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Epiphanies and Apostrophes

Yo! I totally stole that title. Because I liked it.

I’ve just had an apostrophe.

Captain Hook:
I think you mean an epiphany.

No… lightning has just struck my brain.

Captain Hook:
Well, that must hurt.

Yup. No doubt.

Also I kind of grabbed the title from another source, maybe. More about that later. What I’m getting at is that I’ve had two(2) potentially significant, life-changing, universe-expanding random thoughts lately. To which I attached significance. And in both cases they were mostly inspired by other people! I knew there was a reason for all these damn monkeys.

First, in chronological order: Chuck Pezeshki. Fascinating guy. I’ve had a lot of thoughts of my own regarding system(s) design, most of which boil down to distributed > centralized. For all kinds of things. And, yeah, I mostly almost actually mean ALL kinds.

So what Chuck did was tres kewl. He (for me) reframed that notion as “empathy,” which for my $$ is a better term on multiple levels. He has tons more to say, and it’s pretty much exploding my head right now. I started here, via a semi-random recommendation via a Twitter account I had set up (maybe more about that later too…but, nope, it turned out I didn’t include that stuff). Then Chuck suggested this post to me, which of course spoke to me more directly. Though it might have been even more apropos if I’d played, or at least seen, a game called Mario Kart. And here’s a reading list. What I’m going to say now, before I callously abandon the topic: this is a paradigm shift of the first magnitude.

AND I really hope I can help him publish his book. Seriously, I’d say more, but there’s this notion-detritus in my head right now & I think I can probably do a better job of describing it all later.

Okay then. Moving on.

Then there’s Becca Syme. I’ve enjoyed her books. She has this “Question the Premise” thing going that appeals to me. Sadly, or so I thought, she’s had her cognition kidnapped by this ridiculous Gallup “CliftonStrengths” groupthinkly morass. I read her stuff, watched some videos, and sighed a little. More than once. Yes, okay, these guys claim they have “science” behind their sales pitch. Kind of yawn-worthy on that front, honestly. But the interesting part for me boiled down to three ideas:

  1. We have, via experience/practice, trained our minds to process information of various sorts in specific ways.
  2. These ways are not all the same between individuals. Thus, different people have different preferred/specialized/optimized modes of operation on multiple levels.
  3. It’s more productive to focus on what we already do well than to attempt to address weaknesses.

That last is especially interesting. Lean into strengths? Hmm. We learn faster by doing that than by focusing on ideas/processes that are essentially alien to us? Okay. Might or might not be true. But it’s an interesting idea. Obvious value to it, if it works. If not, not.

Now, does that mean that the various “themes” Gallup identifies/espouses have any particular objective value? Nope. Is there any reason to believe their classification of people will apply across problem domains? Not that I can see.

So  I sat on all that. Until yesterday, when I bit the bullet and (via a discount, I admit) took their test. And my mind started blowing up in all-new ways. Except that they weren’t new.

Bit of background: there are 34 “themes” in this scheme. They’re kind of listed in order for each person, based on blah blah a process blah whatever. In principle, to the extent you buy it, they’re giving info about what sort of processing/perception/action/reaction might in theory exist, and in any/some of which each test-taker might excel.

Yeah. Sounds kind of like voodoo to me too, except that vudu at least involves sacrificing animals and kewl ritual-dingi. Maybe zombies!

But anyway, as I said, I took their test. Here are my TOP FIVE STRENGTHS (bc nothing is a weakness in this world):

  1. Learner
    SHARED THEME DESCRIPTION People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
    Chances are good that you yearn to know a lot. It makes little sense to you to skim through a book and read only the highlights. You delve more deeply into intriguing subjects than most people do. You love to gather all kinds of information. This explains why you take time to grasp ideas that appear in print. Driven by your talents, you usually equate education — formal and informal — with understanding more about something today than you understood about it yesterday. By nature, you desire to acquire additional knowledge and gain new skills. Why? You are naturally curious. You often work alone to commit information to memory. You probably have a solitary place where you can practice your art, craft, sport, or science. Because of your strengths, you channel your efforts into the task at hand. You persevere until you have gained the knowledge and skills needed to attain a goal. You can toil for many hours to secure your objective. You probably work hardest and most productively at a particular time of day. Instinctively, you are an individual performer. You typically welcome opportunities to acquire knowledge and ponder ideas on your own. You often seek and find solitary places where you can think without being distracted by people or noise.
  2. Ideation
    SHARED THEME DESCRIPTION People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
    Driven by your talents, you bring new thoughts to most discussions and meetings. Your reputation for innovative thinking explains why you are recruited by groups. You derive satisfaction from mental activity. You recognize when you are especially creative. By nature, you frequently opt to systematically study various subjects, rules, processes, mechanisms, or programs when you work alone. In your opinion, having the freedom to decide how to approach a project is one of the advantages of being an individual contributor. Because of your strengths, you usually find novel and fresh ways to do things. People turn to you when they find themselves struggling to generate ideas. It’s very likely that you favor conversations where information, facts, or data are considered objectively — that is, emotions do not distort the truth. You pose questions, evaluate answers, and figure out how things work. Reducing an idea, theory, or process to its most basic parts provides you with many insights. You are likely to archive — that is, preserve — your discoveries so you can use them later. Instinctively, you welcome opportunities to understand people one by one. You carefully examine each person’s strengths, shortcomings, character, choice of friends, interests, goals, and history. This enables you to draw conclusions and make judgments about individuals.
  3. Strategic
    SHARED THEME DESCRIPTION People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
    Instinctively, you might enjoy a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all participants. When you have acquired specialized skills or possess specific knowledge, perhaps you can suggest alternative solutions for certain issues. Now and then, your expertise excites your own or others’ imaginations. Maybe this occurs when you are encouraged to think what will be possible weeks, months, or even years from today. By nature, you pay close attention to what is going on around you. You listen. You quiz people. You read. You probably take notes on key points. As you accumulate lots of information, you disregard what is unrelated, and pay heed to what is really important. The more you reflect on what you know, the more problems begin to reveal themselves, and eventually solutions start taking shape in your mind. Finally, given the situation, you select the best plan from your list of options. Driven by your talents, you may be viewed by some people as an innovative and original thinker. Perhaps your ability to generate options causes others to see there is more than one way to attain an objective. Now and then, you help certain individuals select the best alternative after having weighed the pros and cons in light of prevailing circumstances or available resources. Chances are good that you may generate numerous ways to enhance, upgrade, revise, correct, or revamp certain processes, action plans, or itineraries. Sometimes your suggestions influence how a project will unfold in the coming months, years, or decades. You might find fault with your own or another person’s talents, skills, or knowledge. To some extent, fixing people or things ranks in the top half of your list of favorite activities. Because of your strengths, you long to know more so you remain on the cutting edge of your field or areas of interest. Your inventive mind usually generates more possibilities than you can handle or fund. Nonetheless, you are committed to acquiring knowledge and/or skills. You study everything involved in a situation and conceive entirely new ways of seeing or doing things. What you already know prompts you to ask questions and delve even deeper into a subject or problem.
  4. Responsibility
    SHARED THEME DESCRIPTION People who are especially talented in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.
    Instinctively, you are an individual performer who wants to be held accountable for your results. Why? You generally accomplish more when high expectations are established. You probably set these high expectations for yourself when no one else does. Because of your strengths, you conduct yourself in an exceptionally mature and orderly fashion even when your teammates, classmates, friends, coworkers, and colleagues are acting childish. It’s very likely that you are quite comfortable being honest about yourself with others. You harbor very few illusions about who you really are. Furthermore, you can openly acknowledge your mistakes and shortcomings. This is apt to distinguish you from most people. By nature, you are naturally open and honest about who you are, what you have done, what you can do, and what you cannot do. Your straightforward explanations and stories help listeners see you as you see yourself. You reveal your strengths and limitations. You are forthright and plainspoken. People generally seek your company and want to work with you. Many are impelled to move into action by your words and examples. Driven by your talents, you probably want to work on your own because you thrive in settings where you can function independently. You have a strong need to know each task has been done correctly and ethically before you declare it is done.
  5. Intellection
    SHARED THEME DESCRIPTION People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
    Driven by your talents, you prepare for important conversations or discussions by collecting lots of background information. It is not unusual for you to set aside at least five hours of quiet time each week to consider what you have discovered. You are likely to use this time to expand your thinking. A new piece of material can send you hunting for additional evidence to support your theories, concepts, or proposals. Chances are good that you value education and scholarship at any level and at any age. Your thirst for knowledge causes you to explore many topics of study or specialize in one particular subject. You thoroughly enjoy opportunities to acquire additional information, skills, and experiences. It’s very likely that you are more comfortable talking about ideas than issuing orders or dealing with conflict. You gravitate to conversations with intelligent people. You intentionally cast aside emotions and concentrate on the facts. You continually search for evidence to make your points and wish others would do the same. Because of your strengths, you prefer having quiet time to mull over ideas as well as read and examine interesting topics. Periods of uninterrupted thinking give you great pleasure. You probably excuse yourself from noisy, active, or distracting situations to thoroughly process your ideas. By nature, you may place great value on moments alone with your thoughts. You might consider whatever arouses your intellectual curiosity. Setting aside time each week to explore particular ideas might be a pleasurable or necessary activity for you.

(Next five in order, if anyone cares or even if they don’t: Individualization, Achiever, Analytical, Competition, Developer. Sort of interesting to see what they’re said to mean. Ish.)

Okay. Right. Fine. All descriptions are flattering. It’s how they roll. Nothing wrong with that.

But…weirdly…since I’d decided to play the game, take it seriously for argument’s sake…it made a certain amount of sense to me. And led to some of them epiphanitis whatsits.

  1. There’s nothing in my “top 5” about focus. About successfully limiting my options.
  2. Also, nothing much about other people other than feeling responsible to them. They don’t motivate me at all? Hmm.
  3. So, uh, it might be a mistake (within this paradigm) to self-define success and failure according to whether I accomplished a predetermined task? I mean, if I’m mostly a guy looking for new ideas…maybe trying to do a non-new thing isn’t going to be a great fit?
  4. So this might be “why” outlining/planning won’t ever seem to work for me? I don’t know how to stop having epiphanies/ideas as I write? So the outline just can’t work. I mean, I rebel against it & come up with new stuff. The ideas in the outline might have worked, if only I hadn’t written them down and attempted to self-constrain….
  5. Maybe the barriers to task-switching I’ve been attempting to set up (phone off, operating system only for writing, full-screen emphasis on one project, etc.) are actually counterproductive? Maybe I should instead minimize costs of switching from one activity to another?

Look, there’s lots more, and as I said about Chuck’s stuff above…it’s pretty much blowing my mind. Maybe distractions aren’t as bad as I’ve told myself (and others)? Maybe I get irritated when I’m “trying to focus” and people dare to breathe nearby, not so much because they did that gas-exchange thing with their lungs, but because “focus” itself really isn’t my forte? Maybe I need to find a way to make things new/interesting, not only sometimes, but ALL THE TIME??

Okay. Well, whatever. We’ll see how things develop. But I can see why, maybe, “hiking the Appalachian Trail” ended after a month. Or riding my bike from New Orleans to Alaska ended just south of Minneapolis. But how I maybe also built a lot of things, from scratch, on my own. Because they were new/interesting.

Maybe focusing on a project is the wrong idea. Maybe a project can only work for me in that context if it’s sufficiently complex that I can actually switch to different sorts of effort without (apparently) abandoning my goals? So, actually, project boundaries are sort of fluid/nonessential/arbitrary, and it might make more sense to give myself opportunities instead of trying to restrict them?

Well. Hmm.

I don’t actually expect this will make sense to many of you, of those few of you who are you who read these things. But I do love me a paradigm shift.

You know, it wasn’t too long ago that I identified “epiphanies” as my primary goal in both reading and writing fiction. So, uh.

I still say it’s fuckin’ voodoo. But I’m heading off on a path that’s, you know, other than others. To see how it goes from here.

Oh yeah! The title of this post! I think I remember a book by James P. Hogan of the same title. I haven’t found a reference to it online, though. Instead I found a Wikipedia article about him…the article called him a “Holocaust denier.”

Well, ouch. I liked his stuff. The Holocaust seemed like a bad thing. But here’s how my mind works: I got curious. Not enough to actually do any research, at least not yet. But in that CliftonStrengths world there’s a “Strength” called “Harmony.” It’s apparently about valuing the experience of having people all get along. Well, there are 34 strengths, so-called, and for me that’s #34. I really can’t think that way.

What I thought: “Huh. Hogan was pretty smart. No idea whether he was right/wrong, or whether he in fact said/believed what’s being said here, but it might be fun to research the topic and see what’s out there.”

Because, really, I don’t care about which hypothesis/theory turns out to be correct, in any area at all. I’m not interested on any level in “consensus” on any topic. I just want to play with ideas. See where they lead. And violently disagree with those that make no damn sense at all. AFTER I look into them.

So there’s that. It may offend some/most/all/none. Frankly, guys, I don’t care. And it’s fun to see a test that agrees I’m not supposed to do. Enabling! You should see what I do to cows when nobody’s looking! If anything! (Couldn’t get away with that on my home planet. Them cows is mean.)

Have fun out there!

Published inNonfictionPersonalRandom RantsWild-Ass Speculation

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