« Quantity has a quality all of its own »

QuantityFormer Russian president Nikita Khrushchev believed that quantity generated quality. In a country like Russia this could mean the number of medals in different sports, or geniuses in the arts, music, chess or scientific world.

You’re more likely to find a genius in a country with a population of 146 million than in a country with a population of 67 million.

This doesn’t just apply when you want to increase the probability of something happening. It also applies when you take into account the number of attempts you need to make before achieving success. How many times do you need to revise irregular verbs before you’ve learnt them by heart? How many times do you need to serve in tennis before you serve aces? Or cook macaroons before they look like the ones made by La Durée, the famous Parisian macaroon-maker?  Or perfect a presentation before you can use it in public?

Like most of us, I’m not a genius at anything. But by repeating the same things, I’ve become a specialist in many fields.

What about you? What can you do in greater quantity in order to achieve quality?

Cutting wood

“I know why so many people like chopping wood.
It’s an activity where you see an immediate result.”
– Einstein

I’m pragmatic. Things must be practical, easy to use and preferably work the first time I use them. I like seeing immediate results, even if they are small. In the context of Einstein’s quote, I would call this my “kindling”.

This is probably why I really liked David Allen’s GTD® method (Getting Things Done). It teaches you how to identify the first action you need to take to get a project of any size off the ground.

Becoming French was a project that I only started working on after procrastinating for two years. Why? Because it looked like it was going to involve a lot of red tape and be very complicated. But the day I identified the first action in the maze of paperwork, it was surprisingly simple: phoning the prefecture and asking what the exact procedure was. Easy-peasy! I made the first call and all the other actions just followed on until I gained French citizenship.

What project are you procrastinating about at the moment where you need to identify the first action, an action that’s bound to be simple?

Gruyere cheese

gruyère “The more you have…the less you have. It’s like gruyère cheese!”  Eh? He completely lost me there, so he had to explain: “There are lots of holes in gruyère. And the more gruyère you have, the more holes you have! So the more you have, the less you have!”

I found his argument totally infantile.  Until I thought about it a bit more: in fact it’s one of Socrates’ syllogisms.

By working more to take care of my family I’m away from home. The more I take care of my family, the less time I spend with them. So by taking more care of them, I’m spending less time with them!

It is two sides of the same coin: the sunny side and the dark side. By making a room bigger to have more light, I also increase the amount of shade!

The gruyère metaphor, slightly more aromatic, helps us stand back a bit from the major and minor excesses in our lives. I drink more to enjoy myself more – but my headache is worse as a result. I earn more and more money – I see my children less and less.

Which part of the gruyere have you made bigger without realising that you have also increased the number of holes?

Seven minutes

Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to strike up conversations with people easily. So it’s not surprising that I made the acquaintance of the person sitting next to me in a plane and found out that he was a pilot for Kenya Airways.

I was amazed when he told me that flying a 747 is actually quite boring because the amount of time that the pilot flies the plane manually is only about seven minutes. Three minutes on take-off and about the same for landing. The rest of the time it’s on autopilot!

It’s incredible when you think that as a passenger, it takes you seven hours to get from Paris to New York and the pilot only controls the plane for exceptional events and emergencies.

hache dabattageIt reminds me of a story about Abraham Lincoln: if he had an hour to cut a tree, he would spend fifty minutes sharpening the blade of his axe.

Pilots spend a huge amount of time preparing their flights for departure, working on their reflexes and training, so they are fully informed and prepared for the moment when the lives of so many people are entrusted to them.

Picasso once replied to a woman enraged at the exorbitant price of the sketch that he had drawn on a paper napkin in three minutes: “It’s not the sketch that you’re paying for madam; it’s my 30 years of experience!”

What about you? What’s your experience worth?

Eating habits

A bubble written by a loyal reader following the ‘edible’ bubble

cochonMy father was a butcher in a small provincial town. As a child, I used to go with him on his visits to the town’s abattoir and to see the farmers. I loved this time that I spent with him, and I remember one particular day when we were transporting a pig that managed to jump out of the lorry and escape into the corn fields.

It was hilarious to watch my father and his assistant try and catch the animal whose instinct for survival had him running for dear life!

I’m a vegetarian now. Is it to make amends for the past? Perhaps. But more likely because I listened to the people who told me that in the future the world won’t have the resources for the kind of intensive breeding needed, and if we eat cows, rabbits and sheep, why don’t we eat cats and dogs… What about you?

When have you carried on doing something without questioning its relevance in today’s world because that is just how it has always been done?

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