The Twentieth (020111112)

[This email is an update. If you haven't got one from me before you'll
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When I last wrote, way back in May, I was in San Sebastian with my
brothers and it was raining. But the rain on the plain stopped, and we
had a fantastic final day on the beach before all going our separate
global ways again. To be repeated next year, somewhere else in the
world! And shortly after that it was a weekend in Amsterdam with
Katie, staying with her friends Senay and Matt. Although I've been to
Amsterdam before, staying with locals gave me a refreshingly different
perspective. Less of the endless red light tack, more of the relaxing
cafes and good wine, and I can see why people love to live there.

Back in the office and after all my holidays I worked on a couple of
cases in banking. I've just come off one with a big utility, and now
I'm about to start a strategic review for a chain of hotels. The
variety - function and industry - is fantastic, but it's been even
better to also see that business is everywhere fundamentally the same.
Like ice cream. Because people are people and business is business,
just like ice cream is ice cream, even if it comes in a million
different delicious flavours.

And other than work? I've still had my weekends. Mostly I've just
loved being with Katie, but sometimes doing other things too. Like a
bushcraft course. This was a taster, and I would love to spend a week
next year doing something much more comprehensive - because there's
nothing better than building a shelter out of only trees and bracken
in a pouring downpour, and finding out that it doesn't leak at all and
is drier on Sunday morning than the basher tarp I mistakenly retreat
to!

Likewise, learning how to strip nettles and make cord without being
stung, or how to make fire with flint and steel. How to butcher a
rabbit or gut a wood pigeon. I learnt so much that weekend! The latter
was an especially interesting one, but not for the squeamish. Because
the best way to turn a dead bird into something you can eat starts
with said dead bird in one piece, needs only your hands and no tools,
and ends with some meat in the pan. I hope you won't mind if I omit
some intermediate details...

More than anything though, this weekend taught me to appreciate the
supermarket, electricity and running water. Even the absolute basic in
the bush takes all of your time, and those three save so much of it.
The internet is an obvious example of how technology can make us
smarter, but it turns out that all of modern civilisation is actually
epistemic engineering at the most profound level, engineering that
makes us so much smarter without us even thinking about it. Which is
obvious, something I always "knew" - but now I see and feel it
everywhere, at a much deeper level.

To quote Richard Feynman:
"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world,
but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever
about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -
that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between
knowing the name of something and knowing something."

Because the weekend after, taking advantage of that epistemic pyramid,
I went to a speed reading course. I still can't read a million words a
minute, but I am 20-30% faster (by my tests) and I've learnt a
fantastic set of techniques for skim reading and getting the gist. Not
nearly as interesting to talk about as the bushcraft, but I'm glad I
did it.

Back to work - and training. As Katie said, there's always a carrot
and a stick, and at BCG the carrot can be pretty big. In this case, it
was a 2-week mini-MBA in Boston which left me even less impressed with
marketing as an academic discipline, but much more impressed with
management, finance and the various types of accountancy. The
professors were impressive and interesting too, and incidentally
taught me another very important lesson: There are no boring subjects,
only boring people. I'm not sure what that says about some of the
business and commerce lecturers I had in NZ, but there you go...

Anyway, just a couple of weeks ago, I also had four days in Milan for
my second and final regional training. This was transformational for
me, one of those *CLUNK* moments when so many pieces fall into place.
It's hard to explain, but Feynman's phrasing comes to mind once more.
If all previous training was just learning about something, then in
this training I really learnt something.

And finally, in amongst all of this, Katie and I also celebrated her
birthday and then dashed off for a week's holiday in Scotland. So we
began with Michelin-starred brie flavoured ice cream and cocktails
looking over London from the 33rd floor of Centrepoint. And we ended
with fantastic visits to friends and family, a swim in the North sea,
day walks by map and compass through the Scottish Highlands and 3
nights in a woodsman's hut with no power, no hot showers, no running
water and an incredible view. I would not change a moment of it!

Some photos attached for flavour, but now you all know almost everying
in my life that matters. Perhaps next time I'll write about Arcadia
and all the other little side projects?

FINIS

A - Me, James and Ash

B - Katie and Senay

C - Strawberry picking near Oxford

D - Swimming again at Minster Lovell

E - On a second visit to Paramount, one afternoon

 
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