Weeknotes S06E12: Contradictions

Jenny pointed out how bizarre it is that I live in a curved flat. It’s got me thinking about other current contradictions and how I live with them.

We are apparently living in the new normal; the novel regular. We are working from home, though both working and home are unrecognisable. For myself, I am trying to get my head around the idea of a clear shade.

A screenshot from the John Lewis website where you can buy a "clear shade"
It’s a see-through lampshade. Sure, it’s modern art, but who’d buy modern art that cheap?

For myself, a contradiction is the acknowledgement of tension between two states or ideas. In that space you can, as the comedian Alice Fraser says, find the infinite. I’m not going that far, but I think it’s fair to say that creativity and novelty come from a space of conflict.

Therefore I’m currently looking at contradictions in my life and examining them more carefully. For example: I am exasperated by the untidiness of my flat, but I am also confident that I make rational decisions most of the time. There is a tension between what is immediately rational or obvious, and the bigger picture. There is a tension between fully exploiting resources – thereby maximising immediate profit – and the long-term, system-wide success.

By the by, this is something about work generally that I think makes certain people uncomfortable: if you want an agile organisation, you need to have enough slack in the system to move quickly. You have to have people who are essentially underworked: who are doing 80% of their full capacity, so that when they need to pivot they’ve got the time and space to do it. If you don’t have that, you end up with people working until midnight trying to achieve the impossible. If you do not build slack into the system, the resources in the system will be overworked and will break down if you add more pressure to the system.

Weirdly, this is a thing that every factory foreman; every plumber; every electrical engineer knows because when their resources collapse people get very angry. Management of people seems sometimes to be based on this scientific management approach, because it turns out you can overstress human resources and they won’t just break.

I suspect, though I wouldn’t assert, that this is partly because your average die-cutting press doesn’t have a mortgage to pay or kids to feed – but also partly because you can’t convince a die-cutting press that it’s part of a bigger mission to improve the lives of others even if it’s true.

You cannot get discretionary effort from a machine.

The tension is therefore that in order to get the most from your employees, you are probably making your organisation worse at reacting and responding than you would if you let them work at 80% capacity. Making things move faster might mean having to wait longer for that piece of work you need.

(You know all this, I’m sure. It’s mostly just for me.)

I am really enjoying writing code and working remotely. I am enjoying being in love remotely too, although not as much. There are going to be some epic love stories coming out of this time, and mine might actually be written at some point. It is – and I cannot stress this enough – the cheesiest, low-stakes romance you’ve ever read. There’s no tension. There’s no moments of high conflict or wall-punching or dance numbers: there’s just two people very slowly getting to know each other and talking out the problems.

There is a hook, though: we are the same person. In what can only be described as a deep and abiding narcissism, we have found ourselves and been instantly smitten. Modern technology is a boon and a terrible barrier – others have written about the oddness of video calls, and I feel strongly that strange contradiction between intimacy and distance. We have whispered secrets to each other across the dusk and have never so much as touched palm to palm.

One day we’ll kiss under the same moon and that kiss will turn night into day. Please buy blackout blinds now: you will not be able to say I didn’t warn you.

I’m going to pause here. I’ve not written in a while and if I don’t publish then I know I’ll obsess over it. More anon.

Anon, anon, anon.

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