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optimizing infrastructure; optimizing forward velocity  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I think I wrote this in 2002: http://richsoil.com/typical/

It is a story of a task that should take about an hour and a half, but ended up taking two days. And the focus of the article is that this is the norm. Oodles of projects go like this. Things that should take a minute, end up taking several hours. A project that should take a day ends up taking months.

This isn't limited to homesteading. I think we all know somebody who was going to get a bit of remodeling on their home and instead of it taking two days, it has now been "under construction" for years.

It seems like the latter part of my software engineering career was made of this stuff. I would arrive at a company and they are stuck - mired in stuff that keeps them from getting stuff done. I would be paid about five times more than their average engineer, and my job was to get them unstuck. I feel like what I did wasn't all that special, but apparently it was. Every company had a loooooong list of reasons why they were stuck. It was different for each company. All of the people were doing oodles of work, but actual useful product was not coming out the other end. Some of the engineers were glad to see me there, but most of them fought me tooth and nail.

But I've had so many people work against me. So many people put hurdles up or say "that's impossible" that I guess I developed skills to get things done despite the obstacles. From the perspective of many people, I suppose these skills would be labeled as "how to be an asshole." I remember at one time I explained it to somebody as "I got it done, but there were a lot of dead bodies left in my wake." (there were no actual dead bodies. more like, people who hated me more than ever before because they commanded me to do something(s), and I ended up doing my job instead.) So I sacrificed "lovely relationships" on the altar of productivity.

In homesteading and permaculture it isn't just people. In the article it was the stuck shaft, the zirc, the rain, the log pile .... As the years would pass, there were fewer problems. More infrastructure was built. More systems were created that made things easier. And when there were problems, they weren't as big. And when the time came to move the paddock, I could plan on it taking 40 minutes instead of 90.

Here is an important silver lining in the article: Note how zirc in question was a very weird size. And in the past, it took about two weeks to figure out the weird size and find a place to purchase zircs of the weird size and then stock up on zircs of the weird size. So the 90 minute task took only two days, rather than two weeks plus two days.

Last year, our dump truck, the millennium falcon, needed the love that only a proper diesel mechanic can provide. A local mechanic said he could do it in three days. Three days later, it would still be three days. Then three more days. Then something about having to go to court - so that would push it up to five days. After the five days, because of the result of the court thing, it would be five - but not a moment long. After those five days, it was now "tomorrow" .... there were a lot of "tomorrows". Three months later, we finally took the dump truck somewhere else. They said it would be a week, and was about a week. So now we know not to trust the local mechanic. Lesson learned. In hindsight, we should have moved it earlier, or gone to a better mechanic from the beginning. And many people hearing the story, offer this useless advice.

With hard work and a heavy dose of give-a-shit, systems are optimized. Forward velocity is bigger each year. The thousands of roadblocks encountered the first year are each overcome, and, in the second year, there is merely one thousand. And in the third year there are only a few hundred.

A lot of these things are that we have optimized our systems: we have a heft supply of zircs, we no longer use the millennium falcon, we have fixed paddocks .... but even more than that, the people involved have built those experiences and know why things are the way they are. And the people that give up easily have left - only the people that will work through the challenges remain.

- - - -

When I was young I rented a big house and rented out the rooms. The rent was cheap because it was a massive shithole. The people that lived there before turned the place into a festering heap. In one room, a mattress was on the floor and had so much mold that it was sorta superglued to the carpet - we ended up throwing both out. I worked a deal with the landlord that if I cleaned the place up, he would not raise the rent. It took me months, but I finally got the place cleaned up and looking pretty good. People didn't want to rent the rooms before the place was cleaned. But once it was cleaned, I did fine. Of course, most of the people renting the rooms were a bit like the people from before. They just wanted to live their lives there and focus on their own interests - cleaning or improving the house was not their thing. They were cool if the whole place degraded back to what it was. Some people were willing to chip in a little. As is the case with nearly everything, some people made the place better and some people made the place worse. Eventually the landlord doubled the rent and we all left.

Having far too much faith in humanity, I tried this sort of thing a few times. In the end there were some things that were repeated: people that seemed like lovely people would quickly/gladly throw all agreements out the window for some small gain. The people that would honor their agreements were more the exception than the rule. Dishonesty seems so common, I'm pretty amazed the society functions at all.

At the same time, there were situations where people kept their word and things ... prospered.


- - - -

In 2006 I lived in a community. I've told the story several times about when the vegan moved in. Rather than following the way things are, the vegan commanded that all of the current residents must conform to what she commands. It was the beginning of the end.

When you have a group of people, it does seem like one icky person can easily poison an entire group. Easily. In fact, one person can spend 30 seconds saying something nasty and it can take a week until the group can be healthy again.

Further, if one person is trying to build a beautiful future, and 20 people are along for the ride, it seems that one destructive person doesn't need to try very hard to end that beautiful future. Therefore, it does seem like the 20 people need to be passionate about the beautiful future, or else they will be swept away by the first speck of ick.

Another way of looking at it: Poison will happen. A lot. Poison will quickly wash away the dispassionate. So, in a way, having an icky person come by once in a while leaves behind a healthier, more passionate group.


- - - -


So I guess the summary of these life experiences are:

- most people will honor their commitments as long as it is convenient to them. It takes a rare person of magnificent strength of character to honor their commitment when it is inconvenient.

- great prosperity comes from a group of awesome people.

- one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch

- one amazing person can be amazing despite a hundred bad apples

- most people consume their environment. a few people build a better tomorrow. Builders are drained when surrounded by consumers.

- the trick is to come up with a recipe that incubates the builders and discourages the consumers.

 
john mcginnis
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Some tools that I have developed over the years to increase the forward velocity as Paul says --

* Keep a journal! It may sound stupid but let me tell you it can save hours of looking for 'X'. Looking for the one supplier for the sparkplug for the wookie
machine? "Just take a minute to look it up on the Internet! Three hours later well there it is". Putting it to paper in a journal saves a portion of that three
hours. Fact for most of the machinery I have developed what I call 'service cards'. Nothing more than a 4x5 index of -- tire size, type and qty of oil,
brake fluid type, all lightbulbs, special tooling needs, etc. One each in the glove box of every vehicle.

* A place for everything! I have spent hours looking for something to do something else. Get in the habit of housing your resources in the same places
all the time so that almost like a zen master the tools' handle falls into your hand without your thought. In that same vein, group resources based on their
supporting role in the task at hand. I would suggest that having duplicates of some resources each for a given partner in a given role is beneficial so long
as the price is not prohibitive.

* Schedule stuff! I'll call them tomorrow is not enough, because come tomorrow some other emergency will occur which is from one of your friends. I
have noticed that there is a great deal of time wasted by the demands of others warranted or not. Get YOUR life scheduled to accomplish YOUR aims.
Then be polite but firm and simply tell this or that person you have a conflict. Funny most people would not begrudge someone who has to go to the
doctor at a given day and hour, but will think you are a callous person because it is important you get the head gasket replaced on the tractor today.

* Play Chess not checkers. Permaculture in many ways teaches Chess. Grow nitrogen fixers that produce no fruit to accelerate the growth of a fruit
in a later cycle. Think end game and work backwards to the present.

* Rent before you buy it. If any tool you use is only used a couple of days a year rent it. If its a core part of your operation, buy it, you will need it again.

Just some thoughts.
 
Annalisa Giust
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Regarding your comments on friends having an "emergency" and wanting help. I just heard a great quote the other day, (as I am one of those people that will drop everything to help out a friend regardless of inconvenience to me). "That is not my circus, and those are not my monkeys." I think I will be using this in the future. I love the service card idea, I can never remember that stuff, and that idea alone will save me nice wasted time.
Thanks!
 
Jason Silberschneider
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One of the biggest inspirations and encouragements I've had since I began my homesteading adventure was listening to Paul's 3-part update on his first 18 months at the laboratory.

We sold up and moved out to our property about the same time as Paul acquired his. And I spent the next 2 years or so facing obstacle after obstacle, setback after setback, struggling to get the whole permaculture thing off the ground. I didn't really have time to visit Permies that much, let alone keep up with the podcasts. Several times I wondered whether I'd made the right choice or not, taking on this huge change in lifestyle.

Then I finally found myself in a situation where I could download and catch up on Paul's podcasts, including the 3-part update. And I listened to the obstacles that Paul had to face. Obstacles that made my own pale into insignificance. I realised that if Paul Wheaton could find it so difficult, then maybe I wasn't doing things so wrong after all. I allowed myself to slow down, re-evaluate, and start moving forwards again in a slower but steadier fashion.
 
john mcginnis
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Annalisa Giust wrote:Regarding your comments on friends having an "emergency" and wanting help. I just heard a great quote the other day, (as I am one of those people that will drop everything to help out a friend regardless of inconvenience to me). "That is not my circus, and those are not my monkeys." I think I will be using this in the future. I love the service card idea, I can never remember that stuff, and that idea alone will save me nice wasted time.
Thanks!


Trust me, I don't shirk from helping friends too. But there are friends that are self reliant but need an extra pair of hands. Then there are those friends that are dependents with constant needs. Its the latter that I ration my time. And I love the quote, monkeys it is!
 
Rus Williams
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Location: Zutphen, The Netherlands
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paul wheaton wrote:


- most people consume their environment. a few people build a better tomorrow. Builders are drained when surrounded by consumers.

- the trick is to come up with a recipe that incubates the builders and discourages the consumers.



For me the key lies in a person's sense of purpose, and commitment to a shared vision.

If you can't articulate your purpose to other people then they have no way of understanding why you do the things you do.
If a group doesn't have a shared vision that everyone agrees with and is able to articulate, then everyone will pull in the direction most attractive (or convenient) to them.

Without an inspiring vision of the future that people are connected to and are attracted by, and that means something fundamental to them as a human being, momentum is lost, and we find ourselves trying to drive things (and people) on with the force of our will.

People want to do what they want to do. They believe things and that belief forms a sense of purpose, which makes people act a certain way. In any group we need to understand people's beliefs ( or values) to understand more how they are likely to act, and how they will fit into our system, and us into their system.
 
Jake Parkhurst
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So much great observation happening out there! Paul's comment about poison helping to keep a community strong and healthy reminds me of Sepp saying to leave poisonous plants in the field to let animals self medicate. This connection of ideas led me to wonder if this thread applying the observation-part of permaculture applied to group dynamics. Maybe this will culminate in a "72 bricks of permaculture communities."

Working back up the posts I have:

1) Have a vision (that you can articulate) to guide you.
*2) Help the friends that need help, but not necessarily the friends that depend on help.
**3) Keep a vehicles/tool/maintenance journal log.
4) Have a place for everything (and label it.)
5) Schedule stuff! (I just read the 7 habits of highly effective people which may be relevant to this conversation Summary here.)
6) Chess not checkers?
7) Rent before you buy.
Rent if you use it rarely/buy if you use it a lot.

Attempting to distill "bricks" from Paul's post:
9) Work hard/ give a shit
10) The obstacles suck but they serve a bunch of function including: increasing life experience, weeding the group of the negative folks, making you feel awesome when you do it, other?
11) Hang around the people (and places?) who inspire who (Corollary to "Builders are drained when surrounded by consumers.")

Others that come to mind:
12) Deposits are a good way of safe guarding your time/property (i.e. you had to help at wheaton labs for 4 weeks in advance of the PDC to get the free ticket)
13) Forums are a good source of archiving conversations.
14) ?
15) ??
16)
...

What Paul story about the house that had a tendency to deteriorate reminds me of a monoculture field that tends to fill up with weeds. Does this analogy hold? What can we learn from the folks who we tend to think of as weeds? What are the weed characteristics? What is "laziness" an indicator of...? (Too much nitrogen? hee hee)

* I tend to get caught before "You can't help others until you help yourself" and the fact I am a very privileged person and feel some obligation to spend some of my time helping my friends who are dependant on help for one reason or another. Still trying to find a happy medium.
** But don't forget to look for the line of "too much documentation."
 
Jason Machin
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I've found one of my biggest set backs in life to be other people.
Sure I could call them bad and dishonest, but that kind of thinking taints your world view.
I prefer to go through life assuming everyone around me is an idiot.

Benefits:
-your communication skills increase dramatically
-less misunderstandings
-you prepare more for screw ups
-less screw ups happen
-you're not a victim any more
-you don't take things personally
ie, "this is what happens when you work with idiots"

cons:
-you might seem like an arrogant prick
 
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