Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, April 18, 2008

Random Thoughts

Spring appears to have arrived. I am almost ready to drain the gasoline out of my snow thrower. I remember having snow in May however.

A friend of mine who is a project manger brought up the topic of randomness to me the other day.

I think that our lives are surrounded by randomness. Most things are out of our control and it’s an illusion to think that we can control any significant portion of those things outside of ourselves that can affect us.

You get a new boss, the company gets sold, a crack dealer moves in next door, a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. Can you have contingency plans for every cotton picking thing that happens in your life? No. Even if you attempted it, the effort in planning; in planning to plan, would elbow the time you have for actually living out of the way. What kind of life would that be?

You can develop yourself to be open minded, resourceful, and well grounded. You can educate yourself and be informed. You can be organized so that you are not working at cross purposes to yourself, and to increase your efficiency within a certain scope. You can develop skills and expertise in certain areas which you can then apply in a “strategic” sense to exert some temporary leverage over a specific situation.

You can watch trends and observe rhythms to try and use them to your advantage, or avoid their ill effects. You can’t rely on history though, to predict the future with absolute confidence.

You’re never going to have complete, perfect, unchanging information. You have to do the work, to increase your odds, but you can’t guarantee the outcomes. Sometimes for better or worse, outcomes can be completely unexpected, especially when unintended consequences are brought up.

I can’t stand the initiative that began back in the 80’s and 90’s to drive companies through “processes.” QS, ISO, TS, all of them. Reduce everything in the workplace to make people inconsequential and plug replaceable. It sounds great on paper, but in reality, people develop expertise and a process can never capture all the variables. With thinner and thinner workforces, the idea of people being plug replaceable in reality goes out the window as individuals become recognized to have essential expertise. All the process documentation is good for is when that expert is lost, to provide his replacement with some sort of baseline on which to build his own expertise.

As far as project management goes, even the best laid plans are going to go awry as soon as activity commences. People are involved. No more explanation needs to be offered.

The role of the project manager at the end of the day is to find ways to mitigate and compromise all along the way to achieve the desired, stated goal. Planning from a top down perspective will allow the project manager to identify some (never all, unless he is omniscient) places where the risks of the plans becoming undone are greater than “normal;” in a disciplined, organized way. Within a limited scope, the PM can be assured of the plan’s “correctness” which indeed can be all the difference between success and failure.

A great book on how randomness affects our lives is one that I’ve recommended before, Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It’s influenced my thinking a lot.

Another great book on unintended consequences is Why Things Bite Back by Edward Tenner.

I haven’t written about my Japanese Language study in a long time. When I first began, still with the former employer, the Japanese assignee with whom I worked was very encouraging. He appreciated the effort I was putting into it. When he went back to Japan, he was replaced by a couple of new assignees who didn’t like the idea of a gaijin learning Japanese at all. They wanted to preserve their ability to speak among themselves in front of us.

With the new company, I am finding my self once again working with Japanese assignees who are delighted to see a gaijin attempting to learn their language. I’m getting back at it pretty steadily and making progress.

My oldest daughter is graduating from college next weekend. It just seems the other day when she first entered high school! Where did the time go? The job market is tough. I hope she is able to find something local, so she can live at home for a while and save some money. I’m sure things will work out.

My youngest daughter is right now a junior in high school. Several smaller schools have expressed interest in her playing volleyball for them when she graduates. She’s got good grades. She is active with a lot of leadership activities at school. I am cautiously optimistic that if she wants to play in college, that she’ll be able to.

The new job is going well. They are keeping me very busy, but I feel like I’m getting somewhere with all of the activity. My only frustration has been getting all of my gadgets working properly together, and getting passwords and activation of all the systems I need to work with. This company is much further along the curve in the understanding the home office in Japan has regarding how business is done in North America than my old company. It’s still a Japanese company however, and it is still a challenge.

My taijiquan practice continues to go well. The ideal thing would be to train with a group for a couple of hours everyday, so you could get significant regular time practicing push hands. Reality is far from the ideal. I find it’s still a struggle to fit in practicing my forms as well as the supplementary exercises and still attend to maintaining an ordinary life. I know that I am not alone with this. It’s a common issue with anyone studying a martial art. 80% of the time we spend practicing will be on our own. It’s our own self practice and what we put into it that is going to have the greatest impact on our progress. On the other hand, push hands practice is a high return investment on building taijiquan related skills and 15, 20, or 30 minutes once a week can only give a taste of what that practice is really like.

I’m managing to practice either the long form or the short form every day. I try to fit the various supplementary exercises in whenever I have a few free odd moments here or there. I like being able to do that because I hate to waste time. If I’m going to do nothing, I want to do nothing on purpose, not because I’m just sitting around and can’t figure out what to do with myself and time just passes. Time is going to pass one way or the other. We can choose what we’ve done with ourselves while that time passes.

I think a key point is making taijiquan practice a part of one’s everyday lifestyle. You can’t do this by force. That would be working at cross purposes to the very concepts upon which taijiquan is based.

Habits are a part of our lives, for good or bad. I’m finding as busy as I have been since starting the new job, plus just doing some other things after work, that I’m not on the internet nearly has much as I had been previously over the past several years. I don’t consider this as necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to uproot your habits from time to time anyway.

Cook Ding’s Kitchen has exceeded 20,000 hits!

A guy at work is getting married in a couple of weeks. It reminds me that my wife and I have been married for 24 ½ years. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re getting along better now than I can ever clearly remember. As our kids get older and start to embark on their own lives, this is nice. Real estate prices being what they are, we may just yet get that lake house I’ve always wanted. Sitting on a deck overlooking the lake, waiting for the kids to drive up. That’s what I want in my future.

In the meantime, the nights are getting warmer. I just picked up some firewood. A nice fire on the patio tonight seems like a good idea.


Compass360 Consulting Group said...

No plan is 100%. It still comes down to the specifics of the plan. From the Chinese strategic classics, the objective of the consummate strategist is to minimize the risk factor of man, terrain and heaven. Professionals who risks, has a backup or two. Amateur who gambles, rarely have a backup. This is the Dao of Strategy.

ms_lili said...

You covered a lot of territory in this post. The way of things. Every day is a new day. The tools you've picked up along the way enable you to adjust as needed.

Things always seem brighter when the weather picks up. I haven't quite gotten the knack of keeping things balanced in the cold, overcast times, but I haven't given up on figuring it out.

For now, the sun shines during the day and the evenings aren't frost-full.

I thank the benevolence of the cosmos for the kindly folk in my sphere of connection. Faith allows me to withstand and/or maneuver around those who aren't.