the ART of bringing idea into reality
Practice is the act of giving oneself to a work. It requires mastery of the appropriate techniques and the willingness to be mastered by the aims of the work itself. It is a form of devotion.
The size, scale, scope and “importance” - in the eyes of the world - is not what matters and defines the value of a true practice. What does is its authenticity. A practice involves a calling that has been answered by an individual or group. The practice does not come fully formed. It comes as an idea - an idea that has no material reality. The practice is not determined - it emerges as a consequence: the result of the interaction between idea, a person or group’s work and a world that is initially alien to it. The formation of such things is mysterious to society as a whole - it is not the result of calculation nor the machinations of world affairs. It is, other than the occasional happy accident, the result of systematic, mental focus, appropriate ritual and rigorous work.
click on icon for further reading:
the 4 Step Recreation Process
Zone of Emergence Model
To those who practice an art, it is like a meditation. It is both life-making and life-consuming. A practice is a seductive mistress and a demanding master. It knows no mercy and it will destroy those it has captured who evade or compromise before it will let them go. This is why people fear it and run away before they even know what it is. Those conditions and virtues that give rise to an authentic practice are under relentless attack by our society. The consequence is a false dichotomy: a gray world of compliance and dissipation versus the distorted, grandiose, exaggerated imitators of great art. In this struggle, between two versions of the same thing, the emergence of that which creates - not destroys, sustains - not fades away, inspires - not titillates then expires, is made nearly impossible. Such art as does make it to reality is sometimes consumed, more often ignored and almost always destroyed or put into a museum which is the most unkind act of all. Art has to be lived not exploited, displayed and hung.
To practice an art, craft, science, academic field, or profession is the birth-right of every human being. Political freedom, social acceptance and economic success are factors of this birthright yet, alone, do not make a quorum. Much more than these “successes” are required to keep the House of intellect alive as our society is slowly beginning to realize. Certain factors must exist in the culture from which any art can spring. These factors are not accidental. Nor are then in themselves mysterious. Yet, they rarely come about of their own accord. They are the product of intension and concerted action. This is not to say that they are simple nor is the right mix - at any time - predictable. These factors, themselves, are the result of practice and subject to the laws of emergence, critical mass and increasing returns. To bring these factors into existence is not intrinsically difficult yet not socially easy. People shy away instinctively knowing the challenge and consequences they impose. We know these things because this is what the “boundary conditions” of a DesignShop® exercise bring into place: the conditions necessary for the emergence of GroupGenius®. DesignShops are easy. It is the act of properly setting them up which is difficult. DesignShops, alone, do not have the critical mass to change a culture. Many of them, in a PatchWorks architecture, with NavCenters, can do this over an extended period of time. We have done this on the scale of thousands of people and a few years of time. There is not indication that greater scale poses an inherent problem. Yet, in many cases of our work to date, despite some outstanding successes, the existing culture reabsorbed the new practice back into itself accepting improvement and rejecting permanent transformation.
This is why I focus on WorthyProblems [link: worthy problems] as a means to scale activities and practices which have the systemic complexity and critical mass sufficient to transform our culture. WorthyProblems (which lead natually to worthy-projects), by definition, are local and specific and systemic and general. Creating projects and practices that can effectively resolve these kinds of problems can lead to the making of a comprehensive and benign capability. To sustain this effort, practices such as the DesignShop and NavCenter are necessary. To sustain the DesignShop-NavCenter practices, suitable organizational, KnowledgeWorker and individual practices (of many arts) are necessary. These have to be nested in a network architecture we call a ValueWeb [future link]. I have been lead to these conclusions, slowly - even reluctantly over a 50 year plus working life [link: mg taylor origins]. These design strategies, have long personally attracted me and occasionally repulsed me at the same time. On one hand, they make a logical architecture of social - even planetary - transformation. On the other hand, they appear way too ambitious, impractical and even dangerous. To spend over 50 years coming to a strategy and building a capability - that on the surface seems impossible to do - can seem disconcerting upon the first reflection.
How to build a practice that can turn WorthyProblems into successful projects is in itself a WorthyProblem. HabitatMakers [link: habitat makers] is one design strategy aimed at accomplishing this in the field of architecture. There have been days that I wished I did not see certain things and could be left alone to go somewhere and make a nice little practice of architecture. This is not to be. It does not address the Mission [link: mg taylor mission], I have accepted, no matter how uncomfortable this often may be. So, the large problem matrix has to be addressed even though it often looks impossible to do and may be doomed to failure at least in the immediate term. I have, recently, found a way to bring the “nice little practice of architecture” into this global design strategy and I think this is a necessary integration - it certainly is a source of pleasure and provides a sense of accomplishment the greater challenges fail to deliver.
It seems to me that viable practice model has to address many levels of recursion and time scales. If not, it is too vulnerable. I set out, in 1999, to use this web site to explore how a self-aware, principled life could be lived in today’s world. I wanted to discover if I had wasted my life in fruitless endeavors. Now it seems that the pieces are assembling themselves in a way that makes sense even if success is far from assured. My attention, increasingly, is turning outward, from this period of introspection, as my relationship with MG Taylor is beginning to change. I am impatient to get on with it and this also has to be guarded “against” - watched is perhaps a better word. My two other major purposes, of this web site, have been to: one, offer any reader the best possible rendering of a life lived so that whatever value they can derive from this telling - in aid of their own quest - is as accessible as it can be; and last, to create a documentation of ideas, designs and lessons learned in support of practical endeavors in the future. This is a failsafe against failure. Only time will tell if these goals have met with any measure of success.
I do want to comment why I believe a high level of candor and sharing of the ambiguity of my life is important. There are two principle reasons, one personal the other professional. I knew several great people with whom I was able to have some relationship with in my youth and, of course, I studied many more from afar. I believe, and I am far from alone in this, that it is a necessary part of a child’s healthy development to be able to look up to exemplary individuals and to come under their spell for a time. I think we select those we do bond with because they exhibit some characteristics that our own nascent vision recognizes as important to our own quest and future. Much the same way we all respond to a work of art. In my case I actively sought these people out and they generally shared themselves abundantly. I came however, later in life, to many questions I was not mature enough to ask when younger. These people were god-like to me and “fully” formed. They exuded direction, purpose and confidence. They were, to my eye, extraordinarily successful. The questions I did not know to ask centered around the question “was it worth it?” I wish I had asked [link: confessions of an...] this question and the many more that clustered around it like “was this ever a choice for you?” “What would have you done differently knowing what you know today?” Wright’s autobiography was candid (and far more revealing than recognized, I think) yet far too out of the realm of the experience of an 18 year old’s ability to deconstruct. I am hoping that I can fill this gap for those both young and older who ask these questions. The second purpose is centered around the fact that what drives creativity is still a immature body of knowledge. Briggs has done a good piece of work on this subject [future link] yet there is much more that it is essential to know and especially around the issues of creativity, social fitness and personal sanity. It is impossible, I think, to know yourself completely - in fact, a valid practice is perhaps the only was to get close to doing so. It is possible to know yourself well enough and to document this story well enough to allow someone else to reach useful insights and formulate viable principles about the wellspring of the creative life. Whatever contribution I can make to these subjects is done in the hope that others will have a better basis for beginning such a journey than I did. The important things is like do not come with a user manual.
For now, I will turn my attention with this page - after this lengthy introduction to set context - to the further exploration of the principles which govern a practice. I believe there is a wealth of old and new ideas which, together, shed light on this important ingredient of a successful culture and a happy, well-spent life.
First, there is an issue that we have to address up front. Although it is ubiquitous across all professions, I will use the profession of architecture to illustrate it. Today, as a society, we tend to think of architecture as something that architects do and the term architectural practice as the legal description of an architect’s - or often an group of them - business. The term profession is reserved for the category of effort such as law, medicine, architecture, teaching (and sometimes art), and so on and from this we get the concept of the professional which denotes - in common usage - someone who is formally educated, highly paid, and doesn’t get his or her hands dirty. I wonder if this usage conveys any useful meaning. To me, an architect is someone who creates architecture - architecture is not anything that anyone with a legal certificate does. Architecture (or any “profession”) has to be defined independent of the would-be maker’s legal and social standing. This definition has to state the values and standards expected - that which makes it what it is - and worthy. These values and standards have to be shown to be valid by a method which is itself known, by the test of time and its consequences, to be useful. And, these values and standards are what a professional, then, professes (in the teaching of the craft) and practices into reality (in the doing of it). When I use the term ART, in this context, I am not referring to the making of art as it can be usefully defined (painting, sculpture, theatre, etc.) - I am using the term to stand for the achievement of any professional practice at its highest conceivable level. And, I do not consider the definition of a profession to be limited to work that is primarily intellectual and divorced from the whole body-mind experience of design, build, use(ing). It seems to me that today we have all this exactly backwards.
It follows from what I have said that great care has to be taken in the making of these definitions as they are, in fact, a statement of the root philosophy of - in this case - ARCHITECTURE. This is why I was so shocked, at the time of my first “professional” work, to run into such a nihilistic and anti-philosophical attitude [link: the promise 1956]. This is why I have devoted my limited time available for teaching architecture - not to design - to the issue of what makes a valid practice of architecture [future link:] and why this course starts with a definition and statement of the scale and scope of architecture [future link:]; and, why this criticism rests on TS Elliot’s Criticism of Criticism which - although applied by Elliot to literature - is the best that I can find in terms of establishing a standard for judging any ART. This is why I do not aspire to be an architect by the modern definition of the term [future link:] nor do I accept, as valid, the common applause of professional success as pleasant as this may be to receive. As feedback [future link], this positive experience can lead one in the wrong direction. This is not a happy circumstance because recognition from one’s professional peers and the public is of personal and practical significance - is is only suspect in times when the very basis of a profession is in question. In my case, it is not the acceptance of a given work (I get plenty of this [future link]) which matters - it is the broader issue of where we are going - and why - as a profession - and, as a society - that is important to me. This issue is the very heart of this writing. To be able to approach the reality of this issue with a certain level of serenity is the consequence of a long personal disciple just now beginning to bear fruit. I consider our situation is be extremely negative. To respond to it in a reactive and negative way will not help. The only possible solution is to put forth a positive program that opens a new set of possibilities. This is the spirit in which the following comments are offered.
Thoughts on the practice of a practice
The following definitions are from the English Oxford Dictionary with focus on early usage of the terms. I have found that the early usage of a term is both provocative and useful as it reflects the introduction of a new idea based on a perceived need to communicate something discretely.
Lets start by defining key terms related to the idea of practice as I mean it:
If we accept these terms in their original and most literal meanings - and, all together - we can infer from this mental exercise a philosophical gestalt and path. It is interesting to reflect upon what our own words, in our own language, are telling us to do - and become - and the contrast of this with how we use these terms in everyday common usage while accepting, without thought, the actions which emanate from this causal interpretation thus ignoring their deeper meaning and power. And power they have. Language is not just a tool for communication. It is a personal means of self mea programming [rbtf book: Lilly - programming and meta-programming in the human bio-computer]. It binds a culture to certain precepts and, in its improper use, it becomes the “spin” machine of propaganda. It is useful to look upon words as a command-set [link: memory - instructions] particularity those which bear directly upon areas of our life which form our core beliefs and decisions about life-style and work. Philosophy, in recent decades, has retreated into esoteric discussion among experts far removed from practical affairs. Philosophy is no longer considered practical and something of daily consequence. There have been attempts to bring it back into the world and many of these have been fought by academia itself. In the U.S., which has always had a strong anti-philosophical bent, this vacuum is particularly felt. In the realm of politics it is notably absent. Media has learned that presentation, good graphics, continuous repetition and confident assertion all coupled with the right background music accounts for far much more than logic, reason and hard evidence. Spin rules the airways and what is left of public discourse. Debates are rarely more than shouting matches and the formal political debates, of the major races, are really not debates at all in reference to any form that would have been accepted as such 75 years ago. This leaves the field open to propaganda - a thing is repeated over and over until it becomes “true.” Do people know there are being programmed? Thinking ourselves as free, we fight for “beliefs” the basis of which, we have no knowledge of. A hedonistic culture prevails with the fundamentalist, puritanical the most hedonistic and “practice” of narcissism of all.
We should work much more diligently at getting our philosophies right and taking care with our words. We need to respect the power of words far more than we do today. Yet, we also must remember that this alone does not define truth nor constitute wisdom. Even given a high degree of philosophical alignment, each of us will respond differently as there is much of our individual make up which is independent of rational processes and consciousness. Feelings and passion are equally important and we are not served by suppressing them. Like logic and reason they are also an instrument of perception and a wellspring of knowledge and creativity. There is much emotion floating around in our public discourse yet little feeling and it seems only the small and mean passions are prevailing. There is a difference, I think, between unbridled urges and refined sensibility. This distinction is no longer with us. There is a fear of passion because it is linked in many people’s minds to a Hitler. That was not passion - that was psychosis.
All of our mental and emotional processes can work in harmony however this does not necessarily mean agreement - these are different systems and as Bateson teaches us “information is the difference that makes a difference.” To think one way and feel another can be authentic and insightful. It is in the act we find the reality of the situation. People do not need to agree on all things to work well together. They do have to have a coherent and compatible set of practices. The resulting “diversity within unity” can become the bases of a strong culture and creative society. This diversity within unity is necessary for an effective organization and certainly the making of a practice of any significant scale and consequence.
This idea of practice - which I am promoting here - works on several levels of recursion [link: recursion, iteration and feedback]. It can - and must in my view - function on the team level in the execution of a project such as building a house. It can do so on the scale of the professional organizations engaged in the building of that house. With HabitatMakers Projects [link: habitat makers], for example, it is the functioning on the project team level which is essential - the organizations are independent of one another in all regards other than the single project. One aspect of the profit they may take from their experience of a project, in the immediate term, is the practice model and the practice of it they they learned [link: swimming pools and nasa value webs] and refined by doing the work in concert with the entire team. The learning is co-emergent. This practice model can be scaled to function on the other organizational recursion levels of companies, communities and trans-national organizations. This is interesting and important yet out of scope for this writing. Successful and repeatable practice of the kind I describe requires an understanding of the the 4 Step Recreation Model. Click on the diagram below to go to a description of this Model. The fundamental message is that an idea has to be recreated each time it changes media and scale.
This is true as as single project travels through the many Design Formation stages of its development. It is equally true as the built idea is then used in further work it has to be recreated for this new application. In reality there is no such thing as a COPY. The attempt to copy to live in a leaner, direct causal, simple universe. Copies lose resolution. They also shed context. For some things, these concerns are not major thus there is a role and proper use for mass production. For ideas, life-like works and art co-creation/emergence, complexity, variety, connectedness become increasingly critical for success. In time, even mass production will give way to total mass customization and every manufactured product will be appropriately modified to fit person, time, place and context. Art and manufacturing will merge - or, it can be said from a historical perspective, rejoin. A practice, as appropriate for any given time, seeks an efficacious balance between replicated and unique ideas, processes, parts, components and solutions. These are scale and recursion sensitive. What is appropriate on one may or not be on another. This is particularly true of iconic, cultural expressions and their manifestations in the form of popular art, manufactured goods and architecture. Until now, this subject as a practical issue, was dominated by economics. The economic argument is fading as economies-of-scale give way to cybernetic, augmented systems and new manufacturing methods. The habits of this dying era are strong and and unfortunately still with us. The use of brands and franchise architecture should be rethought in this regard. This is a case where an effective application of art can become a blight upon the landscape and human psyche. Icons and idiomatic symbols serve a purpose yet nothing is neutral. Everything denotes and connotes meaning. Everything effects consciousness and our consciousness - and our creative efforts - effects everything. Any practice considered in this lights takes on new dimensions.
further reading:
the Solution Box Architecture
Modeling Language - a short review
A practice model is an encoding of the values of an individual, group, profession and society. It says: “this is what we stand for and what we are about.” It therefore embeds ritual with pragmatic processes in order to achieve a desired result. This is fine yet it runs the risk of degenerating to dogma. When this occurs, learning ceases and the practice is set up for making mistakes. The stronger the dogma the more likely the degree of catastrophic failure as it takes a great message to break though the self-fulfilling, self-deluding, arrogant comfort of a team or society running on automatic. This is how you get a Katrina. This is why Henry Petroski says that engineering usually gets one good catastrophe a generation because engineers start believing their math is an accurate description of reality [rbtf book to engineer is human] and lose the practice of focusing on, and the elimination of, all the possible failures inherent in a system.
further reading:
Katrina - an Unnatural Disaster
American Myth - the Flaw
My Title for this piece: PRACTICE - the Art of Bringing Idea into Reality can now be better understood in the way which I intended. This is not to say that you, the reader, will necessarily agree with it in all points. Or, that I expect that you will do so - or should; or, that I care if you do or not. This is your affair, not mine. It is to say that I have perhaps sufficiently communicated my thinking and experience in a way which makes my meaning clear. This is important, because if you were to engage with me in a project, you will know what governs my actions. We will have a basis for drawing clear distinctions between our viewpoint and a basis for negotiating terms-of-agreement so that collaboration and right-action between us is possible. You can infer from this that I do not believe that the default agreements in place - which govern contracts and work today - are effective. I do not. In fact, I believe them to be destructive and a major barrier to the making of useful, economical-ecological and beautiful artifacts. The confusion, waste, conflicts, unnecessary costs and too often dismal results in the field of ARCITECTURE alone, are proof of this. We will not talk of common building and development in this regard because it is not worthy of criticism [link: criticism - elliot and barzon].
In my MG Taylor work we are often hired to bring new ways of thinking and work to organizations with the intent to facilitate them through a deliberate process of transformation. With Taylor Architecture, HabitatMakers and the doing of Worthy Projects, the focus is not on changing anyone or organization. The focus is to attract those who want to work a new way to do projects that will enrich the stock of Humanity’s options. MG Taylor’s work involves the transfer of a practice as a means in itself. The focus of Taylor Architecture, HabitatMakers and Worthy Projects is to employ a practice that makes a different outcome. These are intrinsically different relationships and, although based on the same strategic intent and general principles, each require different rules-of-engagement. The context of this article is our use of the Taylor Method - not the MG Taylor organizational transformation work.
I bring this up here because the main difference is this: in regards MG Taylor contracts we are hired to make organizational change. We work to fulfill this obligation as diligently as possible. It is the work. We, therefore, do this work. With Taylor Architecture, HabitatMakers projects and Worthy Projects we do not seek to change other organizations. Our focus is to find those who are already aligned with our program to a significant degree. This does not require total agreement. It requires only that by helping us pull our wagon we re helping them pull their wagon. The focus is on the project - the built work. Social change is a consequence. Organizational learning and transformation is a consequence. To say “is a consequence,” however, is not to say that concrete results are not intended. The are. This is the idea of worthy Problems and Projects. It is to say that the causal relationships are co-emergent and not predictive. This is why many small projects (experiments) are employed, each governed by feedback as is the whole system of projects.

Matt Taylor
June 8, 2007


SolutionBox voice of this document:

click on graphic for explanation of SolutionBox

posted: June 8, 2007

revised: December 26, 2008
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(note: this document is about 75% finished)

Copyright© Matt Taylor 2007, 2008

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