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My invisibility astounds me. This lovely big old house contained me well. Sure, it quite easily and naturally kept the inside in, but it also served as a sort of fortress to keep the outside out. Now even that defensive barrier’s crumbling. The outside first started seeping in. Now it swamps the place.I wade through narrow aisles between impossible stacks of boxes. How could these few shelves and cabinets contain all of that? I declared my desk a safe zone. Nobody touch nothing on my desk. It’s now piled high with untouchables, but not for very much longer. Today, the possessions I retain control over will shrink to fill the usual suitcase and computer bag, and a box or two of otherwise unmovables, as if packed for a week’s trip rather than an indefinite journey.

The packers delight in their work as only menial laborers can. The more cerebral and physical professionals seem to lose a dimension or two when they engage. The menial laborer, the clever ones, find extra parts of themselves there. These four absolutely delightful women, two moms and their daughters, took off their shoes and got down to work. Yes, they prefer to work barefoot. Unashamedly. They engage in endless chiding, genuine laughter infuses their effort with warm meaning. While The Muse and I tried, and even took pride in how well we’d prepared for their arrival, their job entails little more than ordering our disorder, which seems to be the primary element common to all menial labor.
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Yesterday, I listened in to a webcast celebrating the Peter Block book Stewardship’s twentieth anniversary second edition release. Meg Wheatley interviewed Peter, and Steven Piersante, President of Berrett-Koehler Publishers described his experience founding and working within a Stewardship-oriented business. As usual when listening to visionaries chat, I felt nostalgic for those times when I found myself within a community centered upon Stewardship: where individuals assume full responsibility without first insisting upon authority.

The conversation drifted toward organizations, with most of the questioners wondering how to shift their organization in this direction, and I noticed myself feeling increasingly uncomfortable. Slip over here for more ...


Smells Like Fish To Me!

Efficient has about as many uses as a dead fish. In polite scientific company, it means one of a dozen quite specific, calculated quantities. Everywhere else, the meaning gets mixed in with the bad crowd always hanging around theoretical ideals. Ground up with careless usage, efficiency creates a rich and fragrant fertilizer apt to burn in application.

The word elicits righteous satisfaction. Proclaim something efficient and an angelic heart starts glowing. If cleanliness really is next to godliness, efficiency stands even closer to it. Or seems to.

I’m learning to question my own glowing feelings when someone starts batting around the term. I more often cringe, as if witness to some slow-motion catastrophe, but I didn’t always respond this way. There was a time when I was more readily entrained, a time when my heart of hearts really did beat a little faster, when I really would stand a little taller when instructed to improve efficiency. I’m a smart enough guy, I’d think. I can do this.

My track record stinks. Sure, I could often find ways to cut time, but simply cutting time doesn’t necessarily translate into efficiency. I could cut waste, too, but waste it tricky stuff; one’s waste is another’s sustenance. I could even produce more with less, but often at some unaccounted-for, often long-deferrable additional cost. But I’m not here to discuss my first marriage. I’m here, I think, to cut some smelly bait.

I like to blame it all on Aristotle. Might as well, since he’s no longer here to defend himself. I know it’s not fair, but he slung efficient around and I suppose was an early principle in the proliferation. What did Aristotle mean when he spoke of efficient?

Ari parsed our world into four causations: Material, Efficient, Formal, and Final. Material Causation explained something as being caused by its nature. This feels tautological, but some things really do seem to be caused by simple nature. Because I am a mammal and all mammals have hair, my being a mammal is the material cause of my hair. Ari used efficient to describe the necessary precursor to a present state. My hair looks the way it is because I had my hair expertly styled. My stylist caused my hair style.


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