Second Sight into Personal Development

Permaculture Vienna

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Yesterday I visited a meetup on permaculture in Vienna. I was interested in permaculture since 2009 when I first saw Rob Hopkins’ TED presentation on resilience and discovered the idea of permaculture via his website, Transition Culture. So I seized the chance and went to Weltcafe, a place known for its organic food, to meet permaculture designers Fraser Bliss and Victoria Plank. Fraser and Victoria learned from Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, the legendary fathers of permaculture.

Permaculture is an art of building sustainable human settlements making whole with the nature. The main idea of permaculture, as far as I get it, is that the whole is always balanced — nature can produce everything it needs to support itself. Many of the needs of a natural system could be met from inside that system. A designer’s goal is to align oneself with the power of nature instead of fighting it. As the elements of a natural system can feed each other, we don’t need to produce some big input (time, money, resources…) to have a sustainable system — instead, we need to connect the loose ends.

Why permaculture is important?

  • It’s about health — we can grow organic food.
  • It’s about our environment — we can live without destruction and waste.
  • It’s about community — permaculture encourages sharing and helping each other.

If you are interested in permaculture and are around Vienna, join our group and keep updated!

Design that lasts

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We usually believe “good design” to be the single peak, the only positive pole as opposed to “bad design”. But what if there are several different poles of good design?

In fact, the meaning behind the expression “good design” is really ambiguous, even if we leave aside the question of design definitions. Is good design akin to good cleaning? I mean, is it something about just putting things to their proper places and getting rid of noise? Or maybe it means being an artist, not a mere technician? Doesn’t good design also mean creating something that lasts, something people will talk about?

Let’s compare a propaganda poster and a railroad ticket. The goal of the poster is to persuade by conveying a clearly defined meaning. The goal of the ticket is simply to document. While the poster asks for emotional involvement and response, the ticket doesn’t ask for anything. As emotions rule our decisions, emotional experience is crucial for persuasive design. As emotions distract when the decision is already made or simply is not needed, usability becomes more important for other kinds of design.

My point is that on one pole, like with the poster, the form becomes the content and the emotional experience matters the most, while on another pole, like with the ticket, the content becomes the form and what really matters is pure usability. Both poles still can be called good design. But the one where meaning matters can also be good in another sense, as something people will talk about — as a social object, if we borrow the term from Hugh McLeod.

If we now compare our propaganda poster with a dictionary instead of a railroad ticket, we see one more difference —obviously, it is the level of informational complexity. The more complex and structured the information, the less chances are left for emotional experience and the more is the need for usability. The design of complex information systems is rather engineering, and this is yet another pole of good design.

And finally, if we replace the dictionary with a novel full of complex ideas, we see one more dimension of good design: do not distract attention from the higher levels of perception and thinking. That’s why the design of a such a books is usually much drier than, say, the design of an annual report full of dry facts. And paradoxically, the design of an annual report has more chances of becoming a social object.

We can summarize the above said into four example poles of good design:

  • Social objects (persuasive with simple meaning, intense but simple emotions, minimum of information)
  • Usable objects (no need for persuasion, simple meaning, low emotions, low information)
  • Complex information systems (simple meaning, low emotions, high volumes of information)
  • Complex semantic systems (higher-level thinking, complex emotions and meaning)

It’s obvious that we can think of further combinations of parameters referring to yet another kinds of design. But the only one of them, namely social objects, can pretend to be a sort of an art, a special kind of design that lasts. Its distinctive features can also be used as the criteria for making a design more viral:

  1. Easy emotional involvement.
  2. Simple and unambiguous meaning.
  3. The lowest possible volume and the best possible organization of the information to be conveyed.
  4. The mechanism for response.

I am sure that those criteria may be helpful even in the cases when they can’t be fully met, i.e. with railroad tickets and dictionaries. By reducing complexity and adding emotional touch we still can get the results far above the ordinary. But don’t cherish illusions — don’t waste time trying to create ticket design that lasts, dictionary design that lasts, website design that lasts and so on. It won’t.

Now, back to the social object case — here is a bit of practical advice about the pre-design stage of work with it.

  1. Get as much information as possible about the subject.
  2. Ask yourself if you buy what you are selling to the reader. If not, don’t spend further time trying to make a social object out of it. Do the work, go to bath and forget about it.
  3. Ask yourself what concrete physical action should be done by the readers after interacting with the social object you are building, how you can help them to do it, what arguments you can use do to persuade them to do it and so on.
  4. If the meaning is not clear to you, consciously choose a clear meaning and stick to it.
  5. Spend time searching for the ideas arising emotional response. Use creativity techniques like Catena to quickly generate ideas.
  6. Reduce the text as much as possible if it depends on you. Organize as good as possible what is left.
  7. Now go on to the design stage.

And after you finished, make sure your design gets not only to your portfolio, but also to the places where more people can see, comment and share it.

27 design definitions

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Once upon a time I’ve found on the web a Word document where an unknown person compiled a brilliant selection of design definitions. I think it’s a good piece to keep, especially because the original file doesn’t anymore exist. So, here it is — enjoy.

  1. Design is a manifestation of the capacity of the human spirit to transcend its limitations. (George Nelson)
  2. Designers who design like machines will be replaced by machines. It is not the digital but the intuitive, not the measurable but the poetic, not the mechanical but the sensual, which humanize design. (Katherine McCoy)
  3. Design plays a central, not merely ornamental, part in the creation of meaning. (Derick de Kerchhore)
  4. Design describes the processes of selecting shapes, sizes, materials and colours to establish the form of something that is to be made. The object can be a city or town, a building, a vehicle, a tool or any other object, a book, an advertisement or a stage set. Design is the activity which forms a major part of reality as we experience it. (Johnatan Pile)
  5. Design is not an art or a science, a socio-cultural phenomenon or a business tool. It is an innovative process which uses information and expertise from all these sectors. It uses creativity first to analyse and synthesise the interactions between them and, secondly to offer appropriate and innovative responses (forms) which, in application, should go beyond the sum of each sector’s vision and capacity and yet remain recognisable and pertinent to them all. (A.M. Boutin – Liz Davis)
  6. Design is the cardinal means by which human beings have long tried to modify their natural environment. Design, the act of putting constructs in an order, seems to be human destiny. (Richard Neutra)
  7. In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness. (Antoine De Saint Exupery)
  8. Design is a process of turning people’s ideas into forms. Transforming the invisible into the visible, design is also the operation of turning mental, social and spiritual entities into physical ones. Design is the process of the human creation of new realities. However, this assumes a thorough knowledge of the qualities and effects of the material world. Good design is the result of an excellent idea going into a good form, an excellent immaterial entity going into a good material one. Creating reality is always a synthetic activity, and the result must be beautiful. (Kenji Ekuan)
  9. Design is everybody’s business: we live in it, we eat in it, we pray and play in it. When I say that design is everybody’s business, I don’t mean that design is a do-it-yourself job. I mean that it affects everybody, at all times, in our lives. Unless we gain a better understanding of design, we shall witness our environment getting steadily worse, in spite of the constant improvement of our machines and tools. (P.J.Grillo)
  10. Good design keeps the user happy, the manufacturer in the black and the aesthete unoffended. (Raymond Loewy)
  11. The word ‘design’ can mean either a weightless, metaphysical conception or a physical pattern. The opposite of design is chaos. (Buckminster Fuller)
  12. The word design signifies so many different things: a process, a means of promoting sales, and a stage on the road to production. It enhances products, and sells them; it solves problems and conveys ideas; it is artistic and commercial, intellectual and physical. This many-sidedness &endash; or ambiguity and endash; is something we have to learn to live with, as a historically incontrovertible fact. (Frederique Huygen)
  13. Design requires a constant remodelling of our ideas as it must adapt its language to new possibilities offered by new structural materials. (P.J.Grillo)
  14. Industrial Design is a creative activity whose aim is to determine the formal qualities of objects produced by Industry. These formal qualities include the external features, but are principally those structural and functional relationships which convert a system to a coherent unity, both from the point of view of the producer and the user. Industrial Design extends to embrace all aspects of human environment which are conditioned by industrial production. (Thomas Maldonado)
  15. Design, in its broader sense, is creation of systems for living. (Yoshida Mitsukuni)
  16. Simplicity – a virtue so rare and essential in design, does not mean want or poverty. It does not mean the absence of any decor, or absolute nudity. It only means that the decor should belong intimately to the design proper, and that anything foreign to it should be taken away. Decor must be consistent and totally integrated with the whole design story. (P.J.Grillo)
  17. Design must be meaningful. And “meaningful” replaces the semantically loaded noise of such expressions as “beautiful”, “ugly”, “cool”, “cute”, “disgusting”, “realistic”, “obscure”, “abstract”, and “nice”, labels convenient to a bankrupt mind when confronted by Picasso’s Guernica, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Beethoven’s Eroica, Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. In all of these we respond to that which has meaning. (Victor Papanek)
  18. The design philosophy informing the concept of “The Humane Village” recognizes what individuals want in their daily lives; what they want to see and feel in their neighbourhoods, their homes and their workplaces; a sense of calm, permanence and timeless beauty, served but not dominated by the marvels of technology. Returning life to the pleasures of privacy and friendship in settings made to human scale. Building with foresight and restoring with care. Looking first to the needs and wishes of people. (Ben Park)
  19. Design is the process, that turns ideas into products that deligts their users. (Andrew Summers)
  20. Design is what you do, not what you’ve done. (Alan Fletcher)
  21. Design is giving shape to man’s dream. (Kenji Ekvan)
  22. Good design is the solution best adapted to necessity, but very superior to it. (André Breton)
  23. Most think of design in terms of putting lipstick on a gorilla. (Dieter Rams)
  24. A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist . (Buckminster Fuller)
  25. Design is the anti-thesis of accident. (Vernon Barber)
  26. Good design is intelligence made visible. (Le Corbusier)

27th one is Webster’s. Just notice this line:

archaic : to indicate with a distinctive mark, sign, or name.

Arhaic? Or maybe futuristic? At least, this is in what direction I’d like to move.

P.S. Another great resource on design definitions is Quotes on Design by Chris Coyier.

The First Snow Day

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I always feel like a First Snow Day is for me so special, and I always wonder why do I feel so. It’s like an end and a fresh beginning. Everything that was said, was said, and everything that was done, was done. Snow has sealed the past. Now, we start anew, as if we were back to humanity’s childhood, back to that half-million-years-ago prehistoric epoch when there were no machines and websites, but there still were magic poems and games and dances under the first snow.

“When the child was a child, it didn’t know that it was a child, everything was soulful, and all souls were one.”

By some strange intuition, today I’ve reread the words of this poem by Peter Handke from Wings of Desire, a film I always admired. To my astonishment, it says just about first snow.

When the child was a child…
it had, on every mountaintop,
the longing for a higher mountain yet,
and in every city,
the longing for an even greater city,
and that is still so,
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees
with an elation it still has today,
has a shyness in front of strangers,
and has that even now.
It awaited the first snow,
And waits that way even now.

And waits that way even now.

Happy First Snow Day, dear friends.

P.S. There is a nice photo pool about first snow at Flickr.

Fuller’s Critical Path: A 27-years-old perspective, still fresh

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I am currently reading Buckminster Fuller’s “Critical Path”. However controversial, his vision is still an overwhelmingly bright and integral.

“70 percent of all jobs in America and probably an equivalently high percentage of the jobs in other Western private-enterprise countries are preoccupied with work that is not producing any wealth or life support – inspectors of inspectors, reunderwriters of insuranse reinsurers, Obnoxico promoters, spies and counterspies, military personnel, gunmakers, etc.”

This was written in 1980, and I suspect this is still shamefully true 27 years later, with a bunch of new professions like auditors of seo optimizers, metaverse travel guides, tamagotchi cemetery keepers etc. etc. The difference, however, is that now there is much more individual projects and freelance work one might only dream about in 1980.

Then, there are jobs related to life support but done in a non-sustainable way, like the oil industry which is also mentioned in Fuller’s book, with a reference to an oil geologist who counted that it costs nature well over a million dollars to produce each gallon of petroleum.

Then,

“We find all the no-life-support-wealth-producing people going to their jobs in their cars or buses, spending trillions of dollar’s worth of petroleum daily to get to their no-wealth-producing jobs. It doesn’t take a computer to tell you that it will safe both Universe and humanity trillions of dollars a day to pay them handsomely to stay at home.”

Fuller supposes that it would be more effective from the planetary point of view to give people income adequate for high standard of living instead of forcing them “earning a living”.

“What do I see that needs to be done that nobody else is attending to?”, this is the question people would ask themselves more often in this case, Fuller says.

Of course, one of conditions for this is a special kind of education with focus on individual’s unique talents and their application for the needs of humanity. Here again, Fuller’s view is against the currently dominant system:

“The physical and social costs will be far less for individual, at-home-initiated, research-and-development-interned self-teaching than having individual students going to schools, being bused, and so on.”

Perhaps now, with e-learning, we are much closer to this vision than ever before. And, of course, if parents, too, weren’t so busy “earning a living”, they would better help their children with their individual learning.

“I can conclude at the outset of 1980 that the world public has become disenchanted with both the political and financial leadership, which it no longer trusts to solve the problems of historical crisis. Furthermore, all the individuals of humanity are looking for the answer to what the little individual can do that can’t be done by great nations and great enterprises.”

But will people really ask themselves this question, “What needs to be done that nobody else is attending to?” if they wouldn’t have to earn a living anymore? Deepa Chopra in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success wrote about the same question he offered his children:

“I never, ever want you to worry about making a living. If you’re unable to make a living when you grow up, I’ll provide for you, so don’t worry about that. I don’t want you to focus on doing well in school. I don’t want you to focus on getting the best grades or going to the best colleges. What I really want you to focus on is asking yourself how you can serve humanity, and asking yourself what your unique talents are.”

They made it, Chopra says, and are financially independent.

Back to Fuller, he names himself a design science revolutionary, not a political revolutionary. Design science is exactly what gets lots of attention nowadays, when people starts shifting to green, sustainable life, with WorldChanging or Massive Change as some points of reference, to name a few. So, changes are really coming, and who knows — perhaps some Fuller’s prophecies are just about to materialize?

Perception Cone

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Undoubtedly, one of the main problems of the Information Age is information. How we can select, digest, interpret, learn and transfer it the most effectively? For example, it’s crucial in any form of learning, but especially in online learning, to be sure a student has really understood a topic and got the meaning the authors have intended to convey. It’s equally important when we come to personal development: how to find a sure ground in the overwhelming chaos of theories, movements, views and possibilities constantly present around us?

One of the hints comes from Merab Mamardashvili, a Georgian/Russian philosopher who introduced the idea of “Perception Cone” — an evolving field of findividual experience.

It’s clear that our perception doesn’t hold all the information we are able to perceive — in fact, we ignore the most of it. Our perception, our ability to feel, experience, be alive, are, Mamardashvili says, inside some cone which doesn’t coincide with the set of external objects around us. For example, you can listen to radio without actually hearing anything, but instantly hear a song that moves you. In the same way, if you try reading a book that isn’t interesting to you, its contents is just inaccessible to you. It looks like the way we communicate with the world is via a sort of “speaking things”, impressions or dream particles which arise in us interest, emotions and motivation. We can learn and work productively only within our inner cone, as all unrelated information will be screened anyway. That cone grows basing on growing personal experience (not on cramming).

Then, the first task of learning is to transfer knowledge and skills from an external state of impersonal “information” to the inner perception cone of anindividual , making them accessible for further exploration. Accordingly, the first task of self development is to realize your cone, to track the path of your personal evolution, your relationships and ideas history. That means that the half of the time we spend to learning new things should, in fact, be spent to getting the meaning from the experience we’ve already got.

The most important secret of life isn’t hidden somewhere in the head of a Grandmaster who has to reveal it to us. The most important secret is that we already know all the most important.

Paradoxes of writing

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There is a strange phenomena in the art of writing. On the one hand, every writer wants her / his writing to find response among the readership, i.e. to be universal. On the other hand, you can only write well about things unique to you — things you are interested in, things belonging to your inner world which no one else fully understands. Looks like, contrary to habitual opinion, personal is the most universal.

We don’t fully know how exactly we are unique. In a sense, one is unique rather with the vector of her growth than with something she or he already has, so, an objective knowledge of what your uniqueness consists in is impossible.

Looks like the bridge between personal and universal is interest. The more interesting, i.e. emotionally engaging, is the matter to the writer, the more exciting her or his writing can be to the readers. So, emotions, a deeply personal and irrational thing which is so often considered as standing in the way of objectivity, turns out to be a criterion of universality and, therefore, verity.

But there are different kinds of excitement. A cops and robbers films produces an intensive but low-quality excitement, especially if you already passed the teen age. By the way, as I reread adventure books from my childhood, I find that I almost don’t recall the plot. My memory kept only things (or states of mind?) which were unrelated to the plot. And by some strange occurrence exactly those states of mind are still exciting and still productive for me now.

A plot, however dramatic, is but a mean to manage reader’s attention. It just makes the transition to a productive reality easier. It is just one of many possibilities, yet often misused as reality’s substitute.

Malevich’s Black Square is a declaration of radical rejection of object/plot in painting. In literature, an example of similar attitude is Proust’s work where through an objectless plot constantly shines author’s mind and emotions, provoking reader’s emotions as a deep inner resonance which is totally different from the plot adrenaline.

Through a habit, which is born out of plot-dominated art, we sometimes even imagine our own lives as such stories, trying to deduce their meaning from plot details. That is where empty hopes and naive adventurism, as well as most of business storytelling come from.

But reality is different — only our dreams are real, only emotions speak, and only our path exists, with its beginning and end hidden from our eyes.

Second post, or Welcome

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Now I’m going to explain this blog’s concept.

David Galenson came up recently with an interesting theory about creative people. Briefly, he divides them into conceptualists and experimentalists.

«What he has found is that genius — whether in art or architecture or even business — is not the sole province of 17-year-old Picassos and 22-year-old Andreessens. Instead, it comes in two very different forms, embodied by two very different types of people. “Conceptual innovators,” as Galenson calls them, make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. Think Edvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest of us feel like also-rans. Then there’s a second character type, someone who’s just as significant but trudging by comparison. Galenson calls this group “experimental innovators.” Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers. (Wired).»

David Galenson surely has a point. At least, my observations fully adjust with this theory. As for me, I am a definite experimentalist. When I start doing something, I rarely know exactly what will happen, in spite of all my efforts to figure out the outcome. It’s just an unknown, deep, beautiful dream I follow. Then it starts growing and developing, and I get the outcome vision. And then I adjust the process and get to the result, which isn’t the end, but rather a path to a bigger dream.

I think this approach reflects the way a lot of other people learn, too. So, this is a blog about personal development and lifetime learning, in the spirit of experiments and constant search for better.

Then, there is a second reason for this name. I believe that one of the most needed skills in life is the skill of seeing through current patterns of perception and thinking. So, this blog is about real as opposed to apparent. This is where the name of this blog came from. So, this blog’s tagline, “Second Sight into Personal development”, is about the art of discerning real as opposed to seeming and about the ways of learning this art, with main themes like vision, motivation, creativity, productivity, lifehacking, and so on.

And, finally, the reason is you, the reader. Because it’s a blog, not a sermon. Discussion helps sharpen the vision and broaden its horizons. Feel free to join in and share your views and experiences.