To scan. Scanning.

I often think of images. Rhizome networks. Radar stations. And whenever I enter a new arena, I scan.

I actually think that is the remains of a survival instinct from my childhood. I often needed to scan my surroundings. What was the tone of my mother’s voice? How was the environment in this new class, at this new school? How could I find my place within a new context; one that was new to me?

My adult life scanning works something like this:

New arena. Ok. What is the arena’s vision or stated goal? How does that goal match with what I see? The annual reports. The tendencies of communication. The way emails are written, or meetings conducted.

Then: What is “the hole”? Is there an angle or direction that I can use as a starting point for my interactions within this arena? Starting point is the key here. The starting point often becomes like a litmus test. I test the context of my starting point, as my first assumptions lay it out for me, within the boundaries of other actors and other processes.

Image: David Gould / Getty Images

So I basically lay out strips of litmus paper, and I test the paper towards the environment; I test the environment towards the paper. Acidic or alcaline? Does the environment, the paper, the scan, reveal an environment that I think I would enjoy being in? Or not?

The survival instinct from when I was 9 years old and just entered a new school.

Now, my instincts are not really about survival, but rather about what I feel like using my energy towards.

So, I have an endless supply of strips of mental litmus paper, and some liquid, that I use to let the thing that I want to test become liquid, test-able. What is the water? Well, I don’t know right now. I never actually thought of that. The litmus test trope is old within me, but the water’s existence or role is something I discovered just now.

If you want to test a stone, you can’t just scrub the paper on the dry stone. Acid testing on stone. Hmmm.

Anyway. The processes behind these things are wildly simplified when I use the symbol of the litmus paper; far more things are going on at the same time there. But the litmus test is alluring. Pleasant. Shows a simple answer: Acidic or alcaline, or in between somewhere. In reality, my litmus test process; the internal ones, is more about finding ways to play with the tools, the actors, the concepts, and to see how my sensitivities are working with the sensitivities of the others there, etc.

Ok, soon time to eat. And then get to the annual meeting of Engineers Without Borders here in Norway; it will be my first annual meeting since I joined the organization in April.


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