In the children’s book (that every adult should read), The Phantom Tollbooth, the protagonist Milo comes across the frightening, faceless Terrible Trivium, a “demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit.” Milo and his friends fall under his spell, agreeing to perform busy-work like moving a huge pile of sand from one place to another, grain by grain, using a tweezer. The Terrible Trivium’s explanation for this terrible fate?
“If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won’t have the time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing….”
What a scary thought! So if you find yourself feeling frazzled, habitually explaining away things with a busy status, it’s probably time to slow down and pay attention to the important, difficult stuff. Examine what is keeping you so busy compared to what you really should and want to be doing.
For his part, Mark Spitz appreciated the interruption of that week’s grid. Omega wormed through the intestines of a starter-apartment rental tower, and floor after floor of beige carpet, noise-permeable walls, and fingerprint-smudged doorways soured his disposition. His friends in the city lived in buildings like that, and the hallways reeked of the dead ambitions decomposing behind the doors. They’d had hopes. Now the cheap, emptied construction signified the complete eradication of aspiration, all luminous notions.
The sign of intelligence is that you are constantly wondering. Idiots are always dead sure about every damn thing they are doing in their life.
Survivors are slow or incapable of forming new attachments,” or so the latest diagnoses droned, although a cynic might identify this as a feature of modern life merely intensified or fine-tuned with the introduction of the plague.
To get business done, you have to get people to expand their sense of self-interest and then get those self-interests to overlap. That’s when you get a transaction. Then you get progress.
By Ken Banks (PopTech 2012)
Yes, we should provide local entrepreneurs and grassroots nonprofits with tools—and where appropriate and requested, expertise—but we shouldn’t develop solutions to problems we don’t understand. We shouldn’t take ownership of a problem that isn’t ours, and we certainly shouldn’t build “solutions” from thousands of miles away and then jump on a plane in search of a home for them.
Development is at a watershed moment, powered by accessible and affordable liberating technologies and an emerging army of determined, local talent. This local talent is gradually acquiring the skills, resources, and support it needs to take back ownership of many of its problems—problems of which it never took original ownership because those skills and resources were not available. Well, now they are.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
“I grew up in Qasaba, Kabul. My family moved there when I was 5, and at the time there were several wars going on. My brother Mahmud and I we played every day on the fields surrounded with the highest mountains in our neighbourhood.
When we were young we learned to make our own toys. One of my favourites was a small rolling object that was wind-powered. We used to race against the other kids on the fields around our neighbourhood. There was always a strong wind waving towards the mountains. While we were racing against each other, our toys rolled too fast and too far. Mostly they landed in areas where we couldn’t go rescue them because of landmines. I still remember those toys I’d made that we lost and watching them just beyond where we could go.
Almost 20 years later, I went back to Qasaba and made those toys again. That was my graduation project for the Design Academy Eindhoven (2011). I remade one, making it 20 times bigger as well as heaver and stronger. Powered by the wind, it’s meant for the same areas which were (and still are) full of mines.
Now if it rolls over a mine, the toy, now a Mine Kafon, will destroy itself and the landmine in the same time. Made from bamboo and biodegradable plastics, the Mine Kafon also has a GPS chip integrated in it. You can follow its movement on the website and see were it went, where are the safest paths to walk on and how many land mines are destroyed in that area. On paper, Afghanistan is said to have 10 million land mines. In truth there are far, far more. Every destroyed land mine means a saved life and every life counts.” - Massoud Hassani
Incredible. Speaks to the power of enabling people to find solutions to their own problems.
UNC’s Opportunity to Change the Rules
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp intends to step down at the end of this academic year because he says it’s best for the future of the University.
Chancellor Thorp to Step Down in June via Daily Tar Heel
It’s a sad day for UNC-Chapel Hill. Our leader and prodigal son, Holden Thorp, has elected to resign at the end of the school year amid multiple athletics-related scandals. My view is that Thorp is probably worn down from dealing with all of this - it surely wasn’t what he had in mind when he took the position. It’s a shame, because it would’ve been great to see what he could do had he been able to focus more on his areas of strength - entrepreneurship & innovation, sciences, etc. - instead of on all these messes made by selfish folks below him. That’s not to say that entrepreneurship at UNC hasn’t taken great steps forward under Thorp; it definitely has. But there’s more to be done, and that’s how the UNC community ought to view this event: an opportunity to continue building a UNC focused on being a leader in the new higher-ed future.
To do that, I think the next Chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill needs to focus on changing the rules that govern the University. This won’t be easy, because of institutional inertia, lack of imagination from powerful stakeholders, etc. but it’s clear that it’s necessary. The system is broken and has yielded plenty of rot and corruption - anyone who thinks otherwise is in denial.
Donella Meadows writes about the power of changing the rules that govern systems in her paper on Leverage Points:
To demonstrate the power of rules, I like to ask my students to imagine different ones for a college. Suppose the students graded the teachers, or each other. Suppose there were no degrees: you come to college when you want to learn something, and you leave when you have learned it. Suppose tenure were awarded to professors according to their ability to solve real-world problems, rather than publishing academic papers. Suppose a class was graded as a group, instead of as individuals.
As we try to imagine restructured rules like these and what our behavior would be under them, we come to understand the power of rules. They are high leverage points. Power over the rules is real power. That’s why lobbyists congregate when Congress writes laws, and why the Supreme Court, which interprets and delineates the Constitution - the rules for writing the rules - has even more power than Congress. If you want to understand the deepest malfunctions of systems, pay attention to the rules, and to who has power over them.
When we look at it that way, one of the most powerful organizations in the country is the NCAA - and they’re certainly not without faults. I’d like to see UNC join the debate about how to fix the relationship between the NCAA, universities, and their athletics programs. Perhaps a new Chancellor can work with AD Bubba Cunningham to experiment with new models that reorient and realign incentives so that universities aren’t diluting their education objectives to engage in an athletic arms race. Due to the aforementioned institutional inertia, it’d be best to start a business model innovation factory for these new ideas; that would allow UNC to try new ideas while continuing to run the current system.
The same should go for new education models. UNC has plenty to share with the world in terms of brilliant minds and inspiring projects - that is one part of the system that is not broken. But we need new models for capturing and sharing that brilliance with the world. Experimentation in the form of new types of classes, more flexible student classifications for continuing education, online classes and certificates, and advocating for and investing in open-source academic publications will push UNC to the forefront of higher-ed reform and make it a magnet for innovators.
Ultimately what we need is a new Chancellor that is simultaneously bold, firm, and open-minded. A chancellor that will restore the University’s integrity, build a new vision for the University, and nurture the University as it repairs itself and moves toward the future. Thorp is right - by stepping down, he will help (hopefully) close the book on this sad chapter in the University’s history. If we approach this opportunity correctly, his resignation will be the best thing for the future of the University.