Don’t follow the Tao, Be your own Tao

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Lao Tzu and His Tao

Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching thought he had found The Way, but he only inspired followership and conformity.  No religion’s path is the way for anyone except the religious leader who made it.  If you want to be a leader you have to depart from every path that has been laid and make your own path.

The Tao of Military Incompetence

Norman Dixon in The Psychology of Military Incompetence lays out characteristics of incompetence:

  1. An underestimation, sometime bordering on the arrogant, of the enemy.
  2. An equating of war with sport.
  3. An inability to profit from past experience.
  4. A resistance to adopting and exploiting available technology and novel tactics.
  5. An aversion to reconnaissance, coupled with a dislike of intelligence (in both senses of the word).
  6. Great physical bravery but little moral courage.
  7. An apparent imperviousness by commanders to loss of life and human suffering among the rank and file, or (its converse) an irrational and incapacitating state of compassion.
  8. Passivity and indecisiveness in senior commanders.
  9. A tendency to lay the blame on others.
  10. A love of the frontal assault.
  11. A love of ‘bull’, smartness, precision and strict preservation of ‘the military pecking order’.
  12. A high regard for tradition and other aspects of conservatism.
  13. A lack of creativity, improvisation, inventiveness and open mindedness.
  14. A tendency to eschew moderate risks for tasks so difficult that failure might seem excusable.
  15. Procrastination.

JPL and the New Tao

When I came across this presentation on the work of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I welcomed the advice of the engineers: Don’t follow the path, go instead where no one has gone before and leave a trail.

This concurs with an article I recently read in strategy & business “China’s Long Road to Innovation”. And that is there are so many companies concerned about profit margins that they do not have the long term vision to invest in research and development.  As a result, there is little to no innovative culture, just imitation.

Making a New Tao in Technology

When I look at relational databases, I see an exhausted potential.  When I talk to relational database designers, I do not hear innovators, I hear regurgitators.  The universe is not cartesian, why should our data be?

The minds controlling our data are atrophied.

Making a New Tao in Work Habits

9 to 5 work is horse shit.  Hierarchical coordination obstructing communication is horse shit.  In person meeting is horse shit.  Physical libraries are horse shit.  We have technology that allows us to work when we as individuals are most productive.  We have communication technology that makes management that sequesters itself from front line employees obsolete.  We have technology that allows us to collaborate without anyone having to be physically present in a meeting room.  We have the internet where physical libaries can be digitized.  Why should our employers have to insist on the overhead of individual workspace, coordination costs, meeting space and libaries when employees can be equipped to work from their own home online where, according to an IDC Mobile Worker report, they are 20% more productive?  In person private “meatings” can be arranged in temporary spaces rented by the hour.  In person semi-private meatings can be arranged in corporate clubs.  In person open meatings can be arranged in a coffee shop.

The minds controlling our workplaces and workstyles are atrophied.

A Personal Decision

Personally, I’ve left the path.  I pay the price for it daily, because making a new trail doesn’t necessarily mean you are crossing flat, open ground.  It often means cutting through the undergrowth in uneven terrain.  It often means dead ends, wrong directions and retracing your steps, but it also means serendipty, discovery and breakthroughs.

I have been criticized for coining new terms freely, for thinking in images instead of words.  New terms liberate us from old definitions and conventional thought.  A dictionary reflects the organic growth of language, it is a reference built after the fact, not an ordinance built before.  Images free us to think conceptually in thousands of words at a time.  Just think about how many lines of code there are in visual interfaces like Autocad.

Don’t follow the Tao, be your own Tao.

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Goodbye Breakfast Flock

Richard Bach’s story Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a very insightful work about innovators and innovation.  I’m not going to give a lengthy review of it except that I recommend reading it.  Leave the breakfast flock and learn how to truly fly.