It’s a Criminal Act

manufacturingWhat do these three pieces of information add up to: a quote from the founder of a start-up company, an article from Harvard about outsourcing, and a book about peak oil? The answer: a trend worth paying attention to!

In Jeff Rubin‘s Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller, he describes how the inevitable depletion of oil supplies will lead to triple-digit oil prices and make local manufacturing much more attractive because distance will cost money. Unfortunately according to a recent post at the Harvard Review, the US has been losing its ability to manufacture products because they have been outsourcing just about everything. The post rightly makes the link between manufacturing and innovation. The close relationship between applied and theoretical science has historically generated many new ideas.

Fundamentally, what the US (and Canada as well) is losing is a sense of being able to make things. Ten Have, founder of atart-up Ponoko said it beautifully in Inc:

“The ability to make stuff has been leached out of our society. It’s sad. No, it’s worse than sad – it’s almost a criminal act. Because when you think about what has happened – the rendering down of a population to be consumers – what you’re really doing is rendering people unable to think critically.”

His company is essentially trying to bring the ability to make things back to every day people. This feel for creating quality things of value must surely become important again in the near future. It really is a criminal act to “spend” life rather than create it.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching

Chris Hsiung is the president of U Venture, a consulting practice that helps entrepreneurs and professionals develop their adaptive learning capacities to navigate uncertain times and build meaningful life ventures. He graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering and is an internationally certified coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). He is also a student and teacher of curriculum at Leadership Calgary and at Momentum.

The Power of Pattern-Seeking

Orion's Belt
Greeks map out the story of the Orion constellation.

We are naturally pattern-seeking creatures. When the ancient Greeks looked up at the stars, they invented a whole series of rich stories and mythologies to go with the constellations. These stories and patterns may on one hand seem arbitrary to us, but on the other hand it was an early way of remembering where the stars were positioned in a time when navigation by the stars were critical.

We have since found far more powerful uses of patterns. Some of you may know the story of how one man discovered the cause of cholera outbreaks in London. Before anyone knew about germs, these outbreaks were thought to be caused by bad smells.

Dr. John Snow thought otherwise. He investigated the outbreaks by mapping the location deaths with a black bar on a street map.

Dr. John Snow tracks cholera outbreaks on a map of London.
Dr. John Snow tracks cholera outbreaks on a map of London.

He discovered that cholera would kill people on one side of a street but not the other, or that one person would die blocks away from a cluster. How then could this be caused by bad smells?

Then by interviewing every family, he was able to find the commonality that each person drank from the same water pump. To test his theory, he took the handle off the water pump and the outbreak stopped.

What is important is not the map, but how he was able to identify the patterns and create a solution by creating the map.

Finding patterns and testing them allows us to understand the underlying cause, which often cannot be seen by the naked eye.

Much of human behaviour is that way. You can watch a chess player move a piece or a boxer throw a punch. You can even mimic the movement, but you will not have a clue why they do so or what they will do next. We can see the action, but not the thought behind the action.

Whether you are trying to understand how to be creative, innovative, or successful discover the principles behind the event, the pattern behind the isolated data points.

Science – The first open-source system?

What is science? Most people will associate it with test tubes and experiments and miraculous inventions, but this only points to the unfortunate way we teach science. We neglect to learn the most valuable contribution of science which is the process of science. Ken Low from Action Studies defines science as disciplined knowledge creation. This systematic approach to understanding the world is an outgrowth of the explosion that was the industrial revolution.

What is even more interesting about science is that it is also a form of collective disciplined knowledge creation. New discoveries are shared in journals so that others can challenge it or build on it. Scientists and engineers can then find ways of applying this body of knowledge to new or old problems.

While admittedly human beings have always had a form of open collaborative in the marketplace or in philosophical and political debates, using empirical standards mixed with peer review in pursuit of a deeper understanding of the world is new.

This wasn’t always the case. In the Roman times, many engineers and inventors took their inventions with them to the grave. Without a trusted community of explorers, individuals could not easily learn from other people’s failures. Today, a biologist can spend his whole life discovering the function of a specific hormone which can then contribute to future discoveries.

This is not to say that scientists are altruistic knowledge seekers. There is prestige and fame that comes with being the first to publish in a journal. There is a kind of collaborative competition. This may seem paradoxical until one realizes that the latin root of competition means “to strive together”. Competition is a form of collaboration.

The processes behind science are tremendously powerful. Let’s put it to good use.

Thinking Visually

A powerpoint from Critical Mass about the usefulness of visuals to assist in thinking about the world. It’s an important reminder that writing on walls, drawing lines in the walls, and telling stories are all critical cognitive tools for interpreting the world. Without it, we would not be able to develop culture. And in the end, we are only as smart as our culture!