Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Saw handles

While going for my lunchtime walk the other day, I noticed a stack of bric-a-brac piled out the front of someone's house with a large 'FREE' sign on it.

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

Tools to build a new tomorrow

The world is full of designers. People who get paid to engage their brains and hearts to take concepts, understand their parameters, imagine possibilities, and translate them from mind to paper or screen.

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.

Except when we don't.

Probably around 1/3 of the clients I currently work with are paid to design. I love walking into the workspaces of designers. It causes you to ponder about the measure of the people who create stuff there.

One observation I've made in the last 4 years is that many of the people we work with excel at making 'hard stuff' - landscapes etc. But a qualification in design doesn't necessarily mean you design strong processes - or as I heard one designer call 'the soft infrastructure'.

My contention - and I've said it often in recent times - is that what a lot of designers don't design well are conversations that help us achieve outcomes. A friend who is an industrial designer insists otherwise. He says design tools are the designer's working tools, so of course they bring design processes to their exchanges; they cannot do otherwise.

With the greatest respect, I cannot agree. My contention is not universally true - we get to work with some wonderful exceptions - but the trend is plain enough.

Yes, they know the language of project management. Yes, they can navigate council through the D.A and C.C. phases. But this is different to designing the conversations requisite to good outcomes that preserve intent, and utilise the best of each party for the good of the project's end users and owners.

Our passion is in finding the right questions that would help to drive the process forward while keeping the voice of intent alive.

Most often these are the exchanges that don't make the official register. They are the 'between the gaps' conversations, the links between silos.

We need to harness those gaps for the good of the project. And to do that we need a set of good conversational tools to carry us forward. This is a key part of a toolkit for tomorrow.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Small decisions

Motivational speakers.

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.

The slick presentation style was nearly enough to result in an early 'bust off'. The sweeping generalisations made me cranky. The simplistic and formulaic approach of 'Do this, and these things will follow' annoyed me.

But I pushed through. I'm glad I did.

What Olson 'sells' here is the 'slow way to success'. It was his basic premise that kept me listening: that achievement in life was not about 'lucky breaks' or windfalls, but about discipline in making small decisions well.

Decisions like, "Will I eat the cheeseburger or the salad? Will I get up early or sleep in? Will I walk for 20 minutes today, or will I drink a beer and chat on the phone? Will I read a good book or watch television?"

At some points he feels way too dismissive of the choices of others, too ready to make value judgements. But his big idea has stuck with me, and has impacted on my decisions.

Failure in life does not occur in one bad decision but in 10,000 small decisions. So it is with those who build lives that we applaud. It's an exponential curve thing.

Olson has observed a pattern here. The book is the result of watching 'how it is' in the world. Small decisions, deliberate decisions, each day. Moving steadily in an upwards direction, no matter where you're starting from.

The packaging did not appeal -- nor did quite a few of the ideas. But the core idea stuck. And it's been worth the listen for that.