Accepting change: thoughts inspired by turning left

“If the light is green, and there is no one coming in the other direction, you can turn left.”

This is what I learned about turning left at stoplight (aka traffic signal) many years ago when I learned to drive. Over time, though, turning left at a signal has gotten a bit more involved.

In addition to the basic green light, traffic signals gained a left turn arrow, that would let you know when it was OK to turn left without worrying about oncoming (or side) traffic. Sometimes you could turn left with the flow of traffic on your side, sometimes you and traffic opposite would turn left together.  A sign declaring Left Turn Yield On Green appeared on these signals for when the arrow was not lit, just in case the mere presence of the arrow made you forget that simple rule.

[A short detour: When we lived in NJ, there were many intersections that did not have left turn arrows, but had signs declaring Delayed Green. It took me a little while to realize what this meant was, “Your light is green, the other direction’s traffic is not, so go ahead and turn left if you like.” Of course, this was at the seemingly rare intersection where you could actually turn left by turning left.]

Some intersections then earned an actual Left Turn Signal, where a left turn could only be made when the arrow was green, independent of the regular flow of traffic. I assume these are in place to help support efficient traffic flow or safety, but they can be a bit irritating when the main light is green, there is no traffic, and you are stuck with a red arrow and can’t turn until the light cycles through.

There is now a newer variation on the theme, something I first noticed several years ago: a left turn signal, separate from the main flow signal, that included a flashing yellow arrow in addition to the red and green arrows, with an accompanying sign letting you know, Left Turn Yield on Flashing Yellow. At first I thought this a bit silly, not sure what benefit this really gave. But then I had occasion to use one of those flashing yellow arrows to turn left, when the main flow light was red.

I have to admit, it kind of freaked me out a bit the first time I made that turn with the main light red, knowing that the light for the other direction was green. “Freaked out” may be a bit strong, but it was definitely an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling. I’ve been driving for 30+ years, and this was a significant change.

A good lesson for any type of change (maybe in your life or your company): acknowledge the change, understand its history, and give it a chance.

Were the principles of life invented or discovered?

Even if you are not a reductionist and believe, as I do, that there is genuine causal power and functionality in the arrangements of things that is not contained in the things themselves or fully explainable by their low-level interactions, you are still left with the question of where that functionality comes from. It does feel like it somehow violates the conservation of causal power for evolution to have simply created systems that can do things – truly amazing, incredibly powerful things – from the mundane, purposeless matter that we are all made of.

Kevin Mitchell – Were the principles of life invented or discovered?

Life’s economy is primarily based on collaborative rather than competitive advantage

If we want to re-design economics based on what we know about life’s strategy to create conditions conducive to life, we need to question some basic assumptions upon which the narrative underlying our current economic systems is built. The narrative of separation has predisposed us to focus on scarcity, competition, and the short-term maximization of individual benefit as the basis on which to create an economic system. Life’s evolutionary story shows that systemic abundance can be unlocked through collaboratively structured symbiotic networks that optimize the whole system so human communities and the rest of life can thrive.

Source: Life’s economy is primarily based on collaborative rather than competitive advantage

Organizations, organisms, and intelligence (some thoughts)

Some thoughts inspired by  The Genius Within: Discovering the Intelligence of Every Living Thing by Frank Vertosick, Jr., and other sources.

In the introduction to The Genius Within, Vertosick sets up the book with these comments:

To survive, all living beings must respond to an incessant barrage of stimuli: good, bad, and neutral. Some stimuli are so potently bad they provoke an immediate, reflexive response…. [M]ost hazards can’t be handled so simplistically. If I blindly leapt from every threat, I would soon exhaust myself. Moreover, some threats, such as a menacing animal, are better handled by walking slowly away.

Of course, even better would be to avoid running into menacing animals in the first place.

I couldn’t help thinking of this passage when I came across If it’s urgent, ignore it on McGee’s Musings (which in turn points to the original FastCompany article by Seth Godin and a posting about the article on Frank Patrick’s Focused Performance Weblog.) A couple of quick excerpts:

Urgent issues are easy to address. They are the ones that get everyone in the room for the final go-ahead. They are the ones we need to decide on right now, before it’s too late.

Smart organizations understand that important issues are the ones to deal with. If you focus on the important stuff, the urgent will take care of itself.

Organizations manage to justify draconian measures–laying people off, declaring bankruptcy, stiffing their suppliers, and closing stores–by pointing out the urgency of the situation. They refuse to make the difficult decisions when the difficult decisions are cheap. They don’t want to expend the effort to respond to their competition or fire the intransigent VP of development. Instead, they focus on the events that are urgent at that moment and let the important stuff slide.

Or in other words they are, to use Dr. Vertosick’s words, blindly leaping from every threat, and will soon exhaust themselves. This is another sign of a “stupid,” or in this case non-intelligent, organization.

A few more words on “intelligence” in organisms from Dr. Vertosick:

No creature can make it through life equipped solely with dumb reflexes. Reflexes alone do not constitute intelligence. Organisms must temper their reflexes with judgment, and that implies reason.

When reflex alone proves inadequate or counterproductive, living things resort to more subtle ways of dealing with environmental data. They begin by determining the predictive value of their experiences and storing those experiences for later application.

In other words, organisms learn from experience and apply this knowledge to future challenges. Learning is central to all intelligent behavior.

Since the organization that focuses on the urgent, instead of the important, is apparently not learning from the past, it stands to reason they are un-intelligent and doomed to an earlier demise than might otherwise occur if they could start learning. Unfortunately, this type of organization takes a lot of people, money, and other resources and capabilities down with it.*

* Of course, you can look at this as a kind of “circle of life” kind of thing, as most of those resources will eventually find their way back into the system. Unfortunately for the “human resources” involved, though, this will be a very unenjoyable process.

Stop assuming you know best

I came across the following in Michael Dowd’s Thank God for Evolution:

To have a powerful relationship with your own intuition and instincts – and thus to have a clear channel of communication with the creating, sustaining Life Force of the Universe (whatever you may choose to call It/Him/Her) – one must cultivate humility in this sense: Stop assuming that you know best how things are supposed to go in the world. Rather, try on an attitude of gratitude – not just for what is easy to be grateful for, but also for those challenges and difficulties in life for which you cannot yet detect a silver lining.

Having faith and being in integrity means trusting that each and every one of us is doing the best we can, given what we’ve got to work with at the time. It’s trusting that, from the perspective of the Universe, everything may be “right on schedule.”

Just thought I’d share.