Archive for December, 2011

making the complicated simple

December 19, 2011  |  environment, knowledge, life, main blog, philosophy  |  2 Comments

After my wife read the first draft of this post about making things simple, she said, “you’re guilty as charged – you’ve written a complicated piece on simplicity!” She was right. Complicating things is what we tend to do. But here’s the good news. As information, the pace of change and choice grow quickly, we don’t need to roll over and accept that complexity must prevail.

Edward de Bono said, “Dealing with complexity is inefficient and an unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy. There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple”.

 I asked a friend who plays golf very well, what tuition books he reads. He replied, “a golf swing is simple mate, you just focus on the ball and hit it – constant analysis complicates it”. On reflection I thought that his comment was a poignant metaphor for life itself.

 Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple defines innovation and creativity. It’s true in technology (think Steve Jobs), art, photography, design and fashion. Coco Chanel said, “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance”. Leonardo da Vinci offered “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

 Perhaps the greatest challenge in removing complexity is in communicating simply – and this can be a real burden. Mark Twain made a telling comment “I apologise for the length of my letter, I didn’t have time to make it shorter”. It’s not hard to think of examples in our own working lives where we’ve over cooked our written and spoken communication. A former boss of mine claimed that if you couldn’t put it on one page then you didn’t understand it. Something is simple or complex depending on the way we choose to describe it.

 It’s tough getting simplicity in workplaces, where making things appear complex tends to be an art form. Jargon, sounding important and impression management are often actually rewarded in organisations. For leaders who can see the value of a simpler, more inclusive approach concerted effort to de-complicate, achieves reduced costs and mistakes, and improved morale and return on investment. Making the complex clear always helps people work smarter – because it’s a lot easier to figure out what’s important and ignore what isn’t. Note however that Einstein said that “everything must be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.
In our personal lives we’ve become so materialistic and self-indulgent that the next new toy or experience isn’t special for long.  Accumulation of “things” has led to clutter in both our living space and inner space.  We’ve also tended to be more excessive with what we try and fit into our lives, what we consume and the way we obsessively protect our kids. It’s also easy to allow the struggle and strife of others to become part of us – which is something the Kinks say we should eliminate in their little known song, Complicated Life.

The old saying, “less is more” resonates with me. The fewer friends, possessions, and experiences we have, the more we appreciate and enjoy them. Simple living, which is about people being satisfied with what they need rather than what they want, is different from living in poverty – it’s a lifestyle choice. The choice might be around frugality, health, ecological footprint, stress or just increased quality time. The people I know who live this way are, without exception, the happiest. The art of having less but enjoying our lives more, involves a few simple changes in perspective, like understanding where our true values lie – and focusing on them.

What else can we do? We can try to minimize the impact of negative people in our lives as part of our search for simplicity and elegance. It doesn’t mean removing ourselves from criticism, but it does mean taking control of our environment. We can also escape from the “everyday” to get doses of perspective by experiencing wilderness, meditating, and volunteering, for example.

Simplifying our unnecessarily complicated lives can also extend to what we eat. I’m reminded of my mum’s sign in her library, “live simply so others may simply live”. There’s also a lot to be gained by being more like children – learning, appreciating what’s around us, being active, having fun and above all keeping things simple. What ideas do you have for making the complicated simple?

framing a vision for the tarkine

framing a vision for the tarkine

Last year the battles were about logging native timber in the Tarkine, right now it’s about mining. On the one hand there is the economic growth argument about extracting valuable minerals, and on the other the recognition of the significance of the ecosystem. Finding sensible solutions must start with an understanding of the place and the issues, and finish with a spirit of compromise, because there are no right answers in these debates.

There’s no doubt that the Tarkine is one of the world’s great wild places. It is a landscape of such breathtaking beauty that it is impossible not to love it. It is an expansive 447,000 hectare wilderness area which contains remarkable natural and cultural values, including one of the world’s most significant remaining tracts of temperate rainforest.

 The Tarkine is now generally recognised as that part of north west Tasmania bounded by the Arthur River and its tributaries to the north, the Pieman River to the south, the Murchison Highway to the east and the Southern Ocean to the west. Most of the land is either managed by Forestry Tasmania or the Parks and Wildlife Service. Much of the Tarkine is listed on the Register of the National Estate and there are a number of reserves that provide the Tarkine with some level of conservation protection.  

The Cradle Coast Authority Master Plan for the Tarkine describes it as, “a place of sustenance for its inhabitants, a breathtaking, fragile wilderness for those in search of renewal, a robust landscape rich in minerals and forest resources, and a playground for the communities that surround it”. 

The Tarkine is Australia’s most significant tract of rainforest wilderness and Tasmania’s largest unprotected wilderness area. It is described by the Australian Heritage Commission as “one of the world’s great archeological regions” with aboriginal middens, artefacts and rock carvings that predate the pyramids. 

There’s been much debate and emotion about land use priorities in the area – for tourism access, primary production, logging and mining. Conservationists have sought to have the Tarkine classified under the world heritage listing. The Forests Agreement of September 2011 has brought timber industry and conservationists closer, although many issues remained unresolved. Tasmania, now facing reductions in contribution from commercial timber, is increasingly looking to the resources sector for economic growth.

How do we, as stewards of this 60 million year old wilderness, make sensible decisions on its future at any point in time? We can rest assured that it will involve compromise from all sides. As a plan is developed for the Tarkine, some guiding principles are needed, and these might be a good start:

  1. Manage the Tarkine for multiple end use according to the sensitivity and significance of particular areas, rather than lock it up
  2. Special parts of the Tarkine, notably the primary rainforest, should be totally protected from logging, mining and recreational vehicles (these areas may be the focus of world heritage)
  3. Controlled tourism access that leaves no footprint should be encouraged
  4. Community involvement in decision making is essential

 Such guidelines need fleshing out and adding to. They may well end up allowing a flourishing adventure tourism industry based on walking, some selective logging for value added timber in agreed areas and mining with appropriate rehabilitation, in areas other than primary rainforest. Honey production and agriculture in existing cleared areas would sit comfortably under these guidelines.

 They would not, however, allow clear felling of native timber in the region, nor allow projects such as the proposed open cut tin and tungsten mine in primary rainforest at Mount Lindsay by Venture Minerals. That particular proposal, for a 3.5km x 3km 200 metre deep mine, is not within the scope of these guidelines. It’s also the sort of project that depends on the price of tin to be high for its sustainability.

 If the right information is gathered and shared, and if there is willingness to compromise, worthwhile outcomes can flow. They will only be forged by people working together. As the old African proverb goes:

“if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.

We also need to remember that we are transitory human beings making decisions in a microsecond of time, in the context of what has gone before us.

a youthful mindset

a youthful mindset

In the space of 24 hours recently I met a young person who seemed old and an older couple who seemed young. The 45 year old was living in the glory of his football days and the 85 year olds were enthusiastically seeking new things to challenge them. It made me think that a youthful mindset isn’t necessarily related to chronological age. Then I remembered Samuel Ullman’s brilliant poem on youth, read it again and felt the need to share.

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigour of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

 Youth means the temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.  This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty.  Nobody grows old merely by a number of years.  We grow old by deserting our ideals.

 Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.  Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

 Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing childlike appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living.  In the centre of your heart and my heart here is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

 When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty”

 The insights are brilliant. This was Konosuke Matsushita’s favourite poem. The “god” of Japanese management and founder of Panasonic was a living example of a person who died happy at 95 with a curious mind. Ullman died at 84, still writing.

 We often joke that 60 is the new 50, 50 is the new 40, and so on. As much as youthfulness depends upon staying fit and strong, it also depends on what’s going on in our heads. If you want to feel old, convince yourself that your best days are behind you. It’s not uncommon for people who think like this to have an aversion to change and to find it difficult to face new challenges, like social media. People who turn that on its head and take a future orientation, tend to have an enthusiasm and energy for life beyond their years. It’s not always about age!

 I believe that a youthful mindset is a precursor to happiness, quality of life and longevity. Here are five things we can all do on that journey: 

  1. Get fit and stay strong, offsetting the 400gms of muscle we lose every year after 30
  2. Have a curious mind and a thirst for knowledge
  3. Look forward to things
  4. Vigorously pursue your ideals, rather than just accepting, or complaining about, a less than perfect world
  5. Take on new challenges – even if they’re a bit of a stretch
  6. Show gratitude for our lives and what we can give and achieve
off the beaten track in argentina

off the beaten track in argentina

December 2, 2011  |  main blog, travel tips and tales  |  No Comments

Argentina is accessible and fun for visitors. In fact, it’s easy for Aussies to feel at home in a place with friendly people, jacarandas, malbec and cheap, tender meat. Buenos Aries, a city of 12 million, has plenty to experience for up to a week in any itinerary. The 24 hour side trip to Colonia in Uruguay, adds variety and can easily be built in.

From a travel perspective, the “must do’s” in Buenos Aries include the Evita museum; Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada – the scene of many significant events in history; MALBA – the museum of Latin American contemporary art; Recoleta Cemetery; La Boca – the birthplace of the tango; Teatro Colon -the famous opera house; the markets of San Telmo; and one of the many professional tango shows. Getting off the beaten track unlocks little treasures of restaurants, nightclubs and bars, although there’s little action before 10pm.

It’s amusing how some things seem relatively expensive and others cheap. Two poor quality cappuccinos cost 35 pesos (about $9) – which can buy a good bottle of malbec, a return taxi to the city, an entire home cooked meal, or ten empanadas. Don’t order cappuccino in BA!

Beyond Buenos Aries lie plenty of options – including Iguazu Falls, the Mendoza wine region, Patagonia and the north-west with Salta at the centre. We chose Salta on a LAN Chile flight – having been outraged by the discriminatory airline pricing policies for foreigners.

First impressions are always interesting – Salta has a rich heritage, lots of battlers, interesting ethnic influences (Inca, Spanish, Italian, Syrian and Lebanese), pretty girls (Matt Damon and Robert Duvall married Salta girls), a town in transition being discovered by the rest of the world,  and where the siesta is taken more seriously than in Buenos Aries. We warmed to Salta – a city of 500,000 with grand colonial architecture, great restaurants and a fantastic little boutique hotel called Hotel Antigua del Convento at $80 a night.

It’s OK to drive in regional Argentina. The manual Chevrolet was a suitable way to make excursions south and north of Salta. The trip south to the wine region of Cafayete provided some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. Our eyes were on stalks as we ogled the crimson rocks and sheer magnitude of the dry river beds and massive Andes mountain ranges. It really was as if we were on another planet. Words cannot do justice to this multi-coloured, multi-textured landscape that is a geography teacher’s paradise. 

Cafayete wine region is older than Australia’s. Vineyards in the region are the highest in the world, averaging 1700 metres. The altitude is offset by the latitude as Cafayete is quite close to the Tropic of Capricorn. The region enjoys 340 cloudless days annually, with temperatures ranging between 2 and 38 degrees. The soils look similar to the champagne region of France – shale dominated, hungry and well drained. We loved the Cabernet and Malbec but didn’t warm to the much acclaimed white, Torrontes which was a bit sweet.

The trip north took us close to Bolivia to places like Purmamarca (home of the hill of seven colours), Humahuaca and the amazing Salinas Grandes – an inland salt lake at 3500 metres altitude, covering 3000 square miles. Purmamarca has become a tourism mecca, with artesan stalls dominating the town landscape and boutique restaurants and accommodation springing up. They offer a stark contrast to the living conditions of local people in their almost primitive mud brick homes. We pondered whether this destination will suffer from the “Kuta beach effect” ten years from now. Tourists can destroy the essence that attracts them in the first place.

The drive from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes is at least the equal of the Salta wine trail south. A magnificently engineered mountain road (a key route to Chile), llamas, multi coloured mountains and the expansive salt lakes were a totally different experience for two seasoned travellers. Although we only experienced a small transect of the Andes, it left us without doubt that this is one of the most impressive geographic phenomena in the world.

Why don’t you elevate Argentina in your travel priorities and experience it before the Qantas direct flights stop in April 2012? If you do, here are a few tips:

  1. Incorporate the Andes in any travel itinerary – there’s nothing like it on the planet
  2. Get some basic Spanish before the trip. It gets embarrassing when you can’t reciprocate the enthusiasm and warmth of a new interaction
  3. Buy a Frommer’s guidebook to supplement the internet. It’s the pick of the crop.
  4. Book ahead. Argentina is becoming a hot spot for world travel and often booked out
  5. Book an apartment with cooking facilities. While restaurants are reasonable good value, the fresh produce and wine is outstanding quality and value.
  6. Don’t be afraid to drive in regional Argentina –it’s  quite easy really
  7. Take the subway around Buenos Aries at 30 cents a trip and supplement it with walking. Major attractions can be “clumped” and reached on foot