goodbye, it’s time for another

November 30, 2008


Jochum opened his guest blog with a quote from the book which radically changed his perspective. As I say goodbye to my guest blog, I want to close from a book which radically changed mine. If I had read Primo Levi’s The Monkey’s Wrench before my twenties, I would be probably be a chemical or mechanical engineer.

Before I turn over the page to Primo, and then the next guest blogger, a few housekeeping details. If you want to know more about me, or Jochum, read our bios at the bottom of my signin post. The picture in this post is of David Blaine’s Vertigo. I chose this because it illustrates my theme, and because of Blaine’s connection with Levi. And thank-you to Harold, Tim, Jonathan, Brian – my commenters – for letting me know that I wasn’t just talking to myself.

In The Monkey’s Wrench, Primo Levi’s alter ego (a chemist, manager and writer, like Levi) exchanges stories with Faussone, a rigger who works around the world erecting bridges, derricks, industrial and chemical equipment, and cranes. In the chapter Tiresias, Faussone asks whether a writer could ever understand the travails of a rigger, and the narrator responds:

How obstinate is the optical illusion that always makes our neighbor’s troubles less severe and his job more lovable! … assuming I could speak in the name of actual writer, we have our bad days too. In fact, we have them more often, because it’s easier to see if a piece of metal structure is “right on the bubble” than a written page; so you can write a page with enthusiasm, or even a whole book, and then you realize it won’t do, that it’s a botch …. But it can also happen that you write some things that really are botched and futile (and this happens often) but you don’t realize it, which is far more possible, because paper is too tolerant a material. … But if a page is wrong the reader notices, and by then it is too late, and the situation is bad …

They ultimately agree that the very dissimilar products of their labours have much in common from the perspective of the creators:

… when it’s finished you look at it and think that perhaps it will live longer than you, and perhaps it will be of use to someone you don’t know, who doesn’t know you. Maybe, as an old man, you’ll be able to come back and look at it, and it will seem beautiful, and it really doesn’t mattter so much that it will seem beautiful only to you, and you can say to yourself “maybe another man wouldn’t have brought it off.”

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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