Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Travels into Several Remote Notions

or, very nearly

Gullibles Travels


Reasonable Robinson and Choppington

Finding a Map

The book known as Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift was first published 1726. It is a four part satirical tale about the travels of Dr Lemuel Gulliver and has the formal title Travel into Several Remote Nations of the World. The first edition was highly censored because the publisher feared it would offend both the British Government and public the large. The complete un-edited version was published in 1735. What you are about to read differs from Swift’s classic in certainly two ways:

It is not a satire (and you might also conclude it’s not a classic

It is not an overt political attack on the establishment, as we are more concerned with effectiveness of individuals like you and I as we go about our daily affairs rather than the workings of society and its institutions (unless you are a hermit the two are rarely inseparable of course). You will also know that we can choose to examine social affairs from a ‘structures and institutions’ perspective, from the individual ‘actors’ perspective or some blend of the two (this all depends on your world view). We choose to believe that in the final analysis, the capability of an individual determines what is ‘seen’ and what can be ‘seen’ and therefore what ultimately is done. By implication therefore we accept that anyone who becomes more ‘critical’ of any prevailing hegemony or paradigm (Kuhn 1970) they have the potential make changes of whatever scale, from the personal to the universal.

It is similar in three ways.

Firstly the metaphor of ‘travel’ is used, (this is a popular idea with many writers because it means the text will have some sort of beginning, some events and experiences along the way and naturally an end!) Additionally it suitably conveys the notion of ‘transformation’ and this we feel, is an implicit assumption within what follows and a result experienced by all individuals who aspire to continually learn and change.

Secondly the reader doesn’t have to agree with anything that they read, and

Thirdly the authors live in Nottinghamshire just south east of the Nottingham city centre, not too far from Newark. Swift wrote: “Mr. Gulliver growing weary of the concourse of curious people coming to him at his house in Redriff, made a small purchase of land, with a convenient house, near Newark, in Nottinghamshire, his native country; where he now lives retired, yet in good esteem among his neighbours”

The idea for this text came during one of our regular Friday night get-togethers over a glass of wine. As the alcohol flowed the conversation evolved into a ‘Cook and Moore-esque sketch’ in which we shared our experiences, problems, and our inevitably drunken convictions that we were discovering the perfect solutions to all of life’s challenges. These evenings are still often interspersed with musical interludes either on the keyboard (after the Dawson School), and a mandatory pop quiz, along with an inebriated attempt at interpreting the meaning of classic song lyrics. It should therefore come as no surprise to you find out that we must be the reason that your Saturday mornings are often brighter and happier than other days of the week simply because we had spent the previous evening sorting out the world’s problems and putting them right!

During one of those evenings (we can’t remember which one exactly) we decided to give ourselves a project, something designed to challenge us, something we weren’t sure we could complete, as Sophocles, Trichinae 415BC said “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it you have no certainty until you try” and also something to turn our wine fuelled rhetoric into something more lasting, (our equivalent of carving our names into an old tree we guess) and something that might make use of the ‘travels’ so far of two men who wanted to share their experiences and the things they had learned from them.

To start with we weren’t sure what the ‘the use’ and ‘the something’ of our project was, and for some time after our decision to set off we wrestled with exactly what we would write and who we’d be writing for. Skilfully avoiding the first problem, our ‘standard’ management science and commercial backgrounds told us that, before you committed resources to any project or in this case, put pen to paper you had to have a customer or audience in mind and an understanding of their needs. In other words we could only safely ‘act’ if what we ‘acted’ upon was based on ‘facts and evidence. So we tried to find an answer to the question of who we were writing for by arguing about who we should be ‘targeting’ and trying to define sorts of potential market ‘segments’

As you probably are aware, Marketing professionals classify customer into ‘segments’. Segments (if they are commercially viable) become ‘markets’. Segments are ‘inventions that classify people by their similarities and their differences according to whatever dimensions the ‘segmenter’ believes is important e.g. demographics, psychology, geo-demographics etc. Often segments are given fancy names to make them memorable, the most famous of which must be Yuppie (young upwardly mobile professional along with more recent variations such as energetic, fun loving over 60s – the SYLO’s or stay younger longers.

We tried everything, we classed our segments by demographics (maybe what we write will interest for 30 something’s, 18-24 year olds, or 40-50 year olds?) what if we classed by life-stage? (maybe up and coming executives, new parents, divorcees will be intrigued?), by lifestyle? (yuppie, early nester, sliver surfer), by action pre-disposition (thinkers, doers), by attitude, (baby boomers, generation X, SYLO’s) and so on. Nothing seemed feel right, there was always someone or some group that would be left out of whatever classification we came up with. We soon realised that we were spending more time arguing about who our book was for and less time getting the project off the ground. Our solution? – kick induction out and go with deduction. (we may have more this later) We decided to turn the whole thing on its head, and completely ignore marketing managements ‘best practice’ (Kotler et al). We decided this text was simply for us – as we said at the start –‘our project’. We couldn’t predict in advance who would read it, ignore it, love it or hate it. We would let our readers ‘segment’ themselves.

It was never our intention to prescribe the way you should think or act upon the things we mention. Our purpose was to share with you the map of the territory we wanted to cover.

Maps are a useful metaphor for describing how people perceive the world. The idea of mental maps was created by Alfred Korzbyski in his 1933 publication Science and Sanity. This seminal work inspired the academic field of General Semantics or the study of ‘meaning’. He is famous for the phrase ‘The map is not the territory’ to explain the idea that our view of the world can only ever be a representation of reality. As our writing concerns the perspectives of two people we are by Korzbyski’s definition providing two maps. It is an interesting coincidence that Korzbyski quotes a section from Gulliver’s Travels in his foreword. For more on coincidences read John Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy and Jung on his notion of synchronicity.

This map describes the terrain of our experience and points out some of the landmarks in that territory of interest to us. Because two of us are involved in the writing we have deliberately chosen to mix the styles of how we present our perspectives, and because we believe that where you sit affects what you see we hope you will find it interesting to see the same thing from a variety of points of view. What you make of our map and its landmarks therefore is up to you.

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