Dedicated to my Dad, on his birthday. I love you. Despite the fact that I did everything to be your opposite, as I write this, I’m through at least a pot of coffee, wearing a v-neck white tee, and my toe nails could use some attention.
Nothing is sacred
Or more precisely, everything is sacred. Either way, a self-reflection/reminder when setting or re-setting frames to assume nothing, take nothing for granted. Everything is ripe for questioning; everything has both intended and latent consequences, thus relevant.
Chris Brogan’s recent post “Frames and Assumptions” is an implicit warning: beware the frame error; mind the gap(s).Wait, you didn’t get that from his post? Perhaps one of us misinterpreted. Probably you. Hubris? Nope.
In business strategy and planning, when emanating from a singular identity, a frame (and with it, a body of conceptual assumptions,) the beginnings of mastery in any subject, any discipline, unequivocally blind the Master to 98% of the world; in other words, most practices enjoin the would-be Master of any practice to maintain assumptions, thus take things for granted. Blindness. Frame-error. Rest assured residing in any one or your roles and responsibilities, exclusively, and you are not fully conscious of what’s possible. You’re compromising.
A review of most “discovery and innovation” in any field, results in the conclusion that there is nothing new under the sun, only a new application of two or more seemingly dissimilar elements, concepts, and or processes that give rise to a new perspective.
“Real genius, real innovation, is the perfect nexus of two or more seemingly dissimilar concepts.”
“Literally a ‘jumping together’ of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of conceptualization.”
Wilson is promoting a two-fold consciousness. Many people often forget that Wilson, a humble Alabama-boy interested in ants from a very young age, expanded his quest for a higher understanding only to go about the business of resurrecting and questioning Enlightenment Scientific Inquiry. His original frame was ants. He expanded to a multi-fold consciousness in an attempt at breaking down the silos that divide the scientific community. Wilson’s empirical, consilient approach is as revolutionary as that of Darwin, that of Aristotle. It is Wilson that is no doubt asking, “What would ants do to cap the Gulf Oil gusher, BP?”
The Lessons of the Ice Comet, Bazooka Ed, and the “Library”
My freshmen year at Texas State University, before the start of classes, I was a declared philosophy major.
Dad thought I would never get a job. What Dad didn’t know is that I didn’t want job. As the first person in my family to attend college, I was brimming with the idealism that comes with the pursuit of knowledge and concepts for its own sake: not as an means to an end, but an end in and of itself. This milestone, this beautiful accident, was both the beginning of conflict between my Dad and I, and the early gestation of my entrepreneurial pursuits. I wanted to get into everything and philosophy was as good a starting point as any. At the time, I thought I was a Marxist. Dad being Dad, despite his thinking that my decision to pursue philosophy was impractical, supported me (though he kept relatively quiet about his lack of support for my decision, only saying, “At least you’ll be the smartest comrade in the unemployment line.”) What I did not communicate at the time (because, frankly, I had not really worked out the explanation/justification) is that I genuinely believed hyper-specialization in any one subject was a creative death sentence.
The Ice Comets: Black Spots Invisible to the Naked Eye
Dr. Louis Frank of “Big Splash” fame is a physicist at the University of Iowa specializing in satellite technology. Back in the early-eighties through the early-nineties, Frank was tasked by the federal government to produce and launch satellite instruments “designed to examine Earth for certain light emissions that are invisible to the naked eye.” In the name of brevity (the full story here,) what Frank discovered would obliterate commonly held truths and assumptions even going so far as to question the origins of life on Earth, creating an entirely new vertical of scientific study. The instruments designed to examine the Earth’s atmosphere for certain light emissions identified thousands of black spots in the frames of atmospheric photograph facsimiles. At first blush, given his education and training, Frank wrote them off as anomalies, inferior technology, specs of space dust on the lens. But as the transmissions consistently delivered the same result, Frank was compelled to investigate more deeply, eschewing his assumptions. Frank discovered that on average, 20-30 ice comets, covered in extraterrestrial carbon, space muck were entering Earth’s atmosphere every minute. And while this may not seem “earth shattering” (pun intended), when Frank reported his findings back to the scientific community, he stepped upon what amounted to said community’s “road to Calgary.” Frank’s findings challenged the old tradition with the sovereignty of a new empirical Truth…and crucifixes were constructed with Frank’s name on them.
You see, if Frank was right, every book on science would have to be rewritten: And Frank was presenting a paper that challenged assumptions about the predominant source of water on Earth, about the origin of life on Earth, the genesis. Frank was, in an antic sense, positing that the entire scientific community maintained a frame-error, while simultaneously chunking carbon-covered, extraterrestrial snowballs at fire and brimstone Creationists. And though Frank was ultimately vindicated, he was asked to compromise his findings, asked to submit to the majority’s blindness, only to work in the dark. Blindness. Frame-error. Let there be ice.
Memorializing Bazooka Ed
Time Magazine reported on May 9th of this year, that Edward Uhl–a relatively obscure American Army Lieutenant (Army Corps of Engineers) and aerospace engineer of World War II fame (or infamy if you were a German tank driver)– passed away at age 92 of heart failure.
You might have missed the small notice of Uhl’s passing as it was included in the same issue that covered Dan Fletcher’s [banal-to-be-expected] article on Facebook (not a dig on Fletcher, he did, after all, capitulate to formalism only to write for Time’s audience. Missions Accomplished, Dan.) When I read the Times’ obituary, the name and the corresponding narrative resonated: Ed Uhl is an even more obscure citation in Terkel’s The Good War.
Edward Uhl is the co-inventor of the “stovepipe,” the bazooka– an American impromptu innovation as original (if not, coincidental) as Jazz. As the story goes, Army infantry divisions consistently sustained heavy losses against German Panzers, dating back to the end of World War I. At the time, the only successful ground defense to render a Panzer immobile was a direct grenade hit. Grenade attacks require proximal, close-distance engagement. Because of the Panzer’s diverse fire power, proximal engagement was dangerous if not impossible. From wikipedia:
…a truly capable anti-tank weapon had yet to be found, and following the lead of other countries at the time, the U.S. Army prepared to evaluate competing designs for a large and powerful anti-tank rifle.
The combination of rocket motor and shaped charge warhead would put paid to Army development of light antitank guns.
In 1942, U.S. Army Colonel Leslie Skinner received the M10 shaped-charge grenade which was capable of stopping German tanks. He tasked Lieutenant Edward Uhl with creating a delivery system for the grenade. Uhl created a small rocket, but needed to protect the firer from the rocket exhaust and aim the weapon. According to Uhl, “I was walking by this scrap pile, and there was a tube that … happened to be the same size as the grenade that we were turning into a rocket. I said, That’s the answer! Put the tube on a soldier’s shoulder with the rocket inside, and away it goes.”
Uhl developed the rocket launcher and is known as father of the Bazooka.
Uhl’s industrial design saved untold American lives after a casual walk by a junk yard. God bless Edward Uhl on this Memorial Day weekend. Blindness. Frame-error. And away it goes.
New Creatives at the “Library”
May and early June is a time for hope and enthusiasm: Recent graduates, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed embark out on the world, a world they often want to save from itself, if not make for their own. News of commencement addresses by household names and personalities pepper current events, some political and/or sociological in nature, some humorous, some just plain terrible. Combing commencement address listings for the past five years, no sign of Louis Jenkins. To bring everything full circle (assuming you’ve read this far and can still read between the lines), whether you’re a recent graduate or an old salty veteran setting and resetting frames, Jenkins’ verse “Library” published in News of the Universe: Poems of Two-fold Consciousness, edited by Robert Bly and printed and published by The Sierra Club Press is as good if not better reminder to the “New Creatives”:
“Library” by Louis Jenkins
(republished without permission (Sierra Club Press is not returning inquiries))
I sit down at a table and open a book of poems and move slowly into the shadow of tall trees. They are white pines I think. The ground is covered with soft brown needles and there are signs that animals have come here silently and vanished before I could catch sight of them. But here the trail edges into a cedar swamp; wet ground, deadfall and rotting leaves. I move carefully but rapidly, pleased with myself.
Someone else comes and sits down at the table, a serious looking young man with a large stack of books. He takes a book from the top of the stack and opens it. The book is called How to Get a High Paying Job. He flips through it and lays it down and picks up another and pages through it quickly. It is titled Moving Ahead.
We are moving ahead very rapidly now, through a second growth of popple and birch, our faces scratched and our clothes torn by the underbrush. We are moving ahead even faster now, marking the trail, followed closely by bulldozers and crews with chain saws and representatives of the paper company.
Blindness. Frame-error. We are moving ahead rapidly now…let’s hope with two-fold consciousness. It begs the question: what are your frame-errors?
- News of the Universe: 52 Lessons Learned in Entrepreneurship, an Introduction (stagirainc.com)
- Every person tells a story (thehumanracehorses.com)
- John Lundberg: Poems for Memorial Day (huffingtonpost.com)
- Frames and Assumptions (chrisbrogan.com)
- 10 Principles For Not Killing Your Startup (readwriteweb.com)
- DBA 951 Organizational Culture (slideshare.net)
- Three key social media lessons that brands will learn the easy (or the hard) way (simonmainwaring.com)
- Chris Brogan On Social Networking For Business (blogs.forbes.com)