We're filming a documentary as part of the ADMCi Commission for Research and Development to tell the story of how the motorcycle commission has come together. Admittedly, this took an unexpected turn with a motorcycle accident completely unrelated to the project a few weeks back. As a result, we've ended up capturing some of the fall-out from the healing process, which we thought we might share here. Sort of an exercise in humility... Frank Popper, our documentarian, is asking the questions. FRANK POPPER: [while mic'ing me.] You're so quiet, it's almost like talking with a priest. It's like being in a confessional... (1) JIM JACOBY: That's funny to hear. I've often consciously used how quiet I am as a gage that people are paying attention to me. I know if someone leans in and says, "What?" that at least they're paying attention. That said, it's a bit of a power-play, honestly. More than that, I'm beginning to think that this 'confessional' aspect of my demeanor has some real validity. It seems like people feel very comfortable opening up to me with some of their deepest, darkest secrets. They'll foist their entire life's directional-problems on me and kind of sit there, looking at me for answers. I've gotten a little more forthcoming about responding to them that the answer is inside them, not me. I used to think I needed to take these seeming obligations on as a sort of responsibility. Now I'm much more selective about that. FDP: Given the duration of the healing process here, you've mentioned that it can wear on you; that it gets depressing. Can you tell me more about that? (2) JRJ: I keep saying this, but I'll put it down one more time... From the minute I bounced off that tree in Indiana, I knew I'd been given a gift of some kind. I knew I needed to be conscious of the people who would be coming into my life, paying close attention to the lessons I could learn, and generally changing the tenor of my day-to-day life. Given the radical change -- really, a massive slow-down -- it's caused a complete recalibration. For the most part -- the vast part -- this has been good. I think about my use of time, who I let into my world, and how I prioritize much more carefully. That said, time to reflect can pile up. Eventually, your mind will pile on and make you feel sorry for yourself that you're just alone or that you really don't have a choice to do anything other than where you're stuck. There might be something more noble in making the conscious decision to be more selective with my time. But, maybe this is just the first step toward re-programming that use of time. Regardless, like I said, it can get you feeling sorry for yourself when you focus too much on the fact that you don't have a choice. It feels like you're trapped, like your world has shrunk more than you'd want it to. I'm in one room of my house now, and that's it for another ten weeks. My world is confined. I battle out of it through phone meetings, skype conference calls, participating in the podcast, writing blog posts, networking based on the momentum of the great NPR story from Marketplace. That all helps. But again, every now and then, you just feel like you've lost some of you freedom of choice when a walker is your only means of transportation and sometimes you fear that even that might be less of an option or could fail you somehow. I worry that someone will take it. Or what if someone breaks in? I can't defend myself or run. That's scary, frankly. FDP: I've seen some interesting reactions to people beginning to comprehend that it will in fact be you riding for the land-speed record in Bonneville, especially after this accident. Can you describe some of the reactions you've gotten so far...? (3) JRJ: The vast majority are the same. Basically, this: "Wait, I'm sorry, what? You mean, you? You'll be actually riding for the record?" This is usually the third or fourth time they've heard the information, but for whatever reason they just don't process it. Then at some point it breaks through, again, usually on the third or fourth attempt. That said, for some it simply doesn't break through in some cases. My parents have never addressed it, despite me mentioning it directly in emails, sending news stories talking about it, and more. My in-laws just flat-out ignore it. They'll make passive-aggressive comments that I won't be riding a motorcycle anymore now that I've had this accident. I'll respond that they're right... until I got to Bonneville for the record. And it's funny, you could be looking right at them and they'll just stare right through you and move onto the next topic. It happened this afternoon, actually. I'm assuming that means they don't want to address it... or can't. I'm not entirely sure. FDP: It's interesting to think that your responses here could be serialized and released as teasers to the upcoming documentary. Not that we know exactly what that might be, but it seems like people getting to know you as a character would be powerful. In a way it reminds me of the build-up to the Blair Witch Project. (4) JRJ: Perhaps, except that would mean that these posts would be coming from beyond the grave. How are these blog updates happening when Jim Jacoby is dead?? There must be a wrinkle or a bug in Wordpress. It's not possible to send updates from the beyond. Or is it? Maybe I could set these up to publish after the speed run. The computer wouldn't give a damn if I made it or not. So, yeah, actually that is a possibility. That would be kinda funny actually. A little dark. But pretty funny. FDP: From the moment of the accident to the moment of your thought about Bonneville, how much time elapsed and what were your first thoughts about the speed run? (5) JRJ: That's a great question. Here's the thing. As I was in the slide and the tree was closing distance between me and the bike (because at that point, the tree is moving not you -- it's like a horror movie where the hallway compresses without you having to walk through it), the timing was actually inverse. Here's how it happened: Time itself compresses in a moment of intense fear. Suddenly you have TONs of it. Too much. Concurrently, you know you're moving faster, far faster, than you want to. So as you're on this terrible funhouse ride toward the tree, you have a lot of time to think. My first thought was that I was going to die and that I didn't want to. I really didn't want to. My next thought was, "Where is that life-flashing-before-my-eyes movie?" because I'd much rather be recapping that than closing the distance with this tree. And my third thought, before I hit the tree was, "What is this going to do for Bonneville?" Then, bing-bang-boom, I'm floating backward through the air and land flat on my back. So, the thought was miiseconds before the impact. That said, the next round was before calling JT who I felt I owed an obligation to. I had to be the rider, so I minimized the healing time. No one told me directly but I assumed 4-6 weeks based on what I was picking up anecdotally. I wasn't willing to let go of the mid-August target. He and I agreed we'd play it by ear until we learned more but that, of course, we'd be very careful with the healing process because you can really screw yourself up for the rest of your life if you don't do this part right. Two weeks after the accident I got the definitive news that it was a 12-week healing process -- no ifs, ands, or buts. That directly conflicted with the USFRA sanctioned run so we had to begin talking about different dates, different sanctioned events, even back-up riders. I'm still not willing to compromise my place on the seat of that bike, but I'm being forced to be open to at least alternatives as we make our way to the race season which is basically mid-August through early October. FDP: So what is the extent of the damage to you? What happened? (6) JRJ: Well, I wasn't very proactive about making sure I got pictures of my insides, but there were a lot in terms of x-rays and CT scans. The main damage and main focus was a crack in my pelvis. That appears to be on the back side of the socket that holds the ball-joint of my hip/thigh bone. It's essentially inoperable, which is sort of good news... as long as it doesn't shift. That's also where the internal bleeding was happening which was really the only time I was genuinely concerned. Not knowing if your body is running in some direction internally for a while is weird and discomforting. Fortunately, it was just a natural leak from the bone and didn't continue. The other major injury was my wrist. Oddly, I didn't request to even have this checked out until the second day in the hospital when I said, "You know, I think there might be something wrong with my left wrist too." They brought the machine into my room for that one which was really cool and diagnosed it on the spot. The little bones that connect my left thumb to my wrist were snapped. Apparently that's bad because those bones in particular don't get good blood-flow so they have a habit of 'dying' if the healing process doesn't go entirely right. I think they called it narcosy or something. So that's what broke. The first few nights at home were tough, but the worst was making my way back to bed in the evening. In retrospect, I think my body was going back into shock each night because as I'd struggle back with my walker from the family room to my bed in the kitchen i'd be wracked with freezing chills and nausea that didn't go away for quite some time until I settled down. I was on fairly strong pain medication at that point, which by now (three weeks in), I've been able to taper off pretty significantly. The last sort of discovery was in the soft tissue. The inside of my left bicep had a big knot that must have been an impact area with the tree. It drained for about a week and turned my whole arm black, making it difficult to bend my elbow. For a brief while I thought I'd also broken ribs, but that's netted out to this feeling of having done 1000 sit-ups... about 950 more than I'm able to reasonably do, so the muscles in my gut and my chest just feel torn up. That seems to be the last revelation of the pain and damage. FDP: You mentioned you felt obligated to JT in some ways. When did you actually speak with him and what was his reaction? (7) JRJ: I forget why, but he had called as he regularly does, so we ended up talking the day after the crash later in the afternoon while I was still in the hospital. We had some pre-amble and then I just rolled it out there for him. He took it all very much in stride. In a way, he reacted like a proud parent welcoming his son to 'the club.' It was something like, "Well, good for you. Now you've had your first crack-up so you got that out of the way." I felt the same way though actually. With the Bonneville run looming, I had started thinking more and more about crashing, how to fall, what I would do, etc. Now I could let a lot of that go because I'd had a much worse experience, I believe, than I'd likely have at Bonneville. There isn't a tree to be seen there in ten miles in any direction, so that should be good. Oh, and he asked if I "wrecked my balls." I assured him all was well. Apparently he's had some problems in previous crashes. FDP: As I'm roaming around your house here, I'm curious about your design aesthetic. You seem to have strong opinions on what's good, what's bad, and why. What do you look for? (8) JRJ: I'm a fan of great design, not a visual or architectural designer in the traditional sense myself. My own criteria are functionality, what I would call 'mark of the human hand,' and the ability to read a story in a piece of work. Our house is designed in an arts and crafts style which Dawn and I love. It satisfies us because it tells a local design story about a movement born here in Northern Illinois. It's also exceptionally functional in terms of how lighting and windows are handled, and just the right amount of ornamentation or visual language without being either stark on one end or showy on the other. Beyond that, I look for a sense of the person who made the thing somehow captured in that thing. So even if woodwork is milled, you have a sense that overall the designer was working through a storyline of sorts, creating harmony through a limited set of visual cues. That excites me because you can essentially 'read their work.' It's something I've only been able to articulate more recently as a result of hanging out with JT and David Lenk and Jim Cohen who are classically trained and proactively look for an opening to 'read' a design... both on the surface and from the inside out. By the way, it was during the arts and crafts movement when the word 'craftsmanship' was coined and popularized in the states. FDP: With all the beauty in your home, the balance of design and integration with the architecture and the furniture, I can't help but ask, what's your fascination with skulls? They're all over the place and it seems an odd juxtaposition... and yet it works. What's going on? (9) JRJ: That interest goes way back. A stand-out moment was when I was first dating Dawn and I somewhat carefully mentioned that I was interested in acquiring a human skull someday, but I wasn't sure how to go about it. Without missing a beat, she whipped out a catalog called Skulls Unlimited that she shopped from frequently and there they were! Pages of museum-quality human 'heads.' I couldn't believe it. This was the girl for me! Dawn studied technical drawing at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (SAIC), so she's not a weirdo. She needed these things for study and replication. In fact, we've never actually purchased a human skull, but we do have a lot of other ones... cats, bats, rams, and so on. We also have a lot of art that represents or emotes human skulls and skeletons. I have lots of books. One of my favorites being Empire of Death (coincidentally by a fellow NIU alum), which catalogs the world's greatest ossuaries (places where they store bones or inter the dead). I learned a lot about myself from that book. There's an appropriate fascination with the artifacts of the dead. As a human being, you address and discuss it with yourself. It turns out studies about cultures that expose death more proactively are mentally healthier than those who hide it. In France in the 1800's there were huge tourist attractions for massive ossuaries, and tours ran all around the clock. Eventually they were shut down because they didn't manage the disease aspect of these collections very well, and they just fell out of favor once disease was linked to bad water originating from poorly managed cemeteries, etc. Anyway, this is a long way of saying it all comes back to Hamlet or any similar situation. Conversation with death is an important personal discussion and the memento mori help prompt it. I collect things that help me do that both because I love them aesthetically and because my mind and body seem to want to have that discussion regularly. FDP: You mention you've been trying to think more deeply about the speed run and maybe how it's affecting the people around you. Tell me about watching Crash Reel, which you mentioned was a pretty moving experience. (10) JRJ: In a way, you could criticize a movie like Crash Reel as 'accident porn.' I'm not a fan of that and I'd never have watched it under what I might call 'normal circumstances.' A good friend, Bryan Campen, had mentioned that I should watch it because of the great human interest aspect and the family story and so on. I'd actually purchased it on iTunes a week before my own accident, but had never gotten up the energy to watch it. So, the second day I was back home from the hospital, I fired it up on my laptop and resolved to face it. For those who don't know, it's a documentary about a kid named Kevin Pearce who emerges as one of the top snowboard competitors in the world. They follow his rise to stardom and his back-and-forth competition with Sean White, probably the most famous representative of that sport. The promoters for the sport increased the size of the half-pipes these kids compete on and they were getting bigger and better 'air,' doing more amazing tricks, and so on... Until, eventually, in a meet just a few weeks before the Olympics, Kevin had a horrible crash in a practice run trying to complete his newest trick. He catches the front lip of his board at the top of the pipe and just slams his head face-first into the snow. It's incredibly hard for me to watch and I get choked up even recalling it. I cried through the first third of the movie and I'm not sure why. Then this amazing drama begins to unfold. The story becomes about Kevin's family rallying around him. His brother, who was also a competitive snowboarder, quits his job to focus full time on Kevin's recovery and therapy. His family discusses Kevin's eventual desire to return to competition and they ultimately do battle over the kitchen table about whether or not he can or should. Of course, Kevin does, because it's how he defines himself. But he's simply not the same person he was before. Traumatic brain injuries, it turns out, are regularly repeated because athletes go right back to what they were doing before their first injury, so repetition of two- or three-times are not uncommon. Eventually Kevin makes peace with it all and shifts gears on his life. But again, the story isn't about a horrific crash, necessarily. It's about his family's love and understanding and pain as he goes through his personal arc of reconciliation with the very thing that defined him and was then snatched away. While I'm not going through anything nearly as profound, the movie has given me a much better sense of the people around me and that they too share unwittingly in my commitment to this goal. And, so, I need to include them in the decisions I make. I'm much less cavalier about it and it's only because I now can understand that inclusiveness on a much deeper level.
as some of the best in our our industry prep for their final presentation this weekend, it's impossible not to reflect on the 'achievement of the imposible'... because that's seemingly what they've done. i spent the last year seeking new ways to put humanity back in businesses and the journey has been nothing short of transformative. this weekend confirms i'm on the right track, at least for this leg. the challenge laid out by ux4good co-founders jason ulaszek and jeff leitner was delivered in collaboration with the dalai lama center here in vancouver (where we are now). in short, the teams explored ways to help the school system in british columbia (but by way of example, any school system) implement heart-mind educational programs. the teams spent two days researching, in the field and at the heart-mind conference at UBC. the third day was one of expansive synthesis and extraordinary making. the teams didn't let go till the wee hours of the morning. now, here we are, that same morning--mother's day--delivering the results. i'm humbled simply to observe. i'll be drafting a separate post, cataloging my observations and feelings (heart and mind) to report the experience. but to tie this all back together, my quest for putting humanity back into business ends where it began... with user-centered designers leading the way. my newest endeavor, The American Design and Master-Craft Initiative will help me focus on that obsession full time. i'll now be able to collaborate on educational programs for the digital industry that define excellence in craftsmanship... starting with UX. i believe this focus on craftsmanship will help us all put ourselves into our work and therein... find ourselves. suddenly work is more important without the distraction of 'cause' outcomes. nothing wrong with causes. but it's the means--the journey--that gives us sustainable meaning and satisfaction. less so the outcome... though the outcomes--what we achieve--are obviously and inevitably important. on we go....
spend enough time with me and i'll eventually tell you one of my favorite stories. it's about neri oxman. read enough on this blog and you'll get the same. so, here we go... first a bit of background. neri earned her first degree in medical sciences. she then moved on to advanced architectural studies. she has spent the bulk of her career now with MIT where she earned her PhD in the field of design computation. in short, and this is a vast 'under-statement,' she is researching and applying algorithms, designs, and approaches to creating material from (let's just say) algorithms to produce physical things (buildings, for instance) that structurally approximate natural forms (such as veins and cells in plants). god help me if anyone close to, or neri herself, were to read this. she'd hate me for sure. for the rest of us mortals, studying her writings and applying them to our everyday work and theories, she's a fountain of inspiration. i decided to look up her most recent publication, after i was inspired by an article in FastCo. first the pop publication. FasCo. writes about a swiss company producing drones that could ultimately build buildings. the forms of their prototype designs immediately reminded me of neri. imagine a landscape or skyline populated by buildings like these. as usual, when i looked up her latest doings i was rewarded by neri's advances in thought, breaking down a natural/mechanical design perspective that would readily inform this sort of construction. just take this quote from her latest article in Architectural Design...
A direct parallel can be made between the Modernist separation of form, structure and material and the more recent tripartite division in digital processes of modeling, analysis and fabrication, which has resulted in the predominance of geometric-driven form-generation. Today, though, design culture is experiencing a shift to a new level of material awareness. Inspired by nature’s strategies where form-generation is driven by maximal performance with minimal resources through local material property variation, Neri Oxman investigates a novel design approach to digital fabrication that offers the potential to program physical matter.a little heavy, but you can imagine a situation pretty quickly where these three layers of thought are individually designed/programmed to interact with one another, we then manipulate the program to produce what we want to achieve, and the interactions between design layers ensure the outcome is produced in a reliable form. of course, if you're into the singularity, you could then take the next step and imagine these little flying drones becoming self-aware, 'healing' structures that need the help while 'growing' new structures in anticipation of our needs and requirements. my fascination remains this: if we are involved in this process of discovery at the individual 'layers' of design in the physical world, then we're embarking on a definitively new form of craftsmanship... entered into through a digital world. it is an approach that defines the world around us in much more sweeping ways. we'll enrich individual and transcend multiple layers in a system of master-craftsmanship: in furniture then interior design then buildings then modular buildings then city blocks then cities then mega cities... you begin to see that we are inheriting--whether we realize it or not--direct control over our environment in ways and at speeds never before imagined. which means, the philosophical importance of what we create (why and how) becomes just as important as what we create. that transformation requires a set of principles to lead the way; especially when we're now permanently seated on the edge of net-new creation, without the luxury of generations and cultural evolution to process the changes happening around us.
murmury. mmmm. say it out loud. it's such a beautiful word. it undulates and follows itself, just like the thing it's built to describe. in this case: a flock of starlings. i originally became fascinated with the word a couple years back when there was much speculation as to why flocks of birds were plowing, suicide-like, straight into the ground. as troubling as a beached whale, these flocks were corkscrewing into the ground in feathery, gatling-gun bursts. nobody had any good answers. now they're back. but they aren't in such a troubled state. they're part of a broader story about swarms (a much less enjoyable word, imho). locusts, sheep, ants, humans, bees, and more all exhibit forms of this behavior. the group basics that drive them begin to reveal a larger intelligence because of their basis on such simple rules. for instance, alignment with only your neighbor produces mostly disorder, like a milling crowd. alignment with those around you and shared balance in following through, creates a circling formation called a 'torus' (finally, back to the more beautiful words). and, a high order of alingment creates flock-like behavior, where even one member might react to an outside influence and everyone follows. we've re-created these shared behaviors in computer models like massive, which unleashed the movie magic in the tolkein armies from the lord of the rings. turns out, these seemingly disorganized patterns (at least at first blush) actually work similarly in our brains, typically toward some sort of an outcome... like an opinion, decision, or simple understanding. here we connect back to some early insights from jonathan haidt from his exploration of the righteous mind. psychologists are finding these patterns within our brains. of course, as i mentioned in an earlier post, haidt is seeking to understand the frameworks of religion and politics to understand why we behave the way we do within them. he locks onto the theory group-level evolution and goes to a somewhat lengthy extent defending it. he establishes that we have a 'trigger' for hive-like behaviors in transcendent situations. we will group and sublimate individuality under these circumstances. the latest article in wired on swarms seems to effortlessly extend haidt's search for this same proof. seems to me we can accept and put to rest group-level evolution for the time being. it exists in lots of species, including our own, and it helps both the individual and the group survive. what i'm most struck by at this point is the evolution of understanding of our minds. jonah lehrer a surprising perspective in his book entitled Proust was a Neuroscientist. in it, he takes on a number of heady break-through scientific topics and ties them back to instinctual descriptions from some of our culture's greatest authors. mid-way through the book he dives into Proust where he describes the exploration of memory. new scientific findings prove that in fact Proust was exactly right as he delved deeper and deeper into the inner thoughts of his most profound characters. that is, as we remember, we destroy and re-remember the very memory we're pulling up. in essence we un-remember each time we remember... the original memory erodes and we recreate an ideal of the precedent. was this a master-craft writer exploring the instinctual conversation inside himself, working out a basic truth in his personal dialectic? lehrer would seem to say 'yes.' each chapter explores another topic from taste (umami!), to mathematics, to music. he closes with a chapter on virginia wolf. the conversation we have with ourselves about who we are is a series of discordant thoughts. they are all trying to work their way through to some common understanding in order to make sense of the self. splitting the corpus callosum, for instance, causes the reconciliation to become more discordant in predictable ways. a high-functioning mind works to resolve in a flock-like dance (my interpretation) that resolves for a greater good. each idea, contradiction, insight and the like add up to the safest behavior, the best advancement (available at the time), and so on. virginia wolf's style and characters did exactly this, as did she in real life. our internal dialectic is intuited by the arts and proven by the sciences. an interesting argument, im my opinion, that further blending between psychology, sociology, biology, and so on is underway. guiding principles to reconcile them in a master-craft dialectic will help us organize these new insights. oh, and, uh, 'PS', i guess... in looking for an appropriate graphic or two for this post i found a playlist by 'murmury' on 8tracks. the cover art for the creation of ourselves from ourselves is too perfect--and too distracting--for inclusion up front. but, perhaps an appropriate book-end to the beauty of a flock of starlings in magical flight with the ugliness and fear we feel at moments of self-creation. (let me know if you like the tune. i did.) actually, the more i look into this the less i can tell what the heck this picture represents... the mix, one of the artists, just a picture. huh. i'll keep looking...
recent stories about the world-record setting Vestas Sailrocket are thrilling. they relate much of the emotional pull that first wrapped me up in our own speed project. after all, the Bienville Legacy is designed to break records. as i get deeper into the process though, i find more and more that my original instinct was spot-on... that doing this project would lead to deeper insights, deeper meaning, and a break-through in craftsmanship for the 21st century. i don't have all the answers -- not even close -- and i won't have enough until we get further into the build. we're only just beginning to assemble seats and linkages as parts begin to trickle in from custom machine shops. meanwhile, we have password protected Bienville Studios' picture blog and we've been rather quiet on most other fronts for some time now. this is in stark contrast to the original disposition with kickstarter and the what-dat-is videos of the go-go late 2012's ;o). we are a sober duo of dedicated explorers at this point... one master-craftsman (JT Nesbitt) and one funder/seeker (me). we are complemented by a handful of incredibly talented vendors. i'll be writing about these guys in individual articles in the coming weeks to introduce each one of them to you. we're also surrounded by some particularly talented and insightful supporters, who all interestingly have a bent toward education. this is leading me to believe ADMCi will evolve a bit, with an even stronger foundation in education. more on that as we redefine ADMCi's offerings and its relationships to manifest digital, the insight labs, ux4good, and master craftsmen like JT Nesbitt. but, first things first. what is this Sailrocket and what's the correlation? i'm not actually interested in speed records for speed's sake. when you start reading about Paul Larson and his search to break the equivalent of the sound barrier in sailing you get a sense he's after something deeper too. the supposed limitation in sailing is due at least in part to an issue with solids moving through water called 'cavitation.' basically, this phenomena makes water vaporize around 50 knots. as a result, no boat has sustained a speed higher than the mid 50's before Paul's attempts. the basic engineering that he hoped would break the code was actually developed 50 years prior. here's a snippet from a recent wired article on his pursuit:
The basic design he kept returning to was one proposed 50 years ago by an American rocket engineer named Bernard Smith. It never caught on, and Smith died in relative obscurity. But Larsen stumbled across Smith’s book in the back of a dusty yacht chandlery just after high school. Discovering it, he says, was like “getting a book on jet engine flight from 1917.” Smith posed a question few had ever thought to ask: “Most sailors think of a sailboat as something that reaches up to grab a bit of air,” Larsen says, echoing Smith. “But why not build it like a plane that reaches down and grabs the water?”the results have been undeniable. in short, paul has landed the world record in sailing with a sustained speed above 65 knots. materials are space-age, with carbon fiber and the like providing strength and light weight. the design, however, is exceptionally simple. (Paul, by the way promptly headed off for the antarctic to retrace earnest shackleton's heroic, troubled voyage after the sinking of his ship, endurance. he is widely viewed as one of the greatest expeditionary heros ever known. certainly paul is seeking something of his own here. you can witness him musing on it in his own postings.) i can't help but reflect on the approach JT is taking with the Legacy project. suspension is the primary breakthrough. from the context of bicycle mechanics, suspension has existed essentially unchanged since we began clamping motors to bikes. suspension in motorcycle design has consistently required a forked front-end and some sort of swing-arm at the rear. but what if you sprung the whole bike? what if the bike didn't fight you through a decelerating turn, but instead flexed its stance to make turning more efficient as the load increased or decreased as a result of compression? what if you could adjust the rake and trail for the riding conditions that day by hand with one tool... rather than switching from one bike for one set of conditions to an entirely different bike for another? the leaf-spring body and related suspension was born. JT's grounding is in early 20th century design and the design stories that were ultimately left untold as the american market shifted further and further into the marketability and flexibility of two-cylinder motorcycles, leaving the one- and four-cylinders behind. the four-cylinder story was unfinished. further, the basic premise in design geometry he'd explored in the first half of his own career was also unresolved... in large part because of the side-lining events of Hurricane Katrina. the Bienville Legacy would solve for these gaps. the basic insights needed were in some ways ancient, at least at the market speeds we experience today. as a result, the design approach JT has taken is decidedly un-electronic. it's mechanical. the body is sprung. the components around it follow basic rules of geometry and physics. the only CAD drawing going on is just what is necessary. parts of course have to be machined and it takes a computer design to cut them out. but there is no design file somewhere with all the layers and bolts in electronic format. there are stacks of folios and notebooks. the parts remain parts, not unimaginably complicated gyrations wrought from blocks of metal that no normal human being could produce with a pencil. this has led to interesting exchanges when he has students in for assistance. they want to get the job done faster, for instance producing the linkage that will connect the various components together and move on. "but hold up," JT chides. "that's not a part, that's a machine-induced dream. no man would ever make that and i can't service it. if i want to change it, i'd have to re-CAD the whole thing. then i'd need you here again." in one case, this debate rambled on for days. at first it's baffling. you have a computer sitting right there. and you have an amazing program called solid works that can produce literally anything you can dream up. but when you get a look at the parts JT is assembling, especially when you hold the individual titanium wafers as you piece them together, you begin to get a sense of what he's up to. there's a fully imagined design language emerging that requires common words and phrases that don't exist on any other bike... or any machine as beautiful as this one. he has, quite literally, reinvented the bolt in order to limit the variations that could exist in his design. there are only three sizes and they will all be adjusted with the same tool. when you press him on these common features, he'll give you anything from an awe-shucks to a gruff "that's the way it's gotta be." the truth is in genius design. that's best exhibited in efficiency and scarcity. when you start solving for the right problem, such as how a plane would interact with water rather than how a boat interacta with wind, you start to find ridiculously simple answers and entirely foreign designs. these are the designs that will eventually become natural components in the language going forward. today, they are strange sounding (looking) things from a foreign land. that land, is the brilliant mind of a designer operating on another level and without the inhibitions of a preconceived notion for what a boat or motorcycle is or should be. rather, it should solve the problem at hand. our job is simply to release the answer to the problem... the right problem.
wired's latest on netflix and its impact on the media industry reveals a number of emerging tools for definition and measurement of changing markets. while their editorial is focused on the television industry and why they believe it's better than ever, i see something else here. i see a reimagining of a market. nestled into the overall commentary on the entertainment industry, wired digs deeper into something that has been leaking into the press for some time: netflix has data on viewing patterns and motivations that gives them an advantage. and, in my language: a further advantage in re-forming this market to their benefit and to the benefit of the players within it. a small sidebar on 'audience and ardor' is so powerful... and could almost escape notice at the 10th of '10 rules' on the platinum age of television. in short, they are not the same. no kidding. but go further: the metrics for how we define (and measure) this love will reimagine how we view what's important in our lives and the markets in which we engage. our values tie into these metrics. our instinctive beliefs... the very things that make up our personalities and make our lives important. they are the things that let us have a conversation with ourselves to learn more about what we believe and why we believe it. (the initial building blocks for the craftsmanship of a life well-imagined.) so, take 'most-watched' as a category of tv. NCIS, big bang, vegas, etc. it's candy. murder, sex, simple humor. it's the real housewives with a bit of a script scratched out to guide it. there have been other commentaries, especially in the wake of the recent fear that reality tv would destroy 'good writing.' the writing for tv has actually become exponentially better... for one side of its market. as we find it easier and easier to consume this bloated candy-stuff, we find ourselves--at least many of us do--wanted something more meaningful too. you can almost see the two families of programming pulling further and further away from one another. the stupid is getting stupider and the brilliant is getting ever so much more brilliant. neither is right or wrong, better or worse. they're just filling a need. thankfully, the entertainment market is seeing reward behind intelligent programming as well. and what is it with the 'most-loved'? breaking bad, game of thrones, mad men, etc. these are all the brilliant stories that reveal things deep within ourselves. struggles we're going through, whether in a fantasy, a throw-back, or drug addled stupor. they lift us into conversation within ourselves and with friends and family around us. arguably, they improve us because they make us think. in order to kill it, let's start measuring it! i kid. but an industry built on literally billions of dollars does require measurement. so when will values, meaning, emotional intelligence, and cultural strength start to develop as measures? these are the building blocks for the language of creating societies around us. they are the things that will reveal paths to improving our condition over time... in an observable way. of course, everyone's 'good' is not everyone else's. but, at least we'll begin building the language to define the territories and frameworks that let us understand those differences. who knows what's beyond that. netflix is highlighted as tapping into these audience insights in order to confidently unhinge arrested development from the standard release schedule and story arc of a typical sitcom, no matter how progressive it might have already been. releasing all episodes at once (this coming may!) and allowing them to be varying lengths is ground-breaking in this industry. the fact that it can (perhaps should) be watched in any order is also mind-bending from an episodic heritage. it's not the 'new normal' though. it's the advantage that a proven show with a passionate following can take once it's been built up. going forward, there will be layers in the market. we'll get to look for story-lines that emerge slowy over time (like they would in a traditional weekly release), we'll get to pop 'streaks of story line' in small bursts (like the new half-seasons of walking dead and the like), or we can gorge ourselves in one burst like this 17-hour long episodic next-generation sort-of movie. the construction of a market around story-telling, reforming it under the massive financial constraints found in television-quality production, and the measures that can result are exciting. neilson is obviously scrambling. this isn't an industry under-siege (i'm talking to you, newspapers). this is an industry reinventing itself while it tries to catch up with the measures and building blocks that help it understand itself.
craftsmanship is exploring the sociological value and reasons for structure and tension and players in this vein. matthew crawford in his emotional spin through shop class as soulcraft has also enlightened the subject significantly. and the beauty is they reference one another, so there's clearly some conversation happening. but then something amazing happened a couple weeks ago. i finished the book by jonathan haidt called the reightous mind and i realized the pattern that existed among them all. in short, it's a dialectic... the two-sided conversation most popularized by plato as a tool for finding the answers (if not the 'truth') in the world and minds around us. sennett and crawford and haidt all revealed in their own ways a version of a dialectic. sennett illuminated the sociology of it but was blinded by his romance of craftsmanship. crawford illuminated the personal journey and growth of it but was blinded by the same. haidt revealed who/what was really in control in the emotional exploration of it all, but was more focused on religion and politics for the moment. what we need to do is connect the common points in a celebration of a new definition of craftsmanship. and here's the real breakthrough (i believe). putting humanity back into business is still a high-minded goal, but not solvable at that entry point. putting craftsmanship back into our lives is honorable but confusing given all the baggage its freighted with. the dialectic of learning between hand-and-mind, let's say, is a model that can be followed, though. today's definition is one of learning between mind-and-world-creation. here's how: business systems layer one on top of the other. we are a system, at a more granular level serving an enlightening dialectic in the craftsmanship of creating the world around us... except nobody's paying attention to the fact that that's what we're now capable of. facebook, twitter, amazon, google... all the big businesses around us are re-crafting our world. and we're not actively involved in the conversation about their impact and the next steps in their design. we're sitting around fretting about unintended consequences. (take my once passionate stance in favor of the age of the unthinkable... and now by disgust with the hands-in-the-air unwillingness to define systems and tools to solve for it. i'm here to build those systems and tools.) take a simple example in closing. i'm reading a short article about the disruption to the publishing industry this morning in the latest edition of wired magazine. so what, i'm thinking. mail this stupid article to eight years ago (and that phrase to the late ninties for that matter). but the leaders in the industry are quoted as realizing ten years back that disintermediation was the cannary in the coal mine. it revealed the beginning of the end of an industry as they knew it. they made all their money off an inefficient market and serving an intermediated need (prospecting, contracting, designing, producing, shipping, and selling books). a great model and lots of other marktets are built on similar factors... before the advent digital market efficiencies. but as the author of this article astutely points out, the only real players needed in an efficient market are the writer and the reader. (this of course ignores the value of curation and other added components that people would seek out and pay for.) so it looks like a massive disruption. but it's not. it's just rebalancing through disintermediation. not a complete removal of the middle-men, mind you. just a rebalancing. same in music, journalism, and soon in education, healthcare, and more in insurance and finance. simpler markets are making way for more complex markets to be disintermediated. and so what? what the hell does this all have to do with craftsmanship and putting humanity back into our daily work? here's how. craftsmanship has been over-disintermediated through manufacturing and production. we've taken away the conversation between hand and mind through production lines and supply chains and the like. that's not entirely bad of course. it creates great value in a consumer economy. but we're not at war with individual makers either. we need to rebalance ourselves in the context of layered systems. and the american differentiation in global markets can be the celebration of craftsmen once again. after all, we have the continued proof of success. zuckerberg, sergey, and the like are our new craftsmen. they're just not thinking like one right now. they're 'hacking' and 'searching' and 'gooding' their way through this unknown territory. but we have many of the answers (models) we already need. the fact is they should be meaningfully designing at multiple layers in a complex system. and we should be actively involved in the dialectic with them. so, get back to work, but think about what your building... what you're doing... that you're not a hacker, or info-worker, writer, designer, or programmer but a 'maker.' your a crdaftsman in your own right. the dialectic you can create between yourself and the world around you is the craft you are charged with every day. you exist in the context of a layer in this system (one that i'll write more about shortly). now it's simply a matter of becoming conscious to it. we're waking up to the creation of the world around us.having spent the past year fully dedicated to putting humanity back into business, i believe i'm finally on track to a real answer. i don't have the answer, per se, but i know i'm on track. how so? you have to test yourself in the early days of discovery to wonder if you're asking the right question. my opening question was, 'how do we get humanity back into work?' it was founded on a belief that i--and too many of my co-workers--lacked enthusiasm ('light') for the work we did... and we didn't really know why. my context was (and is) the digital industry. was it cubicles? was it the type of work? was it a loss of meaning in our larger lives? i searched and searched. eventually, roughly a year ago, i had the sense to hitch my wagon to someone or something that i could experience and learn from. so i decided finding a master craftsman would be a good start. someone like this would exhibit happiness, understanding, meaning, and context... if not to the world, at least to himself, and that would be something to learn from. then i become concerned (nearly horrified) that master craftsmen were a dying natural resource. (not a big break-through, here, jim.) but the fact is they are. and then the question become 'why?' on that front. well, there was automation and manufacturing and mass-production. all these 'evil' things that disempowered the craftsman. i spent months looking into the cause-effect, history, and pro's/con's. i found some books and worried i was too late. had someone else figure this out before me?? was i too late to get credit for my great exploration? fortunatley the answer was mixed. some wonderful, wonderful minds have trod (and are 'trodding') this land. richard sennett in his beautiful book on
JT's jumped into another great conversation on design, integrity, and consumption. i'm posting this here as a stand-alone publication since i think its original on kneeslider.com was too much for those poor readers to handle. my apologies to them, but not to you... a bunch of people jumped in... to elaborate on or defend a position from one of these thee perspectives (design, integritiy, or consumption). the challenge is, they're all correct. but i think there's something in this conversation (a dialectic) that can also resolve... so it's not to say "let's all just get along." it's more to say, let's use this tension to advance the conversation, advance a market we deeply care about, and perhaps even advance our condition as 'people.' regarding the 'design' perspective of things, when delivered from a 'true' designer, the conversation quickly moves to finding and defending some sort of 'truth'--which is just core to who JT is, or anyone in that class of design. we need these guys around. they're a declining natural resource in this country (my worry). as some have reacted on this thread and others have on other points JT tends to make when he pops up, eventually he begins to look like a foreign visitor from a foreign land. those of us who see him as most foreign probably want to consume and buy and stand around things that _look_ good. that's fine. that's what we're into. i like buying nice stuff and having a story constructed to make me feel even better about the purchase. i get brands. i even like them. i assemble things around me over time and they begin to construct a picture about myself. it's a dialectic through consumption. some might see it as craven (craftsmen in particular); others, myself included, see it as another level of learning through action... in this case it's 'buying' on a gut level or a conscientious level. for someone like me without a lot of talent (compared to the likes of great designers) that's one of my main ways of interacting with the world and learning about myself. i recently finished a book by richard sennet book called simplly 'crafstmanship.' he sets out to define it, track its history and establish a defense for its value. it's brilliant and you should read it--no matter who you are :o). i immediately went from that into 'shopclass as soulcraft' by matthew crawford. he has a slightly more 'embattled' view of the need for and value of working with your hands and making stuff. neither guy gets it entirely right in terms of their search for a true definition of craftsmanship and why it's in the 'state' it's in (my opinion). both have bits and pieces that are right, which is forming a language for a more robust conversation... and i'm super excited that's emerging. truth and reflection in a design are crucial. i had the incredibly lucky pleasure of spending a day at the barber motorcycle museum with JT and brian case a few months back in birmingham. walking the displays and reflecting on the stages of design as seen through their eyes... holy-wow. look one way through the telescope at a hundred years of history. then look the other way through a hundred years of possibility with these two guys and you'll be humble forever. brian made an off-hand point about engines--in large part because he's spent a ton of his own time designing the motus, the only new engine in the states created from scratch in a very long time... too long. he was taken by the design cues and little things like the likelihood of finding a name stamped on an engine block. his point on design is crucial to this thread: "the exterior of a design should reflect what's going on inside." great designers look for that because it's a level of 'truth' in the design and it reveals aspects of a conversation that can be had with the design. these guys spend their days walking the world looking for cues in the physical world that will let them continue that conversation with it--and therefore with themselves. but 'truth' is a lofty statement and likely to put many guys on this thread off (i'm guessing) because it deifies to some extent what designers do... in many cases just as naturally as breathing. but this constant conversation with the physical world around them is meaningful to them. and it's why the rest of us look at them as 'difficult to connect with', or 'ornery', or 'not realistic'. foreigners. if there are lies (or, even to be more kind, 'mis-cues') woven into the physical fabric of their lives, guys like JT, brian case and others are horrified, and rightfully so. how are you ever supposed to have a meaningful conversation that advances the art and science of design if there are lies embedded in it? you can't. suddenly you don't know what's real or true... or worse, in a consumer-driven economy, you can't make a valid point with your audience because they are permanently deluded. it's all perfectly evident in this thread, unfolding after JT's comment. we're all playing our part. time will reveal truth (tempus veritas revelat). as people, we work at finding truth through conversation, interaction, and engagement. that's the whole point of a thread after a web posting like this. falsities in the conversation cause weaknesses in the dialectic. none of us is lying here. we're representing our point of view. i think JT's saying the design is lying. and, if it is, what's that saying about the company who is representing it.... and in his case, the guys on the design team, marketing team or elsewhere who are letting it happen. those of us who consume say, 'let them do it, we like buying their stuff.' fine, we're all right in our own way. but... eventually the weaknesses in conversation, design, or relationships crumble off. at an industry level and perhaps at a societal level, i wonder if we're looking at crumbs brushed from the table or a glacier setting up to calve off. the 'fake' will rot away. JT seems to want a design ethic in his industry of passion to re-spark and he's utterly confounded that others don't seem to grasp the same horror. i hope i've added at least a layer here's that's helpful. it's exciting to see a conversation like this break out on a motorcycle publication. where better, though, right?