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When I was in college, I had a history professor whose uncommon way off assessing the performance of his students remains with me to this day. He told us in the beginning of the course exactly what would determine the grade we eventually received. If we regurgitated everything he told us perfectly, read all of the assigned books and understood and could repeat what we learned in them, and otherwise mastered the details of what he was attempting to convey, then we would receive a C. If we added to this some valid additional source, other than him or those he referred us to, then we would have the possibility of being awarded a B. In order to get the A, we had to come up with something novel in addition to this, an interpretation of events and other data that reflected some kind of creativity on our part, that indicated we understood the information, and could interpret it in an interesting and unique way. I have always found this archetype to be most compelling.

More recently, I was imagining the different ways in which people solve problems. The work that I do is an aspect of and supports the work of direct ecological restoration. I grow plants that are purchased by entities throughout western Washington who design and install restoration projects large and small. Where riverbanks threaten to erode sensitive infrastructure in the region, or where stream flows demand culverts become bridges, or when a parcel is purchased by a private entity for the sole purpose of restoration (as well as various other circumstances), native plants are used to stabilize the soil and create valuable habitat for aquatic and terrestrial creatures. This work is complex, and continually evolving, so the search for solutions can proceed down myriad, variable routes.  In a conversation with one of the clients of Sound Native Plants (my employer), another individual and I arrived at the need to answer a question, and the above formulation again appeared in my mind. The two of us struck out on very different courses, and I realized that Dr. Stevens may be the reason why.

When I seek to solve a problem, I do not immediately accept that some authority has the perfect answer for me, nor do I believe that the popular notion should always prevail. Initially, I wish to know what each of them say, but that is simply not enough. What I instead search for is a creative solution that simultaneously resolves the immediate dilemma, informing and improving those involved, while opening up the future in a way that creates opportunity. (This last element is crucial for me, I really do aim to build flexibility into the systems I create.) All of this brings me to an allegory of sorts. I think most of us are familiar with the tale of the three little pigs. They each endeavored to build themselves a home, and by the simple construction of that myth, only one proved wise enough to endure the most difficult circumstances. My version of events is a bit less certain, as I believe under different circumstances different methods serve us best. What if for example the pigs were hit with an earthquake instead of a predatory wolf? The house of straw might have been far more safe in that circumstance.

My story is a bit more philosophical and a little less concrete. In it, three individuals are asked to solve a problem. One turns to the authority, the source of all verified knowledge. Maybe it is a bible of sorts, or a more scientific text, for my purposes either will do. Therein they discover what can only be called the quiet comfort of authority. Herein lies the truth, why go further?

The next one in the mix turns to the crowd, the other, the populace for the answer to the great question. What does everyone else think? The truth must lie in the consensus. If many have come to agreement on this topic, then this more noisy place surely holds the validated truth. How could so many agree about anything that I then hold suspect?

The third of these tested creatures comes to themselves for the answer, they turn inward. Maybe they wander into the forest (or is it a desert?) with the burden heaped upon them. There they find neither book nor crowd, but only themselves. It is neither loud nor quiet here. The breezes rustle branches, while squirrels and birds chirp incessantly; contemplation should always be pleasing. They may meditatively remember what has passed before their eyes, drawing on analysis and observation made carefully and acutely. They roll the morsel over the pallet time and time again, patiently attempting to decode the subtlest flavor. Without a hurried breath, or hastened thought, they enjoy every moment of this question, and in the end, regardless of what is concluded by the authority, or by the crowd, they decide the matter for themselves.

Certainly this third individual does not live in a house of stone, neither do they live in a house of glass. The twigs and straw have likely proved to be only tools to them, used to scratch a message in the sand, a reinvention of language itself perhaps. Yes, should a wolf come to hunt this type, they will likely find them no more difficult prey than any other. In the end, the same danger awaits this soul as awaits the rest. I suspect this kind makes its home beneath the stars whenever possible, or in a king sized bed if the weather will not allow. But I will venture one further statement about this type of person. They are the most valuable sort we have with us here, and we would surely be lost without them.

May the spirit of invention prevail.

Originally posted to epjmcginley on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 05:58 PM PST.

Also republished by PacNW Kossacks, Headwaters, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  wow. you gave me a lot to think about! (6+ / 0-)

    We, too, live in the area. Love it. We have had a great trauma in our lives and your way of thinking may provide some new ideas...and some comfort. Thank you for this diary.

    One should never consider yourself too poor to support the ACLU.

    by oakroyd on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 06:30:50 PM PST

  •  As an Inventor, the Critical Element is Thinking (10+ / 0-)

    outside the box.

    That doesn't necessarily mean relying only on oneself; it can include turning to minority authority or minority popular opinion for example. I wish I could suggest a formula or a general principle but human cognition is way above my pay grade. Interesting as it is.

    But secondarily, the crucial element that separates cranks from innovators is a thorough grounding in how and why "the box," convention, usually works, and the willingness to test your precious out-of-box idea with proven conventional tools and measures.

    Nice essay, thanks.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 06:51:14 PM PST

    •   "..in how and why "the box," ...works" (4+ / 0-)

      You can't escape physics.
      I'm one of your solitary problem solvers and it's not that  I don't listen to authorities, or what the crowd believes, I listen very closely, it's just that, well, that's their vote. They may or may not have the specific solution for this problem. They might have some or most of what I need, but not see how I would apply it. A lot of Innovation is application.
      I enjoy the puzzle, with factors from the tech to the politics to the economics to the ecological impact to doing the labor that all have to be juggled into place, that all have to fit to make it work. There's nothing more satisfying.
      (I just read back over this and sorry if it sounds arrogant, it's not meant that way)

      If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

      by CwV on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 07:19:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  If it's not too difficult (3+ / 0-)

    tell us more about the specific case of what you and your coworker came up with. I was waiting for it, and it didn't come.

  •  I do something like this. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    epjmcginley

    With video games most notably, only because those are the things that eventually solidify. i have trouble explaining it.

    For instance, in the Elder Scrolls games. I interpreted the way the universe works (the planets arent really planets, but the forms of divine-like beings that appear as spheres to mortal eyes) to assume that the planet the games take place on is infinite in size, despite possesing oceans, contienents, etc. It would never end.

    I will do this a lot actually, and i think its an asset. Ill take information given, and find some totally new way to interpret it. Now this way is almost always wrong...but it COULD have been the way things were.

    Skyrim was my best one. In the early days of the release, they didnt tell us what Alduin's Wall meant. It turned out it was depicting a single event. In my case, I interpreted it as being events over time, with the left being the earliest (well before the time of the games) and the right being the end.

    This was not the case, but it totally could have been.

    I know this was a bit long winded. I hope i got the point of your post correct... But as Ive already stated, if I'm wrong, then this is almost definitely a possible outcome of your diary, which could work despite being incorrect.

    <3

    The only Bug-type Pokemon that can learn the move Fly - Volcarona and Genesect - Are not Flying types.

    by kamrom on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 09:29:44 AM PST

  •  Yes. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    epjmcginley

    This is very similar to how I approach problems:

    When I seek to solve a problem, I do not immediately accept that some authority has the perfect answer for me, nor do I believe that the popular notion should always prevail. Initially, I wish to know what each of them say, but that is simply not enough. What I instead search for is a creative solution that simultaneously resolves the immediate dilemma, informing and improving those involved, while opening up the future in a way that creates opportunity. (This last element is crucial for me, I really do aim to build flexibility into the systems I create.)
    Wiggle room is absolutely a key element.  

    I am very much looking forward to your future posts.  

    I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble.

    by Joy of Fishes on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 01:26:38 PM PST

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