Daniel Suarez talk is one I think everyone should watch. The more I consider his words the more I’m convinced that he is right in calling for international ban on the development and deployment of autonomous killer robots. He makes many good points during the talk but here are the ones that really made me stop and think:
because as we migrate lethal decision-making from humans to software, we risk not only taking the humanity out of war, but also changing our social landscape entirely, far from the battlefield. That’s because the way humans resolve conflict shapes our social landscape … Now if responsibility and transparency are two of the cornerstones of representative government, autonomous robotic weapons could undermine both … And this is why we need an international treaty on robotic weapons, and in particular a global ban on the development and deployment of killer robots. Now we already have international treaties on nuclear and biological weapons, and, while imperfect, these have largely worked. But robotic weapons might be every bit as dangerous, because they will almost certainly be used, and they would also be corrosive to our democratic institutions.
Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of my father’s death, it’s hard to believe that its been five years, and yet here we are; so much has happened, so much has changed and yet so much remains the same. I miss him so very much, I miss his wisdom, his humour, his strength but most of all I miss the comfort I felt simply knowing he was there. It was while I was thinking of him that I recalled this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow … which somehow feels apt…
(What the heart of the young man said to the psalmist)
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
"Life is but an empty dream!"
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
"Dust thou art, to dust returnest,"
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Finds us farther than today.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, -act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.
“Lack of passion leads to poor performance, which will damage any future chance of success. As a consequence it becomes progressively more and more difficult to be passionate”; Inertia is a self fulfilling prophecy.
It’s been so long since I’ve actually written a blog post I thought I’d try something different. Start with something that sounds like a conclusion … and try to piece it all together.
…but first a personal note …
I haven’t written anything particularly meaningful on this blog in a long time, somewhere along the way I lost my voice. I’ve been trying to understand why; some of it I cant remember or am probably still unwilling to remember at least not in enough detail to examine those feelings honestly. It’s amusing, at least to me, that all of this was brought into sharp relief when I read this simple sentence yesterday on an old friends blog1:
Not being able to speak manifests in not being able to write too.
That is so fucking true.
Which in turn linked through to a different post that also had a profound effect on me; by profound I mean made me feel angry and ashamed all at once2:
What does it feel like to remain silent when you should have said something? I bet you can think of occasions looking back when you wished you had found the words, any words, to say something. Say Something.
When I first started blogging it was, in no small part, due to a request from another friend, Ian Davis who back in 2006 asked me to start blogging and sharing my thoughts. Whilst I was nervous and unsure of myself, Ian convinced me to try and more importantly – to believe in myself. I was still fairly new to Talis at the time and I remember asking him “what if I say something you don’t like? or the company doesn’t like?” and Ian’s response was something along the lines of “its your blog and your voice … you can say whatever you want”. Of course I realised that he wasn’t giving me free reign to give away our trade secrets (not that we had many), or use it as a platform from which to hurl abuse at managers. What he was doing was saying its ok to question, it ok to share thoughts, even concerns because if we are an organisation that values our people then we have to encourage them to have a voice. For me it was this that made us far more ‘human’ or ‘people’ focussed than the company I left in order to join Talis. Ian left Talis a few months ago, I know he has a lot to deal with, and he is! But I do miss him. He has always inspired me and he still does; for that I will always be grateful to him. I wish I had said that to him more often, I hope its something he already knew.
So, back to Attitude reflecting leadership.
This is a rather old post on The Apathy Cycle vs The Passion Cycle. The quote at the beginning of this post was taken from this. Whilst the post itself is quite short there’s some interesting discussion in the comments that is also worth reflecting on. What do Passion and Apathy have to do with Attitude and Leadership … perhaps nothing … perhaps everything.
There’s been a lot of change recently, not only at Talis but also in other aspects of my life – family, friends, other projects I’m involved in outside of work. About the only thing that seems to remain constant is the fact that things keep changing. Dealing with change is not always easy – But you deal with it, right? I used to believe that everything changes and all that matters is how we, as individuals, choose to deal with it. But I’ve been re-thinking my position on that recently. Particularly when I think about it in the light of those things I’ve been really passionate about recently and those things I’ve been pretty apathetic towards.
The catalyst for this was several closely related questions that I was asked by two different people in two completely unrelated contexts (one was at work and the other on a different local project I volunteer with). But for the purposes of this I’m going to reduce those to just one and use that to frame the rest of this discussion:
What is it that makes the kind of leader you would choose to follow?
I’ve read books on leadership, team building and organisational culture; I’ve discussed these at length with others often more experienced in this subject area than I am. There are so many different ways of answering ‘what is a good leader’, and often when people answer they do so by pointing out the differences between Leaders and Managers. There is an important distinction, but difficult at times to articulate – I think what they all agree on is that the difference lies in the way that Leaders or Managers motivate the people who work or follow them. I know for some that’s a gross over simplification, so I’ll try to qualify this a little more. Leaders have followers, whereas Managers tend to have subordinates. Again, this is also over simplified since in many situations the same individual will have a Leadership position that requires him/her to Manage others. They are not mutually exclusive.
For me the leadership qualities that are required to make a good leader will vary in different companies, teams and situations. They are entirely context-dependent. What does that mean? every situation we face is different – I am a leader to some but a follower of others. No one is always just one or the other. One of the best examples of this, certainly one that helped me understand the importance of context was the play The Admirable Crichton, in which a Lord and his Butler swap their roles as leader and servant, as the situation changes. For example: when on a desert island the butler’s practical skills are essential for survival.
I might argue that in general a good leader is someone who thinks strategically, has a vision that is the source of their passion and communicates it effectively to others, inspiring them to follow; in other words enthusing others to work towards that vision because they too believe in it. Good leaders are also the ones that understand thats it’s important to boost the self esteem of others, it’s amazing what people can achieve when they believe in themselves. If you want to be technical then yes I am listing some of the qualities that are attributed to transformational leadership as opposed to transactional leadership where people are often motivated by reward or punishment and there’s a clear chain of command. I found the table at the end of this page helped as a talking point during one of the discussions I had. I don’t entirely agree with it but it was useful nonetheless. The other thing that helped was the film Twelve O’Clock High which was a more visual way of examining the effectiveness of different leadership styles and in different contexts! (had the damnedest time convincing them to watch a black and white film).
I personally believe that certainly with relation to the work that I do, or the projects I’m involved in, particularly those in and around social innovation, tapping into people’s passions and empowering them works better than diktat or command and control – I’ve witnessed for example at P2PU how far passion can take a community, that is led in an open and transparent way towards shared vision. I’ve also seen how corrosive it is when people’s motivations aren’t aligned behind a shared vision. It creates uncertainty, disillusionment and possibly most damning of all … a fundamental lack of trust. Often actually more through a lack of communication and transparency than anything else.
So when the question above was put me most recently, I answered:
‘the leader provides a vision, but he cant get there on his/her own – First I ask is the vision something that I believe in, does it inspire me, is it something I feel passionate about;. BUT then I ask myself how is that shared vision reflected in everyone else; In their words and actions … because you aren’t just following a person your also joining a team/community/movement.’.
The prevailing attitudes embodied within any team/community/movement are a reflection of its leadership. Apathy isn’t always a result of bad members, more often its a result of uninspired leadership.
That’s probably enough to think about for now. Hope this has been useful for those who asked.
It’s been a while since I read something that moved me as much as this short essay by an 11th Grader.
2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards
Prose: High School
Fighting a Forbidden Battle: How I Stopped Covering Up for a Hidden Wrong
11th grade, Winchester Thurston
I once belonged to a wonderful religion. I belonged to a religion that allows those of us who believe in it to feel that we are the greatest people in the world—and feel sorry for ourselves at the same time. Once, I thought that I truly belonged in this world of security, self-pity, self-proclaimed intelligence, and perfect moral aesthetic. I thought myself to be somewhat privileged early on. It was soon revealed to me, however, that my fellow believers and I were not part of anything so flattering.
Although I was fortunate enough to have parents who did not try to force me into any one set of beliefs, being Jewish was in no way possible to escape growing up. It was constantly reinforced at every holiday, every service, and every encounter with the rest of my relatives. I was forever reminded how intelligent my family was, how important it was to remember where we had come from, and to be proud of all the suffering our people had overcome in order to finally achieve their dream in the perfect society of Israel.
This last mandatory belief was one which I never fully understood, but I always kept the doubts I had about Israel’s spotless reputation to the back of my mind. “Our people” were fighting a war, one I did not fully comprehend, but I naturally assumed that it must be justified. We would never be so amoral as to fight an unjust war. Yet as I came to learn more about our so-called “conflict” with the Palestinians, I grew more concerned. I routinely heard about unexplained mass killings, attacks on medical bases, and other alarmingly violent actions for which I could see no possible reason. “Genocide” almost seemed the more appropriate term, yet no one I knew would have ever dreamed of portraying the war in that manner; they always described the situation in shockingly neutral terms. Whenever I brought up the subject, I was always given the answer that there were faults on both sides, that no one was really to blame, or simply that it was a “difficult situation.” It was not until eighth grade that I fully understood what I was on the side of. One afternoon, after a fresh round of killings was announced on our bus ride home, I asked two of my friends who actively supported Israel what they thought. “We need to defend our race,” they told me. “It’s our right.”
“We need to defend our race.”
Where had I heard that before? Wasn’t it the same excuse our own country had used to justify its abuses of African-Americans sixty years ago? In that moment, I realized how similar the two struggles were—like the white radicals of that era, we controlled the lives of another people whom we abused daily, and no one could speak out against us. It was too politically incorrect to do so. We had suffered too much, endured too many hardships, and overcome too many losses to be criticized. I realized then that I was in no way part of a “conflict”—the term “Israeli/Palestinian Conflict” was no more accurate than calling the Civil Rights Movement the “Caucasian/ African-American Conflict.” In both cases, the expression was a blatant euphemism: it gave the impression that this was a dispute among equals and that both held an equal share of the blame. However, in both, there was clearly an oppressor and an oppressed, and I felt horrified at the realization that I was by nature on the side of the oppressors. I was grouped with the racial supremacists. I was part of a group that killed while praising its own intelligence and reason. I was part of a delusion.
I thought of the leader of the other oppressed side of years ago, Martin Luther King. He too had been part of a struggle that had been hidden and glossed over for the convenience of those against whom he fought. What would his reaction have been? As it turned out, it was precisely the same as mine. As he wrote in his letter from Birmingham Jail, he believed the greatest enemy of his cause to be “Not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who…lives by a mythical concept of time…. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” When I first read those words, I felt as if I were staring at myself in a mirror. All my life I had been conditioned to simply treat the so-called conflict with the same apathy which King had so forcefully condemned. I, too, held the role of an accepting moderate. I, too, “lived by a mythical concept of time,” shrouded in my own surreal world and the set of beliefs that had been assigned to me. I had never before felt so trapped.
I decided to make one last appeal to my religion. If it could not answer my misgivings, no one could. The next time I attended a service, there was an open question-and-answer session about any point of our religion. I wanted to place my dilemma in as clear and simple terms as I knew how. I thought out my exact question over the course of the seventeen-minute cello solo that was routinely played during service. Previously, I had always accepted this solo as just another part of the program, yet now it seemed to capture the whole essence of our religion: intelligent and well-crafted on paper, yet completely oblivious to the outside world (the soloist did not have the faintest idea of how masterfully he was putting us all to sleep). When I was finally given the chance to ask a question, I asked, “I want to support Israel. But how can I when it lets its army commit so many killings?” I was met with a few angry glares from some of the older men, but the rabbi answered me. “It is a terrible thing, isn’t it?” he said. “But there’s nothing we can do. It’s just a fact of life.” I knew, of course, that the war was no simple matter and that we did not by any means commit murder for its own sake, but to portray our thousands of killings as a “fact of life” was simply too much for me to accept. I thanked him and walked out shortly afterward. I never went back. I thought about what I could do. If nothing else, I could at least try to free myself from the burden of being saddled with a belief I could not hold with a clear conscience. I could not live the rest of my life as one of the pathetic moderates whom King had rightfully portrayed as the worst part of the problem. I did not intend to go on being one of the Self-Chosen People, identifying myself as part of a group to which I did not belong.
It was different not being the ideal nice Jewish boy. The difference was subtle, yet by no means unaffecting. Whenever it came to the attention of any of our more religious family friends that I did not share their beliefs, I was met with either a disapproving stare and a quick change of the subject or an alarmed cry of, “What? Doesn’t Israel matter to you?” Relatives talked down to me more afterward, but eventually I stopped noticing the way adults around me perceived me. It was worth it to no longer feel as though I were just another apathetic part of the machine.
I can obviously never know what it must have been like to be an African-American in the 1950s. I do feel, however, as though I know exactly what it must have been like to be white during that time, to live under an aura of moral invincibility, to hold unchallengeable beliefs, and to contrive illusions of superiority to avoid having to face simple everyday truths. That illusion was nice while it lasted, but I decided to pass it up. I have never been happier.
Anyone can achieve their fullest potential,
who we are might be predetermined, but the path
we follow is always of our own choosing. We should
never allow our fears or the expectations of others
to set the frontiers of our destiny. Your destiny can't
be changed but, it can be challenged.
Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gait,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
-- William Ernest Henley
From time to time we all need a little inspiration.
Wonderful, brilliantly concise, 3 minute TED Talk by Derek Sivers.
“If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow, and when you find a lone nut doing something great have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in.”
I’m currently reading Zen and the Samurai which is a beautifully written work, much of it is devoted to anecdotes about the lives many famous Samurai and how Zen deeply influenced them. The book makes reference to the beautiful verse below which was composed by the Samurai General Uesugi Kenshin on his death bed. It was a practise amongst many Samurai to write a verse in either Chinese or Japanese at the moment of death, this was Kenshin’s Parting of Life Verse:
Even a life-long prosperity is but one cup of sake;
A life of forty-nine years is passed in a dream;
I know not what life is, nor death.
Year in year out-all but a dream.
Both Heaven and Hell are left behind;
I stand in the moonlit dawn,
Free from clouds of attachment.
Weapons are instruments of ill omen. The Way of Heaven
finds them repugnant. The Way of Heaven is to use them
only when necessary.
Finally finished reading The Life Giving Sword by Yagyu Munenori last night. The version I have is translated into English by William Scott and is and absolutely wonderful read. It is considered to be one of the most important and influential texts on Japanese Martial Arts. Scott’s introduction, which is a third of the book, is essential reading and provides, in great detail, the historical context in which this book was written. He not only provides an insight into the life of Munenori but also into life in Japan almost four hundred years ago.
It was also nice to see, in Scott’s account, references to Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings – which to my mind is another seminal text on Japanese Swordsmanship. What’s amazing is that both these men were alive at the same time, and yet they never met. It’s widely acknowledged that Musashi coveted Munenori’s position as Official Swords Instructor to the Tokugawa Shogunate but was never able to gain it over his great rival.
What sets this text apart from others is that it combines the technical refinements of Shikage-Ryu with the philosophical and psychological insights of Zen Buddhism, which Munenori was greatly influenced by through his close friendship with the famous Zen priest Takuan Soho ( author of The Unfettered Mind ). In fact, having read some of Soho’s essays, I’m convinced that this Buddhist spirituality is reflected in the whole idea of the "life giving sword" – this notion that you can control an opponent through your own spiritual readiness to fight. It is further reflected in Munenori’s mastery of restraint and diplomacy through which he became a trusted advisor to the Shoganate – and whilst this might surprise some it really is an insight into the most personal thoughts on non-attachment and non-violence of one of the greatest of all master swordsmen.
It is missing the point to think that the martial arts is
solely in cutting a man down. It is not in cutting people down;
it is in killing evil. It is in the stratagem of killing the
evil of one man and giving life to ten thousand...truly the sword
that kills one man will be the blade that gives others life.
In Zen there is a saying, "Beat the grass and scare up the snake".
Just as you beat the grass to scare up the snake that lies within,
there is a technique of suprising your opponent to cause his mind
to become agitated. Deception is doing something unexpected by your
opponent, and suprising him. This is the martial arts.
Once surprised, your opponent's mind will be taken, and his skill
undone. Raising your fan or hand in front of him will also take your
opponent's mind. Tossing aside the sword you are carrying is also a
martial art. If you have obtained the skill of No-Sword, what will
a sword be to you?
Whilst his words can seem cryptic and inpenetrable at times there is no doubting Munenori’s immense skill as a swordsman, and yet apart from one instance there is no recorded account of him ever killing another in a duel. That one incident though is legendary,and remembered to this day:
... a desperate force of about twenty to thirty men ... broke into
the Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada's camp. The Shogun's men were thrown
into confusion as the assailants, almost incredibly, pressed their
way to within a short distance of the shogun himself. There, however,
they confronted a middle-aged samurai, who was standing calmly in front
of the shogun's horse. The man stepped forward and, with shocking speed,
dexterity, and grace, killed seven of the attackers, giving the shogun's
guards a chance to regroup ... the middle aged samurai was Yagyu Tajima
no kami Munenori.
I often find it interesting to contrast the lives of Musashi and Munenori, the former’s fame was gained through numerous duels and was regarded as an outstanding swordsman having killed so many, and the latter maintained an aire of invincibility without ever having fought a duel. It seems paradoxical. For some odd reason this reminds me of something Plutarch once wrote when he compared the Lives of Numa and Lycurgus
Virtue rendered the one so respectable to deserve a throne,
and other so great as to be above it.
I know it doesn’t quite fit but it certainly resonates. I thoroughly recommend this book, it’s deeply philosophical and deeply profound and will change your understanding of the nature of any martial art.
A Farewell to False Love
Farewell false love, the oracle of lies,
A mortal foe and enemy to rest,
An envious boy, from whom all cares arise,
A bastard vile, a beast with rage possessed,
A way of error, a temple full of treason,
In all effects contrary unto reason.
A poisoned serpent covered all with flowers,
Mother of sighs, and murderer of repose,
A sea of sorrows whence are drawn such showers
As moisture lend to every grief that grows;
A school of guile, a net of deep deceit,
A gilded hook that holds a poisoned bait.
A fortress foiled, which reason did defend,
A siren song, a fever of the mind,
A maze wherein affection finds no end,
A raging cloud that runs before the wind,
A substance like the shadow of the sun,
A goal of grief for which the wisest run.
A quenchless fire, a nurse of trembling fear,
A path that leads to peril and mishap,
A true retreat of sorrow and despair,
An idle boy that sleeps in pleasure's lap,
A deep mistrust of that which certain seems,
A hope of that which reason doubtful deems.
Sith* then thy trains my younger years betrayed,
And for my faith ingratitude I find;
And sith repentance hath my wrongs bewrayed,
Whose course was ever contrary to kind:
False love, desire, and beauty frail, adieu.
Dead is the root whence all these fancies grew.
--Sir Walter Raleigh