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Je ne cherche pas je trouve

June 26, 2013

Our neighbours’ young son has a lizard. It clearly has some powers of flight, as a few weeks ago it apparently sailed over our fence and landed in an area of dense shrubbery and ground-covering ivy.

It’s not a live lizard. Until this morning, and in order to look for it, all I knew was that it was metal, and brown. I looked, a lot, in vain… lifting branches and pulling at ivy, because it was an important lizard and not just one of a boxful of ‘things’.

This morning I was wandering the garden before starting work. Mug of tea in hand I did a slow reflective circuit. I was looking to see what had changed, what was growing, flowering or finishing. I also have a permanent subjective inventory running at the back of my mind – it’s part of how I let the garden evolve – as to what might need to come out, what needs a big pruning, where something new would be nice [particularly to maintain year-round interest] and of course where the weeds need to be kept in check.

This isn’t an active thing… it’s just an acquired frame of mind, walking around, drinking tea, looking… and probably the way I most enjoy the garden too.

Something caught my eye.  I looked again, at a curved surface amongst the ivy. There was a brown sheen, like the coating on a piece of popcorn. It could easily have been a shiny brown stem and, even as I was starting to stoop, I was dismissing it as such. But at the same time the thought that this could be ‘that lizard’ started to surface and kept my hand reaching. I touched it, pulled, and out came the lizard.

I had seen the underside of a hollowed-out leg. The rest of the lizard didn’t look like what I had been searching for over the weeks, or even what I would have extrapolated from the visible leg if I’d known that was what it was. But here was ‘the lizard’.

This evening it will be reunited with its owner.

Several thoughts spilled out immediately afterwards. So I’ll write them down.

First there’s a quote from John Jackson, the CIO of Camden Council who was speaking at the Citizen2013 event a couple of weeks ago. He said that what happens when you start exploring data is different from what happens when you analyse it.

Then there’s the work that Colin Strong has been doing at GfK to develop the concept of ‘Smart Data’. He’s exploring the diversity and complexity of what is often lumped under the term ‘Big Data’ and part of what I take from his writing is that ‘Smart Data’ is about how you ask the questions. It’s one thing to gather lots [and lots] of data and then apply various kinds of analysis to reveal structural relationships. It’s another thing to bring along a carefully balanced mix of narrative and open-mindedness, some knowledge, some sense of purpose, but also an intentional fuzziness. You could argue, contra ‘Smart’, that crunching big data, in a way which is agnostic about the subject, looking for pure patterns, is the ultimate in open mindedness. But the practical reality is that in order to manage the infinity of possible hypotheses, only certain kinds of relationship are ruled in and sought for… relative to some purpose. Data analysis will only reveal a rabbit [or lizard] in the clouds, or a SAM missile in the desert, if the system has been given some pretty specific instructions, examples, and limitations of parameters.

Thirdly there’s Mindfulness. I’ve been fortunate enough to know the people who created Mindfulness at Work for several years now and I’m looking forward to finally working together this year. To deepen my knowledge of the subject I took their Mindfulness is Now [MiN] course which includes, as part of the package to support and sustain your practice, a number of ‘Circles’. These are ‘ways of being’, practical quotes and reminders, which sit half way between the direct experience of Mindfulness practice and the intellectual process of reflecting on Mindfulness… what it is and why it’s a good thing. The Circles just help you to wield your mindful state in different ways, gently suggesting that you attend to things, and yourself, in a variety of styles. There are seven of them. MiN suggests that you connect each to a different day of the week – and sends you a helpful e-mail reminder every day, to increase the chance that you will spend some time this way. Wednesday’s Circle is ‘Beginner’s Mind’. This is about letting you see familiar things as though they were new, experiencing them more directly rather than through layers of habit, expectation and labelling. It’s a kind of intentional ‘jamais vu’ – which I hadn’t encountered before. [Sorry!]

So I was perhaps walking the garden with a little more Beginner’s Mind than usual today. Perhaps I was more open to things not being what I expected them to be. Perhaps I found the lizard because I wasn’t looking for it, and also because I wasn’t dismissing ivy as ivy either. It’s certainly a different lizard from the one I imagined when I was looking for it over the last few weeks, and in a slightly different place. Perhaps that helped too.

If I wanted to sum all this up, and commend something to you, and remember something for me… I couldn’t do better than, “Je ne cherche pas je trouve”.  I do not seek, I find.

This is a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso, and you can see how it translates into creativity and perception. For me it conjures an image of the artist as someone who makes themselves more open, than the rest of us, to what is there and to its being there in a less classified and conventionalised form than we typically see it. An artist who finds, and can keep themselves open to finding, has an inexhaustible subject. An artist who searches may become entirely embroiled in what the search is a search for.

So I commend trouve-ing over cherche-ing. Though I’m not sure what this means for Google… vs Social Media.

There’s also a footnote to how I found this phrase. I was surveying [exploring] a client’s social media map for them… looking at themes, tags, lists and followers, in order to identify further connections and resources around the things that most matter to them. This brought me to a particular twitter account, where I noticed the holder had posted a lot of images. I just glanced at the thumbnails on the profile page and noticed that there seemed to be other than the usual friends and family snaps… there was food, bands, posters. So I took a few seconds to scroll through.

I’m not a scholar of Picasso, and indeed I’m dubious about some of his recent design work for Citroen. So for all I know this is a major well known quote. But, as it suddenly appeared on a slightly blurry image of a book cover, post card, exhibit (?) this was a new phrase for me. It perfectly sums up, better than anything I’ve managed to date, the approach to Social Media that I am commending to clients. ‘Find and Be Found’, don’t ‘Search and Be Searched For’.

I wasn’t seeking for it, any more than I was seeking for the lizard this morning, but I found them both.

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