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Below you'll see ye olde fashion nubby scorecard pencil—directly from Fenway Park. Doesn't get much better than that, either!
Tom Peters posted this on 06/29/09.
Tom, swing away!
When all is said and done, our lives are often made better and the seemingly complex tasks made much easier by going back to simple ideas and simple tools.
Upon seeing this picture, there is probably some executive at a battery company going "Oh, no, battery and PDA sales will hit rock bottom if this little red thing ever catches on."
Posted by Dan Gunter at June 29, 2009 1:15 PM
I do wonder, though... how much could one of these little red pencils end up being worth if anybody ever shoots a closeup of Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong using one of them?
Catch my drift?
Posted by Dan Gunter at June 29, 2009 1:19 PM
Posted by Judith Ellis at June 29, 2009 1:31 PM
It does require the scorer to be right the first time...
Posted by David Porter at June 29, 2009 3:24 PM
This post brings to mind a factoid from the past. During the Space Race, NASA decided they needed a ball point pen to write in the zero gravity confines of its space capsules. After considerable research and development, a pen was successfully developed and even enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back on Earth. It allegedly cost US$241 million. Faced with the same problem, Russian astronauts used a pencil.
Posted by Bob Walker at June 29, 2009 4:24 PM
Bob – thanks for reminding me of that story – it’s a brilliant example of practical simplicity. I'm not sure if it's urban myth but it sounds terrific to me. There’s always a unique charm and elegance in simplicity don’t you think? I suggest we start in business with the words used. There is so much pretentious language spoken (its bullshit actually) by so many managers that most normal people are one nil down before they start. I love the pencil Tom.
Posted by Trevor Gay at June 29, 2009 5:04 PM
PS Bob - just published your comment on my Blog - thanks again :-)
Posted by Trevor Gay at June 29, 2009 5:46 PM
Seriously - fawning over a pencil?
You guys need to get out a bit more. If that is all that it takes to get you excited, wait until you find out about these new fandangled devices called computers.
Posted by Peter at June 30, 2009 3:45 AM
"Faced with the same problem, Russian astronauts used a pencil."
And then there's the one about Israeli pilots finding a blind spot on something like an F-15, and adding a rearview mirror!
Posted by tom peters at June 30, 2009 6:16 AM
Great point. The Russian space program has certainly been on the leading edge of excellence for decades. Hadn't thought of the impact of breakthrough Ticonderoga thinking before now.
Posted by David Porter at June 30, 2009 6:50 AM
"I hear they have the internet on COMPUTERS now." -- Homer Simpson.
Posted by Dan Gunter at June 30, 2009 7:06 AM
I had this very debate some 10+ years ago with a reader in HR who reminded me that yes indeed the "simple" pencil is technology.
As I remain in a reflective mode, here are my reflections on this:
1 - It was a rubbish debate then as it is now, it is poor as an argument
2 - As an argument its their to provoke a reaction in an old techie like me it remains poor
3 - A PC and all it brings is many things re-cycled including the pencil....
4 - Tom here's the challenge, do your blog in pencil happy to provide home address, stamp and horse and cart to get it too me, pigeon if you prefer!
5 - Technology solves many things, a pencil is just technology
6 - Technology used appropriately is valid
7 - Talk to any mac user or a iphone user and they will extol the value of complexity made simple even to all of those of us who persist with windows....
8 - You can create as much rubbish as you like with any technology ask shakespear, ghandi, tom peters or even bill gates if you can...
9 - I am making the case for keeping the tree, lead and paint as just that and stop making pencils to write on paper that is never re-cycled...
10 - Yes I still use a pencil everyday!
But it can't produce any of the the free stuff that are on these pages and no my PC can't get wax out of my ears!!!! (Dan, Bruce, Judith and Trevor, to an earlier blog on images sorry!!!!)
Have a splendid day
Posted by patrick at June 30, 2009 8:54 AM
...there is often something perversely marvellous in the non-simple too. An expensive mechanical certified chronometer is less accurate than a cheap quartz watch. And yet... instead of doing the obvious, some crazy diamonds spend lifetimes coming up with ever more complex ways of improving the accuracy of mechanical watches, creating the likes of tourbillons and double tourbillons to minimise (but never wholly eradicate) the inherent flaws in the mechanical concept. And the very non-simple results have a beauty of endeavour that no quartz watch can ever quite capture.
I may know that a pencil, or a roller-ball, is a simple writing tool that does the job required. And yet... I still use a fountain pen every day, for reasons that have very little to do with functional logic. Simple is good, but it is not necessarily all.
Posted by RobCH at July 1, 2009 1:58 AM
Patrick - You make some very thoughtful points above. Thank you.
Posted by Judith Ellis at July 1, 2009 5:51 AM
In the 16th century, (I believe Louis the 16th or someone like that) an object in the palace could only have one use. This was considered more opulent than, for example, a sitting bench that you could store things in. A cassone was required to have a rounded top so that things could only be stored inside and not on the lid and thus only have one use.
In our day every device needs to have many functions. We recently got new corporate cell phones and I was going through all the functions with their owners. GPS, Internet, playing music, storing pictures. I said if you really want to do something different you could actually use it to phone someone!
Posted by Patrick Bergen at July 1, 2009 8:51 AM
I think that the idea of friendly design and simplicity can be applied to all sorts of areas in our lives. Sweet pencil!
Posted by Alex at July 1, 2009 10:12 PM
Alex, you are so right. I know a lot of people who try very hard to impress me and others with the complexity of their lives, not realizing that what I am most impressed with in other human beings is the ability to grasp the simplicity that invariably underlies all that is really important to us.
I've mentioned this quote before, but it's worth sharing again: "I wouldn't give a fig for the complexity on this side of complexity, but I'd give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes.
The Apple Macintosh will always be one of my absolute favorite examples of working through complexity to regain simplicity. So powerful -- especially for its time -- yet finally easier to use. THAT was genius in design work.
Perhaps it's not until after we've experienced a lot of hard times, losses, and regrets that we begin to see that the greatest portion of the complexity we experience is not "natural," rather it is of our own creation. And it is unnecessary.
I am reminded of that when Sandy and I walk hand in hand on a nature trail, or when I hear a child laughing. Feeling the sun hitting my face early in the morning as I am first emerging from a tent somewhere away from all the madness is a beautiful reminder that all of this is temporary. My coffin will not need Dolby surround, bluetooth capability, or HDTV reception. All of the technology is fun and cool at times, and it can be very useful. But all too often we make life and our toys more complex than they really need to be. Simply because we can.
Posted by Dan Gunter at July 2, 2009 12:34 AM
But Dan your coffin could have all sorts of extra features! :-)
I think this shows that man's ability to make the simple complex goes back some time.....
Maybe it's Englishman in me but I kinda like the eccentric folly of doing something because it's there. Read a lovely article in an model engineering magazine recently about building clocks with square gear wheels - there is absolutely no horological advantage to this - it's just the challenge of getting it to work.
Actually the pencil is a good example of a simple tool that is hard to use well. It takes skill to draw - taking a picture on your phone is easy. Simple stuff in the hands of a craftsman is joy to behold.
In a lot of simple objects the complexity(skill) resides in the user rather than the item. Is the opposite true?
Posted by PaulH at July 2, 2009 5:42 AM
My friend, colleague, and fellow blog commenter, Trevor Gay, recently changed his profile picture on Facebook. His new picture is a portrait of him, drawn by his four year old grandson. Trevor -- and the rest of us -- see it as a wonderful work of art. To my knowledge, this loving child has not attended art classes at a major college. He has not been lauded in magazines or had his work on display in museums, accompanied by critical acclaim and accounts of his major contributions to the are community. But what he has done was use a piece of paper and some very simple tools to draw a picture of his granddad and in turn touched many of our hearts and even sparked a lot of wonderful conversation. Funny, I've looked through my blogs, Trevor's, Dave's, et al, and there isn't a lot of discussion about any other pieces of art (saving perhaps photos of Trevor and his wife running a marathon, and a few photos of one of our group members that Trevor's wife "doctored up" in warmhearted fun.)
Does that mean that we aren't "sophisticated" in our taste for art? We certainly aren't going to abandon the conversations over his grandson's drawing because it is too simple. We aren't going to be harsh toward the youngster because he used simple tools.
And as far as skill and complexity are concerned, in my mind, the two are NOT directly proportional. Here we go with the bell curve again. A truly skilled artist or craftsman advances through a period of creating more and more complex work, but with time and dedication, reaches a point of even more ultimate skill -- taking something complex and making it simple.
We have all said the following words at least once in our lives: "You make that look so easy."
The three major evolutionary stages of a WOW! "technical" product (in my mind):
Stage 1: Initial design. Often rushed. Relatively simple. Frequently doesn't work well because it still has bugs and lots of room for improvement. (A new coffee maker that sputters and spouts steam, leaks water, is hard to pour water into, the filters frequently fold over in the basket while brewing, yielding a pot of coffee that is more easily consumed with a fork.)
Stage 2: "New and Improved." Meaning, most of the kinks have been redesigned out and features that consumers and users suggested added. Often a lot more bells and whistles. Frequently touted as the "Advanced" or "Deluxe" model. (A coffee maker that doesn't leak, has multiple settings, is programmable, has a built in bean grinder, includes the ability to heat milk or cream, has an automatic paddle to stir it, and has recorded voice prompts to say "Good morning. Your coffee is now ready. Enjoy, and have a great day.")
Stage 3: Unnecessary bullshit removed. The thing really works now. User interface more intuitive. People are buying it because it does the job, does it consistently, does it with quality, and makes life easier. (A coffee maker that makes coffee, doesn't leak, and doesn't have as many mechanical parts to break down. It brews reliably. The manual is easy to read, although any idiot could take the thing out of the box, plug it in, and use it without even reading it. The strength of the brew is conveniently adjusted by using more or less coffee in the filter. The pot doesn't dribble coffee all over the counter while trying to pour a cup because of poorly designed shape. And it doesn't annoy you with the same conversation every morning.)
Posted by Dan Gunter at July 2, 2009 8:23 AM
I love clubs! They make me feel so warm and cozy.
Posted by Judith Ellis at July 2, 2009 8:38 AM
PaulH, perhaps we are both smiling in one accord today, realizing the sheer folly that comes with this existence of ours. I don't know whether it's curiosity or a developed case of collective Attention Deficit Disorder (maybe both and more) but something leads us to fascination with complex things. And we also tend to get bored with them after a while and shift our attention to (lo and behold) other complex things.
I often chuckle and wonder if there are even more intelligent beings out there watching us with great amusement, much as a child would observe an ant farm?
Posted by Dan Gunter at July 2, 2009 11:32 AM
Judith - pray tell what you mean by "I love clubs! They make me feel so warm and cozy."
Posted by Trevor Gay at July 2, 2009 3:50 PM
Trevor, good question. Is she talking about the wooden kind? Card suits? I'm all ears. For once I'd like to actually "get" what she is saying.
Posted by Dan Gunter at July 2, 2009 4:01 PM
Posted by Judith Ellis at July 2, 2009 6:44 PM
Trevor, I guess we're left to deduce our own meaning. I assume we rang at a bad time. Happy hour, perhaps?
Posted by Dan Gunter at July 2, 2009 9:54 PM
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