The Practical Radical

Fight, Flight or Unite – What’s the strategy?

June 27, 2010
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Lots of issues around violence and when to use it have come to the fore for me in the past few days – the Afghan war and the G8 riots being the most media prominent. Yet, its my current favorite TV show Boston Legal which describes it best.

There was a great episode where one of the lawyers got into an altercation with a bruiser at a bar. Said lawyer taunted said bruiser, who punched him. View the video to see one way our of this situation.

As you can see his solution was unique – but it brings up the question for me of when do you fight, when do you flee (and maybe fight another day) and when do you bring in help.

In a more metaphorical way, this scenario is often revisited in one’s career when you are faced with a serious conflict (say getting fired or majorly jerked around) and the aforementioned three choices. Though at first blush, going on the offensive may feel like the right thing, upon sleeping on it the answer often seems to be to walk away. The long-term strategy often becomes bringing in others to help you.

I follow the idiom that revenge is best served cold.*  It is more important to determine my immediate interests and needs than it is to go for the throat. But, then again, sometimes it sure would be nice …

* this phrase is alternatively attributed to Klingon Khaless the unforgettable; a quote by Pierre Ambroise Francois Choderios de LaClos (1741-1803) in his book Les Liasons Dangereuses; or as old Mafiosi saying from Sicily.


Nairobi Reflection 3: High Touch/Low Tech

June 17, 2010
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Community Mapping has always been quite an amazing tool – it localizes knowledge, draws on the “mappers” personal and community experiences, identifies interconnectedness – all this coming together and increasing social capital (if you are interested in the concepts of social capital read Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone; to better understand how it relates to mapping, read up on John Mcknight’s Asset Based Community Development). You can check out some of the work that the International Centre for Sustainable Cities and UN-HABITAT has done on community mapping by checking out their draft asset mapping manual.

As I have written about before, the Kibera Mapper’s project take this to the next level by combining the “soft” components of mapping – working with community, getting them to identify their “assets” or “social capital” – with the “hard” components of mapping – turning out maps which can be used in community organizing and advocacy. These organizing and advocacy outputs can be used to influence decision makers such as planners – I like to thing of it as the “pointy stick” of mapping, where you can drive your message home with great success.

What is even more exciting is how low tech this has become. Using what they call Walking Papers mappers are able to draw directly onto a map and then have it scanned and that be uploaded directly to a digital map. No GPS, no uploading to an onsite computer. The definition of High Touch/Low Tech.

A Walking Paper example - the barcode in bottom right allows the map to be scanned and lined up with an offsite digital map

Anyways, I am re-blogging Mikel’s post from the Map Kibera blog. It gives a lot more detail and new insight into mapping — real-time — in the field.

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Nairobi Notebook 2: The Sustainability of Good Works

June 14, 2010
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Nairobi Notebook

NOTE: I had a wonderful lunch when i was in Nairobi with some of the people from the Map Kibera project (you can read my previous blog on this here, or go to their website mapkibera.org). What fascinated me was the stage they were at in regards to the growth of their project and their concern about assuring that the project was sustainable. This  got me thinking about sustainability and NGOs. Here are my musings on the subject …

Just as the coin for business is, well, coins, the coin for NGOs is change. Positive change. It is what every NGO assumes it will be able to achieve when they start, and what many fail to do. The challenge often for NGOs as with for-profit companies is achieving and sustaining their success.

To achieve success an agency agency needs to plan, to plan they must have a  “business model” – guidelines to better understand where they stand in relation to their own development.

One traditional for-profit model is that of the “business cycle” or “S curve”.

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This model  is used to understand the growth  of industries and organizations. However, the S curve does not recognize key components of a healthy system – specifically the phases of destruction and renewal. A healthy forest is one that has trees grow older, die, and then become the fertilizer for the new growth. The S curve is silent on these phases of destruction and renewal. Ironically, it is the paradox of having things dies that assures the longterm sustainability of a healthy system.

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“I work with my ears” Petrula Vrontikis, Designer.

June 3, 2010
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Allan Chochinov is a New York-based design network and educator of design students. He spoke at a designers conference recently and gave a presentation titled: First Person Plural: The value of getting it from the horse’s mouth.

He outlines the process that he teaches his students to take to “listen” to their clients so as to get the best designs.

His equation is:

Listen to the client -> Find the “hot/controversial” topic in the field -> Discover the creative edge.

He presents four successful product designs based on this process … great video … take a listen!


Bokeh/暈け or ボケ – Finding Patterns in the Blur

May 13, 2010
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In my description of myself on this blog I describe liking “patterns not lines”. What this means to me is that it is not the obvious – the straight lines – that one looks for to move forward – you have to look deeper and discover that which isn’t so obvious – the patterns.

Bokeh Photography reminds me of that. Bokeh photography refers to the area in the photo which is out of focus yet increases the beauty or mystic of an image. The origin of the word bokeh comes from the Japanese word 暈け or ボケ which translates as blur or haze.

Bokeh strikes me as a great analogy for patterns – looking for that which isn’t in focus – but encloses or emanates from or around a subject. So for example we can take a look two shots of a chainlink fence:

We then can ask – which is more interesting – the one against a slate grey background, or the one in which we think we can see a tree. Clearly, it’s the tree – and the imagining of where that tree is – in an empty lot? does it have anything to do with this picture?


Another example is the picture of this bird by Tony Rowlett – if the picture of it was just in a pond, would it be as interesting?  The fact that it is up against a blurred background means that it stands out more, it doesn’t get lost in an obvious background and leaves you to question and imagine where it is.

I suggest this blur is as important as that which is in focus. It is finding the patterns in the blur, which allows you to explore the possibilities of its context, and what makes that which is in focus all that more valuable.

Some more pictures done by Lee-Anne Ragan added May 19, 2010:

and then a photo by me:


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    Practical things that make me radical

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