In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king
The Zen thing
An interesting feature about the writing of this book is that each chapter is discussed by groups of people at tables in a virtual cafe, as soon as it is written, (this process will be covered in a later chapter). Besides providing useful feedback, this allows some relevant snippets of these discussions to be included in the text.
After chapter 2, a discussion started at one table about how people think and plan.
Mrs. Brisby wrote:
"I have always believed that there is a very Zen thing going on. The power of instant realization can easily be seen in large projects where the brute force top-down look of an engineer may be less economical than that of a 16-hours-a-day coffee-driven smack-addict who can take one look at a scrolling screen of code, and find bugs with pinpoint accuracy.
Linux Torvalds pointed out in his document on "tracking down OOPS" that there are times that he can look at a kernel OOPS (a crash page that displays register information, not far from the famous Blue Screen of Death found common on WinTel desktops) and tell exactly where in the source tree that is. This is a truly scary thing, for with all those thousands of lines of code, how can any one person *know* -- or even be expected to know the exact point of that crash?
He knows, because it is Zen. He has that realization of everything that is his source, and it gives him magical qualities because of it. These magical qualities are found everywhere; in every market; in every project. You can plot and plan and work it out beginning to end, but when you do, it can no longer evolve. Instead, the most successful projects seem to have been Zenned from the beginning.
I'm not saying that engineers are worthless; on the contrary. The ability to engineer a project is invaluable, and in a case of scrutiny (such as cryptography), it is a basic need of survival. Electronic Commerce is no different. We have something very infant. And it is a project so large, no one engineer (or even a team of them) should be expected to be able to see the whole thing. They Zen it; they trust their instincts. "
This "Zen thing" that Mrs. Brisby talks about is something we are all familiar with. It happens when somebody makes a decision that just happens to put them in the right place at the right time. It happens when an experienced investor seems to "know" when to buy certain stocks and when to get out of a market just before the stock prices fall. It happens when a football team manager "knows" just the right time to bring on a player to turn a game. In all kinds of situations, people seem to be able make canny decisions where the complexity and uncertainty involved tells you that there cannot possibly be any logical reason for their "knowing". Yet, the consistency with which they seem able to get it just right tells you that there must be something more than just luck involved.
A little light can be thrown onto this "Zen thing" if we think of the professional poker player. To the frustrated novice, whose careful and cautious play finds him always ending up a loser, the professional will seem to have this "Zen thing". "How can he so frequently call a high bet with an obviously losing hand and then outdraw me?", the novice might ask himself. The baffled novice can only conclude that the professional must be cheating him in some way.
Because a game of poker does not have many variables, we can easily work out the nature of the professional's "Zen thing". He knows the odds. He can mentally calculate the chances of receiving a card on the next deal which will turn the game in his favor. To the professional poker player this isn't a "Zen thing", it's a statistical probability. His "Zen-ness" comes from having a mathematical model of the game in his head.
In a further email Mrs. Brisby wrote:
In some Buddhist circles, knowing the odds is just as Zen; odds are still relatively unpredictable. Zen is to assume and trust and have faith, it's a work-out-halfway. The human mind is very good at making it's own jumps and inventing it's own conclusions. these kinds of things may be considered to play the odds, or whatnot.
My point is that unless you calculate all the variables, and engineer every response (e.g. plot every move on a chessboard) there must be some Zen quality at work when you get what you expect."
It can be inferred that this "Zen thing", is probably some kind of internal conceptual model that provides a rough guide as to what is going to happen next. It's not an accurate model, but it is sufficient to ensure that the decision maker is always ahead of anyone reduced to using random guesswork.
This is especially valuable when a decision maker is confronted with situations too complex for logical deduction. Even though a decision maker might not be right every time, they will usually be able to make more right decisions than players who do not have this "Zen thing". In this chapter, we are going to look at a few mental models that might give us some of this Zen-ness: perhaps allowing us to gain a competitive edge in the world of e-business and e-commerce.