The Snaking Path To Success

March 30, 2013


From: This Is A Book by Demetri Martin (via Madeline Levine)

A Very Italian Detective

March 23, 2013


After discovering the work of Michael Dibdin in 2007 whilst accidentally stumbling across Radio 4’s Bookclub, I started looking for other similarly gifted detective novelists. Continuing with the Italian theme, I quickly discovered Andrea Camilleri and his wonderful series of books featuring Inspector Montalbano.

Recently I came across this interesting insight into how he started writing the novels at the age of 70 (there’s hope for us all…) and his ‘breakthrough moment’ (see my boldface):

Until he was almost 70, Camilleri was a minor historical novelist who was better known as a director of Pirandello. He was an author in search of a character, and that character turned out to be Montalbano. When a protagonist becomes a phenomenon, I am always interested in whether the novelist remembers the exact moment of conception. Camilleri does: “I know exactly when he arrived. In 1994, I was stuck on a historical novel called The Brewer of Preston. I couldn’t organise it the way I wanted, I had not found the key to structure it, and then decided that the best solution was to set it aside and write something else. And then I said to myself: what can I write? The way I used to write novels was to start with the very first thing that struck me about a subject. It was not methodical: the first thing I wrote would never be the first chapter, maybe it would become the fourth or fifth chapter. Then I said: but you can write a novel from first to last chapter with a perfect order of logic. I saw the form of the thriller as a cage that does not allow you to escape. And so I began to write the first Montalbano novel – The Shape of Water.

Recently there’s been the Italian TV series on BBC Four on the Montalbano books although I found them strangely cartoonish especially when seen alongside the Scandinavian (The Killing) and French (Spiral) programmes in this genre.

Linking back to the main theme of my blog, I’ve often thought that research and crime are quite similar. You’re always looking for clues and trying to piece various fragments of information together in creative ways. Sometimes you get it right, and sometimes totally wrong or often it just remains unresolved!

More on this here (from Brian Eno):

This idea came into sharp focus for me when reading a book about Chicago detectives. One of the particularly successful ones was asked how he’d developed such an accurate nose for trouble. He said: “If you find yourself doing a double take, do a triple take.” So don’t say ” Ah … it’s probably nothing important” and rationalise yourself out of looking at it. Say instead “If I noticed it, it must be important. Now in which way is it?”

Isn’t this what all the best science comes from – someone deciding to take seriously something that millions of other people could also have noticed but didn’t?

Picture credit here.

Creativity And The Fear Of Change

March 17, 2013

“The things we fear most in organisations – fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances – are the primary sources of creativity.” – Margaret Wheatley (writer and consultant)

The Roles Of Ignorance, Uncertainty And Doubt

March 15, 2013

From the excellent Brain Pickings:

“The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize the ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty – some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain.” – Richard Feynman (physicist)

The creative role of ignorance applies to other fields as well of course.

Creativity, Mashed Potato And Hendrix

March 14, 2013


I’ve been a fan of Jimi Hendrix since I was a teenager, so I was interested to hear an interview on Radio 4 with Kathy Etchingham. She was the girlfriend of Hendrix in the late 60’s. It was quite strange to hear that she was relatively ‘straight’ when compared to the (at least on-stage) very flamboyant Hendrix. It made me curious how they got on and what they saw in each other. She played a major role in getting the English Heritage blue plague (above) for his stay in London (Mayfair) – the first for a rock musician.

From her blog:

She met Jimi Hendrix in the Scotch of St James nightclub, on the day of his arrival in London in September 1966. They became a couple during the time of his rise to stardom. Kathy was the inspiration for many of Hendrix’ compositions including “The Wind Cries Mary” (penned after an argument between Hendrix and Etchingham), “Foxy Lady” (during one of the first performances of this number Hendrix pointed her out from the stage), as the Katherina in “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” and in Send My Love to Linda (the original lyrics of which were Send My Love to Kathy until Etchingham objected to being named). In 1969 she and Hendrix drifted apart.

She told the story that one day she was cooking mashed potatoes and they had an argument about it – how best to do it. Anyway, this resulted in plate throwing and Etchingham storming out. They made up the following day and she found that in between he’d written ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ (Mary was her middle name). The disagreement had obviously affected him and prompted an incredibly creative response. From her blog:

‘I wrote a song,’ he said and handed me a piece of paper with ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ written on it. Mary is my middle name, and the one he would use when he wanted to annoy me. I took the song and read it through. It was about the row we had just had, but I didn’t feel the least bit appeased.

I still find this story very surprising – how something so impressive and poetic could be prompted (at least in part) by something so mundane!

Info on the song here (it mentions other possible sources of inspiration) and here’s a clip of the real thing:

Picture credit here.

Hypotheses And Experiments In Business

March 8, 2013

“Requirements are actually Hypotheses and your Projects are really just Experiments. Realizing this should be liberating.”

From David J Bland – picked up via a retweet from Scott Berkun.

So true! More on this (in an enterprise context) here.

In a related manner, and on a much smaller scale, I’ve been using this ‘experiments’ viewpoint in a social enterprise startup I’ve been working on. It’s been very helpful as, by premise, you can question any aspect of what you’re doing or assuming and quickly change things if they don’t turn out as expected ie start another experiment.

This approach fits in well with the premise that it’s rare that your first idea will be your final (and best) idea.

Gadgets, Cool Stuff And The Knowledge Society

March 6, 2013

From a recent thought-provoking post by Geoff Mulgan (CEO of Nesta):

We’ve now had fifty years of discussion about the arrival of a knowledge society and a knowledge economy. Much of this discussion is couched in quantitative terms, with successive measures of the proportion of jobs or GDP that’s devoted to knowledge. But what would a true knowledge economy look like?

Presumably it would be one constantly enriched by knowledge in all its forms, in which workers, consumers, and citizens had a deep knowledge of the world they’re in and its opportunities and challenges.

A moment’s reflection shows how far we are from it. We have highly sophisticated systems for producing and circulating information of all kinds.  But little of it counts as knowledge. Much of it is data about our behaviour that is bought and sold without our knowledge. A lot of it is simply inaccurate – lies and half-truths – and the dominant search engines distinguish by popularity not accuracy. Commercial messaging dominates – often with almost zero information content – and a high proportion of the messages we’re bombarded with have no relevance to us.

He ends by suggesting that

We need a new generation of leaders who aren’t just interested in the gadgets and cool stuff – but also have the wisdom to understand what it means.

He points out that it’s key to distinguish between the differing concepts of data, information, knowledge and wisdom (and I don’t mean in an overly academic sense). In many circumstances these words are used as if they were (practically) interchangeable, which is part of the problem. Anyway, I like the use of the word wisdom in the final sentence!