To kick this off I’ll start with an anecdote which I will ever so slightly over-egg. A long time ago, back when I had both a job and a flat, I went on a diving holiday upon which I was going to learn to dive. As it happened I was put in a class with three younger women. This meant that one of them had to be my dive buddy. The woman who was paired with me was early thirties and something of an athlete. She was what many would consider physically very attractive. She was also successful. During our five days together, she talked about how hard it was for her to have relationships and to find intelligent sensitive men who are not just out for one thing. She was maybe five years younger than me. I was single and open to the idea of a new relationship, at the time. I would have had baggage but judging from what she was saying so would she. She was perhaps getting a little desperate. Although she was easy on the eye she could have benefitted from a chill pill or two.

As things transpired she started to take something of a shine to me. I guess it is a feminine wile to ask you to put sunscreen on the back etc. After a while the topic turned to teeth. It turned out she was of all things, a dentist. One day she asked to look at my teeth on the pretext of checking some root canal work I had done. There was a gap where the tooth had been. I felt a little like a horse. Anyway, after she looked at my teeth that was the end of that, I had failed spectacularly on one of her criteria, teeth. Things never went beyond that point.

This is an example of some pre-determined control-freakery with a list of criteria. People can be a little picky and, as a consequence, never explore where some exploration may have been warranted.

The more pre-conditions we place, the more we limit ourselves. Pre-conditions are a form of control-freakery. How we come to our pre-conditions may not be well considered but once we have our list it can become inviolate. Something we sketch out can get set in stone. Many job adverts, for instance, are aiming for hard-working-genius-superheroes-with-great-people-skills-fantastic-attention-to-detail-deep-technical-knowledge-and-top-rate-world-reputations, to take the piss a bit. By setting preconditions we may exclude ourselves from the very thing we want or need, because it may not look like what our initial sketch is. Most of that wish list is idealized and not real in any case. But we seek to control it. And if something isn’t an exact match we seek to mould it, rather than taking as is. It is not uncommon in a relationship to try to change the person we fell in “love” with into something we think they ought to be and then end up no longer caring for them. Our control-freak mind can fuck things up and badly so. They resent the control-freakery and we don’t like the product.

Many employers say they like diversity, yet they put people through the institutional meat grinder and out comes clone-think mince. People are required to toe the corporate line and ethos, should there be such a thing. This is enforced by employment law. So much for diversity, all hail control-freakery. You can tell, to a degree, the corporate colouration of individuals, they have the mind-set and conditioning of their erstwhile institution. They themselves may not recognise it as conditioning.

Having cued this up:

Have I ever tried to mould another being into how I think they ought to be?

Is it possible that my pre-conditions have killed possibility stone dead?

Do I need to get a prescription for some high strength chill pills?

Too Many Criteria?

This may come across as something of a rant, who knows, let’s see how it develops.

I believe that there is an over obsession with criteria these days. There are criteria for this, criteria for that, criteria for romantic partnerships, criteria for houses, criteria for school syllabuses, criteria for which is the best coffee shop, criteria for the best mobile ‘phone and there are even criteria of criteria. Now if you read this blog you will know by now that I am not a fan of league tables. They too are used as criteria. I have in the past been asked by people about choice of university and if people should rely on criteria, I say no. Go to the university, see how it feels and imagine yourself there one cold February morning, skint and with a hangover. Does it still work for you? The differential in quality of education may not vary as much as the purveyors of league tables might have us believe.

Criteria are causal of forms, either on-line forms or in rare instances, paper ones. Forms do not encompass and on the basis of data input to forms decisions are made sometimes in refence to a criteria grid. Why all these criteria? Well it is because people have to defend and justify their decisions. This suggests that people don’t like to decide for themselves and have to have pre-determined guidance on how to make decisions. It is all very fixed and rigid.

For me personally if I am exploring something and find that a form or a pro-forma needs filling in, in >90% of the cases, I just bin it and move onto something else. There is a whole section of the workforce whose job it is to look at forms and compare them to some criteria grid to decide if something advances or not. There is one up-side to criteria, it puts food on the table in some houses. Now my dislike of forms need not concern overmuch, I am just one individual. There may be a whole swathe of people out there who share my dislike of forms. Who can tell? Because even if there was a form designed to test this, they would not fill it in. Such a magnificent survey would not sample the very thing it was developed to sample. Nowadays there is a tendency for people to ask for feedback on just about everything. One of the favourite questions is; “would you recommend X to a friend?” I have to be honest, the answer is always no. Not because the service or whatever is shit but because I am socially isolated and introverted. Sometime there is a little box for an explanation, and I say this in these. I say that I am Billy-no-mates, so I tend not to chat about this kind of stuff. Now we get products advertised which say 70% of 102 people would recommend X. It is daft, stupid, and misleading.

But we tend to rely on these fatuous surveys and dodgy criteria.

If you are seeking funding, there are vast forms that need filled in. This is a part of the employment initiative previously mentioned. Someone has to design these forms, code them up, run a beta and then launch. Someone else has extract the data and make some groovy graphs.

There are innumerable armies of gate-keepers who rely on criteria. These are an impediment in many cases. First you have to convince the gatekeeper on the moat, then the gatekeeper at the door to the castle, then the gatekeeper at the inner wall, next the gatekeeper at the keep and then the bouncer on the door into the main hall. So, in addition to the form and criteria employment initiative there is a whole new industry sector of gate keepers.

The thing about criteria is that they can stop exploration. I only want to learn that which rigorously meets the pre-set criteria and exactly so. This is my criterion for learning. I need to know what that learning will guarantee in terms of outcomes before I engage.

Do you get my drift?

Anyway, here are some questions:

How keen am I as an individual on criteria?

What are the criteria for my keenness?

Have I ever lost out on something because of my criteria fixation?

Resistance to New Thinking

History shows us that there is always resistance to new thinking. A major component of this resistance is clone-think and institutionalisation. Group-mind simply does not want to budge. But the biggest component is threat to power-base. Anything which even slightly threatens the power-base, the established order, simply will not be tolerated. “This is the way we do things around here and you, sonny-Jim, will comply or else!”  There are more personal forms of resistance; “This is the way I suppose the world to be, this is how it works, and I shall not listen to anyone who tells me otherwise. For if I do the world I have assembled for myself might collapse and I can’t be having that.”

Last summer when I was looking into doing a start-up one of the key things I was looking for was agility, and agility in thinking. Sadly, in many cases this was lacking and particularly so in the UK. There is an impetus to encourage innovation provided that it does not threaten, even in the merest, established order. I found the people I dealt with in France and Germany to be significantly more agile and less stuck in the mud. We are back to power and the obsession with power-base in the UK. We may want innovation, but we want to control it and pull the strings, oh and can we please have a cut too, and let me borrow some kudos man.

New thinking is unsettling for some, even those who want change. We might want change but only a tiny little bit, please. We do not want anything too radical. Resistance is a bottleneck to evolution and whilst some degree of discernment is advisable simply going “shan’t”, isn’t the answer. Some friction is inevitable and if a balanced friction, it is a good thing, out of which learning comes. I’ll speculate that as a rule of thumb, the older we get, the more we resist change and the less fluid we become.

Science is loath to let go of the tried and tested. And rather than rewrite a rule it will introduce a vast polynomial expansion of adjustments to a given law before abandoning it. Each exception or adjustment is justified ad infinitum. And thus, an equation becomes several kilometres long before we let go of it. This tenacity to the old is pervasive. There is something comforting about it. Somehow, we know what we are doing even when that knowledge starts to look increasingly shaky.

Above all new thinking threatens the sense of control which we think we have, even if that control isn’t so great as we imagine it to be. Many fear to improvise, they prefer some “rules” even if they don’t like them. It is better to have rules and order than free-flowing improvisation. If you like playing games, then you want to know the “rules” so that you can play the game and bend the rules where it might be possible. We could make a case for a therapeutic use exemption of a drug and still be inside the “rules”. Game-players like rules because they have a framework, improvisers don’t like rules because they can inhibit and prevent. Without rules it can be difficult to prove who has won, because there are no metrics.

Having cued this up:

Am I a resistor to new thinking?

Is my resistance fixed or variable?

Is my resistance all about control and control of power?

Do I waste energy, dissipate it, by my resistance?

Am I agile or fixed?

Loss of Control

This notion of control is quite prevalent. I have been contemplating this a little this afternoon, and I guess what most people fear is a loss of control. They may even fear this more than being controlled, not sure about that. Loss of control can be relating to control over others which might be dominion and loss of control over self, no self-control. I would be surprised if there is a single being on the planet who has never lost control over self, lost their rag or otherwise lost the plot. For some, control over self is aimed at via control over others. Many do not like to have their buttons pushed our boundaries tested, for this risks a loss of control. Thus, we may strive to control situations and steer them away from our buttons and boundaries.

We may don protective armour of one kind or another and keep “dangerous” people at arm’s length. I am pretty sure that in the past when I might have been very useful to people I was not selected because it was believed that I might challenge some dominion or other. It was doubtful that I would be a good slave, and do as I was told without question, I was too much of a risk to the fiefdom structure. I would not be a toady or a sycophant. There was a fear that I could not be controlled which might lead to a loss of wider control. And so, someone less able was selected. Who knows if that worked out or not. Insecurity is not uncommon. We may downgrade what we want or need if that threatens our control. We kind of short-change ourselves for fear of this loss of control. Maybe we do not deserve to find out what we are made of?

This control-freakery can mean that we never experience our full potential by playing it safe. We may be excited and intrigued by a possible partner and then bottle it because we sense that they are going to take us way out of our comfort zones. We pick a safe bet and then complain we are bored. I’ll wager that many relationships in which there was much potential were never entered into because of this fear of loss of control and many more are stifled by controlling behaviour.

There is a fairly easy way to test how much someone fears losing control; offer them a tab of acid or a few mushrooms. If they go for it, they may be less controlling, but you can watch the fear in their eyes as it comes up. This speaks. If they talk their way out of it, one of the motivations aback of the justifications will be fear of loss of control.

Obviously, I am not advocating the acid test, so to speak.

Aside from manipulating people away from buttons and boundaries there is a nasty side to the dominion trip and that is some people get a kick out of power over. Some genuinely want minions to do their bidding. If you are kinky for that kind of stuff, that is for you. You may get a kick out of being a loyal minion.

To give the illusion of control we develop habits. These provide some sense of order in the world and are comforting. After a while we fear loss of that habit because we cannot control our fondness or addiction to our habits. Down that path is OCD. But we all have it to an extent. Our habits, however boring, make us feel in control. Outside of habit and habitual thinking is the unknown and as we all know from maps of old, there be dragons. This fear of the unknown is as big as big thing on a particularly gigantic day. We each of us have many unknown things, unexplored in our make-up. Some of these are nice, some not so nice.

Having cued this up:

Why do I fear a loss of control?

Am I afraid of my potential(s)?

Would it be a shame to die leaving them unexplored?