To me, classification is, like religion, a purely human construct. An apple doesn’t know it is an artistic item in a still life but a scientific cypher when it falls ont a physicist. It is an apple. So, why do we insist on first classifying areas of knowledge and then waste energy either defending or railing against the division. Why do we creat a country and then go to war? Human nature – we all want to be part of some type of tribe, even if it is a tribe of non conformists. But then forming an allegiance, a common interest will tend to exclude others. And we get tension.

Humans judge. They measure in a relative sense – how do I compare. What if we stripped away that reliance on others to define a thought, an idea, a theory. What if we measured in the absolute. No more ‘how do I compare’. Instead ‘how do I do’. 

Defining a thought, boxing it, is to apply a judgement. Classification is a container made to our specifications. It is not tailor made to its contents but to its owner. Therefore, some ideas or approaches will not fit happily. Are they then a failure? Is that a bad thing? 

Innovation necessitates failure. You must map a cul de sac to know it is there. The knowledge of its existence helps you find what else is near…possibilities are honed by the exclusion of options. So why even judge a nil result as a failure. It’s not. It’s a piece of data. It is a contribution. As soon as we step away from judgement a pressure is lifted and we can breathe. Innovation needs space, light and freedom to move. Judging places parameters for which read barriers. Barriers impede movement. Practical limits are unavoidable and part of any puzzle. But man made mental constructs are not. They should be eradicated.

So, if you accept that classification is artificial, the concept of failure starts to look less stable. It starts to look as if it could be ignored. And once you accept that, then you are free to look at the apple however you want. And that brings new perpectives and new insight. 

One response to “Boxes”

  1. Karen Spenley Avatar
    Karen Spenley

    So why do we classify?

    I think there are two other strong reasons.
    Along with belonging to a tribe, we, generally, in the culture we live in like to have things that belong to us. We like to know they’re ours. Then of course we covert other’s belongings and try and take them away ( = war).
    The other aspect I think is familiarity. People can’t cope in an ever changing or morphing world. Our environment and experiences have to be normalised or we’re in a perpetual state of confusion. So.. we do that by, as you say, artificially classifying things. Sorting them into boxes. I personally respect anyone that can live outside of this thinking!
    As for failure. When did we become adverse to failure? Again you’re down to “borders” or our artificially created expectations. What are the reasons we don’t like to fail? When a child is two, they fall over, bump into things, but when that shape doesn’t fit into the shape block they get frustrated. Who set the expectation on them? No one, they did it themselves, but hopefully they learn. Where I see us go wrong as adults is that the stakes are too high to consider failing, or in companies project planning is done only for success, and does not include bandwidth for failure. Yet, as you say, failure is a data point and should and must happen. When doing innovative design, pushing the limits, taking failure into effect means failing early and failing fast. How else can you find out where the limits are? Then you can have the data point but reduce the impact, hopefully making a better design in the process. It doesn’t remove the classification or borders of expectation, but does allow you the thought and emotional freedom to experiment into the unknown. But that’s another discussion, how to create teams and an atmosphere that allows that uncertainty to flourish.

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