Friday, March 31, 2006

Previews of coming attractions

To some extent I use this blog as a scratch pad. It's where I compose rough drafts of material destined for My blue puzzle piece. It's also handy for its comment feature.

Here are some ideas I might develop and explore...

    tactical decisions

Credibility, influence, and persuasion

Decoupling possibility from probability
(Possibility exists regardless what we perceive to be probable.)

Spreading butter with a chainsaw

Every decision reflects values

The danger of ends justifying means
(We're gonna do this! Even if it means we have to give everyone a chocolate ice cream cone!)

The difference between control and influence
(and the joy of sledding)

Wishful thinking,
a conversation from a cocktail party

What's in a game?
(frames around the word "game")

It's THE economy!
(a game of belief and magic)

Measuring commitment in decibels

Walking away from the cliff
(Is it still a cliff yet?
Oh. How about now?)

So, there it is: a table of contents, of sorts, or perhaps an outline of a puzzle.

Comments welcome...

Books I've found helpful...

The Fifth Discipline, and
both by Peter Senge (et al)

Metaphors We Live By, and
Moral Politics,
both by George Lakoff

The Story of B,
Beyond Civilization,
by Daniel Quinn

Leadership Without Easy Answers,
Ronald Heifetz

Memorable fiction I've enjoyed

and listed in no meaningful order...

    253 (the print remix), Geoff Ryman; 253 characters on a brief, memorable journey; a fascinating, innovatively structured anti-novel, orginally composed online at

    Catch 22, Joseph Heller; hilariously tragic cultural criticism

    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, as well as the other four books of the increasingly misnamed trilogy

    Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner; also The Shockwave Rider, and The Sheep Look Up

    Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut; also Slaughterhouse Five and, well, everything else by Vonnegut

    The Cider House Rules, John Irving; also A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Setting Free the Bears, and ....

    The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

    Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins

    Ubik, Philip K. Dick; Reality is now available in a convenient aerosol spray! Safe when used as directed.

    The Year's Best Science Fiction, Gardner Dozois, ed.; This annual collection of speculative fiction often turns up writers who think differently.

    Meet Me in the Moon Room, Ray Vukcevich;

Friday, March 10, 2006

This is not about not

Think about the word 'not'.

It's compact and concise. Just three letters, one syllable. It certainly seems simple enough. It negates, it inverts, it turns an idea upside down, or....not?

The word 'not' is another piece that fits very different puzzles. In the realm of formal logic, computer science, rhetoric, and debate, for example, there the word 'not' is a strong, powerful tool. It transforms the meaning of anything and everything in its path. We learn to think--and to speak and to write--in terms such as, "This thing is true. That other thing is not true."

For people who think and speak and write in terms of formal logic, for people who keep a formal logic puzzle in their minds, the word 'not' is a puzzle piece that transforms every piece attached to it. It transforms the puzzle itself.

But for other readers and listeners who may have other picture puzzles in mind, the word 'not' can be surprisingly weak and unhelpful at times. Like a hamster harnessed to a boxcar, the hamster may be too weak to pull the boxcar and too small even to be noticed standing next to it. Those pieces may be assembled as a picture puzzle labeled "hamster pulling boxcar", but many folks will see only the boxcar.

Consider this:

This sentence is not about a boxcar. It is not related to boxcars in any way. Believe me when I tell you, "This paragraph is not about boxcars." Really! I insist! Boxcars are not relevant here! What in the world would make you think any of this could possibly involve boxcars?

So....what is that paragraph about? Formal logic requires that we look for an invisible hamster. An ardent mathemetician who practices formal logic could say that paragraph is about everything in the universe except boxcars, including hamsters (both visible and invisible), as well as aardvarks, baseball, cream cheese, dust mites, and every alphabetized noun through Zen monk. Just remember, no boxcars allowed.

How often does that method actually work? Two mathematicians who share a frame of reference involving formal logic might communicate that way. Computer scientists might communicate that way, and even understand each other. Debate teams could launch any argument from that "not boxcar" frame. But most of the time, with an anonymous audience of unknown background, does that paragraph depict a picture of anything other than a boxcar?

Not likely. Try it sometime. Actually, if we think about it, many of us have tried it already, and many of us have been puzzled by our difficulty conveying our meaning that way. Neither emaphasis nor insistence add clarity. Repetition makes the situation worse. The darn boxcars just get BIGGER in the reader or listener's mind.

With any frame of mind other than formal logic, that paragraph was about boxcars. Sprinkling the tiny one-syllable 'not' throughout has little effect. If that paragraph was not about boxcars, then it was about nothing at all.

How many times have you heard or read comments like these: "Please don't take this personally, but..." or "I'm not here to shoot down your idea, but..."

Ouch! If someone shoots down my idea that way, I suspect I will take it personally. After all, I was practically commanded to do so. Those supposedly soothing prefaces actually put me on edge, on guard, expecting the worst. Rather than ease my likely reaction, they set me up to react with extra vehemence. My mind doesn't react to the little hamster words, it reacts to the big boxcar concepts. How about you?

In the future, let's not rely on the word 'not'. Oops! ummmmm.....

In the future, let's just focus on the boxcar.


p.s. I am not a blogger.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

...a second piece

Why blog now?

Because I want to hear calmer voices in our public conversations.

Because I want to see more demonstrations of insight and understanding.

Because beneficial change is possible.

Because a sustainable culture is possible.

Because what we perceive to be probable is not the same as what is possible.

Because attitude, outlook, and worldview make a difference.

This is my contribution to our ongoing dialog.

Imagine a picture puzzle

It comes in a medium-sized box full of hundreds of intricate little pieces. When assembled it will depict a landscape, perhaps, with large swatches of blue sea and blue sky.

Imagine my mind is like one of those picture puzzles, and so is yours. I take one of those blue puzzle pieces, give it to you, and declare, "Here's a bit of the picture in my mind. I give it to you so you can see the picture I see." I take that piece from the sky portion of my mind's picture puzzle, but you find it fits best in the sea portion of yours. "Thanks!" you say, as you join my sky piece to your sea puzzle. And off we go, cheerfully believing we have accomplished something, that we have communicated.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

Sometimes I think of it as the illusion of information. If I hand you a blue puzzle piece from the picture in my mind, but I don't describe the surrounding picture from which it came, I set up both of us to misunderstand each other, to miscommunicate, to see only an illusion of information.

This blog offers a collection of puzzle pieces. These are the pieces I find most helpful to create a coherent picture of the world around us.

Of course, if I really want to communicate effectively, I need to describe the whole puzzle, don't I?

More pieces to follow...