Prior Quotes of the Week

First Quarter, 2000

(Titles that are linked may be ordered online.)

Quote of the Week #173 (2000.03.28)

Living Pattern Languages and
the Design-Build-Use Process

When the language is shared, the individual patterns in the language are profound. The patterns are always simple. Nothing which is not simple and direct can survive the slow transmission from person to person. There is nothing in these languages so complex that someone cannot understand it. . . .

The connection between the users and the act of building is direct.

Either people build for themselves, with their own hands, or else they talk directly to the craftsmen who build for them, with almost the same degree of control over the small details which are built.

The whole emerges by itself and is continually repaired. Each person in a town knows that his own small acts help to create and to maintain the whole. Each person feels tied into society, and proud because of it.

The adaptation between people and building is profound.

Each detail has meaining. Each detail is understood. Each detail is based on some person's experience, and gets shaped right, because it is slowly thought out, and deeply felt.

Because the adaptation is detailed and profound, each place takes on a unique character. Slowly, the variety of places and buildings begins to reflect a variety of human situations in the town. This is what makes the town alive. The patterns stay alive, because the people who are using them are also testing them. . . .

The fact is, that the creation of a town, and the creation of the individual buildings in a town, is fundamentally a genetic process.

No amount of planning or design can replace this genetic process.

And no amount of personal genius can replace it either.

Our emphasis on objects, has blinded us to the essential fact that it is above all the genetic process which creates our buildings and our towns, that it is above all this genetic process which must be in good order . . . and that this genetic process can only be in good order, when the language which controls it, is widely used, and widely shared.

People need a living language, in order to make buildings for themselves. But the language needs the people too . . . so that its constant use, and feedback, keeps its patterns in good order.


Christopher Alexander , The Timeless Way of Building, pp. 230 - 231, 240, Oxford University Press, 1979.

While The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language specifically address the field of architecture, the principles can be insightfully applied to any form of design process, from software development to strategic planning.

For further exploration, check out our Design-Build-Use and Four Step Recreative Process Models.

Quote of the Week #172 (2000.03.13)

Future Waves

Precognition means knowing in advance. It implies that effects sometimes precede their causes in a way that makes nonsense of the logic of science. But perhaps the strangest thing of all about it is that physics does not in fact forbid the transmission of information from the future to the present. It happens all the time.

If you run an electrical current through a system for a while and then suddenly cut it, several things happen, and the actual blackout is the last of these to occur. Two precursor waves go out ahead of the cutoff event. One of these travels, as all electromagnetic waves do, at the speed of light. The other is almost as fast, but is slowed down a little by the properties of the medium through which it passes. And then finally, at a very much slower speed, the event itself arrives. Signals about what is to happen thus actually go out ahead of the happening. . . .

Two top theoretical physicists, Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ of the Stanford Research Institute, suggest that the hologram principle which has been demonstrated for space also operates in the same way for time. That just as each point in space contains information about the whole of space, so each moment in time holds information about all time. In other words, the present is a product not only of the past, but the future as well. . . .

Everybody experiences the precursor waves. All that it takes to become a prophet is the ability to keep the information they contain in your conscious mind after the advance pattern has passed you by.

Lyall Watson , Gifts of Unknown Things: A True Story of Nature, Healing, and Initiation from Indonesia's "Dancing Island," pp. 69 - 71, Destiny Books, 1991.

Quote of the Week #171 (2000.03.06)

The Child's Sense

We walked together down the beach, and a small and mottled heron flew up at our feet, landed ahead on the sand, ruffled, walked, watched us coming on, lengthened its neck in new alarm, and flew another few reluctant yards.

Every time it took flight it uttered a shart, broken "kew" sound on a descending tone.

"Purchong laut," said Tia, and laughted gently. "He sings a green song."

For a moment I simply enjoyed the bird and the poetry of her description, but then it occurred to me that only I knew it as a little green heron. In fact it isn't green at all. The literal translation of her name for it was something like "longlegs of the sea."

"Why green?" I asked her.

"That is his color. His voice is like a sharp new leaf or a thorn."

"Not brown?"

"No, of course not. Brown is the sound of katak."

Katak was the local toad. The common lumpy one that propped itself up near lights in the village at night and produced a derisory sound that was indeed rather brown.

The idea was beginning to grow on me.

"What makes a black sound?"

"Buffalo. And thunder."


"The sea where it touches the sand."

Now I was really hooked.

Tia was giving me these examples without hesitation, as though she were used to hearing sound in color. And what really appealed to me was that the colors were totally appropriate. They were the colors of the objects producing the sound.

. . . She was clearly getting a little impatient will all this talk about something so obvious, but I couldn't leave it alone.

"All sounds have colors?"

"Astaga! You did not know?"


"How can you listen to talk or music without color?" Her eyes were full of pity. "When the drums talk, they lay a carpet of brown, like soft sand on the ground. A dancer stands on this. Then the gongs call in green and yellow, building forests through which we move and turn. And if we lose our way, there is always the white thread of the flute or the song to guide us home."

She shook her head in sorrow and dismay, and faced with the wisdom of this twelve-year-old, I felt like a backward child.

Lyall Watson , Gifts of Unknown Things: A True Story of Nature, Healing, and Initiation from Indonesia's "Dancing Island," pp. 51 - 53, Destiny Books, 1991.

Quote of the Week #170 (2000.03.01)

Model Building: An Invitation to Interaction

The value of prototypes resides less in the models themselves than in the interactions - the conversations, arguments, consultations, collaborations -- they invite. Prototypes force individuals and institutions to confront the tyranny of trade-offs. That confrontation, in turn, forces people to play seriously with the difficult choices they must ultimately make. The fundamental question isn't, What kinds of models, prototypes and simulations should we be building? but, What kind of interactions do we want to create? The latter question aims at the heart of strategic introspection. Consequently, the design focus - the value emphasis - must be on the quantity and quality of human interactions that modeling media can support. Who should be working together? What should they be talking about? Who should see the model next?

Michael Schrage , Serious Play: How the World's Best Companies Simulate and Innovate, Harvard Business School Press, 1999.

Quote of the Week #169 (2000.02.20)


Old Monkey Man and I had spent countless hours trying to understand information and its relevance to organizations, asking our endless questions. What is the significance of the "inform" part of the word information? What is the nature of that which is recieved from external sources and "forms us" within? What is the nature of that which forms within us which we then feel comelled to transmit, and how does it form others when it is received? What allows formation of information, permits it to endure unaltered, yet be available at any time for transformation in infinite ways? Why and from where came the universal, perpetual urge to receive and transmit information—the incessant desire to communicate? Is it an urge at all, or is it an unavoidable necessity—an integral component essential to life? Indeed, is it the essence of life itself? Or is it a principle beyond life itself? Could it be the fundamental, formative essence that gives shape and distinction to all things—part of an inseparably whole universe?

. . . In a rare insight, Gregory Bateson proposed that "information is the difference that makes a difference." If something is received that cannot be differentiated or, if once differentiated, makes no difference, he asserts it is just noise.

Bateson's perspective is fascinating but limited, for it implies only mind-to-mind communication. If you are hiking along in the wilderness and a rock comes bounding down the mountain, breaking your leg, that is certainly a difference that makes an enormous difference. The same can be said of running barefoot through the house and breaking a toe on a chair leg. It that information? Both certainly convey meaning. If your broken leg and crushed toe are a difference that makes a difference, then, by Bateson's definition, condensed, inanimate matter and gravitational force clearly have the ability to communicate. Locked in our box of self-awareness, we think of it as one-way communication—rock to leg, or chair leg to toe, but we truly have no way of knowing what information, if any, flows the opposite way.

Dee Hock , Birth of the Chaordic Age, pp. 198 - 199, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1999.

Quote of the Week #168 (2000.02.13)

"Loaded Questions"

Continents drifting across the oceans have trends. Bullets have directions. Cannonballs have trajectories. The future doesn't. The future is the intersection of choice and interruptions. The Web—what a surprise!—is more like the future than a cannonball. It will be what we make of it.

This leads to a funny conclusion. Ironic, actually. We ask questions about the future of the Web because we think there's a present direction that can be traced into the future. But in fact, the questions we ask aren't going to predict the future. They will create the future.

Not to get all heavy and ontological, but since questions are a type of conversation, it looks a bit like conversations give the world its shape, doesn't it? Questions do the spade work. They prepare the ground for answers. Be careful what you ask or you just might become it.

Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger, The Cluetrain Manifesto : The End of Business as Usual, pp. 166, Perseus Books, 2000.

Quote of the Week #167 (2000.02.06)
The Corporation as Conversation

Companies will survive employees telling their truths, their stories in a business context, without instituting draconian controls on their ability to speak out when and to whom thay please. We listen to individuals differently than we do organizational speech. When a company publishes PR, it's trying to give us a complete message about who they are and what they do. We have to decide to trust or distrust the company based on a single statement. Well-written PR leaves us with few avenues for corroboration and second opinions. It's meant to be self-contained.

On the other hand, when I converse with people inside a company, I hear stories from individuals. They're all grains of sand, their combined voices richer and more diverse than the univocal speech of corporate mouthpieces. We add up all the anecdotes we hear from individuals. We have to trust our own averaging, our own summing of stories, our own divining of truth. With more people, more stories in the mix, it's harder for one negative story to sway me. This speaks to the need to have many people in an organization talking to customers. A single "corporate story" is a fiction in a world of free conversation. Corporate stories, like corporate cultures, are informed by individuals over time through many contacts, conversations, and opportunities to tell stories.

Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger, The Cluetrain Manifesto : The End of Business as Usual, pp. 66 - 67, Perseus Books, 2000.

Quote of the Week #166 (2000.01.31)
Resolving the Ownership Question
in Open-source Communities

What does 'ownership' mean when property is able to be infinitely duplicated, is highly malleable, and the surrounding culture has neither coercive nor material scarcity economics?

Actually, in the case of the open-source culture, this is an easy question to answer. The owner(s) of a software project are those who have the exclusive right, recognized by the community at large to re-distribute modified versions.

According to the standard open-source licenses, all parties are equals in the evolutionary game. But in practice there is a very well-recognized distinction between 'official' patches, approved and integrated into the evolving software by publicly recognized maintainers, and 'rogue' patches by third parties. Rogue patches are unusual, and generally not trusted.

. . . Custom is indifferent to people who redistribute modified versions within a closed user or development group. It is only when modifications are posted to the open-source community in general, to compete with the original, that ownership becomes an issue.

There are, in general, three ways to acquire ownership of an open-source project. One, the most obvious, is to found the project. When a project has had only one maintainer since its inception and the maintainer is still active, custom does not even permit a question as to who owns the project.

The second way is . . . well understood in the community that project owners have a duty to pass projects to competent successors when they are no longer willing or able to invest needed time in development or maintenance work.

. . . While it is unheard of for the open-source community at large to actually interfere in the owner's choice of succession, customary practice clearly incorporates a premise that public legitimacy is important.

The third way to acquire ownership of a project is to observe that it needs work and the owner has disappeared or lost interest. If you want to do this, it is your responsibility to make the effort to find the owner.

. . . In this interval, if someone else announces that they have been actually working on the project, their claim trumps yours. It is considered good form to give public notice of your intentions more than once . . .

If you have gone through this process in sight of the project's user community, and there are no objections, then you may claim ownership of the orphaned project and note so in its history file. This, however, is less secure than being passed the baton, and you can not expect to be considered fully legitimate until you have made substantial improvements in the sight of the user community.


Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral & The Bazaar; Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, pp. 89 - 91, O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., 1999.

Quote of the Week #165 (2000.01.24)
Complexity, Co-Design, and the Delphi Effect

. . . Sociologists years ago discovered that the averaged opinion of a mass of equally expert (or equally ignorant) observers is quite a bit more reliable a predictor than that of a single randomly-chosen observer. They called this the "Delphi effect." It appears that what Linus has shown is that this applies even to debugging an operating system—that the Delphi effect can tame development complexity even at the complexity level of an operating system kernel.

One special feature of the Linux situation that clearly helps along the Delphi effect is the fact that the contributors for any given project are self-selected. An early respondent pointed out that contributions are received not from a random sample, but from people who are interested enough to use the software, learn about how it works, attempt to find solutions to problems they encounter, and actually produce an apparently reasonable fix. Anyone who passes all these filters is highly likely to have something useful to contribute.

Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral & The Bazaar; Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, pp. 42, O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., 1999.

Quote of the Week #164 (2000.01.17)
Competing Economics, Embedded Compromise, and Releasing Value

The economics of information and the economics of things have been tied together like participants in a three-legged race. Every business is consequently a compromise between the economics of information and the economics of things. Separating them breaks their mutual compromise and potentially releases enormous economic value.

Consider the shelf space in a shop. Shelf space serves two different functions simultaneously. It is a billboard (information) that tells customers what they need to know in order to make a selection. It is also inventory (a thing)—the stock of goods residing between factory and consumer.

If retailers chose to lay out shelves for purely informational purposes, they would maximize the display—the bigger the shelf, the richer the choice presented to the consumer. If retailers focused on physical economics, however, they would minimize the display, to control the cost of inventory. But it is impossible to maximize and minimize simultaneously. . . .

This compromise between the economics of information and the economics of things suppresses economic value, but more so in some businesses than others. In grocery retailing, the value of the product is low, inventory turns are high, and the premium is placed on selection by the customer (beyond some threshold) is comparatively low. The compromise between selection and inventory is not too severe. In book retailing, however, the value of the product is high, inventory turns are very low, and the premium on selection is much higher. The informational imperative to carry high inventory and the logistical imperative to minimize it exists in strong tension with each other: lots of economic value is suppressed. Separating the economics of things from the economics of information—allowing for electronic search independent of warehouse delivery—therefore releases fare more in value in book selling than it does in grocery retailing.

The implications of unraveling the informational value chain and the physical value chain—and then allowing each to evolve in accordance with its very distinct economics—are profound. Traditional business models will become deeply vulnerable wherever the compromise between two sets of economics suppresses value. The separation will offer opportunities for companies to capitalize on either the liberated economics of information or the liberated economics of things. But none of the emergent business models needs to bear much resemblance to its antecedent.

Information, in short, may be the end product of only a minority of businesses, but it glues together value chains, supply chains, consumer franchises, and organizations across the entire economy. And it accounts for a grossly disproportionate share of competitive advantage and therefore profits. . . . Since the economics of information and the economics of physical things are fundamentally different, this can release tremendous economic value: value that was suppressed by their mutual compromise.

Philip Evans and Thomas S. Wurster, Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy, pp. 17 - 20, A Harvard Business School Press Book, 2000.

Quote of the Week #163 (2000.01.10)
Theatre as Model, not Metaphor

Let us be very clear: We do not mean to present work as theatre. It is not a metaphor but a model. We do not apply the principles of theatre to work merely to force new comparisons. Too many metaphors already litter the contemporary business landscape. . . . Rather, we seek to focus attention on the quintessentially dramatic nature of an enterprise. Thus, we literally mean: Work is theatre.

The word "drama" derives from the Greek drao, meaning simply "to do." In all companies, whether managers recognize it or not, the workers are playing, not in some game but in what should be a well-conceived, correctly cast, and convincingly portrayed real-life drama of doing. Indeed, understanding this crucial point brings whole new meaning to oft-used business terms borrowed from or shared with the performing arts, such as production, performance, role, scenario, and a host of others.

B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy, pp. 104, A Harvard Business School Press Book, 1999.

Other Prior Quotes:

Fourth Quarter, 1999

Third Quarter, 1999

Second Quarter, 1999

First Quarter, 1999

Fourth Quarter, 1998

Third Quarter, 1998

Second Quarter, 1998

copyrights, terms and conditions


© MG Taylor Corporation, 1995 - 2002

iteration 3.5