If I were a carpenter would I manage time any better?

October 6, 2009

“The desk is a void in space which others try to fill. Fight them.”          Jolyon Firth  

Jolyon Firth, an Auckland City Councillor a generation ago, was not talking of the desktop as we now know it, Jim.  But the principles of time management remain the same. Clutter kills creativity and the urgent drives out the important.

 At times we have to simplify the chess game of life and exchange complexity for a simpler strategy.

We have in our offices in inner city Christchurch any number of filing cabinets,  filling in space that in a digital age could be liberated. I know what you are thinking: why not biff the whole office in this mobile world and be done with it?

Personally I like the mix of my place and my space. Like many of us, when on the go or at home my laptop, plus wifi, is my main office tool.  But in this highly mobile workd it’s good to have a physical headquarters away from home, even if more and more computer services are hosted in the Cloud.

(Send in the clouds, I say.  I love  having my head up there every so often, instead of always having to be  down to earth and mundane).

 The digital divide of a decade ago has become the digital dividend. As well as all the other dimensions of cyberspace,  digital filing is a great boon, though people who insist on the belt and braces support of printed copies of  everything can still get caught with their trousers down if they lack information navigation skills.

I have learnt to be less analoguely retentive, but I still need to print some key documents and gather clippings, hand written notes and Post Its into working files.

But how do I  quickly grab the physical files when needed and avoid clutter in the meantime?

 I sit at on the flight deck of my business at my twin computer workstations, in an L shape, at the top left hand corner of the Boardroom, facing the door like Billy the Kid, but able at one quick swivel to take in the view across to the Avon River.

I need the two workstations. How the array of digital devices has grown in the last decade! Mine include the Laptop docking station, data projector, vid cam, voice–activated dictation cradle and headpiece, conventional dictaphone, both wired and mobile phones, PDA and sundry other plug-ins and pull-outs, not to mention remotes for the sound system, data show, laptop and aircon.  Am I a remote person?

There are also handy Chinese stress balls and a mock turtle, to remind me that you only move forward when you stick your neck out. My neck’s been a bit sore lately.

Most of the stuff is portable, but I leave the stress balls and the turtle behind when working out of the office. Maybe I should take the stress balls. 

But I don’t always want to be left to my own devices. The problem is that there is  no filing cabinet or other storage space is within arm’s reach, from which I  can quickly grab a working file-often with scribbles and visuals-when required. There they are, on the periphery, quietly producing nicely matured compost. 

 I don’t use a smaller office, though we have some spare space. Instead I insist on having my personal office space in the far end of what some might describe unkindly, as a spare boardroom. (We don’t even have a board: we are a small hub at the centre of two large networks).

This does have some advantage: with groups of people I can glide from my workstation to around the board table, with the data show in situ, and my finger on the remote. (#Did you know that Powerpoint has a simple go to black/go to presentation function- the B key on your keyboard. No capping the lens, or firing up the datashow while people are waiting expectantly-just one click in the key of B! No one but me seems to use this. Great not just for an impactful start but for giving the audience a visual break or switching from input to discussion).

Alternatively, I can invite single guests  (you know what I mean) to rollercoaster their boardroom chair to my L-shaped workstation, where I can use the laptop presentationally sans data projector and then return to a tête-à-tête around the table.

With some big events coming up, including our third annual Education Leaders Forum in Rotorua next week, I decided last Thursday to shift current, but less important files off my twin desks and make Jolyon Firth jolly. Clutter expands to fill the space available for it. The principle  of out of sight, out of mind, may not cure procrastination but it does aid focus and reduce guilt. (“I’m going to give up procrastination…tomorrow”).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m only talking a dozen working files, not as in some lawyer’s offices, every mortgage ever transacted since the Magna Carta. I’m also talking office paraphenalia-stationary items, knicknacks, dodads, gizmos as well as bottle openers and cork screws (not that there’s much call for the latter nowadays).

(Hold in your mind this reference to tools. We are a tool using people, even if the relevant evolutionary gene has passed some of us by on its way out of Africa.  On the evolution front the Lukeys would be scorned by the Leakeys).

 I set a time-bound goal to clear the decks and batten the hatches. I made a bee-line for The Warehouse in Blenheim Road after work the very next day, the auspicious 1 October. What they say is true! I got a very timely bargain at the Big Red Shed ($49.9+gst instead of the usual  $69.99+), made in China, on the very day of the main celebrations of The People’s Republic of China’s 60th.  See my blog https://lukeytraining.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/china-6oth-anniversary/  .

There it was on display. The answer to my fond imaginings. Precisely the right dimensions. (For once I’d taken a measured approach to this project). It was truly an answer from the Chinese Branch Office of Hampton Furniture Solutions: a chocolate 3 drawer cabinet, complete with silver (well not quite silver) handles, designated ©model F8303C   9401047653036.

The one downside was that I couldn’t walk out with the assembled  display model, even for full price. But this was a mere cavil.  At the risk of being derrided* I’m as interested in deconstructions of architecture and office furniture as the next person and even more so in reconstructions, especially in the case in hand.

Model F8303C   9401047653036 is constructed mainly out of particle board. It didn’t quite fit the carefully nurtured corporate image of the international HQ of Lukey Resources and SmartNet. But it didn’t have to be top shelf. It was going to slide neatly out of sight, out of mind, with my working files inside, my sound system on top, all within a swivel and an arm’s reach, under one of my twin work stations  in the corner.

The suspicious weight of the self-assembly kit should have alerted me as I lugged it to Check-out. The particles in the medium particle board must have been whizzing around at a more than usually excitable rate. I really should have checked it out there and then.

At first sight it had all looked comparatively, if not dead, easy. I just had to “clean use soft dry cloth, avoid detergent or chemical, avoid contact with water and directsunlight and assemble it on a soft, dry, clean, and smooth surface.”

But at the office next day, as soon as the catalogue, with incomprehensible assembly instructions, was out of the box my creative thinking suddenly wasn’t. Where the hell did I start and did I really want to.  My first attempt at a 3D working model, to work out the configuration, collapsed like a house of cards (not that this preview was part of the instructions).

I  should have known better than to attempt such a project. By the age of 11 I had already defined myself as being a nail or two short in the construction department.  This learned helplessness  took a quantum leap at Woodwork classes at Oxford District High School  in 1952. I had to make a nugget box and all I made was a misshapen receptacle, definitely lacking any polish, which I abandoned as a work in progress.  

It became such a big deal that I was conveniently ill three Wednesdays in a row so that I missed the school bus from Coopers Creek to Oxford and didn’t have to confront the sorry results of my unskilled labour.

In a word, I had removed the try from carpentry. If confidence and competence are mutually reinforcing; so are lack of confidence and lack of competence.

Back to the task in hand. I slit open the belly of the box and tipped out the contents. It was like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture. My heart sank. I found the big picture later, on the outside of the disembowled box, which I’d  manage to cover up. All I could see now were small and complex diagrams inside with ominous instructions.

There were 2 pieces of particle board, of varying shapes and sizes, some numbered and some not. The Da Vinci Code was looking a pushover by comparison.

There were 150 odd various items in 12 configurations, from a flat top screw to a plastic leg stud and even a moon shaped handle. Also required were at least 5 different kinds of screwdrivers.

In a mild panic of not seeing which connected to what and how—I had a revealing insight. Ok-I’d only paid $49.99+gst for the bits and pieces, but now I had to factor in the value of my own time.  This was a classic case of Gresham’s Law being applied to time management: bad use of time drives out good.

I put it all back inside the box-to hell with all this thinking outside it- photocopied the now tattered instructions sheet, scooped up all the screws and nails into a new plastic bag and re-taped the box very firmly. Then I applied the same zeal to the items I’d wanted to store. I  biffed most, kept some and used the items of office furniture I had already invested years ago more efficiently to shift the stuff from the top, visible plane to subterranean planes-a sort of reversal of Plato’s Parable of the Cave.

As I left my office, once more en route to the Big Red Shed, the bright light ouside my office cave was clearer and my visual acuity unsurpased.

I returned the box of parts to the Warehouse, where people sometimes get more than they’ve bargained for, with my shoulders back and my eyes avoiding no one, (certainly not any lurking DIYers, with contempt in their eyes as they eyed the failed project I was returning.)

At the Warehouse’s stock exchange I didn’t get to ring the bell but managed to get credit where credit is due, despite not being able to locate the receipt which I knew I’d put in the front pocket of my jeans. (The receipt appeared magically at my next stop, at a Shell service station when I pulled out my handkerchief. The shell game of life).

I walked out, not with the cash, for which I needed the missing receipt, but a credit note. I exited into the sunset glare of a Canterbury Nor’wester. It would have warmed the most wooden heart. Such a feeling was coming over me.  I felt on top of the world- as if I’d only just begun.


Bobby Darin “If I Were A Carpenter” Live 1973 

If I Had A Hammer Peter,Paul & Mary(Mary Travers died on 16 September, 2009 of leukemia at the age of 72).

Elvis – Wooden Heart

The Carpenters – Top Of The World

Barbra Streisand – Send in the clowns – 2000  Clowns operate outside the rules of ordinary societal limitations to mock both the sacred and the profane.

Jacques Derrida  Not a well-known French cabaret singer.


#Lyall Lukey 6 October 2009   http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz

China 6oth: Road to Well-being or Blind Alley?

October 1, 2009

We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.”  Mao Tse-Tung 

It’s 60 years today since Chinese Communist Party set up the People’s Republic of China, but  the well-springs run  deep. The party princes and the military toads will be able to see clearly,  now  the rain has gone,  the intimidating display of  military firepower and fireworks  from the top of the biggest Beijing wells  later tonight when the Anniversary cranks up.

The view from further down the well will be increasingly more constricted for those who have been shafted.  Well-being in the People’s Republic depends very much on your place in the respective party, army, and economic hierarchies.  Several family dynasties have hit the trifecta.  Chairman Mao would be spinning in his grave today if his embalming arrangements were less constraining.

It’s been a  monolithic  regime of two halves, with the referee firmly in control.  The first 29 years, from the 1949 earthquake and tsunami,  included the not so Great Leap Forward of 1958 and the Great Leap  Backward of the Cultural Revolution for a decade from 1966. The second half has seen the young Red Guards replaced,  with impeccable timing, by geriatric new and true blue capitalist theorists who made political capital out of economic and social necessity and saved the country from falling apart under the weight of its socialist aspirations and inefficiencies.

New Zealand-and especially Canterbury and Otago- connections with China are historically strong.  They started with the arrival in the South Island of Chinese miners and merchants during the ninetenth century gold rushes.  But the strongest reciprocal link was forged by  Rewi Alley,  Springfield-born old and new China hand . Alley was a  writer, educator, social reformer and potter  and probably wrote more than any other foreigner about 20th century China before and after the Communist revolution.  

 He dedicated 60 years of his life to the cause of the Communist Party of China, well before it took over in 1949 and was a key figure in the establishment of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives, and  technical training schools, without university pretensions.

He was named after Rewi Maniapoto, a Maori chief famous for his resistance to the British military during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s.  Alley’s father was a teacher, and Rewi attended primary school at  Amberley and Christchurch Boys’ High School. His mother, Clara, was a leader of the New Zealand suffrage movement.

In 1916 Alley joined the New Zealand Army and served in France. While there he met some Chinese men who had been sent to work for the Allied Armies.  This piqued his interest in China.  After the war,  Alley tried farming in New Zealand. In 1927 he decided to go to China.  He moved to Shanghai  and became a fireman.

It wasn’t long before he was fuelling political conflagration. He gradually became aware of the poverty in the Chinese community and the racism in the Western communities. After a famine in 1929 made him aware of the plight of China’s peasants,  his politics turned from  sentimental imperialism to urgent social reform. 

In the words of Edgar Snow’s job on Alley’s work: “Where Lawrence brought to the Arabs the distinctive technique of guerilla war, Alley was to bring China the constructive technique of guerilla industry….”    

Following the Communist victory over the Nationalists in 1949,  Alley was urged to remain in China and work for the Communist Party of China. He strengthened his ties with the famous Yangste downstream  swimming champion.  Alley didn’t just go with the revolutionary flow; he helped irrigate it by pumping out political and vocational tracts  praising the Party and the  People’s Republic of China. 

Alley remained unaware of-or blind to- China’s problems, including the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese peasants from famine during the  brutal Great Leap Forward. This was reflected in his increasing isolation from the mass of China’s population as he lived in a special neighborhood and was specially looked after by the Party.  Although imprisoned and “struggled with”  during the Cultural Revolution, Alley remained committed to communism and bore no grudges. (His  practical vocational  instincts  could have sparked some interesting discussion  at the  Jobs Summit earlier this year where a sense of urgency and a  bit of  gung-ho wouldn’t have gone amiss).

Gerald Hensley met Alley in China in 1973:  “He was in his seventies, a bald, pink-faced man with bright blue eyes, and an inexhaustible flow of conversation. We sat and talked for most of an afternoon, with Rewi occasionally jumping up to fetch a book or check a point. He had, he said, lost the best of two libraries, once to the Japanese and again to the Red Guards, who had thrown out his collections and torn up his pictures in front of him. He was still bitter over their behaviour.”

On a  more personal Wikipaedia  note:  “Anne-Marie Brady in Friend of China claims that Rewi Alley was a practicing homosexual. This is highly controversial, with people who knew him well saying they would have noticed.”[!]

Despite his amazing China Odyssey,  Alley is probably less recognised in his birthplace Springfield than the  couch potato odysseyist Homer Simpson, in whose dubious honour a  pink donut statue was erected  quite recently. That’s the way the historic cookie crumbles.  

Today  Chinese economics is a well grafted hybrid of Karl Marx and Adam Smith, with military crony capitalism in the ascendant.  Former peasants still work for peanuts.   The Little Red Book of Mao would blush to see what is being served up today in terms of economic orthodoxy in the The Little Blue Book.  A new Green Appendix was even launched last week in New York.  

Green bamboo shoots and economic and  military tendrils are snaking down into the South Pacific and elsewhere. There’s not only a green elephant in the ward-room,  you can see where it has been elsewhere. China has a pachydermic carbon footprint,  but doesn’t want to be a carbon copy of any country in its response to Kyoto and Copenhagen. It does want to flex all its muscles and they’ll be bulging tonight after all the bulking up. Big powers will be powers.

At home the  economic floor  has certainly risen, but it is hard to get a foothold on  the escalator to the penthose, which is inhabited by sons of the old military/party club. Today it’s a much more  unequal game of Snakes and Ladders for most than when Mao took over in the wake of  World War II and everybody shared the poverty burden.  The average per capita income is still only US6,000, one eighth of the US figure.

60 years since the revolution, Mao’s stocks have fallen, though young male bridegrooms often wear a Mao tunic  for the great matrimonial leap forward. The PRC is still politically very PC, while at the same time permitting new capitalist initiatives. However, the People are still awaiting Liberation from The Army and the other forces of the state.

 Western business interests have had a big part to play in opening up the minds of China’s leaders,  but business relationships, as Fonterra found out to its cost , can be too cosy and complaisant and lacking a clear articulation of Western values.  It may be no use crying over spilt milk but clever Kiwi companies on the China watch need to learn from this milk run and keep their powder dry.

Christchurch’s  regional academic links with China, forged by the University of Canterbury and the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology,  include those with Hunan,  Mao’s home province.

With the ageing gerontracocy still in power, the search is on for a new upstream Yangste swimming champion to take over the leadership. The last power transition was bloodless. What are the chances for a smooth transition to the next? The next decade is China’s-if it can resolve its internal tensions.

Doors are opening for those who, unfroglike, open their minds to new possibilities. New Zealand’s  pioneering bi-lateral trade deal with China, put in place by the last Labour Government,  was built on the equally  pioneering  New Zealand connections of Alley and a range of diplomatic initiatives  and other contacts since the post-Korean years, when the red elephant was not just in the room, it was under the bed.  

In the meantime, as bankers to the Yanks, in US Treasury Bonds They Trust. Despite the new confidence last year’s Olympics brought, a handy dry run for today’s celebrations,  China is still porcelain fragile. The unresolved tensions are between a ruling and corrupt elite, worker rights  and internet freedom. The key is democratising access to economic resources and fostering the growth of personal freedom and rights.

China’s own unique internal tensions are  like the Pacific Tectonic Plate rubbing up against the Indian Plate. With a decent sized shake, the porcelain could still be split asunder and a new tsunami of political change unleashed. Then it would really be Red Sails in the Sunset.


Watch multi-language live broadcast of China’s 60th Anniversary celebrations


Gung Ho – Rewi Alley of China – a 1979 full length documentary about Rewi Alley on NZ On Screen. Requires Adobe Flash

Chairman Mao Tse-tung: People’s Republic of China (PRC)

Young Chinese Opt       For Red Guard Look In Weddings – CBS News

Little Red Riding Hood: Favourite Fairy Tales

 The Beatles – Red Sails In The Sunset/ 

#Lyall Lukey  1 Oct 09        http://www.lukey.co.nz/    http://www.smartnet.co.nz/