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12 January 2018



Just writing in, to follow through on what I said. (That I would write more later). I’m in Phnom Penh right now. It’s really hot. I’ts been interesting circling back here to reconnect with Akira again (hi!), and to have a couple of funny casual bumping-into events with acquaintances from the time I used to be here (so that would be 2014-2017). I’m not really *not* here, I mean, I realize now that Cambodia will be one of our ‘base homes,’ which is a strange thing to note, because…Cambodia! Isn’t my home, isn’t Akira’s…. But maybe home is where you feel at ease, find community, and most importantly, where there is work to do. That looks different for everyone, doesn’ it? Work to do.

Collaboration and frictionless coexistence being at the forefront of my thinking these last 8 weeks, I have a couple of closing comments I think, on this topic. Mostly, you have to really want to work with someone to work with them, actually. Like marriage. You have to actually *like* the person, or company leader, or group leader, or whomever it is that is holding the vision together. Ther is a leadership color test (Akira, what was that called?) that you can actually see what your color type is, and know how to balance where you are deficient with where others are better). I’m not that great with organization, sorry about that!, so that might be why you feel the jumble of the conversation here, in the different formats and spaces… But also… I think now I will put on the hat that is more Engineer, and turn towards the last four weeks with our continuing circle in a different sort of style. I’ll be happy to talk more to you about this off-thread, if you are curious. There are ways to work with each of you, I am learning, in various pacing and channels. I think it’s kind of like that, you just have to let things happen, right?

We started off here talking about work. And how some big companies don’t listen enough to the employees and what they are saying. I am learning, here, that sometimes the hardest part of getting the employers to listen might just be the fact that we don’t know how to tell them what we really want. I guess that’s true of a lot of relationships. We have to be clear, don’t we? About what we want out of the collaboration. Maybe it’s cooking a meal together. Maybe i’ts building a software app. But in either case, we have to be clear, about what we are looking to get from it, I think. Or maybe not. Maybe you just have to really love cooking or really love software-building. And then you can sort of get what you want from the loving-it of the process, rather than the politics of working with others. Or maybe it makes it more bearable? I’m not sure, quite, where this thread is going.

I wonder where you all are tonight (it’s 5:33PM where I am), and if you are happy to write into this space, you’re most welcome to!

I’ll be closing the comments soon for the 8-week section’s forum-spaces, which includes this one, and ‘Journeys.’

So please stop by there and share as you wish, if you wish, or collect the bits you wanted to note. Notes! Collaboratively and independently, notes, and noting, and sharing, and thinking, and writing, sometimes, and… Reflecting. Is that it? Is that where it begins? Finding out what you want, then how to communicate it, then be sure to tell the people who are in charge of making it that, yeah, ‘I want these things.’ And know them, clearly, and outline them, so that the thing that you want to design gets designed. I think most employers, I think?, really don’t know how to ask… So we have to help them… And if they say, ‘no,’ then maybe we should… Find new people to try collaborations with. Or?

Hey, hey. Sorry for the little bit of silence. I’ve been under the weather. usually a cold will only take a day for me, but this one is really sticking. I’ve been sniffling for three days and when I sneeze now, sometimes there’s a little stunned laugh from whomever I’m hanging around in ambient public spaces (today a picnic table at the art school, up the road, where all of us were drawing together. I didn’t make this space, they did, and I loved being there, uninvited and just apart, just slightly, but close enough to feel the same vibes.. Maybe that’s what it’s like for those of you who are reading this, maybe, and haven’t really written into the space yet. I got an email from __ who is in the Mirror 2014 anthology, just yesterday. She said she was happy that w are connecting in creative ways, and just knowing that some people somewhere are getting to do this its me the way she did made her happy… I guess that’s a thing, huh. Ambiently connecting. Not sure what I think about that. I’m not a fan of silences, really, but I guess… They have their place, in society. Silences and observances and then someone will come out of nowhere with this brilliant insight about something…. I’ve seen it loads of times in these kinds of projects, online, week over week, and you think, ‘Nohtings happening!’ But that’s just simply not true. Happenings happen. Even if we can’t see them or be like, ‘ooh. Look. We are all changing and shifting a bit.’ I remember at Ennui, this small conversation salon here in Phnom Penh, there was all this sudden insight at the very tail end of a 2.5 hour conversation that meandered, wow did it. I hope you are reading this, __! I don’t want to call you out but hey, that was a great conversation. I loved it! I guess I was thinking of you when I wrote that little bit just a minute ago about the suddenly saying something folks, as you did come out with that piece of writing about Tibetan trumpets, was it? That sounds like an oxymoron. It must have been a quieter instrument…. I forgot the exact one…

And Sandro, there is one other person here, __, who told me in the application phase that he was very, very interested in your story in The Mirror 2014 anthology, how he felt he could really connect with it. I won’t call you out, __, but Sandro doesn’t know that! And I think it might make him I feel really good knowing that something he wrote a long time ago touched someone else, quite apart in the world geophysical lay, in a very real and tangible and even applicable way. If you want to talk about that, this is a good space, but no pressure. Never any pressure to write anything here, ever. It’s been cool talking to so many of you in such different channels and paces. I’m happy we could try this. Maybe it wasn’t a real collaboration, but I think what I found is that it takes time. To build trust. Trust erases friction. I feel that way. Strongly.

Even though I got in a big fight with Akira the other night, I realized the next morning it is just part of the course of being around one another and when you are sick and the other person is dead tired after coming off a long bus that started at 4AM?, that you know, maybe it’s not about the fighting or the content (which was I don’t even know? How I talk too much about nothingness,small details of who I met the day before, at the little alleyway down the road from us, and how it feels to be in Phnom Penh momentarily, et cetera, the usual little dumb details that couples have that they talk bout and how irritating that was for him, in that moment, at that time). But 20 years of trust is a lot of what would you call it. Buffer? A bank account of trust? That sounds weird, to put it in stupid capitalistic terms. Capitalism! I am writing about the angry hippies I met on my travels as part of a miniature zine thing. I’ll be happy to send you that weird piece, if you want, next eek, as a parting gift if you are indeed parting here, from this space this week.

Which brings me to my last note.

This space is not as active as I thought it might be this week, so let’s close it on 5 March?

Continuing groups will be brought into new, more active spaces. (I will populate them, and add links, and prompts, et cetera, as we go, so that, you know, you don’t have to feel pressured to ‘write something interesting’ Nothing is really that interesting, is it? In and of itself? Sometimes just reading the thoughts of others also thinking about these questions is interesting, tom e, anyway, so that’s why I thought it would be fun to try this.

Am updating ALL th active spaces this week, so we’ll have something to talk about. Remember, closing comments… Please submit by Sunday, 4 March 7PM ICT. There… I think that’s it for announcement stuff…

How are you, anyway? Hope you are doing well where you are today!

More on email…


Hey guys, sorry I’m late. Hi DK. Sorry to be busting into the room like this. Wait, what are we even talking about here? (Oh look, there is _, so that’s how they look!) Collaboration? Oh right, that’s the thread that I always tried to sync up with, to fit in, to contribute, but it didn’t work. This conversation we’ve all been in: Dinner, white table cloth, eight heads to a table, eight tables to the room. Jazz somewhere. And they all talk, and it sounds interesting, and you want to say something, but it doesn’t fit, and you just listen, follow the conversation, but don’t really get it, try to pitch in. And then when you finally think of that brilliant contribution you could make, the conversation has moved on, to Steve Bannon of all things, and it is just by the pure whim of chance whether you notice that in the neck of time, or if you speak up, with a knowing smile, “actually guys, I think that collaboration yadda yada”, and only the blank stares and the dead silence alert you that, like I said, that topic is sooo 10 minutes ago.

Closing comment accepted? Giddy up, cowboy. I miss Bruce.

And wait, where is Mirror B again? Did they change rooms on us again? Another building? Which floor? Do you have a link to get there?

Love you all,

More in a bit, but just for the moment… Any closing thoughts on this thread? We talked a lot here about many things. I’m curious to hear your closing comments, if you care to share. I’ve been thinking about this a lot! It’s changed my thinking on how to approach new things related to group-work. 🙂

Guys, thanks for sharing your thoughts! it’s been interesting reading through your ideas, stories…

I’d like to play the devil’s advocate in this case, just putting across an idea-
Is friction necessarily a bad thing?
Drawing parallels from the physics of everyday life, some kind of friction is beneficial, even required.
Without friction, we wouldn’t even be able to engage in simple actions like walking or standing.

Looking back at my own experienced at work, or in my personal life, i don’t think i can recall relationship with another human being which could qualify as ‘frictionless coexistence’. At some point or another, due to differences (which are inevitable), there will always be friction between the two parties.
I remember watching a japanese movie called ‘Casshern’- in a scene, one of the characters had dialogue that went something along the lines of,
By merely existing in this world we are already causing inconvenience/trouble to others.
This resonates with a quote from an article by Alain de botton (creator of the School of Life series of books, videos, workshops)
‘Every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us – and we will (without any malice) do the same to them.’

Friction can be defined as animosity/conflict, or resistance. It’s challenging to deal with, and at first glance it does seem to hinder ‘collaboration’
But acknowledging that friction is inevitable, is ‘frictionless coexistence’ a worthwhile goal to work towards?
It’s definitely an interesting thought exercise, but as a realistic goal to make concrete steps to move towards… i have some reservations about it.

I find it more interesting to focus on conflict/friction – why, how it arises – Maybe can we pre-empt the friction from getting out of hand…
and dealing with friction – if it inevitably gets out of hand, how does a team or one party reconcile differences/smoothen out the friction within the team/with others? How can we resolve it?

Just some thoughts i have at the moment 🙂

That’s a very good point. Friction is where everything begins and ends… even subatomically. At the end of the day, maybe there is more harmony in moving with friction rather than in eliminating it.

This is so cool to read everyone, and to see the conversations emerging between you.

A couple of small notes.

  • Education. Pretty neat to see the discussions here. Just for fun, I thought I’d post a supplemental piece about Isaac Asimov’s ‘bits’. You can find it here: .
  • A new prompt is on the way for Monday. This time, it’s just for 1:1 dialogue. Me and each of you. Let’s check in? I’d like to know how you’re feeling about flow, pacing, topics, and what you want to see happen in the next few weeks here.
  • Small groups. Let me know by email or here when you are ready to meet your small group? A few of those spaces have just begun this week, and if you want to talk more in the smaller space of just 4 people from this conversation, that’s where those things will be going on. Optional, of course. But it’s how this project started: small groups of just 4, emailing every week. And I think that helped a lot with building the community. SG, CE, BH, SH, LMC, thanks. And thanks MR, SV, MB, JMM for being at our real life events, too; those really shaped things as well.
  • Open comments. This space, and the previous forums, will remain open for you to add to if you like, as we go, through the 8-week and 12-week programmes. Everything that gets posted in the forums before Sunday 7PM ICT will inform the next week’s prompt. Don’t feel like you have to go back and reply to everything. It’s just an emerging space, and we can let it become what it wants. Posting your own questions is cool, too. Enjoy it… It’s your space.
  • Expectations. There is no ‘have to’ so don’t feel pressured to put something here. Just know that in order to be most respectful to the people who are making time to write and share, I’ll only send passwords to those who are contributing. Is that cool? Otherwise, we’ll just talk 1:1 on email. If that’s your preference, anyway, just et em know when we check in.

Welcome, welcome back, and thank you. It’s been awesome so far. 🙂

I’m feeling grateful, tonight, for being late to this conversation, because it gave me a chance to read so many other responses and let my mind wander a bit in response to the many reactions to the prompt, which initially left me drawing a blank. In fact, the first few responses around work or corporate environments in particular felt foreign and even a little intimidating, as it has been so long since I’ve found myself in any kind of formal work environment or even with a single co-worker! That is not to say my job (as a freelance photographer) was without people to manage friction with, of course; there were clients, subjects, assistants, competition for work. But most of them (with the exception of a handful of businesses or organizations I worked with for years) were brief relationships I put behind me when they were complete, for better or worse, as I moved alone through my career. My particular, sometimes impatient, Virgo self mostly appreciated this.

Then came your many insightful thoughts on parenting, and my brain was sparked and awoken, as long as the process has been to admit to myself that, more so than my work, parenting is—okay FINE—actually the most creative, interesting, and fulfilling thing I happen to be doing with my time right now (okay, maybe I still haven’t fully admitted or accepted it; the struggle with self-judgment is a long one). It figures that I just re-watched the movie Inside Out with my 3.5-year-old tonight, silently raising a fist and shouting “YES!” to the assertion that we cannot feel joy without experiencing sadness, that our emotions have names and roles and real value. My younger one, at 1.5, is entering the age where this learning process will present daily opportunities to navigate friction, and the truth is, I love it: “it’s time for us to put the toys back and leave day care,” I’ll say. “Noooo!” she’ll say. “You don’t want to go,” I’ll acknowledge, “it’s hard to leave when you’re having fun.” “Nooooo!” she’ll say. “Can you do it by yourself, or would you like me to help you?” I’ll ask, and then I wait. Most often, within a moment, she puts it down herself and joins me, satisfied with being heard. If not, a moment that could otherwise be fraught with combustive friction becomes one of compassion, clarity, and the comfort of follow-through. “It looks like you need some help,” I’ll say those times. “I’m going to put the toy down and pick you up now.” And then, this is key: “You don’t like that. I see that. You don’t like that we have to go now.” A moment of loud protest, and then: peace. It’s truly that simple right now. We’re both confident about the terms of our friction, when it happens. Disclosure: it doesn’t ALWAYS play out so gracefully, and the 3.5 year old is trickier.

One of my longest-standing clients was a national hunger relief nonprofit, and while most times shoots for them were carefully planned and produced ahead of time, I was sometimes asked to be in spaces where people were incredibly vulnerable, and to photograph them. I developed techniques over time of building someone’s trust before I ever approached them or said a word. I knew I would need not only their trust in me and their comfort with my camera—but also a long, stodgy photo release form. My approach involved things like strategic eye contact and always having my cameras down, my finger far from the shutter. One of these rules was never to stand facing a person, especially if they happened to be in a line waiting for food or for a pantry to open, but alongside them, facing the same direction as them, shoulder to shoulder, as we talked. It prevented the feeling that I would in any way get between them and the thing they dearly needed, and it aligned us; we both needed something from the other, and though the privilege was obviously skewed, they owed me nothing. I wanted, and needed, for them to WANT to help me, and by slowly building up my approach to asking, I could ask a few questions, give some information, be non-threatening, and feel out their willingness to participate in helping me create something. Sometimes, if it went well, there was a clear sense of pride by the end that their participation was helping others in some way, raising awareness, raising money, raising care for other humans. God, I hope that it really did those things I told them it would.

I put my photography career to bed last summer, and am, at the moment, between official careers. The one I’ve been heading toward, though the exact nature of which is yet unnamed, is in a construction/renovation realm and will rely heavily on relationships, communication, and negotiation. It will mean constant problem-solving, and I will not have the option of performing most aspects of the work alone. I wonder if I can find the construction equivalent of standing shoulder to shoulder with someone, working towards a common goal, both of us feeling a sense of pride.

I feel I may have gotten way off topic. I’m out of practice. At so many things, these days.

Wonderful musings & welcome to the party! I pursued an interest in photography for number of years but never turned it into a business, so was particularly interesting to hear about a few of the challenges of this career in your life. It sounds like you did some wonderful things during your career, I know the work can’t have been easy.

I (Uncle Cameron) really loved watching InsideOut with my then-6-year-old niece and my sister. We definitely enjoyed it far more than my niece did. I actually got the weird sense that the movie made my niece profoundly uncomfortable, because she was afraid of being honest about her feelings ( which include a lot of anger). Her angry dad certainly doesn’t set a good example, to put it mildly. But I think it’s an almost universal cultural problem that we have, being a bit confused about emotions, and particularly what is our healthiest and happiest relationship to the negative ones. Earlier today, I was listening to a Ted talk ( that I thought explained the problem and simple solution very clearly & movingly.
What a wonderful gift you are giving to your kids by truly making them feel “seen.” And of course making people “seen“ is in some sense what you did during your photography career. I really like that you added the idea of standing shoulder to shoulder with the ones that you made feel “seen.“ I was usually quite a well behaved kid, but I recall that a large reason for it was that I basically felt that my parents were allies, (standing shoulder to shoulder with me?) and that made all the difference. Over time, perhaps your kids will begin to really realize that you are their ally as well.

“Frictionless harmony of employees” sounds like magic to my tired, anti-job ears, my friend!

All of my big corporate experience is at the very bottom rung, and that taught me early on, that our comfort and happiness were definitely at the bottom of priorities outside of whatever the government mandates. Reminds me of that Chris Rock bit about bosses paying minimum wage saying, “I would pay you less, but it’s against the law. (”

Of course, I understand their perspective in a world of expendable people taking on roles that are ground down to base elements so that anyone can do them with minimal supervision. However, your situation as what seems to be a higher level talent is the one I feel as well as understand. It’s a poor use of resources and can very much erode the confidence and happiness of those stuck dealing with unnecessary friction, added responsibility, and a lack of choice. Confidence is tough to measure, but in general, I’d want more confident people working in higher level, decision making positions for me. It’s like gymnastics I don’t want anyone who doesn’t feel like they belong on a balance beam anywhere near it in competition.

Maybe Bruce is right and it’s time to fly solo. Lol definitely its own struggle, but at least you have more opportunities to design your own experience.

Frictionless coexistence
I am now past the two week mark of my new job as an au pair, and i have to say that the transition has been without much friction, to my own surprise. At least in my professional relationship to the parents. I guess they had designed a nice way of welcoming me to their home. Being there to help out but also giving me some space to take it all in.
But when i think about it, maybe im not so surprised after all. Cause me entering another home means that i am the most flexible part. I have to make myself fit in, and i should comprise the most to achieve frictionlessness. That is what is expected, and that is what makes sence.
In a way i have made myself and my own habits fluid, to fit around their square design. Being a good guest. At least in the beginning.

But an interesting point in the designing process has been reached, where they now are starting to bend more towards me. I believe that a frictionless coexistence comes from compromise. In consideration to others we sort of limit ourselves or do things differently than we would have done it on our own. And we expect the coexisting people to do the same for us, at some variable extend. That extend is changing for the more equal.

As i get to know them better, it also becomes clearer how they are compromising for me, and i think that is an important point. You have to notice the compromise of the counterpart and not just your own compromises. I have tried that with past roomates, where both of us were getting bitter because we only saw our own struggle. That bitterness could have been prevented by better communication. And thereby a better understanding of how the people around us must compromise because of us. Finding the balance of the compromise must be the key to frictionless coexistence.
And we are getting closer to finding that balance in this new family constellation.

It consists of two sweet ladies, one being an english teacher and the other being an Episcopal priestess. Then there are two adopted children, the girl being two years old and very extrovert and the boy at twenty months with more introvert tendencies. And then there is me. In a small house. On a volcano in the middle of the pacific.
I am having a great time with the kids, and
I also feel like i am building up a friendship with the two women. However there is still a professional aspect of our relationship. They are still technically my bosses. I am hired to take care of their children, and they could let me go at any time. At the moment, they are very satisfied, but they still hold the power. I am curious to see how this will play out. Will the professional aspect just sort of disappear as we become friends, or will it always be there? And will it hold back the friendship?
How does that design really work?

Another thing that comes to mind is the children, in connection to frictionless coexistence. I notice that it does for some of you too.
Cause it is different with them. I have to embrace the friction and even create it. I have to take the battles. And if i take them, then i have to win them. I have to be the one in charge. And only when i choose so, can they have power or influence in their own lives. But it is like investing in the friction now to achieve less friction later. Like an investment.
I choose to give them a lot of freedom in some areas. Like how they play and where they play. If they want to go to a bush filled with thorns or the steepest hill in the area, then by any means. I let them. And when they get scratched and fall down i am there for comfort. And to let them know why it happened to them. And maybe how to avoid the thorns next time. They need to be taught so much, and can learning happen without friction?

They are not very skilled in compromising, so i have to teach them that. But i also have to teach them that they can’t eat dogs shit or pull each others hair. In so many areas i cannot compromise. But i still have to teach them to do it. Their compromising ability will have great effect on their early social life and pretty much the rest of their lives. That is a challenge.
I am hoping that they will learn it from playing freely. Sure, there will be firm routines that they have to just accept and deal with. Like taking off shoes before going inside or eating at the table. But playing should be free. On their terms. I guess that is my compromise, but it does not feel like one. Cause i love to just observe them when they are playing well. And also when they are getting in way over their heads.
Not feeling like compromising. Maybe that is the whole thing. We have to surround ourselves with people that we care about. So much so that the compromises become invisible. Noticing people’s gain instead of our own sacrifice.
It is probably easier with children. Because of biology.
With adults we become focused on ourselves and our own needs.
I guess we should just treat each other like children.
But that also sounds wrong. Nobody wants to be treated like a child in the sense of being told what to do.
But on the other hand, being put first sounds nice. Feeling like you are more important to someone than they are to themselves. That you will be prioritized no matter what. Maybe that will create a positive spiral and lead to frictionless coexistence.

Or maybe not. I don’t know. I have managed to make myself a bit confused.
It did not take much, as i am exhausted…
From taking care of two sick children all day. Lots of friction..


Interesting insight that we tend to feel more comfortable really giving fully, and focusing less on our own needs, with children. I know what you mean and think that it can indeed be valuable, sometimes at least, to “treat each other like children.” There is that wonderful level of attention that we have to children, that many of us still want to receive, deep down.

Glad to hear that the transition for you has felt good overall, and hoping that the kids (and you) feel better soon!

I once went to see a show in Carrboro, North Carolina, at a venue called Hell (very appropriately named). The band was called ‘Boykiller’, and they were amazing (they have since disbanded, sadly, but you can find two of their tracks on bandcamp). I will never forget a song they sang entitled ‘The Sin is in the Friction’ – referring to sex between members of a certain religious sect in which intercourse is just for reproduction 🙂 But the friction is what makes it feel good. So then it’s a sin, which is, well, bad (if you believe in that sort of thing) – or as Mae so beautifully put it, it creates a spark! Of passion.

very stream of consciousness over here in my office bed today (the kid brought home a germ which causes barfing and I think I’m next so I’m staying horizontal and gathering my strength to ward it off before it renders me fully unable to function).

There’s a memory on the tip of my brain – I learned about transforming friction somewhere (a conference on systems thinking, maybe?!), in terms of relationships and organizational development. Something about it being necessary to slow down before moving forward, like a sign that something needs to be worked out before plunging ahead… that makes sense to me in a really nebulous way. I think about the team I’ve formed for my startup – we are all very different, yet we have the same passion and approach it from very far-flung directions, and that creates friction from time to time, but unlike at a certain large corporation that Cameron and I know well, it doesn’t cause bad feelings or mean-heartedness or guilt or shame. It just causes a desire for stronger collaboration, better conversation, more empathy. I’m sure it will not always be exactly as it is now (we are a team of 4 and we will need to grow to a team of many), but here’s hoping!

And always, back to parenting. I took a course last year in the midst of a very very dark period and every class left me feeling like I was even less competent than I had imagined. The instructor talked about power struggles – essentially friction between a parent and a child. She said that most people feel terrible when they have conflict with their kids, but that when we argue, fight, blow up at each other and come back together, that healing process makes the relationship even stronger. And that it’s necessary to forming stronger bonds (but only effective if you actually come together and talk through what happened, apologize, explain, etc.). So while we wish for a frictionless existence, that’s not actually what we want perhaps.

Hope you feel better, Sara! Right after my Dad got better the other week, I too got felled by a nasty bug. Makes one appreciate good health all the more!

And great thoughts! Btw: the start-up I’m looking at has about 150 employees. If they are indeed sufficiently like-minded (and indeed, willing to discuss openly, have conflict when needed, apologize when needed—i.e. be decent, intellectually open, and growing human beings) as I think they might be, that could be just the right kind of friction that’s fun. Ok maybe not quite that much fun, unless I meet my next girlfriend there too! 😉 Maybe out of survival, my mind shouldn’t have gone there right after you mentioned a local band called Boykiller, but perhaps now disbanded, they’re harmless!

They’re great, right? I’m so sad that they broke up. But my friend pet-sits for one of them now 🙂

Whoa. I didn’t figure I’d get to talk about design here tee hee 😉

“Frictionless” (or the Japanese ideal of wa, where everything is harmonious and no discord) might be misleading, but I’m so on board with Alexander here. change-making, in a context, is what design is, and it’s applicable to anything, from our environments (houses, offices), organizations (how do we work together?), to our own lives. As Sara, Cameron, and Bruce mentioned, we are all capable of designing aspects of our lives, and a lot of it has to do with how we view and manage our relationships to the place, people and things around us.

In that way, the Japanese way, as Mae mentioned, isn’t how we should aspire towards: harmony for the sake of harmony sacrifices the parts that comprises the whole. The whole has to make sense from the points of views of each individual parts. That’s what human-centered design is all about, as opposed to the “intelligent design” (some Christians’ way to talk about God’s will asserting His way to the nature’s design,) some “designer” imposing his grand vision to the people (“you need this water filter. you do! I’m making a difference in the world!) The harmony has to make sense, and compromises forced on you—because, say, you live on top of each other and you have orders imposed on you to sort out your trash, take it out on a certain day and that day only, and people will report on you if you don’t follow the protocol—doesn’t, though it may have an appearance of order and beauty, or at least cleanliness, on the surface.

How might we create an environment where the parts are happy, and the whole, at the same time, works effectively, say, in a example of an office space? I have a suggestion: start with conversation. Start with creating a safe space (like this) to talk freely. A book I read once called Liminal Thinking, had an example of a HR/Org Change consultant that brought a teapot, a kettle and an assortment of teas and cups, to a client’s office, to create that safe environment, to a great effect. It’s an easy step, a design element, simply executed, that can start a shift.

All this is making me realize that I’m comfortable talking about theory and practice and abstract concepts, without talking about feelings. I have this ongoing thing with my son at the moment about talking about facts (which he tends to focus on) as opposed to feelings, and how that’s uncomfortable for him (which betrays my own tendencies of the same). I realize that kids can only mirror what we show as ourselves, not just theory and “should”s that we can talk about but not act on ourselves. So how to “design” “harmony” with “feelings” and PRACTICE that? That’s my next frontier…

“The heart wants what it wants…” And according to capitalism, what the heart wants is that sweet sweet cash.

It’s not important in the vacuum of narratives and hypothetical problems, but in the real world, when someone offers an unsolvable problem, they are usually offering some sort of compensation for those that can solve it. As a designer or creator of any stripe, your greatest immediate challenge is always in the usage of time. In the realm of falling back on a “formal order” however, you also see a struggle point in the building and maintaining of the creator’s reputation.

In other words, if someone hires you to do something hard and you come back stumped, you may be inviting catastrophe as far as that project is concerned. However, if you can straddle the membrane of “frictionless coexistence” long enough to “make it work” at least to the non-expert, then you can take your money, bolster your reputation and move onto the next project which will hopefully be easier and more lucrative than the last.

I love the concept of “frictionless existence.” Only recently have I begun to understand space as a sort of arid fluid that we wade through rather than an expanse of nothing. This is why I believe there are so many interesting ways to manipulate things from a distance whether we use tools and plans or magic. Still, that level of symbiosis sounds more like “perfection” than anything else. It’s not really for us to reach, multi dimensional beings we are. There’s always another way to look at it and always another problem. Of course, I’m neither designer nor scientist. Where I see the idea of a formal order played out the most is in what we know as pop music.

GOAL Make the catchiest tune that the most amount people find infectious. You can do this by making slight variations to beats they’ve already heard, lyrics they’ve already loved, riffs they’re familiar with, and topics they already know heard everything about.

– Learn to fly | Fly Away | Like a G6 | Like a Bird | Fly Like an Eagle | On a Jet Plane | In The Air Tonight | With The Wind Beneath My Wings | Fly Right | With Drops of Jupiter in Her Hair | Like a Free Bird | Who’s Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)

How do you design the perfect song? Find the perfect song and make a song just like it. Do “what works” and you can put your kids through college. If you get to a point where you don’t know the answer, is it so bad to go back to what you know has worked in the past? If you want to write a pop song, a song that exists in the world with the least friction and drama, isn’t it better to create anything rather than nothing as you search for an answer? Make your song around 3 minutes, add the requisite verses and choruses, and don’t use too much profanity, and speak nebulously about flying, or love, or angels, or elements. Work within the established formal order, cause no problems, and you just may do alright.

Ha, that was a lot of fun, Michael! I love your peculiar angle and reading about designing music, rather than “plucking from the ether/heard in heaven” or i-craft-from-nothing-take-nothing-from-noone rubbish. Of course people love the familiar. Even classic music is often derivative (of what, and how, is the craft, in my—decidedly unmusical—opinion).

Haha thanks! It helps having that screenwriting education (I struggle to say background since I’ve written so very very little in that regard). You don’t really “write” movies so much as craft a blueprint for other artisans to easily work from. That’s why structure and format is so important. Pop songs are like mini circuses. Once you know what makes a circus a circus you can go about building one for maximum fun and/or profit.

I love the idea of plucking from the ether though. But I also recognize we’re completely MIRED in ether. We’re submerged in it. So much so that often times, inspiration hits us in areas we don’t have the skills to produce in. So we dismiss it. Are giant brains are practically giant ether antenna, and all the humans are all having the same ideas at the same time. But only those with a particular skill set, knowledge, discipline, passion or imagination will grab one that others without it will miss.

I had an idea for a video game system at 12 years old that would probably be awesome today, but completely forgot about it because I couldn’t build it then, and can’t build it now. I’m not going to try either. I’d rather write pop songs until I have a few million for R&D than learn how to code or build this thing. Lol

In other words, the objective isn’t to take nothing, it’s to take well.


DK reminded me of an earlier thread about design, the gist of which (as best I understood it) that
“the real objective of discussion is not the form alone, but the ensemble comprising the form and its context”
and that the basic problem was
“when a designer does not understand a problem clearly enough to find the order it really calls for, he falls back on some arbitrarily chosen formal order”. (Whatever that means.)

Somehow that reminded me of The Goat Project. We’re sitting around on rough wooden benches, out in the open in the shade of a tree, talking to the elders and leaders of a small community in Mali. The intent of the project was to give them some start-up goats, as a community micro-loan, which they as a group would manage. The goats would multiply and replenish the earth, the offspring would be sold for a profit, and the proceeds would be used by the community to support the school which we were sponsoring. But since none of them had masters degrees in labor economics, Alou was giving them a lesson on Collaboration as a decision-making tool to manage the goat project. (Sounds like maybe the kind of thing Mae ran into in Bolivia which turned her away from a career in international do-good development.)

Then we visited the goat site to see how things had been progressing. They did have some fine goats, munching away, and a shed and a fence, and a boy to tend them. But when we counted the goats to see how many we had in excess for sale, we discovered there were even less than when we had started! They didn’t really want to explain what had happened, but evidently some of the goats “had died”. Meaning that people in the village were hungry, so after a presumably collaborative discussion, they killed a few of them and ate them.

It seemed to me, looking into the faces of those well-meaning men, with far more experience raising goats than I had had as a kid (yes, intended), that they didn’t need a lesson in community collaboration, because that’s how they had always dealt with situations there, but they were willing to listen to us because what they really needed was the money.

Two of my sons work in IT, working with corporate clients and developers. When I talk to them about their work, they express frustrations similar to what Cameron talked about. I think the world of work has shifted under my feet. It used to be, as a supervisor or manager, that I gave people the job they were to do, and then I focused on things like budget, marketing, etc. to keep the money coming in. Although we were usually in close physical proximity, with adjacent cubicles, and staff would talk back and forth about common issues, it was really a silo situation with everyone doing their own job and hoping the whole would keep us going.

My daughter is a sales person for a company that sells office furniture. High-end, large scale, like hospitals and libraries and corporations. But she doesn’t even have her own cubicle, or her own office. She floats around their large open work space, on the phone and the computer, talking to different people who work there, meeting together impromptu in comfortable spaces with ever-shifting small groups of other specialists. Works from home quite a bit. Because what she is really selling isn’t so much the furniture itself, but the consultation of designing work spaces and tools that will meet the real workflow needs of the employees working for the client.

When I stop by to take her to lunch, it’s fascinating, but disconcerting for me. It seems so unorganized there. How do you put that on an org chart? Where are the GANTT charts? What about projections and planning? What about agendas for obligatory weekly staff meetings?

Yet they as a company, and she as an individual, are making a lot of money, presumably because they are helping client companies with better, more productive workflow, by giving them the “furniture” and tools and the flexibility they need to get whatever job it is they are doing done.

It seems that that workflow involves a lot of often informal collaboration.

Not sure exactly how that works or what it means.

One more thought. Our public education system from the industrial revolution on has been geared to preparing students to work in factories. You learned what part of the assembly line your job was, you came to work, did it, collected your pay, and went home. In many industries, the work setting wasn’t a factory per se, but the work process was still essentially the same.

For many industries and jobs now, that seems to have changed. Drastically. Shifted somehow. The kind of education students are getting these days, and the ways it is being delivered is changing. No more the old rows of desks, with an ink well, screwed in a line to the floor. Flexible curriculums, not just regurgitating the textbook. Flexible open spaces to study and learn in. Bullying from George Cox prohibited.

I’ll bet my grandkids can spell collaboration. (No, they’ll just have the computer look it up, like I do now.) But, they’re still working on putting it into practise in their daily lives as siblings and as students.

Fascinating thoughts, Bruce! Found myself nodding a lot.

My 8-year-old niece goes to a Montessori school that seems quite a bit freer and more engaging than the school experience I had at her age. But that is still somewhat of an anomaly, isn’t it? Surely most schools are still very much in the image of the factory.

As someone in my mid 30s it’s been an amazing and difficult transition to live through. Just as I feel like my generation is sort of the last to remember a world without the internet, we were also largely educated in that more industrial, text book way you mentioned. I’ve had to do a lot of re-educating myself to have more intrinsic motivation, a willingness to be wrong, and know when to trust a system vs circumvent or challenge it .

I like the prompt this week of ‘frictionless coexistence’ which is a random concept I haven’t come across yet.

It sounds very much like an ideal that’s great to aim for in theory but very likely unrealistic to me. I’d say from my short experiences of Japan and Japanese people, they aim very high and get damn close to not getting in each others’ ways in society, but this would come at a great oppressive cost to individuality and the freedom and environment to express it.

Problems are everywhere and businesses exist to help solve lots of problems. But one small thing (or one huge thing) can change the game, and new problems come up, with the opportunity for new solutions. How can we be the designers of our lives? Sounds like Sara you are already addressing that directly. Cameron, maybe there is scope for you to do some designing for your workplace?

I don’t think friction is necessarily bad – it can create a spark for something that becomes a beautiful design, if only temporarily, but this may depend on some other design context conditions too. Things will change, explicably and inexplicably, and I’m hoping to design a flexible frame of mind to deal with whatever comes my way.


I really liked your musings and especially your last sentence: “Things will change, explicably and inexplicably, and I’m hoping to design a flexible frame of mind to deal with whatever comes my way.”

And indeed, maybe I have some great design opportunities in scope here within my current workplace. I could see it going either way. There definitely is a positive level of receptivity here, alongside the friction.

I think my workplace is suffering from a design problem. I find it doubtful that the executives have read anything about design at all!

I’m in a situation in which my skills, time, and passion are not being leveraged to anywhere near the maximum. They created a new role after “re-design” (re-org) a few months ago, and while in theory I love this role that focuses in entirely on cybersecurity, one of my passions, the reality is that the role is far from harmonized to the others. I don’t think that they really think about the frictionless harmony of the employees when they write these job descriptions and attempt to say how everything seemingly fits together so logically. There were significant gaps in the plan: mismatched, diffuse, or incomplete incentives, significant overlap in this role and roles that are far better-established. No one knew what they were doing pretty much until January, and it’s still quite poorly organized. I’m surprised that this is the case at such a large corporation, but I guess that even the best-resourced organizations can hire poor designers (or really, no-designers). They seem to think that they need designers only for the UX roles (user experience design), but boy, if they could really design the employee experience to be frictionless, to really make sense, and to really inspire us all–that would be a wonderful thing. I really miss that sense, of which I’ve had many glimpses in the past, of collaborating fluidly in the right place at the right time. It’s ever so much easier in a properly-designed space!

I think that I very well may have to find that harmony elsewhere, in an environment that is already well-designed, ready to fit in my distinct & broad-ranging skills, passions, and readiness to contribute. I’m excited to see what it will be, and to experience all of the joyous collaborating and creating that is to come!

Cameron! I’m really excited for your future harmony (and you perfectly put into words a segment of my experience at the place where you work, and one of the reasons I had to seek my own harmony elsewhere hahaha). In the work that I’m doing now, the company that I’m helping to create, we’re working together to design a workspace that makes us feel good, useful, inspiring. Without money at the start, that has been challenging, but we’re all in it because we want to be in it, and the money will come and we’ll be graceful with it.

Hi Bruce & Sara!

Thanks for your thoughts!

Sara, since you asked: I am here in Bellevue through Saturday evening. Any good restaurants to recommend? I went for a walk (after hours of sitting, listening passively to technical presentations) when the sun came out briefly today! And congrats to you for starting on a new, more fulfilling work path! Sounds like it’s worth the challenges.

Bruce, I think there’s hope. I’m interviewing at a cybersecurity start-up company that *seems* to fit the description I wrote. I’ll travel to Atlanta or Baltimore to meet them in person next week for final interviews. A lot to think about and get clear about. At the very least, wonderful to explore other options, of which this is only one of many. We shall see!

Cameron, Well that certainly sounds frustrating! And, I’m afraid, in today’s workplace an all too common situation. Which means that you may not have as much of an option to simply leave and find the ideal work place that suits your “broad-ranging skills and passions”. Unless you become an entrepreneur and start your own business. Otherwise, you’re stuck with trying to make changes to the environment you’re in, likely with resistance from upper management who feel threatened by changes. Or, quite possibly, I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Hey Cameron, your predicament definitely sounds like something one of my friends went through a while ago. Working in a team myself i understand the frustrations when roles and responsibilities aren’t clearly defined. it just makes for so much inefficiency which frustrates me a lot…

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