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It matters how you get there…

December 11, 2012

walkingI’m discovering lots of things.

Sometimes it’s revisiting old themes and finding that I’ve finally got to the bottom of them – despite a lifetime of assuming that ‘the big stuff’ always has an irreducible mystery at the bottom because of the nature of our minds, or the limits of our perception. Other times it’s the discovery of new connections between what used to be in different compartments – science, business, psychology, ethics, art, history, politics… life? It’s not an excitable process either – it’s more like a deep comfortable satisfaction. Perhaps I finally passed 10,000 hours in the practice of reflection and deduction. Or I’m just getting old, complacent and conceited!

I don’t kid myself that I’m discovering anything fundamentally new. If it’s big – somebody is bound to have been there before and left a Norwegian flag and some empty herring tins. Even small things… next time you coin a unique pun, or a neat product name – Google it! It’s almost always already out there.

What matters to me is that I’m getting to these places via my own route and under my own steam* – there’s a continuous path behind me – rather than being helicoptered in via a book or course. No short cuts, no gaps.

This is what makes the cross-connections, in particular, so interesting. It’s like the way I used to walk to St Pancras station by different routes, and find myself coming out into a familiar square from an unfamiliar side… such that the surrounding area snapped into a different shape in my head. I can be niggling away at some question of neurophysiology only to find that I emerge into the backyard of some pure philosophy… on the other side of a high wall I’d been searching for gaps… for years.

This isn’t high theory all the time – one reason I just realised and wrote the above is that I had spent the preceding couple of hours trying to work out why there were fractures in the social media strategies, and ‘gamification’ approaches, that I am reviewing. Within each I see at least two quite different ways of thinking – there may be more; that’s part of what I was trying to decide. These ‘ways’ often seem irreconcilable, contradictory – and yet people are using the same language and assumptions about them, sometimes moving between them seemingly without noticing.

I now think I can describe some of these differences – if not account for them – but I’m going to leave it a couple of days to shake down. That’s the other thing I’m getting to the bottom of… patience!


*Even as I wrote those words another connection thudded into place. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig, is amongst other things an allegorical journey. The physical ride across the northern USA mirrors a journey into understanding, and into the past. But what thudded just now was a comment he makes about the Sutherlands, the couple who are riding alongside him and his son. The journey is tough, and he says Sylvia Sutherland was considering flying to Montana and meeting them there. He’s glad she didn’t because there would then have been a gap between them, of understanding and empathy, because of the different ways they got there. In the same place, at the same apparent conclusion, but without the shared experience.

I realise that’s how I feel about my discoveries – this time around I’m arriving on the ‘B’ roads, or even on foot… I haven’t flown in, teleported or, worse!, just watched someone else’s holiday video. When I meet someone who got here the same way – even if some of their small roads and trails are parallel to mine – there’s a real pleasure in the (often mutual) recognition.

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