Questioning Purpose

I asked on twitter “What is the purpose of knowing what the purpose is?”

and then I went and got some lunch…

Martyn Clark said: “Creating cool stuff. Oh. That’s mine. Hmm. The purpose of the purpose IS the purpose. By definition. Fractal.”


Nick Holder said: “In order to feel purposeful?”


Michael Lewkowitz said: “to simplify”


Hmmm, all fair enough, but I wasn’t thinking of it that way, I hadn’t made it clear that I was after understanding why other people are so interested in understanding why I do what I do (a recurring theme and irritation for me…)

so I replied: “I was wondering more about what other people’s purpose is in knowing my purpose (or vice versa)”

and Martyn came back: “In that case, the purpose of ME knowing YOUR purpose, is so I can see how MY purpose relates to YOURS. Is there an OUR purpose?” 

Aha! Bombshell. Paradigm shift. I once was blind but now I see.

When someone asks “Why are you doing this?  What’s the point? What’s the purpose of this, I don’t understand”  I habitually become defensive.  Especially so if I don’t know or understand either.

I’ve never seen that question as a possible opener to collaboration, a means of finding some common ground that might take both of us forward.  I only ever see it as a way of closing me down, of pointing out that I’ve got it wrong – because under it all I believe that if I can’t articulate the purpose then I shouldn’t be doing it and that this question is a test to see whether I can articulate the purpose.

I feel a big weight being taken off me!  That might be useful then…


Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous

Not Couchsurfing

I was asked, before, during and after, “why not just do this using  It’s set up for what you’re doing and you’d meet new and interesting people.”

Well, for one, I *did* meet new and interesting people anyway but this wasn’t so much what I was after.  i really wanted to experience travelling through my social graph.  When I was at university one of the courses I loved was Operations Research, including problems like the Travelling Salesman Problem.  I think it was the simplicity of iterating over a set of rules that I find beautiful, but I was also aware that we were dealing with extreme abstractions.  An actual travelling salesman would have all sorts of distractions and deviations – he didn’t just get up in the morning and set off like an automaton.  So in a way, I was playing with this idea of traversing a network algorithmically as an intelligent agent, while acknowledging the complexity of real life travel.

[And when I write that, I become aware that for part of the audience the story just got way more interesting and for a bunch of others it became duller than ditchwater.  Or maybe not. ] 

So couchsurfing, yeah.  I wanted to see what it was like if I did this with friends, people I already knew, rather than relying on a ready–made and well-prepared network of people who do this all the time.  How does it feel for me to be a perpetual houseguest with people with whom I already have some connection, however tenuous, that was formed for some other purpose than this trip.  What are the feelings, problems, delights that emerge for me?  And then how does it feel for a host to have someone you know from the internet just popping up in your town, on your doorstep, in your kitchen, sleeping in your spare room?  And then, when they’re gone, going back to normal and watching them do the same thing over with someone else, maybe sharing stories about you or even physical objects that you had in your hand yesterday.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman