This is not the usual book review blog. I am reading books from leading martial arts thinkers I've met and reflecting what the books say to me as a business consultant.
Are you curious about the martial arts world, but unsure how it could relate to you? maybe this blog might trigger something :)
Until recently, Automation was well understood in the business world. In short, manual activity is bad, automation is good! The road to efficiency gains was pretty clear with machines and software picking up the burden of things people were better off not doing – well, that’s what the business case said…
These days it’s having a massive resurgence with the growing practical use of artificial intelligence. The forecasts are wild about the impacts this will have on us all.
What better time to read the 2015 book called “What A Body Can Do” by Ben Spatz. To be clear, Ben is not writing about forthcoming advanced automation technologies, yet the topic came to mind as I started to read his book.
You cannot think for long about automation without thinking about what is being automated. Ben spends some time discussing concept of “technique”, which sounds innocuous until you go with his analysis and start to reflect on it.
The parallels with some of the big drivers in professional work can be viewed through Ben’s discussion like:
How is work valued? Is it via salary/hourly charging or the value it creates? The difference is often revolutionary in thought and mind-set.
“..mind as an emergent property of body, just as body is the material basis for mind. Thought and language are fully embodied processes as material basis for the mind” (page 11)
I think this sums up the professional work challenge well, for example, if you 'buy' professional services - are you buying someone to perform a technique you don’t have in ‘stock’ or buying the result of the technique used. Hang on, there’s always that ‘something else’. You could call it a form of artistry. Is the artistry where the value is or is artistry nothing without technique?
If we’re heading to a future where more artistry is automated, where does that leave us? I guess it depends if you believe artistry is an appropriate word, for me it does the job.
Ben’s book is a good way to read around this subject. When he discusses health and fitness it made me think about the whole ‘busyness’ trend. Being ‘busy’ for the sake of it, is often seen as a virtue rather than something to progress away from towards working smart - rather than mindlessly pursuing automation. This trend is further supported by a mass of personal automation tools designed to help you achieve 'optimum' performance. The only downside for me is the focus on ticking off tasks rather than helping define what a task should be.
Reading the section on “research in everyday life” brought to mind the concept of incremental progress. To some this means unplanned chaos, to others it means low risk, high return on learning. The commercial world has embraced the incremental with some controls, such as the use of agile methods to deliver projects. Ben follows this with a discussion on gender made me think about start-up culture. To paraphrase Ben, asking “What a Start-up Can Do?” is also full of contradictory issues that dodge classification and the narrative of the domain is dominated by “rages to riches stories” and “models to achieve mastery”. You don’t often read about the endless effort, research, iterations and dead ends involved in fabled ‘overnight successes’. What's often left out is some understanding of the pieces that only provide value when they come together.
In the last section of the book Ben makes a case for what I understood to be for a new platform for embodied practice research. To me, this relates to how learning from exploring seems to be having a resurgence in commercial life. For example, the testing of new business opportunities through structured experiments are driven by adapting from learned experience and feedback – especially at the individual level where embodied practice may play a larger role than many realise.
Overall, Ben’s approach dives deep using examples like Yoga, which I thought was a neutral topic to help get his messages over. If you’re interested in embodiment, Ben’s book really makes you think about technique in a very wide way indeed and spurs you to read more on the subject
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This is not the usual book review blog. I am reading books from leading martial arts thinkers I've met and reflecting what the books say to me through the lens of a business consultant.