Day: April 8, 2009

on not getting things done


When someone suggests a new project to me, I usually leap straight to trying to figure out how to do it — what steps, tasks, people, technology will be required. I have been known to make decisions based on what I thought was possible. 

I’ve been privileged to be included in a leadership training program at work. We’ve been reading a range of articles from different sources and I was really challenged by one entitled The Answer to ‘How?’ is Yes by Peter Block It urged me not to make decisions about whether to do something (or setting priorities) on the basis of whether it’s possible or not, but rather to decide whether I think it’s worth doing first, and then figure out how to make it happen. He states (emphasis is original):

The question How? not only expresses doubt about whether we know enough and are enough; it also affirms the belief that what works is the defining question, a major source of our identity. The question declares that we, as a culture, and I as a human being, are fundamentally about getting things done. If something has no utility, if it does not work, then we consider that a limitation. In fact, talk, dreams, reflections, feelings and other aspects of who we are are considered lost production in many organisations.

Now, this is not really an argument against the question How? Rather it is an argument that there are more important questions, and How? should be asked later rather than sooner. We are at times so eager to get practical right away that we set limits on ourselves. We become imprisoned in our belief that we don’t know how and therefore need to keep asking the question. Also, in our search for tools, we become what we seek: a tool.

If something is really worth doing then, even if you don’t know how to do it yet, it’s probably worth figuring out how. Don’t let the limits of what you currently imagine possible stop you from making decisions to do things you believe are truly valuable.

gastronomic orientalism

Natalie and I had dinner with my parents (and my brother and sister-in-law) last night. They live on Sydney’s upper North Shore, which — even though I lived there for 8 years — consistently gives me culture shock. The last few times we visited it was a new restaurant/fast food franchise that did it — Noodle Blast. The slogan plastered on their sign, just below the restaurant name is: ‘what asians love in asia’.

Wow! It’s hard not to take that as the gastronomic equivalent of ‘they all look the same to me’, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of Anglicised asian restaurants out there — often in country towns — which market themselves as Chinese, Malasian and Thai (or some combination thereof). But they’re usually owned by Chinese (or Malasian or Thai) people doing their best to carve out a niche and make a living by serving up as many as possible different options acceptable to Anglo  palates.

What makes Noodle Blast different is the way the influence seems — I have no way of verifying this — to run in the opposite direction. Unlike your typical country town ‘asian’ restaurant, it positions itself as being less about rendering authentic dishes acceptable to Western tastebuds, and more about providing a generic ‘Oriental’ experience — where any differences between the cultures represented are flattened out.

Ultimately, it’s like a bad parody of the ’boutique multiculturalism’ Stanley Fish writes about in The Trouble With Principle (an enormously significant book for me, which I first picked up a number of years ago after reading an earlier version of this review by Michael Jensen). The Noodle Blast slogan feels all the more grotesque because of its apparent lack of irony.

Edward Said* would be turning in his grave!

* Said wrote Orientalism, the famous exploration of the dynamics of Western attempts to imagine, dominate and domesticate its exotic ‘other’, the Orient.