Category Archives: Systems Thinking

The Consequences of NOT Seeing Systems

Senge on Seeing Systems

Want to understand Systems better? Check out Peter Senge, Russell Ackoff, W. Edwards Deming, or just search Google for some info

When I first started this blog, one of my goals was to bring a systems perspective to my posts. Circumstance made that goal a bit difficult at times, and my interests are a bit too eclectic for me to stay in a single lane, but it is a perspective I feel most comfortable with and believe is useful in understanding the world and human society and relationships.

It’s long been clear to me that many people haven’t the faintest idea how systems work and how not understanding the interplay of their aggregate parts makes it virtually impossible to make quality, informed decisions.

In order for democracy to be spread and actually implemented in ways that are meaningful to ordinary people (who are often really afterthoughts to our institutions and those who lead them) I am convinced we need to become not merely critical thinkers, but also “systems thinkers”, i.e. we need to learn how to “see” systems. We, meaning “the people”, need to recognize how all things are parts of systems and that smaller systems are parts of other, more encompassing systems. Whether closely or remotely, we need to recognize how things are related to each other, such that we can appreciate the ways in which they affect and sometimes transform each other.

When this happens without our fully (or even partially) understanding these effects, we call them “unintended consequences.” However, these generally come about not because we failed to appreciate their possibility, but because we didn’t even see how they were related. It is our ignorance — in the non-pejorative sense — that’s causing us harm, because we just don’t see the subtle interplay of forces or the way they interact with each other. I plan on continuing to touch on this subject, as well as the other things that interest me. Stay tuned!


Empathy: The Core of Complex Decisions

Having worked with Dr. Pratt and her company, Quantellia, I have long been convinced their approach to decision making is one of, if not THE, best methodologies I’ve encountered. After what I consider to be one of the most disastrous general elections in my lifetime, it would seem we need help in navigating the complexities of the world and our place in it. Lorien’s work can, I believe, help us understand the consequences of our decisions, before we make them. I urge you to watch this video and become more conversant in the issues Dr. Pratt raises. What follows below the video are some of the “liner notes” that go with her TEDxLivermore talk.

Making decisions based on invisible inputs is like building a skyscraper without a blueprint. Yet that is the norm, even for very complex problems. Contrary to how most of us think about making a decision as being the act of choosing, a decision is the last piece of a long, almost completely invisible, process. The good news: it is possible to make the invisible part of decisions visible.

In working with the Community Justice Advisor Program in Liberia, Africa, Lorien and colleagues helped The Carter Center (founded by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter) use decision models to increase positive outcomes in the domain of civil justice, by identifying the most effective levers for change.

Using deep learning artificial intelligence, the interconnections between inputs become visible, and unintended consequences can be identified before implementation. Vicious cycles can be reversed, and virtuous cycles of improvement can be built in place and nurtured through intelligent decision metrics.

As co-founder of Quantellia, Dr. Lorien Pratt co-created the decision intelligence methodology and the company’s award-winning World Modeler™ software. She consults and speaks worldwide, and is known for her neural network research and the book Learning to Learn. A former college professor, Pratt is widely known as the former global director of telecommunications research for Stratecast, a division of Frost & Sullivan. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Rutgers University, Pratt holds three degrees in computer science. She received the CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, an innovation award from Microsoft, and is author of dozens of technical papers and articles.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

The Elements of Dialectical Materialism

Yin Yang Symbol

My Favorite Representation of What The Dialectic Represents

I am not an academic. Neither am I a philosopher or a journalist. Nevertheless, I do write on occasion and make an effort to share my thoughts in a somewhat coherent manner. I have to admit it’s gotten a little bit more difficult over the last few years, what with Twitter, Facebook, and other social media apps, platforms, and sites, slowly turning me into a scattershot reader of content.

My goal for the foreseeable future is to reverse that trend somewhat and spend more time writing and sharing my thoughts, perhaps some of my dreams, and a few (or more) of my memories. I’ll be 70 years old next June and, in mid-April of next year, will have outlived my father by a decade. Although relatively healthy, I do have my share of ailments that seem to come to everyone eventually: Mild Hypertension; Type II Diabetes (though, thanks to Fitbit and a little willpower made easy by the data retrieved from my Aria scale and Charge HR (link is to their latest version), I’ve lost a little over 30 pounds in a little over a year — and it’s had its salutary effect on my blood sugar); surgery for a Melanoma; Dupuytren’s Contracture; trigger finger; and a bunch of weird-ass nerve issues that are making many reaching movements with my hands problematic. In other words, I’m doing pretty good for an old guy.

I’m hoping to live long enough to share a little of the adult life of my children, who are currently 15 and 13, but there’s no way to know if that will happen. A lot of folks around my age have been dying off lately, and I can feel the inexorable decline of my physical strength, stamina, and overall health accelerating as I age. It’s a strange trip, I must say. Sometimes I worry a bit that I’m paying too much attention to the end, but I have always been one who has enjoyed the ride and I’m not really too concerned with its conclusion. I just happen to be fascinated by the concept of nothingness, which I contend is nigh onto impossible for we humans to comprehend. I also believe it is a big part of what has long attracted people to religion; they need to believe there’s some sort of consciousness after they die. I don’t believe that’s possible.

As someone who has embraced (if not always lived up to the practices inherent in doing so) Systems Thinking, I long ago came to the conclusion that the philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Dialectical Materialism, is the framework from which systems thinkers can best view the development of the natural world which, of course, includes human beings and our social constructs.

In that regard, I thought I would share this compilation of the elements of the philosophy, as culled from the works of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, one of the world’s clearest explicators of the work of Marx. Here are the 16 elements I’ve been able to find. I once had a slightly shorter version, which I had printed out and displayed at my desk. Several years before I retired, someone had the audacity to take it down from the wall, rip it in half, and leave it on my seat. I’ve never quite understood the cowardice it takes to do something like that but, no matter, the words — and the concepts they represent — can’t be erased quite that easily. Here’s the list:

Summary of Dialectics

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

  1. The objectivity of consideration (not examples, not divergences, but the Thing-in-itself).
  2. The entire totality of the manifold relations of this thing to others.
  3. The development of this thing, (phenomenon, respectively), its own movement, its own life.
  4. The internally contradictory tendencies (and sides) in this thing.
  5. The thing (phenomenon, etc.) as the sum  and unity of opposites.
  6. The struggle, respectively unfolding, of these opposites, contradictory strivings, etc.
  7. The union of analysis and synthesis — the breakdown of the separate parts and the totality, the summation of these parts.
  8. The relations of each thing (phenomenon, etc.) are not only manifold, but general, universal. Each thing (phenomenon, process, etc.) is connected with every other.
  9. Not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?].
  10. The endless process of the discovery of new sides, relations, etc.
  11. The endless process of the deepening of man’s knowledge of the thing, of phenomena, processes, etc., from appearance to essence and from less profound to more profound essence.
  12. From coexistence to causality and from one form of connection and reciprocal dependence to another, deeper, more general form.
  13. The repetition at a higher stage of certain features, properties, etc., of the lower and
  14. The apparent return to the old (negation of the negation).
  15. The struggle of content with form and conversely. The throwing off of the form, the transformation of the content.
  16. The transition of quantity into quality and vice versa.

As I said, I am hardly a philosopher; merely a person who has found Materialism, whether it be Dialectical or Historical, to be the best method available to understand history and the development of society without — and this is important — the intervention of the supernatural. I try to apply this type of thinking to everything I ponder, but I do fall short at times. I, like most of us, am a work-in-progress. More to come.

Dealing With Narcissistic Personality Disorder

I came across a post on Facebook last night which I thought very clearly laid out the personality traits of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, specifically one Donald J. Trump. It had been copied from elsewhere, and the friend who posted it passed on the suggestion that the text be copied and pasted, rather than “shared.” I’m not entirely certain why, though I suspect it is shared a little more pervasively with one’s friends if it’s seen as an original post. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. Several of my friends commented on how useful it was and suggested publishing it, which I think is a good idea.

Trump admires himself

“Who Loves Me, Baby?”

At any rate, there are some very astute observations and insights in the text and we would do well to understand how things are likely going to work. Here’s the money quote for me:

“Focus on what you can change and how you can resist, where you are. We are all called to be leaders now, in the absence of leadership.”

Here’s the post in its entirety:

I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are trying to grapple with it for the first time because of our president-elect, who almost certainly suffers from it or a similar disorder. If I am correct, it has some very particular implications for the office. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. It’s not curable and it’s barely treatable. He is who he is. There is no getting better, or learning, or adapting. He’s not going to “rise to the occasion” for more than maybe a couple hours. So just put that out of your mind.
  2. He will say whatever feels most comfortable or good to him at any given time. He will lie a lot, and say totally different things to different people. Stop being surprised by this. While it’s important to pretend “good faith” and remind him of promises, as Bernie Sanders and others are doing, that’s for his supporters, so *they* can see the inconsistency as it comes. He won’t care. So if you’re trying to reconcile or analyze his words, don’t. It’s 100% not worth your time. Only pay attention to and address his actions.
  3. You can influence him by making him feel good. There are already people like Bannon who appear ready to use him for their own ends. The GOP is excited to try. Watch them, not him. President Obama, in his wisdom, may be treating him well in hopes of influencing him and averting the worst. If he gets enough accolades for better behavior, he might continue to try it. But don’t count on it.
  4. Entitlement is a key aspect of the disorder. As we are already seeing, he will likely not observe traditional boundaries of the office. He has already stated that rules don’t apply to him. This particular attribute has huge implications for the presidency and it will be important for everyone who can to hold him to the same standards as previous presidents.
  5. We should expect that he only cares about himself and those he views as extensions of himself, like his children. (People with NPD often can’t understand others as fully human or distinct.) He desires accumulation of wealth and power because it fills a hole. (Melania is probably an acquired item, not an extension.) He will have no qualms *at all* about stealing everything he can from the country, and he’ll be happy to help others do so, if they make him feel good. He won’t view it as stealing but rather as something he’s entitled to do. This is likely the only thing he will intentionally accomplish.
  6. It’s very, very confusing for non-disordered people to experience a disordered person with NPD. While often intelligent, charismatic and charming, they do not reliably observe social conventions or demonstrate basic human empathy. It’s very common for non-disordered people to lower their own expectations and try to normalize the behavior. DO NOT DO THIS AND DO NOT ALLOW OTHERS, ESPECIALLY THE MEDIA, TO DO THIS. If you start to feel foggy or unclear about this, step away until you recalibrate.
  7. People with NPD often recruit helpers, referred to in the literature as “enablers” when they allow or cover for bad behavior and “flying monkeys” when they perpetrate bad behavior on behalf of the narcissist. Although it’s easiest to prey on malicious people, good and vulnerable people can be unwittingly recruited. It will be important to support good people around him if and when they attempt to stay clear or break away.
  8. People with NPD often foster competition for sport in people they control. Expect lots of chaos, firings and recriminations. He will probably behave worst toward those closest to him, but that doesn’t mean (obviously) that his actions won’t have consequences for the rest of us. He will punish enemies. He may start out, as he has with the NYT, with a confusing combination of punishing/rewarding, which is a classic abuse tactic for control. If you see your media cooperating or facilitating this behavior for rewards, call them on it.
  9. Gaslighting — where someone tries to convince you that the reality you’ve experienced isn’t true — is real and tortuous. He will gaslight, his followers will gaslight. Many of our politicians and media figures already gaslight, so it will be hard to distinguish his amplified version from what has already been normalized. Learn the signs and find ways to stay focused on what you know to be true. Note: it is typically not helpful to argue with people who are attempting to gaslight. You will only confuse yourself. Just walk away.
  10. Whenever possible, do not focus on the narcissist or give him attention. Unfortunately we can’t and shouldn’t ignore the president, but don’t circulate his tweets or laugh at him — you are enabling him and getting his word out. (I’ve done this, of course, we all have… just try to be aware.) Pay attention to your own emotions: do you sort of enjoy his clowning? do you enjoy the outrage? is this kind of fun and dramatic, in a sick way? You are adding to his energy.

Focus on what you can change and how you can resist, where you are. We are all called to be leaders now, in the absence of leadership.

A Day With Edward Tufte


Graphic of Napolean's March

One of the more iconic images Professor Tufte uses in his presentations. I have a mounted, autographed poster of this one.

 If you create reports, presentations, info graphics, or are in any way involved with presenting data of any sort, I hope you’ve heard of Edward Tufte. Even better if you’ve heard of his work, especially what I believe is his seminal book, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.”

As part of my job at Rocketdyne, I was privileged to attend an all-day seminar of his in Los Angeles in the Spring of 2007 or ’08. Upon my return, I wrote down some notes and impressions for my colleague who paid for the day. There’s some really good stuff in here. As a knowledge management professional, I’m a bit chagrined it’s taken me this long to share it. I truly hope someone finds Tufte’s words useful. 


Here’s a quick recap of Edward Tufte’s presentation last Thursday. What I did, for the most part, was enter points he made as numbered bullets. Therefore, I’ll do the same here with the addition of some extra comments if I feel they are necessary.

1. Professor Tufte refers to the nature of the work he does as “escaping flatland”. He believes dimensionality is extremely important when using visualization to represent quantitative data.

2. Another aspect of visually presenting data which he emphasizes is data density, i.e. resolution. He repeatedly stressed the need to drive for greater and greater resolution when presenting data.

3. With respect to items such as run charts, histograms, etc., he believes it is far better to label the data directly, avoiding the use of keys, which he feels are distracting.

4. He presented a copy of Euclid’s Elements, which included many “pop-up” graphics used to illustrate his points. The copy of the book he had an assistant bring around (wearing white gloves) for us to view is 432 years old. It was awesome just to see it. He refers to these pop-ups as the “brute force” method of escaping flatland.

5. A key point he stressed is to enforce visual comparisons. The terms he used (should sound familiar) were, “it depends” and “compared to what?”.

6. The visual representation of data should show mechanism, process, or dynamics, i.e. they should present causality as an aide to understanding and clarity.

7. He also stressed the importance of showing more than 1 or 2 variables when preparing a chart.

8. Presentations must be content driven, i.e. they must embody the three elements of quality, relevance, and integrity. Integrity was a big theme of his and one I don’t believe most of us would find fault with.

9. Design can’t rescue failed content, which he referred to as “chart junk”. This is another point which relates to integrity, and one which he continually stressed throughout his presentation.

10. Whether it’s drawing or words, it’s all information. Don’t be afraid to use words to make your point.

11. I’m not entirely certain of what he meant by this point, but what I wrote down was the following: “Better to show info adjacent in space as opposed to stacked in time.”

12. He stressed that you should use small multiples, i.e. strive for high resolution of the data.

13. Another point which he used to continue driving home the importance of integrity was to show the whole data set. At the same time he stressed that one need not show the zero point, i.e. context is what’s important in making a useful, accurate presentation.

14. Detail does not mean clutter. If you can’t present your data in sufficient enough detail without making it difficult to understand, rethink your design; it’s probably faulty.

15. When presenting data always normalize, adjust, and compensate to provide greater clarity and integrity. The example he gave for this involved a situation where it was impossible to know the real changes in costs of consumer items without taking into consideration the rate of inflation over a period of time. Absent this adjustment, the changes appeared to be far greater than they actually were.

16. Perhaps this next point was specific to financial charts, but it seems appropriate for many others. Don’t trust displays which have no explanatory footnotes. Generally speaking, Tufte believes one should annotate everything. His philosophy appears to be to always err on the side of accuracy and completeness (see integrity).

17. He made a point of explaining the human mind’s tendency to remember only the most recent (recency bias) data it perceives. I don’t remember the exact context in which this statement was made, but I think it is related to Ed Maher’s assertion that we tend to focus on the out-of-family (I can’t remember the exact phrase he used) experiences rather than the steady state.

18. He used a word I thought was interesting to describe people who create fancy charts which don’t actually say much – “chartoonist”.

After going into some detail regarding how the Challenger disaster occurred or, more accurately, how it was allowed to happen, he suggested there were three moral lessons to be learned from the experience. He posed these lessons in the form of three questions one must ask oneself when producing information of this nature.

1. Where is the causality?

2. Is all relevant data included?

3. What do I really need to see if I’m going to decide this?

He guaranteed if these three questions were adequately addressed, the chance of getting the decision right were greatly increased.

He then went on to lay out a list of rules for presentations, as follows:

1. Get their attention (he gave an example of what he called the “stumblebum” technique, where a presenter purposely made a mistake – which the audience was more than happy to point out – in order to insure everyone was paying attention (presumably to see if they could catch him again; which they never did.) He made a point of suggesting this probably wasn’t the best technique, unless you’re really good.

2. Never apologize – don’t tell the audience how you didn’t sleep well the night before, etc.

3. PGP – Start with the particular, move to the general, return to the particular.

4. Give everyone at least one piece of paper; something tangible they can leave the room with.

5. Respect your audience’s intelligence.

6. Don’t just read from your charts.

7. Forget K.I.S.S. – Be thorough and accurate, not simple and vague.

8. He stressed the importance of humor, something he was excellent at. He did caution appropriate use (duh?).

9. If you believe what you’re presenting, make sure the audience knows it.

10. Finish early

His final points to improving one’s presentations were directed to the presenter and the presentation, respectively. The first point was to practice or rehearse so the presentation goes smoothly and you are able to get through it without stumbling or going over your allotted time. The second was to have better, stronger content.

Professor Tufte’s presentation was extremely engaging, from my point of view. He knew his stuff and made it interesting, fun, and funny. I confirmed that most of what he discussed is contained in one or more of the three books I took from the seminar, and I’m looking forward to reading again what I think I learned from him. Much of what he had to say was common sense, which I have encountered previously from the years I’ve spent putting together presentations. Nevertheless, I believe he had a great deal to offer which will ultimately improve my ability to present information, whether in a briefing or on a web site. I really enjoyed seeing and listening to him. Thanks for the opportunity.


Déjà Vu All Over Again

I’ve been giving some thought to why I blog, what it is I’m trying to accomplish. As it turns out, I have several motivations that are, in no particular order: Share my observations of the business world; discuss politics; wonder about space, time, and infinity; wax philosophical about religion and spirituality; share my experiences with aging as a point-of-the-spear baby boomer; complain about assholes and assholishness; and blabber on about anything that intrigues me. I guess that pretty much covers everything.

Deja Vu

I could swear I’ve thought about these issues before!

I feel fairly confident in my ability to write about most of these things, but I do have one area in which I’m somewhat reluctant to hold myself out as knowing anything. That subject is business. This isn’t because I haven’t picked up anything useful in the past 52 years since my first “real” job at McDonald’s, but rather because I’ve spent the vast majority of the last three decades working at an organization that is a government contractor and I have a tendency to think we’re very different than other, commercial organizations.

It recently dawned on me or, perhaps after nearly five years of retirement and a return to the organization I retired from, it came back to me the success of the comic strip Dilbert should make it abundantly clear most all reasonably big organizations are very much the same when it comes to bureaucracy, organizational stupidity, and waste. So . . . I’ve now come full-circle I believe and should have no trouble writing about my observations.

Not perzackly. When I first returned to work in mid-January of this year, I ran up against the reality that a large portion of the business, thanks to an acquisition by Aerojet, was now defense and missile related and our work on space exploration was more developmental than production oriented. In fact, I am currently working on what used to be referred to as a “Star Wars” program, a ground-based intercept vehicle designed to “get in the way” of incoming ballistic missiles. As a result, one of the first training modules I was required to take and pass an exam on was regarding Operations Security.

The material wasn’t all that comprehensive, so it requires some real judgment to decide on what I can talk about and what I should not share. It gave me pause – still does, actually. However, I am coming to the conclusion I can speak about any part of normal organizational issues that others (for whom Dilbert continues to resonate with the “truth”) struggle with as well. I think this means issues of communication, knowledge sharing and retention, organizational silos, and cultural constructs that block meaningful progress are probably available targets. Let’s see how good I do.

Why Can’t You Learn, Old Dog?

I am both amazed and highly disappointed at the number of people who believe the ability of colleagues to talk to each other via a tool that is either fairly ephemeral and basic (e.g. MS Communicator) or more persistent and inclusive (e.g. MS Yammer or Cisco Jabber) is a waste of their time. One of my least favorite things to hear is “I’m too busy to learn how to do that” or “I don’t have the time to waste on these things.”

Tin Can Phone

How can I help you?

“These things” are designed to improve our ability to share what we know and to find out what others know; not as a lark or just because, but in support of the work we do every day. How often have you remembered there’s some information that’s available to help you out, but you can’t quite recall where you last saw it or who told you about it? Imagine being able to essentially broadcast a question and have it reach dozens or more people, any one of whom might be able to answer the question for you. How is that a waste and in what way is spending 10 or 15 minutes to learn how to use a tool wasteful given how much time it can save in the long run? Even if you only saved 5 minutes per month, you’d be in the black after only a third of a year.

The business world is changing; grudgingly – at least in many places – but nevertheless changing. A long time ago one of my colleagues who had been a student of Deming’s and who was deeply involved in the understanding of systems, offered his belief that the main reason we survived as a company wasn’t so much because of how good we were at what we do. Rather, it was in large part due to the reality that everyone else was much worse. He wasn’t talking about our organization’s technical skills, but rather about our systems and procedures, most all of which exude bureaucracy from every corner.

I believed him then, and I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me from believing it still – even after a nearly five year hiatus and having been back for over six months now. I’m not sure how much longer any organization can continue doing business the way they’ve always done. I can’t possibly predict when it will be too late to change; when another business will match our technical skills and outperform our organizational skills, leaving us – eventually – in the dust.

It will undoubtedly take longer in aerospace than it would in, say consumer electronics, but even with long-term contracts and government funding there has to come a time when failure to learn and modify how things get done, especially those things that rely on people talking to and working with one another, will mark the end of an organization’s viability. I don’t dwell on it, but I do find myself occasionally listening for that other shoe to drop. You?

Enjoying an Embarrassment of Riches

You know that saying, “When it rains, it pours”? Well, I believe it’s starting to rain for me and it’s threatening to turn into a downpour. Since my retirement from Rocketdyne over four and a half years ago (really?), I’ve tried various methods of earning enough extra money to keep from depleting our savings. I haven’t been all that successful, though I’ve just about stopped the bleeding thanks to the ACA, solar panels, some re-balancing of assets, etc.

The latest thing I had been working on was earning some money as a proofreader or an editor or even a writer. I’ve done several things I’m quite proud of, two of them being proofreading Age of Context, with Shel Israel and Robert Scoble, and doing some editing for Dan Keldsen’s book, co-authored with Thomas M Koulopoulos, The Gen Z Effect. I also did some research and writing with Lorien Pratt and Mark Zangari of Quantellia, most notably a paper on the Carter Center’s Community Justice Advisor program in Liberia.  I’m in the first footnote.

I have also had the good fortune to work a little with Marcia Conner and, recently, she asked me if I would help her revise the book she co-authored with Tony Bingham, president and CEO of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), formerly ASTD, The New Social Learning. I haven’t said anything because we were waiting for a contract from the publisher. That has happened and I’m beginning my efforts.

Multi-tasking man

This is Going to be Fun . . . and a Real Test!

As far as the downpour is concerned, I also just got a job writing a paper (sort of a cross between a white paper and a trade study) on a cloud-based Earned Value Management System and its competitors. Additionally, since I never knew where my next gig would come from, I took advantage of what I thought was a slim, but conceivable, chance I could now return to Rocketdyne as a temp doing whatever-the-hell they want me to. I just received notification that the requisition my former colleague requested for bringing me in has been approved, though there’s still some hoops to jump through, I’m sure.

Nevertheless, it would seem I am now suffering from an embarrassment of riches. I will, of course, honor my previous commitments, so I’m hopeful Rocketdyne will be flexible enough to allow me to do that. I have said I don’t want a full-time job and my goal is not to return as an employee, but I would like to be on their short-list of people who they can count on.

I am really excited about working on the book with Marcia. As I said, we’ve worked together some before and I believe we both enjoyed it immensely, even though we live on opposite coasts. I know I learn a lot merely from the process of collaborating virtually.

PS – I’m also still expecting to be an adjunct professor of business communications at USC’s Marshall School of Business next fall.

Richard Ladd – Professional Eclectic, SMSD

As a noun, Merriam-Webster defines eclectic as “one who uses a method or approach that is composed of elements drawn from various sources.” I think this describes me pretty well. So well, in fact, I once printed up business cards introducing me (see the title of this post) as Richard Ladd – Professional Eclectic, SMSD. I used different fonts for each letter of the title, chosen to stress their difference yet not such that they appeared garish or disjointed. At least, that was my intent. I have no idea if I succeeded because I never really passed any of them out. It was a silly conceit of mine.

I added the SMSD embellishment very purposefully. Although I have two advanced degrees I’m reasonably proud of having earned, I seldom place their initials after my name. However, I intended the business card to be somewhat of a joke and, coupled with some minor discomfort in holding myself out as being a true eclectic, I thought to broaden it and thereby soften the harshness of what I worried might be too heady a self-endorsement. One could easily imply calling oneself an eclectic might be a backhanded way of suggesting one was a polymath.

Merriam-Webster defines dilettante as “a person whose interest in an art or in an area of knowledge is not very deep or serious.” Although I have long had a keen interest in many different fields of study, I am not sure that interest is deep enough for me to really be a person with eclectic interests or tastes, not necessarily a true eclectic. SMSD, therefore, stands for “Some May Say Dilettante.” I considered it a sort of backhanded disclaimer, a way of acknowledging I just might not be very good at my eclecticism.

A recent example from an attempt to recreate a former business card

A recent example from an attempt to recreate a former business card

What caused me to think of this? I was looking at my desk, which I had actually cleaned off not too long ago. It is once again cluttered, as it almost always is. It reminded me that I’ve always been interested in many things and easily distracted as well, and it finally hit me that I will likely never be “organized”.

It’s not limited to what I read and study either. When I was living in Playa del Rey and my family’s business was in Vernon (East L.A.) I often tried different routes to go back and forth. I get bored really easy with doing the same thing the same way, over and over. When I worked at Rocketdyne for over two decades, I often drove different routes to get to work and, even more importantly, I often tried new ways of doing things; always looking for a better way to get my work done.

I once worked with a guy who insisted he was far too busy to take time to learn something new. It was his goto response when I suggested he take 10 – 15 minutes to learn a couple of keyboard shortcuts or learn about a macro command that would save time in the future. I’m always amazed by people who have no curiosity and see learning as a chore or something that impedes their ability to get their work done. That attitude is the epitome of the saying “pennywise and pound foolish”, IMO. It’s also the antithesis of being able to see systems or what is frequently referred to as Systems Thinking.

Hmmm. It seems my propensity for wandering has happened with this post as well. I think my main point was a recognition that one needn’t be “organized” or to see it as the be all and end all of being an effective person. Some of us just aren’t built that way, yet we manage to do quite well overall. Yeah. That’s the ticket.



Want Something to Worship? Try This

Instead of attending services — whether in a Church, Synagogue, Mosque, or Temple — watch this. It’s far more powerful than any scripture I’ve ever encountered.

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