WHEN STRENGTH BECOMES WEAKNESS

One day, when I was at art school in New York, I was sitting in the canteen
and a guy sat down opposite me.
He was older than most of us, clean and tidy, pressed clothes, short hair.
He nodded “How you doing?”
I said “Fine, just on a break between classes. You?”
He said “First week here, I only just started.”
I said “Really, how come?”
He said “I’m here on The G.I. Bill of Rights.”
Now this was interesting.
The G.I. Bill of Rights was a way for ex-servicemen to go to college.
You did your time in the military and, when you got out, the government paid your tuition fees.
I asked him what branch of the military he’d been in.
He said he’d been a captain in the artillery, in Vietnam.
Mainly his job was guarding the DMZ.
The DMZ was the De-Militarised Zone: the strip of land between the North and South that was no-man’s-land.
No one was supposed to be there, and anyone who was, was killed.
He said the main weapon they used was called Lazy Dog.
Lazy Dog was an artillery shell: a massive amount of explosive, around which was packed millions of needles.
Lazy Dog would burst in the air over the target.
Then anything underneath was shredded as if it had been put in a blender.
He said the entire DMZ had listening devices planted in the ground.
Whenever they heard a noise, they fired off a few Lazy Dogs.
Next day they’d go out and investigate.
Most of the time all they’d find was just some blood and fur.
Because it had usually just been an animal rooting around.
I said it didn’t sound a very effective way to spend millions of dollars fighting a war.
He agreed, he said it was the weakness of the US military that they couldn’t do anything without vast amounts of technology.
He said the Vietcong knew that.
As long as US soldiers had access to their expensive technology, they’d be superior.
But they knew that if they could get to them without their technology, they could beat them.
He asked me if I knew the Vietcong ‘Rule-Of-Thumb’ for shooting down helicopters.
I said I didn’t.
He said “Shooting something with small-arms fire just depends on how far away it is.
In the US Army we have complicated range-finding technology to tell us if something is close enough to hit.
The Vietcong don’t have any of that stuff.
When they hear a helicopter they look up, stretch their arm out, and hold their thumb over it.
If the chopper is bigger than their thumb, it’s close enough to shoot down with pretty much anything.
If the helicopter is smaller than their thumb, it’s too far away.”
How brilliant is that?
Range-finding technology that the simplest peasant can carry in their head.
So there you have two views of technology.
On the one hand we can spend millions upon millions of dollars doing something that makes us feel reassured, but is totally ineffective.
Just because we have a belief that technology must always be superior.
As long as we’ve got the newest, most expensive, most complicated technology.
On the other hand we can spend no money at all.
We can use what’s around, combined with a great idea, to do something really effective.
An idea so good it will go viral among the entire population of a country.
Even without any Internet or a single computer.
Can you see any parallels with the world we work in?
On the one hand we can worship technology for itself.
We can believe in it like a religion.
We can trust that it’s always the answer to every question.
Then our strength becomes our weakness.
On the other hand we start from the point of having a great idea.
Then use technology to propagate that idea.
When and where it’s relevant, according to the job that needs doing.

Because technology is a tool.
And, like any tool, we can either hold it by the handle or the blade.

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    Dave, how true + like your final line.

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    I was working late on my own last night. Thieves broke into our building and I came face to face with one of them. I was very glad I had my mobile phone. I’m not joking 🙂

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    Couldn’t agree more. The list of techo-competencies re job specs and so on that people are looking for gets longer by the day. Seemingly people have forgotten (although some of them have never known) that that stuff can only do what you tell it to do. Without ideas you have nothing.

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    A Classic.

    The greatest tool for ideas? Perhaps the following question: What would happen if…?

    Imagine the back-slapping for the guy who said “what if we put millions of needles in a shell. That’ll do it!”.

    Only to be outdone by the bright spark who named it the Lazy Dog.

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    Right.
    When someone in a bank somewhere, concentrating on his sandwich, fat-fingers the wrong key….
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Flash_Crash

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    I do the same with men, if I can’t cover them with my thumb and press down they’re too close

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    The Horror…………..

    Speaking of which, an arrow or a spear will still kill you with minimal R&D, ask Chef.

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    no wonder Christmas only comes once a year!

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    Hi Dave.
    Some ideas travel better than their technology.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kppAYNHXvIo&feature=related

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    Little thumb syndrome Chris?

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    well the left one is ok……..

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    Chris,
    There’s also an illness called Vibrating White Finger.
    It’s caused by roadgangs squeezing their drills too much.

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    American invasion! I come from Granada. I realise why the Americans lost in Vietnam. They thought the Vietcong were putting their thumb up to them, ‘alright mate, alright?’ Not range finding to blow them out of the sky. They probably waved back. Great tactic. Must be in Sun Tzu somewhere. Put thumb up to enemy before charging.