Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Making the assumption that 'FREE' referred to the stuff, and not the sign, I picked up 2 old Disston handsaws.
If you've ever spent money on a handsaw from any hardware shop these days, one thing you'll notice straight away is how blocky the handle is.
Henry Disston - quite apart from being a fascinating bloke to read about - made great saws. And a key part of a great saw is a great handle. Almost all the old saws have them.
The two saws I picked up both have apple handles. Apple wood (yes, from apple trees) makes great handles. The oldest saw of these two, which I date somewhere between 1878-88, is both comfortable and elegant.
As Disston's descendants carried the business on, the handles slowly lost their elegance and their comfort.
It is a lovely thing to be able to pick up a saw - even a rough one - 120 years after its birth, and feel a bond with it. A good saw feels like an extension of your arm.
I'm looking forward to restoring this one, cutting new teeth, and pressing it into service.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Design is part of the basic package of what we, as human beings, do. It's a key part of how we make stuff happen in the world. From music, to buildings, to cars, to kitchenware, to urban planning, to making a sandwich, it's what we do.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
There -- I just polarised my readers.
I'm leary of motivational speakers. They make life's problems sound so predictable, and easy to solve. Just follow these 12 steps ...
My boss left something on my desk recently; an audio book titled 'The Slight Edge' by Jeff Olson.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
They are a very committed bunch of people, and are responsible for so much of the good that happens in our school community.
Meaningful actions have been driven by caring and considerate thought or concern. It's been great to be a part of.
We have a wonderful, dedicated principal whose actions demonstrate that he cares about his staff and teachers very deeply. We have staff who turn up day-after-day, often dealing with the complaints of ungrateful parents, and still faithfully carrying forward the job of educating kids.
And then there are the other parents in P&C who dig deep to get other things over the line. School banking. Uniform shop. End-of-year concert. Building repairs.
The savour for me this year in P&C has been the way we have been thinking about the question of engagement. It's been exciting to watch the conversation unfold. To have the P&C wrestling hard with such questions is a rich space to be in.
There is much to be grateful for. We get to have a say in the shape of the future. We get to form something, to think, talk, create something for the kids. We get to work alongside amazing, dedicated staff to do this. I am grateful.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I'm happy with my first attempts at sketchnoting, but I see a lot of room for growth. That's okay -- there's plenty of time for learning and improving.
It would be really nice to be as good as these guys one day (I think Eva-Lotta Lamm's notes are especially awesome), but in truth, I am the only person these notes need to matter to.
(It has largely been the impact of a 27-year-old book that has led me down this road.)
Monday, October 31, 2011
I've travelled in several American / Australian cars in recent times, and while it is probably inflammatory and a broad generalisation, my experiences lead me to the perception that Americans and Aussies are very capable of producing crap. Once I got onto Japanese cars, I never looked back.
Deming came to represent a whole philosophy of manufacturing. One element I note today is his belief that Q.A. is best offered as a living process. That is, instead of pouring resources into paying for exhaustive inspections at the end of a production process (with a range of acceptable tolerances), build in continuous improvement ('kaizen') into each process and verify quality improvements through statistical sampling.
Deming believed that while cost of manufacturing went down, quality and production could go up. How? Very simple: careful observation of what happens in planning and production, coupled with a culture of 'every participant is a designer', allows the sources of problems to be identified and corrected early in the process. When your only means of catching non-performance is the factory loading dock, then correcting mistakes becomes costly.
Most processes surrounding quality could be put right if people were given the space to resolve them. Deming saw the biggest problem here as management, not the people doing the actual work of manufacturing. These were cultural problems that needed to be resolved through a fresh approach to managing people, their willingness to work well, and their ability to do so. If you got the question of 'people' sorted out, then the 'quality' question had the space it needed to resolve.
Companies like Toyota have inculturated Deming's whole approach. (He was emphatic that for his thinking to work, his whole system had to be adopted, as it is a package.) And as a result we have better cars, microwaves, televisions.
While Deming was widely known and respected in Japan, he did not come into prominence in his home country until he was in his 80's. Once Americans realised what he had done for Japan, he quickly became flavour of the month, and began running 4-day workshops all over America and the world. He wrote books, he consulted to large companies, he supervised post-graduate students.
He continued to do this until his death at age 93. Interestingly, he never felt that his philosophy was embraced in his home country to the extent it had been in Japan. People wanted to 'cherry pick' his methods.
And that is why I can tell within 20 seconds of the driving experience that a car is a Chrysler and not a Subaru. When a door lining falls off (true story) then it is confirmed.
For an overview of Deming's life and his thinking, you'll probably enjoy this paper.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
There is something both elegant and clumsy about Theo's creatures -- on his home site he has a short clip involving one teetering and then falling over -- but there is such drive behind the inventions.
We like the notion of 'living on' after we're gone. We have discovered many different ways of achieving this. What is nice about Theo's creations is that they will continue to scuttle about through the sand dunes of Dutch beaches after he is gone.
They will not simply follow predictable patterns of motion. Theo, through his 'living' designs, will continue to playfully (and surprisingly) impact the lives of others.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
I have just finished reading a paper delivered by some of the crew at Second Road on how they worked with the ATO to help the organisation rethink its relationship to law, politics, and its clientele: Aussie taxpayers.
It makes for an interesting read, and is a fascinating test case for what can happen in the most analysis-driven of organisations when a design approach to problem-solving and future-casting is adopted not for a one-off workshop, but as the persistent model of thinking.
If accountants and taxation lawyers can work this way (in a culture of co-design), anyone can. It fits with what Lietdka and Ogilvie have posited about the 'discipline of design'. Quoting Larry Keeley of Doblin: "Creating new concepts depends a lot more on discipline than on creativity. You take the ten most creative people you can find anywhere. Give me a squad of ten marines and the right protocols, and I promise we'll out-innovate you."
If you live in Australia and pay taxes (the two seem to be mutually exclusive for some people), then the paper is well worth the read -- if nothing else, it builds your empathy for those on the other end of the tax form / BAS.
If you work in an organisation where you think, "There is no way a design thinking approach could have anything to offer us or our clients", the paper is worth a read.
The story offers a nice interplay between the role of individuals (both outside and inside the ATO), the value of persistence, and the importance of good ethnographic work mated to a strong design process.
Friday, October 7, 2011
David Pye has brilliantly debunked the notion of 'purely functional' design. He illustrates the presence of the human touch in all design including that which is supposed to be very objective such as structural design.
We also observe that design problems are not static; they change with time and are changed by the way we perceive them; a client may come to an architect with the problem of adding a room to the back of his house but the architect may expand the client's understanding of the problem to include energy consumption in the entire house or the impact of an addition upon the use of backyard space.
The designer looks for opportunities while working with problems; he seeks not only the application of known solutions but the invention of new solutions which extend human experience and delight.
One of the keys to inventing is the ability to see analogies between design problems and design solutions."
-- Norman Crowe & Paul Laseau, Visual Notes for Architects and Designers, (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1984), p.32
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Monday provided an opportunity (what fantastic weather!) to make our way over to Beechworth, a half-hour drive away.
We spent the best part of the day lugging around strollers and provisions for 5 kids (it looked like a sort of amateur Andean caravan, without the llamas).
Beechworth wears its history loud and proud. From Lake Sambell's nod to the town's history in gold (this spot is a true picture of beauty from ashes), to the remaining lock-up in the Police Paddock and the old courthouse (where Ned Kelly was committed to stand trial for the murder of Thomas Lonigan), its present-day 'face to the world' is distinctive because of its history.
There are things that can be said about Beechworth that cannot be said of any old town. The town's history (well-researched, recorded and published by the local people) have become a foundation for its positioning into the future.
If you have ever spent any time looking at the mission and vision statements of companies or public entities (local councils come to mind for me), you will notice how many of these statements about 'Who we are' / 'What we do' are generic and abstract. You could engineer a simple template with a series of positive assertions, and 'Just add your organisation's name in place of X'.
The following comes randomly from a particular local government website:
"Council is committed to overseeing the continued growth of the City and ensuring high quality of life for residents and visitors. This role is guided by Council's Vision and Mission Statements.
OUR VISION: A vibrant city of lifestyle and opportunity.
OUR MISSION: To manage and promote X’s diversity, lifestyle and opportunity through innovation and excellence."
Such statements tell us next-to-nothing. It's when you start to dig around in the organisation's policy and strategy documents -- particularly those that have been formulated well around good demographic work, and not simply focus groups -- that you begin to uncover the unique personality of the organisation and its challenges and hopes ... and how it would measure 'success'.
But many organisations struggle to express this in any meaningful way in their most public statements. It seems instead that many of us resort to picking up The Big Book of Mission and Vision Statements and labour hard and long (often with extended argumentation and consultation) to develop a series of statements that sounds like ... everyone else's.
We find it hard to say what is uniquely 'us' and what this offers the world. But we do know that if a vision statement is going to pass muster it should contain words like 'excellence', 'hard-working', 'innovative', 'honesty', 'integrity', 'world leader'.
I wonder what would happen if you got a group of politicians and business people together and asked them to craft a vision statement for Beechworth? Would the story of the place (its personality) come through, or would 'Vision Statement' mode kick in? I wonder ...
Friday, September 30, 2011
When it comes to prognosticating about tomorrow's joys or woes, our society's mainstream media seems to have an obsession with two social sciences: psychology and economics. It is the psychologists with their analysis of human behaviour, and the economists with their analysis of financial trends that become the prophets.
We seem to draw comfort from putting numbers on the future -- especially when faced with great uncertainty. Those numbers seem to have additional value to us if they are accompanied by either $ or %.
One of the ways that we do this is to look to the past. We examine past trends. And then we play with some 'But what if?' market scenarios, and offer our picture of the future.
A future that is bequeathed to us from analysis of the past fails dismally to serve us well. A public educator captured the heart of it when he said to me in an email last week: "It always amazes me ... that we turn to economists to help us determine what tomorrow's world will be like (if they really knew then why are they so wrong so often?)"
Analysis is most useful for telling us something about where we are, or have been. But looking backwards is a very limited tool for moving us forward. I'm not talking about being attuned to the ebb-and-flow of history -- even economic history -- but I am wrestling with the idea the economists aren't particularly good prophets, and that if their vision of the future becomes our vision of the future it is quite an impoverished (pun intended) picture to be carried forward by.
We started going through our numbers yesterday. You can see how stimulating it was for one team member who was already feeling a bit under the weather:
When you sit down to forecast budgets for the coming year, it is important to look back at past customers ('The best source of new business is old business') and buying trends. But there is a profound feeling of helplessness about casting numbers into the future.
It is one reason that it has been so good to be part of a business that has chosen to not reduce its picture of the future simply into a set of numbers. That would be crushing.
The future is more than a set of backwards-oriented numbers -- though they have a place in the dialogue (and so we have our budgets for 2012).
The conversation around budgets works smarter when we are having conversations about the possibilities for the future (and not simply about $$$), what our clients are aspiring to, and what sort of future they are imagining. Then we become engaged as 'authors', not simply as 'readers' of past numbers and trends.
We can speak to an open future with more intelligence (and hope) if we reframe our conversations around 'design' questions (complemented by a rich anthropology and some good, road-tested business sense). This then provides a context for good economic commentary, instead of having economics as the frame, and the supposed 'all-seeing eye'.
And before I sign off this morning: TB, we'll miss you. You have been a valued team player. DJ was right when he said last night that you have 'honed your craft'. You are a craftsman, mate. We cannot speak of the strengths of our business without talking about what you have given to it. We'll miss you. A lot. Go well, and with our blessing.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
We can't sit down together and design the past. It's spoken for. Our opportunity lies before us.
We could leave the future to analysts or dreamers.
We could leave it to haphazard use of tools like brainstorming or kinesthetic modelling or sketchboarding. (All useful tools, by the way.)
Or we could engage it as a design exercise ... we engage it as designers. We rise to the task of looking at and speaking to the future through the disciplined use of the tools of design.
When designers become slaves to their tools, we're in trouble.
When we end up in a storm of wonderful creative activity, but lack the discipline to harness it, sort it, test it, change it, use it, we run the very real risk of ending up disillusioned and even cynical.
But the future is too pregnant with possibility to give up on. Designers need hope. We need to know that out of the chaos can come order.
Occasionally, it happens serendipitously. For the most part it reflects intent and discipline. (And probably spends a fair measure of its time 'tacking' back-and-forward across those trajectories, constantly shifting and correcting, working with the wind and flow, working the tools.)
Monday, September 26, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
In other words, it's the sort of book that people either snort at and walk away from, or it is a book that 'runs deep' with you.
I don't agree with Bolles' every premise. (I find his splitting of life into 'spiritual' and 'secular' especially aggravating, and at odds with his overall direction.)
What Dick Bolles does exceptionally well is ask good questions. Provocative writers do this, even if their prose contains no question marks. They make you look deep, look fresh, stand back, stand close, listen, puzzle over.
The power of Bolles' questions is not in analysis. His best questions are connected to emotions, to stories, to longings, to feelings. His is less a wisdom of lecturing than it is of pondering, of wondering.
If you are crazy enough to pick up a pen (or in my case, pencil) and a notebook, and give some space to musing with Bolles, I don't think you'll ever look at life the same way. (Certainly, at the very least, you could never look at your work the same way again.)
There are some big questions here that deserve long, slow consideration. What I am choosing to do with them is answer them in various ways: some with written answers, others with pictures or maps or physical creations.
I took his question, “What is the one thing, more than anything else in the world, that I would love to do?” and recast it as “What do I yearn to build – to build into, to build with?”
I then flicked through my copy of Beaver's Another 100 of the world's best houses and marked up the houses that I felt had a resonance with my response to this question. I decided to treat my work as a space that is built for others, a place for friends, a haven for the weary or the world-worn or down-trodden. I remembered my naming of several years ago as 'one who rejoices in the laughter of friends'.
I was looking (subconsiously) for places that could make people feel 'big' on the inside, and yet warm and secure. Places where conversation would flow as easily as silence. Places that were a shelter from the pounding elements, and yet in harmony with the wildness, having deep resonance with their surrounds whether the eye is looking from the outside in, or from a window outward.