…because the new day that starts in less than an hour’s time now is when I would stereotypically get that infamous bus-pass.
(Except that in this country I don’t actually get it for another 17 months: the governments here play an ever-popular game called ‘move the goal-posts so that we don’t have to provide what people have already paid for’. Bah.)
Yes. Tomorrow is the day I turn 60.
Sixty years of age.
Kind of scary, really. Officially ‘old’.
I’m glad to say that I don’t actually feel old. In some ways I’ve never felt better (although this week’s thoroughly nasty bout of something had me decidedly uncomfortable for a while… ), and I certainly do feel I’m doing some of my best work ever, helping to create new capabilities and options for an entire industry.
Doing it again, in fact – because, looking back over the decades, I’ve actually done so several times.
Back in my twenties I contributed a fair bit to the revival of the then somewhat moribund-discipline of dowsing. I’d long been interested in ideas that were on the outer fringes of any of the sciences or elsewhere, because even back then, coming from a design background, I knew that that’s where the most interesting possibilities were likely to reside. (Back then, too, I had little patience for ‘half-baked’ hype-merchants, on the one side; on the other side, the ‘over-cooked’, the self-styled ‘skeptics’ whose grasp of actual science was often worse than abysmal; and, worse, those who somehow merged all those incompetences together into one inedible mess – equivalent to the endemic IT-centrism or business-centrism of so much ‘enterprise’-architecture of today.) I was doing research on skills-education at the time, as part of my Masters degree: I chose dowsing as my test-case, because it’s an example of an almost ‘pure’ skill, in that almost its entirety resides in judgement and interpretation rather than in manual or conceptual dexterity. To prove the research, I wrote up part of the thesis test-case as a ‘teach-yourself” book on dowsing – which actually became a best-seller for a time, and in somewhat adapted form is still in print, 35 years later. I’ll admit I’m not actually that good as a dowser: I’ve always been much more interested in the methodology behind it – the internals, the ‘theory in support of practice’ – rather than deep-involvement in the practice itself. A systems-view, if you like: a theme that comes up later in many other forms, of course.
Some years later, into my thirties, I was back to the other roots of that work, in graphic design. My then partner and I were running a pre-press bureau, using the then new technology of phototypesetting. The machines could run much faster than we could type: it was obvious that we could use more than one input terminal. But the manufacturers’ systems were fantastically expensive, and frankly crude – even cruder than the nascent microcomputer systems that were just beginning to appear on the market, at less than a tenth of the price the manunfacturers expected. Which – as things things do – led sideways into learning a lot about microcomputers, and the joys of software-development in assembly-language with inadequate software-tools, absurd constraints on hardware capabilities (yes, we did indeed manage to squeeze an entire microcomputer operating-system into 2Kb of memory, and a complete typesetting application into less than 40Kb), and, of course, clients who changed their requirements every few minutes… But we could typeset from just about any of the dozens of micro-based systems that were available at the time (remember WordStar, anyone?); and we had a perhaps rudimentary but proven and respected form of fully pagefitted desktop-publishing in daily use at least a year or two before the first Apple Mac made its appearance on the scene. Things changed a lot after that, and I sold the company on to one of our competitors; but I can justifiably claim to have been one of the pioneers – in Britain at least – of what is now the huge industry of desktop-publishing. (I also remember being told by the CEO of one of the largest manufacturers of typesetting equipment that “there is no market for printing from computers, and there never will be!”. Hmm…)
Over the years, I seem to have done this same kind of ‘business-anarchist‘ disruption in a few other disciplines. Perhaps the most notorious of these was around the fraught field of research on domestic-violence (‘DV’) resolution, where a simple five-minute thought-experiment of swapping gender-pronouns in the text showed that the so-called ‘standard’ model – mandated by law in more than half of the US states – was so deeply flawed in its fundamentals that it was completely unfit for purpose, in most real-world practice was causing more harm than good, and should never have been used at all. To prove the point, I prepared a simple rewrite of the ‘standard’ that used a more straightforward whole-of-system perspective, that resolved each of the fundamental flaws of the original in a methodologically-defensible way. The politics of the field being what they are, this was not exactly popular… but in fact that rewrite is starting to be used more often now. The core of that analysis also resurfaced in my later book ‘Power and Response-ability: the human side of systems‘ – nominally written for the business context, but in reality the underlying issues are exactly the same as in DV.
And, of course, the same disruption to the field of enterprise-architecture, with all the books and blog-posts and presentations and the like, trying to pry it free from the dead-weight of IT-centrism and remind everyone that ‘enterprise’ means ‘the enterprise’ – not just ‘the IT’ or even ‘the business’. We’re getting there at last, I think, but it’s been a long hard slog – again. And a lot of work still to do, on metamodels, toolsets and a whole lot more.
But am I getting too old for this game? I do have to wonder sometimes. And yet I’m reminded of an amazing woman called Mary Sheridan, who I worked for as an medical-illustrator in the early 1970s, and who started the public part of her career in child-development studies when she retired from the Schools Medical Service at the same age as I am now. (Her classic Children’s Developmental Progress is still in print, in fact regarded as the standard work on the subject, though sadly the current edition doesn’t use my illustrations any more.) When I look at what she managed to achieve in the time that she had, well, yes, I have to admit, there’s still a lot more I could do too.
But what could I do? Or should? (If ‘should’ is the right word here…?) That’s perhaps what I’m struggling with most right now.
So might be wise to use this, uh, somewhat-scary milestone as a moment to reflect on things a while… And maybe even use that not-quite bus-pass, perhaps?