A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?




Sail Your Own Boat

Sources of Governance

I've been thinking a lot about governance and using controlling a boat and driving a cars as metaphors in my mind. So a couple of days ago, I tweeted this:

"What do you need for governance - you need power, control, transparency - for inspection & feedback - and a technology for reducing friction

To which I got several responses indicating that you also need something to slow you down - brakes. And I added them to the list. Then I started making lists of the sorts of things that come under these different categories.

Sources of Power (Energy)

If you're going to control something, you need something that pushes you forward, something that can make things happen.


We all seem to need money, personally, I've found having no money pretty debilitating.


And you need time to do things. For most people who have to work for a living there seems to be a very solid link between time and money - the reason that they don't have a lot of "free time" is that they're spending most of their time doing a job and earning money.


If you're not connected to other people who also have power, it's very difficult to exercise any power yourself.


Education is probably a kind of punctuated equilibrium thing. There's an initial level which is basically empowering - if you can't read and you can't write, life is going to be very hard. But then, at higher levels, education can teach you how to learn for yourself, and then, possibly how to think for yourself.


This is intelligence in the sense of "Know How"


Certain kinds of thought require energy - this is what Daniel Kahneman says in his book "Thinking Fast and Slow." And there's a limit to how much of this thinking that you can do over any given time period.

Sources of Control (Direction)

How energy is directed

It's not enough to have "energy" in any of the forms directed above. You also need to be able to direct that energy.

What do you spend time on

Getting to decide what you spend time doing is one way that you control your life.

Who do you spend time with

Getting to decide who you spend time being with and talking to is another way that you control your life.

What do you focus on learning

What problems do you focus on solving

Maybe one way of thinking about attention is that it is a combination of energy and control - directed energy. But also, of course, there is involuntary attention.

(Something about control being related to equilibrium and balance)

What you want to be able to do is "Turn on a sixpence" and in order to do that (according to Boyd) you need to be able to convert energy quickly from one from to another (i.e. change activity into learning, change learning into activity, change money into connections, turn connections into money) or you need to be able to "gain" energy quickly. Not sure the low energy metaphor works so well though. Why would you want to be penniless and ignorant? Maybe because it gives you time. There's another interesting thought here - how much of your money do you convert? How much of it just goes on "friction."

Sources of Friction


Not knowing how to do stuff slows you down. The more that you know how to do, the more effective you are (up to some point of diminishing returns).


Machines need maintenance, people need rest.


Illness slows you down, it's time consuming, it occupies time and energy.

The cost of living

The amount of energy, in the form of time, money, thought and attention that you have to expend, just to "stay still."


Ignorance is the opposite of intelligence. Alienation is the opposite of connection, if you can't connect, you're powerless.


On the other hand - the degree to which you're obligated to other people also slows you down. [2]


This is the one that I left out of the list that I put in the tweet and people reminded me of. It's not enough to be able to apply energy. Manoeuvrability involves being able to either convert energy or dump it very quickly.


One of the classic ways of dropping momentum (kinetic energy) is resigning.


More generally than resign - leaving a job, there are lots of other things that you can leave: a relationship, a marriage, a friendship, a party, a room, a conversation, a club, an organisation.

Drop out of school


Just stop spending money.

Cut Ties

Don't have anything to do with that person any more

Stay at home

Combine not working, not spending and not having anything to do with people by simply never leaving the house.

Avoid/Don't drink

One group of people who have problems with control are addicts. The story is that two addicts - both alcoholics - a Doctor and a Lawyer formed alcoholics anonymous. And created a "12 Step Programme". The first step is:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable. And the straight-forward strategy for dealing with that - before any of the other 11 steps can be embarked upon, is really simple: don't drink.

Sources of Feedback

Hmm. Interesting. What you need for effective control is transparency, which allows clear feedback. When I started to look at the kinds of feedback that you get in life, all of a sudden it becomes really obvious why life is so hard. Almost none of the feedback that you get in life is clear and immediate. In fact, Freud thought that the thing that we had the hardest time dealing with as human beings was literally the lack of feedback. This is what Freud calls "The Pleasure Principle" and the Rolling Stones call "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Freud's idea was that when we are babies, we cry when we're hungry and we get fed. We cry when we've shit ourselves and we get cleaned. When we're babies, when we ask for something, we get it (if we're being looked after properly). As we get older, this gets less and less to be the case and this is bloody annoying [3]. The Buddha is getting at something similar with his four noble truths.


Sometimes pain can give you instant feedback. You lift up a plate that's hot. It burns, you let go. Sometimes pain can be inexplicable - pain is an indication that something is wrong, but you're not sure what. * Health If you're health is good - you must be doing something right. If you're health is bad, maybe you're doing something wrong.

But where is the "technology for reducing friction"?

[1] All models are wrong, some are useful - there's isn't much (any) science behind this. It's just taking some ideas from John Boyd's "Energy Manoeuvrability Theory" and combining them with some thinking I've been doing around Agile governance. [2] As I'm writing this I can't help thinking about the bullshit little homilies of the kind that you get from right-wing politicians. If you're born into a family that has money, that sends you to a school and university where you get a good education and meet lots of people who will go on to be influential and that gives you access to good health care, well then, you're certainly getting a good start in life. If you're born poor and you suffer from illness, or if you health and education suffer because you have to look after a sick relative, then yes, of course, you're going to struggle.
[3] Oh fuckity fuck mcfucking hell ... don't you see? How this fits with the Cynefin framework? Down the right-hand side, the problems obey the pleasure principle. Down the left-hand side, they don't.