'high status' tricks- noise, aggression to counter the implied higher status of the snob. It's important to see that status is not about 'social standing', it is about the human pecking order in any interaction at the moment it happens. Quiet snobs often act 'low status'- all averted eyes and crumpled posture, whilst a cocky yob just oozes 'high status'...unless he gets over awed.

Both hope to maintain as permanent their status (and the all important attention that comes with it). Status can get you attention, and being the centre of attention can accrue status so we confuse them. But attention is a human need, whereas status is not, it's just a mechanism for getting attention. Which is why status manipulation gets you even more attention than playing a single status role- Prince plays pauper, rapper crim meets royalty. So called status anxiety is usually a fear that you won't get your all important attention fix by employing your usual behavioural tropes.

But some folk realise there are more ways to get attention than straitjacketing yourself into some boneheaded social role. Beyond real and demonstrable competence status is a fiction, the emperor's new clothes- which is why all attempts to dethrone set-status roles are a form of truth telling...and often hilarious. When I give talks to kids there is always one who wants to know how you go to the loo in the desert. Dethrone the expert- it's hilarious. We know it's true because it is funny. Humour is evolution's gift for keeping us on track with truth. It's a reward for seeing things as they really are. The role of the fool in the medieval court was precise- a truth teller who could disrupt the inanities of fixed status without damaging the functionality of the King.

Real friendship occurs when status is a fluid game and not a fixed 'reality'. The real secret lies in the fact that status games get you way more attention than do fixed status roles. You act 'low status' by bringing someone a cup of tea in the morning. You act high status by putting on a posh voice. You get attention both times- a lot more than being repetitively predictably high or low status. But there are limits. I remember I once acted low status by being the car park attendant at a party. It seemed immensely funny until someone actually thought it was real and gave me the 'normal' attention allowance of such a role instead of the vastly enhanced attention you get by paying status games. I was fuming!

It's worth playing status games for fun and observational value. Today I was walking along and a couple were talking loudly and acting 'high status' in their new walking boots and goretex gear as they approached me dressed as I was in old clothes . Normally such behaviour works to shrink me into a low status role- observer, bystander, not the main role. Instead I sort of raised myself up and looked imperiously about owning all I saw, my head held very still, my stride full of vim; and sure enough they ceased their chatter and sort of humbled past me- gratefully returning my was, in short, amazing.

Yobs and snobs are, like most of us, in thrall to set patterns of behaviour. They understand one thing better than a 'normal' person though: there is no neutral position. You are, at any moment, either higher or lower status than those you are mixing with, but it can vary a lot within even one conversation. Nothing is really ever set in stone. The secret I suspect is not to try and hang on to it- just allow status to wax and wane as required.


What is organic efficiency?

How do you reconcile being human, being a primate, being an animal with answering your email regularly, paying bills, sending invoices, organising things, organising people, doing a job.

It has taken me many years to integrate these two aspects of life: being creative, humorous, lively, having fun; with being responsible, reliable, efficient, effective.

Remember back when you shared a house with friends or college pals there was always one person who ended up paying the bills, staying in for the plumber, phoning the plumber… the substitute mum figure, the nag perhaps.

Years passed and you found you had to become THAT PERSON at least some of the time in order to get stuff done.

I had all but given up and decided that life had to be lived in bi-polar separation: work and play, Mr Fun and Mr Boring. The thing was- it was killing me. I was always dragging my feet when it came to being efficient, or going way over the top with ‘systems’ which, when Mr Fun was in the driving seat, would be blithely ignored. The truth is- if you try to split your personality there is always a ‘settling in period’ when a new personality takes over…and that’s when the stress begins.

I was looking for some higher integrative possibility- and realised that there was one- it had been staring me in the face all these years. Organic efficiency. That is, efficiency judged from an organic, non-mechanical perspective. Example: mechanical efficiency says that you should answer every email within a day of it coming in. Organic efficiency says that some days your email answering power will be huge, other days there will be intractable emails and you’ll be otherwise occupied. Organic efficiency acknowledges that some emails do not need to be answered asap, indeed, should not. But some need instant attention. Organic efficiency acknowledges that sometimes you’re on a roll and a ton of work is done in a very short time (I have taken weeks to make a website and other times I have done it in a day).

This is the defining insight: mechanical solutions take TIME out of the equation. They assume that all parts of the day are equal. But they are not. On a simple level it makes sense not to write after a heavy lunch- so timetabling writing activities for the most appropriate part of the day is a first step towards organic efficiency. But that’s only the beginning.

What about a magic email box? You put in it all those emails you can’t think of the right answer for. When you are feeling a bit inspired you pull one out and answer it. There is no time scale on this because for the organically efficient time is not a universal, ticking away equally at all hours of the day and night. Time is simply ONE PART of the complex holistic picture any enterprise is a part of. Example: I have written books in three weeks and seven years. Both books were the same length. Both made about the same amount of money. I’m equally proud of them. But seven years is rather more, ahem, time consuming, than three weeks. Why the difference. Because one – the three weeker- was written organically and the seven year one was written mechanically. I tried too hard on the seven year book grinding what enthusiasm I had into grit that just got in my eyes.

Organic efficiency uses what nature offers and runs with it. It uses enthusiasm, momentum, inspiration and adds it to a well run plan. It also uses nature’s way of finishing things, always a problem if you lean too much on inspiration. Nature has seasons. Find your own seasons for being productive and for selling what you produce. Don’t treat yourself like a mechanical milch cow there to be milked until you die.

Organic efficiency uses what is there, rather than what ought to be there in an ideal world. In an ideal world you get top people to do a top job. In the real world you work out the 80% of any job that needs doing and find people who can manage that and still keep smiling. No predator is a 100% efficient, they play a numbers game, operate on an iterative basis, going back and forth over the same ground hoovering up the left overs. If there is one way to increase efficiency all round it is to adopt iterative processes for cleaning, maintainence, and incremental quality improvement. Instead of spending 90% of your time fiddling with the last 10% of anything keep sweeping by and picking up a few more % each time. You’ll get 99% in what seems like very little effort at all.

Organic efficiency is mainly about taking a longer, wider view. When we zoom out the mechanical solution becomes only a small part of a heaving crazy organic whole. The world is what it is, and by fitting in with its tides and weirdness we can only succeed more. By trying to treat the world like a petulant engineer with a troublesome diesel engine we’ll only come to grief. For one thing, most of our interactions in the world are with people, at one remove or another, and dealing with people in a mechanical way guarantees mechanical side effects: stress, resistance, friction, breakdowns for trivial reasons, lack of direction.

The organically efficient first locate themselves within the world, the greater world so to speak. They remove the labels and look at the people involved, at what is really going on rather than what a mechanically perfect situation should be. At a literary festival I was given the tedious job of making goodie bags for authors. Mechanical efficiency suggests that this simple task needs one person. I got five friends to help me in a production line. It was fun, fun, fun and super quick. A production line looks mechanical- and can be- but it can also be a great laugh- which means more energy left over for doing other stuff. The mechanical solution would be to have one person doing goodie bags, another on some other task- each isolated , each bored and slightly frustrated. When faced by mechanical boring jobs most people become slackers, not surprisingly. To motivate we need to make things more of a laugh. Organic efficiency takes account of the human spirit- its need for friendship, and good friends too, not just ‘work mates’. The extreme violence largescale faceless capitalism has done to the human spirit has been well documented, following Marx we assume that it’s the way the workers lose out on the loot that counts. But factory owners can be just as miserable as workers. Those miserable bosses, like Mr Burns in the Simpsons, use mechanical methods to slowly destroy a workforce in the interests of ‘efficiency’. Britain no longer has a homegrown car industry despite our obvious engineering talents. It is interesting that the metal workers of Birmingham, whose grandchildren became car workers before losing their jobs, used to take Monday off, sometimes Tuesday too, start working full time on Wednesday. Steam through Thursday and sometimes all night into Friday to get the work done on time. Then take off and enjoy their weekend, extending it if need be. As a writer I’ve had to find my own way of working that doesn’t do too much violence to the well-springs that supply the ideas that are the basis of new writing. I’ve found, now that I am organically efficient, that ‘wasting’ two hours walking each morning along the cliffs more than pays for itself in terms of energy, enthusiasm and ideas- such as this one, which was conceived on just such a walk.

Organic efficiency can mean looking at the way nature solves a problem and taking a hint. Brainstorming, I’ve found, works well as a way of solving a defined problem, also as a way of coming up with catch phrases. However it is not very good at bringing a problem into focus. And that is usually the MAIN problem. Once a problem is lined up in your sights and the range is set, you can pretty much say it’s solved. But when the problem is a bit slippery I’ve found the mechanical blitzkrieg of a brainstorming session just results in everyone feeling ‘creative’ and a lot of fizzling out later on. Instead you need the organic approach- look at the way perception works- we’re designed to notice things on the periphery. Look slightly side-on at something in the distance and you’ll see it more clearly. Instead of banging away at something head on use a spiralling approach- even going away from the subject perhaps as I do by taking a walk or some other kind of journey. Instead of waiting for chance to build serendipity into the process, build it in organically. Writers nap in the afternoon to get better ideas- it works- maybe executives should be doing it too.

It always seems to come back to time. Being in a rush is now part of the human condition- yet we all know that rushing is the best way to cock up everything – be it a poem or a penalty kick. But telling people NOT to rush is unfair- when the system around them is designed to create and maintain a rush. The only way out of rushing is to embrace organic efficiency, that is, act in a way that takes the most informed view of the humans involved and the duration such an action is likely to take. You can’t rush a tree- it grows at it’s own rate- we need to recognise, and use, the natural and differing duration of things to be more efficient in what we do.