Reflecting on my practice – to catch the bug, learn from the spider

Over the past year and a half, I took a series of notes on my practice. I gathered those in various documents, shuffled them around, and merged in older thoughts and reflections. Lockdown #6 was an opportunity to bring all this to shape. I am now sharing those thoughts as a series, forming a sort of mosaic on my work, and what has been driving it.

Software is a precarious, multi-layered bricolage, always evolving. If something in the new code conflicts with the old, the system crashes. We call this a bug.

The metaphor applies to all human systems. To solve a new problem or satisfy a new demand, we build new technology, we propose new norms, we create new narratives. Those come in conflict with existing ones, and the system stalls.

What’s hard is not fixing it. It’s finding where the problem is.

Jordan Peterson, in his ‘9th rule for life’, writes that women are often frustrated by men in conversations. Men want to fix the problem, efficiently and quickly. ‘It might be easier for my male readers to understand why this does not work, however,’ adds Peterson, ’if they could realize and then remember that before a problem can be solved, it must be formulated precisely. Women are often intent on formulating the problem when they are discussing something, and they need to be listened to – even questioned – to help ensure clarity in the formulation. Then, whatever problem is left, if any, can be helpfully solved.’

Climate change’ is not a clearly formulated problem. We have a carbon emission governance problem. We have an energy grid stability problem. We have a material greed problem. We have a free-rider problem. Only, by formulating each of those problems, and their interaction, can we start solving them.

To catch our bugs, let’s learn from the spider. Patiently lay traps, follow the process, then sit still, like a hunter waiting. And maybe we can save our society from collapse.

Reflecting on my practice – finding the right frame

Over the past year and a half, I took a series of notes on my practice. I gathered those in various documents, shuffled them around, and merged in older thoughts and reflections. Lockdown #6 was an opportunity to bring all this to shape. I am now sharing those thoughts as a series, forming a sort of mosaic on my work, and what has been driving it.

Entrepreneurial programs and other incubators encourage a narrow version of success. Focus on one problem, give it one solution. There is pragmatic wisdom to this approach, but is it enough to solve wicked problems? And if it isn’t, then what is the point?

I’ve always worked across multiple projects. For the longest time, I was embarrassed that I could not identify one industry, or name one role description. Yet wherever I found myself, it always felt like problems were not understood fully, and solutions therefore partial.

A friend was joking on his Facebook page: ‘We speak a lot about the progress of Artificial intelligence. What I’m observing is the growth of natural stupidity’. We have more and more data, for sure, but no more capacity to make sense of it.

In how to think, John Dewey describes two movements of the mind. ‘As analysis is emphasis, so synthesis is placing; the one causes the emphasised fact or property to stand out as significant; the other gives what is selected its context, or its connection with what is signified.’

We understand problems based on the frame we use. Finding the right frame is as important as finding the right definition within the frame. A signal is only significant within a system. And how are you gonna find the right frame, if you spend your life focusing on just one sector?

I always resisted the lure of the single project. Instead, I deliberately cultivate variety, in what I read, in what I hear, even in what I eat. So that I can be more able to detect weak signals in the noise, frame problems appropriately, and suggest original approaches to tackle them.