Prior Quotes of the Week

Third Quarter, 1999

(Titles that are linked may be ordered online.)

Quote of the Week #150 (1999.09.26)
The Sensitive Observer

. . . Were it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches, and yet a little way beyond the outworks of our divining, perhaps we would endure our sadness with greater confidence than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.

I believe that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension that we find paralyzing because we no longer hear our surprised feelings living. Because we are alone with the alien thing that has entered into our self; because everything intimate and accustomed is for an instant taken away; because we stand in the middle of a transition where we cannot remain standing. For this reason the sadness too passes: the new thing in us, the added thing, has entered into our heart, has gone into its inmost chamber and is not even there any more,—is already in our blood. And we do not learn what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing has happened, and yet we have changed, as a house changes into which a guest has entered. We cannot say who has come, perhaps we shall never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters into us this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens. And this is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous point of time as which it happens to us as if from the outside. The more still, more patient and more open we are when we are sad, so much the deeper and so much the more unswervingly does the new go into us, so much the better do we make it ours, so much the more will it be our destiny, and when on some later day it "happens" (that is, steps forth out of us to others), we shall feel in our inmost selves akin and near to it. . . .

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, pp. 64 - 65, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1934. Translated by M.D. Herter Norton.

Quote of the Week #149 (1999.09.19)
The Patterns of Organization

Some critics argue that the growth in size and complexity of organization has been accompanied by an increase in relationships of authority and subordination, but anthropologists and historians would not support this view. The spirit of hierarchy can flourish quite as fiercely in an organization consisting of one man and his secretary as it can in General Motors. Small businesses do not necessarily offer their employees a more equalitarian atomosphere than do large corporations. Small nations with a pre-modern social structure have managed to be quite as authoritarian as modern nations, generally more so. As a matter of fact, the primitive tribe or preindustrial community has usually demanded far more profound submission of the individual to the group than has any modern society.

In short, large-scale organization is not to be condemned out of hand. That is what makes the problem difficult—and interesting. Organization serves man and rules him, increases his scope and hems him in. We must be exceedingly discriminating in weighing its benefits against possible disadvantages. And in doing so we shall discover that everything depends on the patterns of organization.

We cannot return to a simpler world. Much of the contemporary social criticism is made irrelevant by its refusal to face that fact. It is true that the pressure and tumult of our society compares unfavorably with, say, the tranquillity of a village in Brittany. But the comparison does not deal with a choice that is open to us. We must live in the modern world. We cannot stem the pressure for more intricate organization of our economy, our production, our social, political or cultural life. We must master new forms of organization or they will master us.

The most hopeful thing today is that on some fronts we seem to be achieving patterns of organization that avoid the stultification, rigidity and threats to freedom inherent in monolithic integrations. If this is true, it may be the most important single fact about our future.

It is possible to continue achieving economies of scale and still give attention to human needs. Too often in the past we have designed systems to meet all kinds of requirements except the requirement that they contribute to the fulfillment and growth of the participants. Organizations need not be designed in such a way that they destroy human initiative. They are designed that way because we have not been willing to be as inventive about organization matters as we have been about hardware.

John W. Gardner, Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society, pp. 77 - 79, Perennial Library, 1964.

Quote of the Week #148 (1999.09.13)
Chaos, Community, and Self-organization

Wilfred Pelletier, a Native American from an Ojibway community north of Lake Huron, says his people aren't into organization; there's no need for it "because that community is organic." Pelletier gives an illustration of how his unorganized people nevertheless get things done.

"Let's say the council hall in an Indian community needs a new roof. . . . It's been leaking here and there for quite a while and it's getting worse. And people have been talking about it. Nobody organizes a committee or appoints a project leader." Nothing happens, in fact, until "one morning here's a guy up on the roof, tearing off the old shingles, and down oon the ground there's several bundles of new, hand-split shakes—probably not enough to do the whole job, but enough to make a good start. Then, after a while, another guy comes along and sees the first guy on the roof. So he comes over and he doesn't say, 'What are you doing up there?' because that's obvious, but he may say, 'How's she look? Pretty rotten, I guess.' Something like that. Then he takes off, and pretty soon he's back with a hammer or a shingle hatchet and maybe some shingle nails or a couple rolls of tarpaper. By afternoon, there's a whole crew working on that roof, a pile of materials building up down there on the ground, kids taking the old shingles away—taking them home for kindling—dogs barking, women bringing cold lemonade and sandwiches. The whole community is involved and there's a lot of fun and laughter. Maybe the next day another guy arrives with more bundles of shakes. In two or three days that whole job is finished, and they all end up having a big party in the 'new' council hall."

Who was responsible for deciding to put a new roof on the hall? Was it that first guy on the roof, a single isolated individual or was it the whole community? . . .

Chaos theory would answer that the "organization" in Pelletier's roofing project was self-organization. It began with choas—all that disorganized talk beforehand about the leak. The first guy on the roof was a bifurcation point that became amplified. The feedback between the first fellow and the next one who came along started a cascade that coupled the community together around the project, and then the system got the job done.

John Briggs and F. David Peat, Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Timeless Wisdom from the Science of Change, pp. 53 - 54. HarperCollins, 1999.

Quote of the Week #147 (1999.09.05)
The Window Always Open

When did opportunities begin to feel so limited? How did we come to believe in "windows of opportunity," rare openings that suddenly snap shut? When did we become so unforgiving and so punishing of one another's explorations? Experimentation doesn't use up possibilities; it creates more. More information, more experiences, more insights. We have limited the world, but it remains wid open to us.

Many of us have created lives and organizations that give us very little support for experimentation. We believe the answers already exist out ther, independent of us. We don't need to experiment to find what works; we just need to find the answer. So we look to other organizations, or to experts, or to reports. We are dedicated detectives, tracking down solutions, attempting to pin them on ourselves and our organizations.

Could we stop these searches? What if we gave up so much striving to discover what others are doing? What if we invested more time and attention in our own experimentation? We could focus our efforts on discovering solutions that worked uniquely for us. We could realize that solutions that are not perfect - only pretty good - can work for us. We could focus on what's viable, rather than what's right.

Observing others' successes can show us new possibilities, expand our thinking, trigger our creativity. But their experience can never provide models that will work the same for us. It is good to be inquisitive; it is hopeless to believe that they have discovered our answers.

Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers,
a simpler way,
pp. 20 - 21. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1996.

Quote of the Week #146 (1999.08.29)
The Patterns of a Living Language

We know now that language has the power to bring things to life. The most beautiful houses and villages—the most touching paths and valleys—the most awe inspiring mosques and churches—attained the life they have in them because the languages their builders used were powerful and deep.

But, so far, we have not dealt at all with the conditions under which a language is itself alive; or the conditions under which a language dies.

For all the ugliest and most deadening places in the world are made from patterns as well.

. . . In one case, the pattern languages themselves are somehow alive and help people give life to their surroundings. In the other case, the languages themselves are dead: and with these languages it is only possible for people to make towns and buildings which are dead.

In a town with a living language, the pattern language is so widely shared that everyone can use it.

In agricultural societies everyone knows how to build; everyone builds for himself, and helps his neighbor build. And in later traditional societies there are bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers—but everyone still knows how to design. . .

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 language covers the whole of life.

Every facet of human experience is covered, in one way or another, by the patterns in the language.

The seven ages of man are all covered, and the variety of all possible acts is covered. The entire culture, and the environment which supports it, forms a single unbroken fabric.

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

Either the 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 buildings is profound.

Each detail has meaning. 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 the 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.

Christopher Alexander , The Timeless Way of Building, pp. 228 - 231. Oxford University Press, 1979.

Quote of the Week #145 (1999.08.22)
The Paradox of Play

Though it flourishes there, playful work was not born in modern California. It does not depend on electronics, or sunshine, or even prosperity. It is as old as civilization. Five thousand years ago, unimaginably poor Stone Age women living in Swiss swamps were weaving intricate, multicolored patterns into their textiles and using fruit pits to create beaded cloth; archaeologists have found remnants of this ingenious, impractical production preserved in the alkaline mud. Even in the most difficult of subsistence economies, mere utility—in this case, plain, undecorated cloth—does not satisfy human imaginations. We need to learn, to challenge ourselves, to invent new patterns. The fun of creating and using beautiful textiles goes back to some of humanity's oldes (and most taken-for-granted) technologies: the needle, the spindle, and the loom.

. . . The late metallurgist and historian of science Cyril Stanley Smith argued that

historically the first discovery of useful materials, machines, or processes has almost always been in the decorative arts, and was not done for a perceived practical purpose. Necessity is not the mother of invention—only of improvement. A man desperately in search of a weapon or food is in no mood for discovery; he can only exploit what is already known to exist. Discovery requires aesthetically-motivated curiosity, not logic, for new things can aquire validity only by interaction in an environment that has yet to be. Their origin is unpredictable.

By examining art objects, Smith found the origins of metallurgy: casting molds to make statuettes, welding to join parts of sculptures, alloys to create interesting color patterns. Play is the impractical drive from which such practical discoveries are born. "Paradoxically man's capacity for aesthetic enjoyment may have been his most practical characteristic," writes Smith, "for it is at the root of his discovery of the world about him, and makes him want to live."

It is a delightful paradox: Play is what we do for its own sake, yet it is a spur to our most creative, most significant work.

Virginia Postrel , The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress, pp. 182 - 183, The Free Press, 1998.

Quote of the Week #144 (1999.08.15)
From There to Here
Marco Polo imagined answering (or Kublai Khan imagined his answer) that the more one was lost in unfamiliar quarters of distant cities, the more one understood the other cities he had crossed to arrive there; and he retraced the stages of his journeys, and he came to know the port from which he had set sail, and the familiar places of his youth, and the surroundings of home, and a little square of Venice where he gamboled as a child.

At this point Kublia Kahn interrupted him or imagined interrupting him, or Marco Polo imagined himself interrupted, with a question such as: "You advance always with your head turned back?" or "Is what you see always behind you?" or rather, "Does your journey take place only in the past?"

All this so that Marco Polo could explain or imagine explaining or be imagined explaining or succeed finally in explaining to himself that what he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey, because the traveler's past changes according to the route he has followed: not the immediate past, that is, to which each day that goes by adds a day, but the more remote past. Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unposessed places.

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, pp. 28 - 29, A Harvest Book, 1972.


Quote of the Week #143 (1999.08.09)
The only valid test of an idea, concept, or theory is what it enables you to do. - MG Taylor Axiom
J.S.G. Boggs is a young artist with a certain flair, a certain panache, a certain je ne payes pas. What he likes to do, for example, is to invite you out to dinner at some fancy restaraunt, to run up a tab of, say, eighty-seven dollars, and then, while sipping coffee after dinner, to reach into his sachel and pull out a drawing he's already been working on for several hours before the meal. The drawing, on a small sheet of high-quality paper, might consist, in this instance, of a virtually perfect rendition of the face-side of a one-hundred-dollar bill. He then pulls out a couple of precision pens from his sachel—one green ink, the other black—and proceeds to apply the finishing touches of his drawing. This activity invariably causes a stir. Guests at neighboring tables crane their necks. Passing waiters stop to gawk., The maìtre d' eventually drifts over, stares for a while, and then praises the man on the excellence of his art. "That's good," says Boggs, "I'm glad you like this drawing, because I intend to use it as payment for our meal."

Boggs has performed variations on this experiment at restaurants, hotels, airline ticket counters, hot dog stands, hardware stores, and countless other venues, in the United States, England, Germany, France, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. . . . He has drawn larger and smaller denominations in each of the local currencies, and he has drawn more and less hostile reactions from each of the local citizenries. Often the maìtre d's and the cabdrivers and the shopkeepers have rejected his offer out of hand. But during the last two years, Boggs has managed to gain acceptance for his proposal on almost seven hundred separate occassions, in transactions totaling over $35,000 in value.

. . . Some of the results of this curious inquiry were on view this summer at the Jeffrey Neale Gallery on Lafayette Street in the Noho district of New York City. Viewers of this, the thrity-two-year-old artist's first one-man show in New York, were quickly given to understand that as far as Boggs is concerned, the actual drawings of his various bills should merely be considered small parts—the catalysts, as it were—of his true art, which actually consists of the series of transactions they provoke. Thus, in each instance, the framed drawing of the money was surrounded by several other framed objects, including a receipt, the change . . . and perhaps some other residue of the transaction.

When he came up to talk to me, the first afternoon at the gallery, I asked him about the presence of those intial drawings in this show. "The thing is," he explained, "there are a lot of collectors, in Europe, but also here, who want to buy my drawings of currency—but I refuse to sell them, that's the first of my rules. I simply will not sell an unspent drawing depicting an existing denomination in its exact size. Now, as you can see"—he gestured about the room—"I've occassionally painted larger canvases of actual bills, or else pastiches with aspects of several different bills all mixed together, and those I'll sell outright. But as for exact-size, existing-denomination drawings, I will only—and this is my rule number two—I will only spend them, that is, go out and find someone who will accept them at face value in a transaction that must include a receipt and change in real money. My third rule is that I will not tell anyone where I've spend that drawing for the next twenty-four hours: I want the person who got it to be able to have some time, unbothered, to think about what's just transpired. After that, however—and this is my rule number four—if there is a collector who I know has expressed interest in that sort of drawing, I will contact him and offer to sell him the receipt and the change for a given price. It varies, but for the change and receipt from a one-hundred-dollar dinner transaction, for example, the collector may have to pay me about five hundred dollars. The receipt should provide enough clues for the collector to track down the owner of that one hundred dollar drawing, but if the collector desires further clues—the exact name of the waiter, for example, or his telephone number—I'm always prepared to provide those details as well at a further fee. After that, the collector is in a position to contact the drawing's owner and try to negotiate some sort of deal on his own so as to complete the work."

Lawrence Weschler, Boggs: A Comedy of Values, pp. 3-4, 8-9, The University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Quote of the Week #142 (1999.08.02)
"Personal Gain and the Gift of Existence"
The poet Rilke asks, Why are we here? Why do we have to be human? And he answers: ". . . because truly being here is so much; because everything here apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all." Everything living gives and receives according to its nature and its possibilities. What specifically is a human being designed to give—to others and to the earth itself? In a culture dominated by money and by the principle of personal gain, could there arise a wholly realistic way of giving and serving beyond the clichès of altruism and hidden fears for our own safety or the opinions of others? What could Rilke mean by speaking not just of our "being here," but of truly being here? Is there a quality of awareness that is itself something we receive as a gift, and is there a quality of awareness that we can give to our world without needing to take anything?

Jacob Needleman, Money and the Meaning of Life, pp. xxi, A Currency Doubleday Book, 1991.

Quote of the Week #141 (1999.07.25)
Vision, Imagination, and Free Will
The word "imagination" is also in my title. I want you to think of the following words: visual, vision, and visionary; and image, imagery, imagination. My reason for choosing these words is of course that I want to come to the word "imagination." But I want you to see what always strikes one with surprise in looking at this kind of word. Almost all the words that we use about experiences of the kind that go into visions or images are words connected with the eye and with the sense of sight. "Imagination" is a word which derives from the making of images in the mind, from what Wordsworth called "the inward eye." But the very fact that Wordsworth could use such a phrase makes it very clear how much the intellectual activities of man are eye-conditioned....

The other thing I want to make clear is this. It may seem very smart that the eye is ready-wired to see straight boundaries or curved boundaries, contrasts of light, and so on. But you must also realize that for every machine of this sort always pays a price for the things it can do very cleverly—namely, by not being able to do other things. And one of the things that the eye is not able to do is to look at nature with a fresh, open vision as if it were not looking for straight edges and contrasts of color. Exactly because search mechanisms for these things are built into the eye, we are constantly deceived about the nature of the outside world because we interpret it in terms of the built-in search mechanism....

The abilities that we have in the way of memory and imagination, of symbolism and emblem, are all conditioned by the sense of sight. It is sight which dominates this kind of sequence, how we think of things that appear in the mind. And I come back to saying "visual," "vision," and "visionary; "image, "imagery," "imagination." Now imagination is a much less mechanical gift than that of the eye as I have described it. But because it is squarely rooted in that, it is an ability which human beings possess and which no other animal shares with them. We cannot seperate the special importance of the visual apparatus of man from his unique ability to imagine, to make plans, and to do all the other things which are generally included in the catchall phrase "free will." What we really mean by free will, of course, is the visualizing of alternatives and making a choice between them. In my view, which not everyone shares, the central problem of human consciousness depends upon this ability to imagine.

Jacob Bronowski, The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, pp. 10, 17 - 18, Yale University Press, 1978.

Quote of the Week #140 (1999.07.18)
Where Does Vision Come From?, pt. 2

The very first thing I remember in my early childhood is a flame, a blue flame jumping off a gas stove somebody lit. It might have been me playing around with the stove. I don't remember who it was. Anyway, I remember being shocked by the whoosh of the blue flame jumping off the burner, the suddenness of it. That's as far back as I can remember; any further back than this is just fog, you know, just mystery. But that stove flame is as clear as music in my mind. I was three years old.

I saw that flame and felt the hotness of it close to my face. I felt fear, real fear, for the first time in my life. But I remember it also like some kind of adventure, some kind of weird joy, too. I guess that experience took me someplace in my head I hadn't been before. To some frontier, the edge, maybe, of everything possible. I don't know; I never tried to analyze it before. The fear I had was almost like an invitation, a challenge to go forward into something I knew nothing about. That's where I think my personal philosophy of life and my commitment to everything I believe in started, with that moment.

Miles Davis, Miles: The Autobiography
Taken from Seeing Jazz: Artists and Writers on Jazz, Elizabeth Goldson, editor, pp. 79, Chronicle Books, 1997.

Where Does Vision Come From?, pt. 1

Quote of the Week #139 (1999.07.11)
Three-Catting: "A sustainable model for inconceivable development."

...the source of innovation and change does not exist in the rules or principles, but rather in the models, which includes the theories, formulations, and metaphors we create. Principles and rules are locked in place, and no innovation can occur from interactions with them. The cycling that occurs between rules and behaviors is simply repetitive. Behaviors can't change the rules, and the rules can't change the behaviors. The only source of change is an expanded formulation or theory or model or metaphor which then calls for different rules.

...That does not mean that people cannot change their personal infrastructures, but it does take a willingness to break through those frozen preconceptions. It also takes a powerful new model that can transcend the cycling relationship of rules and behaviors. If that transcendence doesn't occur, people become locked in, and coevolution–the interactive, developmental effects that entities in relationship have to one another–cannot occur. This reinforces the idea that the generative source of emergence is in the domain of model, theory, metaphor, and formulation. Models are the source of the success or failure of every enterprise, because models are ideas in action.

To get outside the repetetive cycling between rules and behaviors, which resist change and hinder new possiblilities, we have to reach an understanding generated by principles and formed within model and theory that does not exist anywhere else. Our ability to model and model again, not simply renewing the old model but creating something anew, is the point where emergence and innovation happen.

...We may not be able to force innovation and emergence, but we may as complex adaptive systems be able to prepare the environment for their arrival. Then, when it does happen we are able to respond and integrate the emergence into our systems so that we can either flourish because of it or adapt to it in a way that doesn't destroy us.

Howard Sherman & Ron Schultz, Open Boundaries: Creating Business Innovation Through Complexity, pp. 54 - 55, Perseus Books, 1998.

The MG Taylor Modeling Language refers to this process as "three-catting," or, when it fails to break out of "the cycling relationship of rules and behaviors," as "two-catting." Each of these terms come from the Three Cat Model™, which, in Sherman's and Shultz's terms, could be described as "a sustainable model for inconceivable development."

Quote of the Week #138 (1999.07.04)
All You Ever Need To Learn: The Law, Principle and Measure of Froebel's Kindergarten

The one universal law upon which Froebel based all of his educational principles was unity or inner connection. The interconnectedness of all things was the governing force in Froebel's philosophy and pedagogy and the broad foundation for all of his developmental concepts. Perfecting a feeling between the child and God (not the God of organized Christianity but the pantheistic font of life and growth of Romantic philosophy) so that humanity might gain consciousness of its own sublime power and fully realize its own spiritual potential was the key goal of education. . . . more than any teacher before him, he recognized the unity of an indivudual's physical, intellectual, and spiritual powers . . .

If unity was Froebel's fundamental law, self-activity, the essential principle of Èmile, was his basic educational process. Self-activity (or free activity, self-occupation, or self-employment), the spontaneous impulse of the child to explore and act motivated simply by intellectual curiosity, was actively discouraged in the early-nineteenth-century schoolroom. Where traditional teaching demanded only response, Froebel sought individual action. Where tradition erected a barrier between the teacher and the taught, self-activity made them co-workers. In the kindergarten, the impulse to action, and therefore to learning, originated with the child itself, and expression became self-expression instead of recitation. The role of the teacher was thus transformed from lecturer to guide, as she now directed the child's natural movement toward play with one another and with the freely expansive, but carefully defined, gifts.

Play was fundamental to the success of kindergarten. Froebel discerned that harnessing the natural activity of children, often referred to in kindergarten as children's "work," was the key to educating the young. . . . Froebel recognized the significance of play in childhood years before his involvement with kindergarten, and he devoted one of the introductory essays in The Education of Man to its importance: "Play is the purest, the most spiritual, product of man at this stage, and is at once the prefiguration and imitation of the total human life,—of the inner, secret, natural life in man and in all things. It produces, therefore, joy, freedom, satisfaction, repose within and without, peace with the world. The springs of all good rest within it and go out from it."

All of the kindergarten activities, the singing, dancing, gardening, storytelling, gifts, and occupations were play; it was the engine that propelled the system. . . .

Norman Brosterman, Inventing Kindergarten, pp. 32 - 33, Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1997.

Other Prior Quotes:

April 4, 1999 through June 27, 1999

January 3, 1999 through March 28, 1999

October 3, 1998 through December 27, 1998

July 5, 1998 through September 27, 1998

April 5, 1998 through June 28, 1998

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