This is a post out of the ordinary. Tom Wolfe, a groundbreaking American author passed away yesterday. His death resonated with me for two reasons. The first was I was planning and calling my mother anyhow and she had very briefly dated Tom Wolfe when she was growing up. I anticipated it to be a depressing call. The second, and more relevant was that Tom taught me a very important lesson when I read his book “From Bauhaus to Our House”.
In “From Bauhaus to Our House”, a professor/artist, Josef Albers taught the famous introductory class for Bauhaus. Wolfe wrote that Albers would walk into the room and drop piles of newspapers on the table and tell the students to take an hour and turn them into works of art. Students would turn in Gothic castles made of newspaper. Yachts made of newspaper, airplanes, birds etc… Occasionally there would be one student who would turn in a simple tent. From the book “Albers would pick up the cathedral and the airplane and say, ‘These were meant to made to stone or metal, not newspaper.’ Then he would take up the [student’s] absent-minded tent and say, ‘But this! this makes use of the soul of paper. Paper can fold without breaking. Paper has tensile strength and a vast area can be supported by these two fine edges. This is a work of art in paper.’”
The lesson here is that the proper application supersedes all. Modern technology might be great but in certain applications it isn’t the right fit and leads to less than elegant solutions. It’s fantastic when you find the perfect fit between the approach and the solution. As an example I recently bought a smart irrigation timer. It is a perfect match for the use of computer chip, wifi, and outdated technology. It knows when its supposed to rain, if it did in fact rain, how much water is needed according to certain criteria, and it integrates easily with existing components. Truly elegant!
Look for the elegant solution, where “it just makes sense”. Try to avoid forcing the issue or putting the right element in the wrong approach, given its characteristics. This applies to technology, people, and communications among many things. Thank you for the life lesson, Tom!
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