Category Archives: dwelling

The homecoming

Well, I’ve decided to come home for a bit and get settled into my own nest. I’ve discovered that blogging at Sparknow is great, but I need to meander more wildly and experiment with stuff.  So I’ll blog a kind of fortnightly letter to Spark and use this, now The Mattress Factory, for me to play in.

I’d better start by heading off to read some Bachelard to get me in the mood. Dwellings. That’s where I fancy starting. I think it’s The Mattress Factory that’s started me off. More soon.

Advertisements

‘You don’t look at what you did before, you do the same shit all over’

The Wire.Everyone who has not yet watched The Wire should immediately go out and buy every series they can lay their hands on, then lay back and watch very slowly and patiently.  I’d probably find listening to something in French easier to follow but this is a perfect treasure of complex and extraordinary storytelling at every level.This quote comes from the third series, where McNulty (our gorgeous wild, naughty, good-hearted flawed hero) is looking back through closed murder files and is asked why. ‘You don’t look at what you did before, you do the same shit all over.’ Exactly.  When I get round to writing the book, which is, I can tell you, looming closer, that’ll be the quote on the inside cover.  I’ve much else to blog – Tony Harrison’s V, an extraordinary poem, an astonishing piece of storytelling and social commentary and an exemplar of how a poem can achieve things that no amount of Demos reports on social exclusion can come close to (and I speak as one who funded an early Demos report on social exclusion);  metaphor again – a riff starting with an Angela Carter quote and then travelling through Frances Yates’s ‘Art of Memory’ and Louise Bourgeois’s current exhibition; a salutory warning on what goes wrong when future storytelling goes bad and people mistake scenarios for predictions. But all that will have to wait for calmer moments. For now, I’ve a thing I want to note somewhere in a public arena, just to have expressed them.I have a plan for Sparknext and it’s a very good one.  I’ve been floundering without a plan, and the plan still allows for me to be mostly in mackerel time and memory time (see the last blog) – that is to say, be very present rather than constantly leaning forward breathlessly into an unlived future.Sparknow will be reconfigured to be jointly owned, and in partnership, we’ll pay attention to doing three things.  Doing, and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible through, narrative enquiries worldwide, of the kind we’re currently doing at mla.sparknow.net; Being thought leaders and practitioners in understanding knowledge work and the implications for knowledge workers, their relationship with work, with organisations and with themselves in their career journeys;Consolidating into a lean, elegant methodology, what we know about how to retain business processes when people leave or any kind of upheaval or move takes place.We know exactly where we are with the first.  We just need to do more of it in new and familiar settings.  With the second and the third, I’m very excited because I think we can bring together some old and new insights which will transfer the conversation and action spaces in these areas.  Good. Phew.   It’s only taken 10 years.   I don’t know why I’m writing so breathlessly with no pauses but there it is.  I feel more Molly Bloom than Pinter but I don’t know how to change the formatting.

 

  

The back catalogue

I’ve promised someone I’d assemble all the various pieces on physical spaces and on slowness in one place.

By way of a little amuse geule, perhaps it would be interesting to know that I’m listening to Basquiat Strings, a knowledge provoking experience if ever there was one:

1. how does a string quartet learn to be a good string quarter and then do it over and over again
2. how does the leadership work
3. how does the knowledge transfer work
4. most of them come from classical backgrounds and have migrated this knowledge into a jazz context, or had to learn to throw it away in a jazz context
5. Their influences are Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Stravinsky, Schubert, Bach, Tarif de Haidouks, Evan Parker, Prince…

We have so much to learn. And I do think that citation is important knowledge stuff. I’m trying to work out the design for a piece of work on knowledge retention when a business moves and loses most of it’s staff but can’t afford to lose it’s processes. What’s an elegant way to tackle that? I’ve some ideas and the first is to do a kind of Amazon-type citation thing which traces the influences on the worker and the resources and inspirations they draw on to get their jobs done. Make a space round the worker, as it were. Then subtract the worker and look at the space left behind. Half-baked thoughts but ones I’m enjoying.

In any case, here’s the list, which is links to the papers in the lurky bit of our old website which we’ve taken down while we decide what we’d like a new one to look and feel like and do.

Public Spaces in Knowledge Management

Physical Space in Contemporary Knowledge Management

Spaces for Learning

Designing for integration

Can the design of physical space influence collaboration?

Slow Knowledge

Slow Company

Collection to Connection

LIFTing the lid

Mass Migration

Tales from a Bedouin Tent

Sous L’arbre Parlabre

Peel me another ant

I’m finding the bubbling and brewing of possible threads of thinking which I need to fumble into writing quite a torment. At the risk of mixing my metaphors too greatly I’m finding the hints of ideas and piles of old scraps and scribbles bouncing around, sometimes bouncing off each other, sometimes sticking to each other to make a fuzzy kind of chain of enquiry. It always ends with more questions that’s for sure.

And somehow I notice with some alarm I’m ducking metaphor, even though I need it, because I can’t wrestle it into a place where I can see it clearly, let alone write anything down Although I’ve a nice article I’ve kept on dog-whistling politics as a way into writing about it.

And then, I’m wondering about bias in narrative enquiry and documentation, how we select memories, how we recall, what role remeniscence plays in opening up future possibility.

I’ve also got a nice little riff building which tries to link Elias Canetti’s ‘Crowds and Power’ with the recent news that Fiona Reynolds is going to take the National Trust into being an environmental activitist, and a small article in the newspaper on the same day about how sex-workers are clubbing together to give foreign sex-workers English lessons to make them a bit safer. (I once shared a childminder with Fiona, a long time ago, and I can tell Gordon Brown and whoever now runs DEFRA, I wouldn’t be in their shoes.)

And then again, I’m tormented (almost to sleeplessness) by the stupidity of having taken on a 7,000 word commission to write about knowledge intensive firms, knowledge work and knowledge workers. But I don’t even know where to begin with it. I realise after 12 years I know nothing, nothing about what knowledge work is, or knowledge workers. Do I start with the knowledge economy and move down, as it were, into the day-to-day? Do I try and make a distinction between knowledge and information. I lay awake in bed last night trying to work out which of the following were knowledge workers:
architect, structural engineer, site project manager, bricklayer, electrician, plasterer
consultant, doctor, nurse, volunteer
lawyer, compliance officer
office of fair trading policy maker, callcentre manager, call centre worker
clothes designer, shop manager, shop assistant
scientist, researcher
librarian, knowledge manager, information officer
web designer, code writer
professor, phd student, mba student, undergraduate
sushi chef, maitre d’, waiter, plongeur
or what about a health and safety officer?

Or do we all slide in and out of knowledge work? Say the scientist is really only a scientist until he works in a multi-disciplinary team and has to shape his independent contribution to be collaboratively effective without being watered down? The waiter is only a waiter when he serves table, but a knowledge worker when he knows exactly where a particular guest likes to be seated? A call centre worker is an information worker until he has to handle a difficult call from an angry customer with a long history of difficult dealings which needs unravelling and piecing back together so the right actions can be taken? A plasterer is only a plasterer when he does an odd job or works under instruction, but a knowledge worker when he works in a team who have to construct a house? Is it knowledge work for the help desk woman to say ‘have you turned it off and back on again?’ I was down the Orange shop the other day because I couldn’t hear people ringing me and they couldn’t hear me. The very helpful man undid the back of the phone, blew hard into it and reassembled it and it worked fine. Last time something was wrong he got the SIM card out, got a children’s eraser and rubbed off whatever static had built up and that worked too. Is that knowledge work? I think so. It takes a lot of knowledge to know something so simple is the answer.

I am hanging on by the merest thread here of being able to make any sense at all of the distinctions, only slightly helped by an article I read in an Irish business magazine I picked up while idling my way back from Geneva on a plane yesterday. It talks of Ireland as a knowledge economy.

‘[An] example is the change that has been going on in medical technology. Go back 20 years and we were producing disposable items – products that would be used once in a hospital and thrown away. Now we are producing cardiac stems and we are producing orthopaedic instruments. What has happened with all of those is that tehy are high-value-added products that require good engineering and technical skills. So instead of paying operatives E.25,000 to E.30,000, they are now employing engineers and technicians that earn E.40,000 to E100,000 each. That is the change to the high knowledge economy. The people employed now have to have skills. More importantly for us, they are people who innovate. They aim to improve processes and do things better and apply that knowledge.’

Would that make, say Jamie Oliver a knowledge worker (chef, TV, restaurants, social responsibility) and my local Italian delicatessen/cafe, restaurant not? Even though there’s probably been as much entreprenuership, hard work, know-how, innovation and risk taking down the road to get that off the ground?

Or is knowledge work about connecting people, brokering links. There’s a danger that, in our energy to identify, profile the jobs of, list competences for and upskill these people, whoever they are, we make it essential that they are both busy and seen to be busy, always on the go, always meeting in third spaces, wi-fired up, always updating themselves on the world, and the world on them, responding to email enquiries on their blackberries, constantly foraging for the networks which will compensate for the lack of social capital and thinking time they could build if they were allowed to sit in one place (cold desk?), put up pictures of their family and go home at five. I remember once, in a piece of work on physical knowledge spaces, somebody told me that when she really wants to think, she doesn’t stay at her own desk. Too many interruptions. She goes and hides at a hot desk.

I can’t help thinking of bee colonies. It’s the dumb old workers, the dones who get to do all the work while the queen lounges around shouting ‘peel me another ant’ while she contemplates the mystery and philosophy of the bee hive and its associated rituals and hierarchies over the millennia. I bet she gets more knowledge work done than they do.

I’m reminded of a rather excellent book by Jane Jacobs on which I’m sure I’ll write more and on which I’ve written before in the good old days of knocking out never-mind-the-quality-feel-the-width papers with Clive to force us to think on different subjects. (Rather charmingly, he rang last week after a long silence to say it’s time we wrote our potboiler.) Jane Jacobs is a very interesting woman. ‘Systems of Survival’ is a very interesting book, essential, in my view to getting to some clear thinking in this muddled domain of knowledge management and knowledge sharing. In the smallest of nutshells, she writes that there are two, and only two, human systems. One is the Guardian system, conservative, looks after it’s own, fuelled by tradition, ritual and the stories which hold the present community clearly linked to the past, not comfortable with strangers, deal with each other through bonds of trust not legal contract. The other is the Trader sytem, explorers, travellers, deal-doers, contracters, they go out, encounter new worlds and people, they strike deals, make money, acquire capital of various kinds. Big businesses are Trader systems. the Public sector providers have largely been a Guardian system. To try and mix the two is to try to mix oil and water. They don’t. I’m not going to unpeel the layers here, except to say that, in my view, in our knowledge management world, we’ve not done enough to understand the implications of this. We bungle about, with our snatched bits of Einstein and Peter Drucker, our magpied scraps of theory from different philosophies of knowledge and schools of management theory, culted gurus, and make out like knowledge work sits comfortably simultaneously in both the Guardian and the Trader systems. But where does a community of practice end and a marketplace begin? Are the knowledge workers the boundary people who are uniquely competent to see both worlds and pass from one to another and back again?

I don’t know. I’m in a state of entire not-knowing. My best hunch though is to flick through the literature on the subject, so as not to get caught out by how others have seen it, but let it pass through not rest in me, and to look for my inspiration in other places. I’m going to look at people and places and businesses and things I admire and try to see the knowledge work in it and see where that takes me, rather than start with abstract notions of knowledge work and knowledge worker.

I must go and lie down now.

Telling your story is touching

This, from “Dangerous Angels” by Francesca Lia Block

p.477

‘Think about the word destroy’ the man said. ‘Do you know what it is? De-story. Destroy. Destory. You see. And restore. that’s re-story. Do you know that only two things that have been proven to help survivors of the Holocaust. Massage is one. Telling their story is another. Being touched and touching. Telling your story is touching. It sets you free.’

I’m interested in the re-introduction of the senses to the workplace. Senses and feelings. I’m reminded of a workshop run for us at Sparknow a few years back by Neil Mullarkey One exercise, in trios, involved us only being able to speak, in the improvisation, if we were touching another one of the trio. It turns out you really only have permission to touch another if you are expressing emotions. There is no neutrality in touch.

And Wrexham this week at the Narrative Practitioner Conference, Didier Danthos spoke of story as ‘feeling from your feet’.

Which in turn reminds me of an exercise I heard of which can be conducted in pairs or which you can do for yourself. In response to the question ‘how are you feeling?’ the respondent has a range of emotions to draw on in response. Lets say angry, calm, sad, hurt for example. And then the enquiry follows ‘And where are you feeling it’ at which point the respondent has to locate the feeling within the body.

Which leads me in turn to Rainer Maria Rilke who said, in his Letters to a Young Poet:

‘I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms, or books written in a very foreigh language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.’

As with a koan in the zen tradition, or with study in the koranic tradition, this thought is one to which I can return over and over again, to allow its meaning to sink into me. For today as I link it with the question of feelings and their location, and the question of stories that touch and the need to be touched, I’m thinking of feelings as questions. Inhabiting the question of the feeling, rather than dismissing it, or tripping over it too lightly, might lead one to find the story of the emotion of the feeling.

It might allow memories to surface, as Margaret Atwood has it in the introduction to Cat’s Eye:

‘Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could mover faster than light you could travel backwards int ime and exist in two places at once…..

.. I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.’