Problem Solving

This picture of CAMELOT at dock is how she looked as I started this piece sitting in her aft cabin.

As I have said elsewhere, CAMELOT [link] is a continuous exercise in problem solving. Every component of a boat is a response to a series of challenges, answered by an idea, tested in reality.

It works - or not. And your life can depend on it. The sea is a great teacher.

Here CAMELOT is being fitted with her Top Yards (missing for over 20 years) - the most recent project in 14 years of problem solving.

This picture makes a appropriate masthead for the essay that follows.

Lessons from Work and Life


Throughout this web site, I have told various stories. Some extracted from observation, some derived from direct experience. These stories proved powerful lessons about how things work and how they fail when certain aspects of reality are ignored

Basically, I am a designer and an engineer. Not a typical engineer, as commonly thought, because I mostly engineer systems and organizational processes and structures. These things are thought somehow to be less subject to reality that “hard” things like buildings. Having engineered buildings and other “objective” things, also, and I can attest that they are no different.


Sometimes, people find me too intense - too “negative.” Too prone to find fault. Well, maybe so. However, I found out a long time ago that bad things can happen [link] when you don’t pay attention to critical processes and structures. The process of engineering is systematically attenuating the risk of failure in a system or structure. No engineer can tell you that s/he KNOWS something will work. But it can be said that EVERY known risk has been systematically reduced in every known possible way to a point that makes economic sense. Good engineers, generally, sleep well at night. Any kind of engineering is a process. Done correctly, this process has multiple layers of fail-safe sub-processes built in. Looking at every way a system can fail is the essence of good engineering. Imagining innovative solutions, to be tested, is the art. Making sure these insights are put to work with diligence is the practice. There was a time in our society, when the ENGINEER was thought of in lofty terms. The engineer was expected to be on the front of social change and progress - this was expected to be good. A century of unintended consequences [rbtfBook] have dulled this expectation and, today, the engineer is often looked at as a threat or, more often, a dull hack who runs some necessary calculations without imagination of conscience. And, over time this has become true as reality tends to follow expectations - meanwhile, the unintended expectations keep piling up.


I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass - I just want to get the screws in the table leg [link] the best way possible. I never deliberately pick a fight nor do I relish going against the grain of society, I do so only when the stakes are high and I judge it is time to get a system bogged down in its own self-referential inertia moving again. I do this as gently as possible and and I seek to replace my divots to every extent that I can. I can a great deal about this. Life would be much easier for me if I did not. I do not know why I care and, no matter the personal consequences, I cannot stop caring.


At any rate, there is gold to be extracted from the experience of many years pushing things to their limits while searching for the eloquent solutions and seeking ways to attenuate the risks; of being a social entrepreneur; of living humanist ideals; of seeking to make things better; of sleeping well at night. I share it here. It may be useful to for your own understanding and application to your own quest [link]. It certainly, along with Matt Taylor FAQ [link] and Rules-of-Engagement [link], assists in a due diligence process in regards your working or having a relationship of any kind with me. I keep learning and working to get better, however, there is little probability I will change that much, at the core, from what I am today. I see no reason to. You are hereby put on notice.


Lessons learned from:

Rebuilding and Sailing a Wood Sailing Vessel [link]

NASA [link]
Being a Cowboy [link]
The F-15 [link]
Licensing and transferring our system to a large consulting company [link]
Building in New York in the 1960s [link]
Writing a Patent [link]
Being an entrepreneur [link]
Growing up in WWII [link]
living in a society for which one has little feeling [link]
Designing and building NavCenters - then using them and tranfering them [link]
The 777 [link]
Swimming Pools [link]
Being a disruptive technology [link]
The process of Biomimicry [rdtfBook] is to study Nature and see how she solves problems and then to apply these lessens to human technologies. The organic design process [link] is, similarly, to study Nature and to apply the principals learned as active design elements when making human artifacts. Humans are part of Nature not separated as we often feel as a result of arrogance and living in the world that we have thus far created. One can have one year’s experiences 40 times or 40 years experience 40 times [link]. The difference between one and the other is the degree of attentiveness brought to day-today experience. To extract lesions in the form of processes, principles and rules from one’s own life experience and to diligently apply them to the future conduct of that life is the art of living a useful and happy life; it is the act of gaining knowledge [link]. I have done this. And, while I consider some of my experiences positive and others negative, I do not look back on them in this light. Nor, do I look back in moral judgment in regards how other’s choose to act - they have their own reasons and accountability. I report it. I remember it and take it into account when dealing with them - or choosing not to - next time. I believe that moral judgments should be reserved to the self and, therefore, I take full responsibility for my experience, who I am and what I do. No other viewpoint is practical. I seek to discover where I did it well and where I did it poorly. I seek to do it better in the future. As a Humanist, I do not think that philosophy should focus on humans. I think that philosophy, as Whitehead said [link], should state principles so clearly that individuals can see that these principles match their experiences, brings meaning to them and, therefore, can be trusted as a guide to their actions. In moral terms, a philosophy should describe a code of conduct that humans can effectively act within. This code should facilitate the advancement of life in all its forms. It should promote the art of living. It should expand the human experience. A philosophy, in a mind, should be an agent of creation.
Rebuilding and Sailing a Wood Sailing Vessel
1988 - to Present
There are probably few things within a single human’s scale that provides such a rich and composite experience as building (or rebuilding) and sailing a wooden boat. In my case, this was more a partial experience than if it had done it all my own, nevertheless, CAMELOT has been a great teacher.
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1959 - 1982 & 1995 - 1998
I have had two experiences with NASA one as an observer and one with NASA as a client. The two together have been highly instructive in regards understanding the art and consequences of human organization and its evolution over time.
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Being a Cowboy
1955 - 1956
This was a summer job for me during my high school years, and a dude ranch, yet, still a touch of the authentic thing; an introduction into a very old people culture (the horse people), a mentality, a way of life that lived by a very different set of rules than the rest of society. The relationship between landscape, animal and human, in this culture, is unlike the mental set of industrial society. It is an enlightening framework to “wear” and to experience the world from. It moves at its own pace and has a visceral way of understanding things. I still find this useful when designing and building buildings.
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The F-15
1995 - 1996
This work involved working with the largest, and most complex, human system MG Taylor has ever Engaged. Because of this experience we know that our system and method can transform very large scale organizations is a brief period of time and result in great benefits for a diverse number of individuals and groups.
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Licensing and Transferring our System to a Large Consulting Company
1995 - 1998
This period, 1995 through 1998 was a demanding time and it came out, financially, a disaster for MG Taylor - one that we are just beginning to recover for (as this is written) in mid 2004. This has required us to operate at the scale we once had, without the means, innovate without many resources and restructure our organization as a network which was our goal from the beginning. This post 1998 period has not been a pleasant time but an instructive time. A great part of any future success that we may come to enjoy will have originated from this experience.
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Building in New York in the 1960s
1961 - 1964
I look back on these as my “happy” years. New York city, Nathaniel Brandon lectures, book stores, my notebooks, a few friends, the theatre and building for Tishman - still the best company I have ever worked for. A life devoted to learning, competency and doing. I went to New York City to learn how to build, to study Objectivism, think about architecture and did little else - life was good. And, on two projects, perfect for there purpose, I did learn how to build.
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Writing a Patent
1996 - 2000 and Ongoing
To put a great part of your life’s thinking in the a rigorous social form like a dissertation or a patent is a challenging experience. This is an exercise in the 4 Step Recreation process that requires thinking in more than one construct at once. It is also an exercise in creating a social contract of some possible significance at the high intellectual cost with no guarantee of a return.
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Being an Entrepreneur
1964 - to Present
I do not think I am a “natural” entrepreneur - I was forced into it by ambitions far removed from the typical contemporary profile. If I am an entrepreneur, I am a very old fashioned one or, at least, what is becoming to be called a social entrepreneur. Money, for one thing is not my motive nor is social success as it is usually measured and granted. I am not competitive nor do I have a great desire to “win.”
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Growing up in WWII
1939 - 1947
WWII was the only time, in my experience, that the USA, as a society, was happy. This is shocking to think of however it makes a great deal of sense in retrospect. A society coming out of a shattering depression, a clear enemy, everyone with a role to play and a totally new technological civilization being created as a consequence. Our society was transformed in about a decade. It seemed to me that no one noticed as we so easily slipped into the 1950s like it had always been there. I spent the time living on Air Force bases and deeply steeped in the culture and business of the high tech warrior. This was a community experience one with a strict code of values.
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living In a Society For Which One Has Little Feeling
1938 - ?
In social terms, I am a misfit, always have been and most likely always will be. Because of this, I have never had the comforts I presume one gets from being deeply integrated within a culture. I have been outside looking in all of my life. This has made me alert to many factors of human culture and society that, otherwise, I most likely would have missed - I escaped the fish in water symptom to some degree. Of course, I am part of our culture - it is just that I have lived and worked on the fringes. I have consistently sought to bring back the gifts that I have found out in the “badlands” to the main stream of our society. What is interesting is that I have not run into so much trouble for being on the fringes as for bring these “gifts” home. This has caused me pain and no little anger although I try and avoid that. I have dedicated my life to the expansion of human options not the dictation of what humans should believe or do. I have great respect for much of what the human race has created yet I look at our present social vector with profound misgivings and distaste. This is not something that grew with me. I started with this perception. One wonders what strange social alchemy and individual set generates such things. I have always felt that I came from another planet and was banned to this one for some unfathomable reason. For years I was convinced that I would wake up some day and discover it was all a dream.
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Designing and Building NavCenters - Then Using Them and Tranfering Them
1979 - to Present
I think I can understand how parents who send their children out into an unknown future must feel. Each NavCenter feels that way to me. You prepare them as well as you can, yet you have to let them go before they are ready even when you can see the traps they are heading for.
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The 777
1991 - 96
A very good piece of work that created great value for many organizations and virtually nothing for MG Taylor - not even the recognition of have performed well. This lack of return was disappointing and informative. The work was a blast.
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Swimming Pools
1964 - 71
This experience may turn out to be one of the most significant of my life and the genesis of my first real, solid, wide scale contribution.
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Being a Disruptive Technology
1938 - ?
It has taken me a long time to appreciate how dangerous most people judge me to be to their interests and the personal and corporate consequences of this.
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The focus of this piece is problem solving. So, what are the key lesions learned as the sum of all these experiences?

Matt Taylor
February 17, 2002


SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted February 17, 2002
updated: May 3, 2004

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Copyright© Matt Taylor 2002, 2004

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