Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom as the demise of mankind - by P.K.Odendaal

6 March 2012.

Conventional wisdom is the term given to the expected outcome of anything based on previous experience. Beautiful and elegant and disastrous!
You will see in the blurb of my blog site, I have the opinion that conventional and wisdom are two very divergent ideas and does not make a logical connection with each other such as hot summers day. Conventional wisdom is more like a white darkness or an illogical conclusion. Is one who is an expert in nonsense really possible. We do not need to ask an Edward Lear this question - and whilst we am at it, here is one of his children from the book Nonsense Drolleries :

Pussy said to the Owl, you elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing
O let us be married! Too long we have tarried
But what shall we do for a ring
They sailed away for a year and a day
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose
Dear Pig, are you willing, to sell for a shilling
Your ring? said the Piggy, I will
So they took it away and were married next day
By the turkey who lives on the hill ...

Well, that takes thinking to write that nonsense, but we do not need any thinking for everyday life. It is so straight forward.

Let's explore it from some basic level.
Conventional wisdom has it that if I need advice I should get it from someone else who has been through this problem before, because they will have learned something from it. I can tell you now that I have never gotten wise counsel from such a person, and I have the nagging feeling that no-one learns from previous experience. We seem to be the only animal species on earth who will make the same mistake every time. I do not know where the adage 'one bitten twice shy' comes from. When I look at the disaster series on television, I see the that same old people who had these dumb accidents on racing boats, racing cars and other stunts, come back again and again for more of the same - accidents and injuries - and fame.

And the other side of this coin - asking somebody else for advice - is in any case almost never followed - I have yet to find someone acting on the wise counsel of another. In fact, we know what is good for us, but we then set out and do the wrong thing.
I am guilty as charged.

But then, I also have this idiosyncratic way of veering from the trodden path - or conventional wisdom - and try and do exactly the opposite thing - having been bitten too much by conventional wisdom. And I have been very successful most of the time. I think I can safely say that I was more successful from deviating from conventional wisdom than I was from following it - it fact - many times more successful.
But, conventional wisdom is this easy, non-inspirational, no sweat and boring way of letting life take you where it wants to. I never need to investigate the outcome of anything, I just follow blindly. I do not need to go to any trouble to learn something from my mistakes. In fact, the less I learn and the less I know, the more simple life is, and I can just take things as they come. That is about the attitude of 90% of all people.

No Nobel prize winner, inventor or great statesmen were of this type. The one thing they had in common was that they took the uncommon way when they had to decide on something.
This is also the lesson from evolution. The species which developed a mutation - changing themselves - were able to outlive those who stayed the same. The unconventional wisdom which is quite straight forward and easy to understand, is that a variation on a theme is the crux of creativity.

And this is the point I wish to make. If we could do something different and risky and innovative when we are expected to behave or act normally or conventionally, is not only exciting but also leads one to new vistas and experiences we never knew existed. But society does not want us to act differently. We should all die or fall together.
I often enter offices of those in high places and find a plaque with the words THINK on their desks - and every time I see it, I try to think about something, but I always seem to fail. What do they think when they see this plaque every day? If one looks at the speed of their career advance one quickly deduces that they think about nothing as well.

But then again - why should one do any thinking - it is such a tiring and risky business - and sometimes even very expensive and troublesome.
I must relate the first skirmish I had with the act of thinking early in my professional career. My client had a stream running through his residential development, and the stream had silted up with clay over many centuries, so that it was unfit and even dangerous for the recreation of his residents. I was instructed to work out a solution to make it attractive and safe, and duly presented him with a drawing showing the excavation of the clay and the lining of the stream with grass blocks. He instructed his Head of Parks, a man called Dup, who was more used to working with steam locomotives than with people, being a train driver previously in his career, to do the work themselves by hiring a dozer - it would be much cheaper - how much cheaper, it did not take them long to find out.

So on the appointed day the hired dozer with operator appeared on site. The operator was instructed to doze the clay from the western towards the eastern bank of the stream in a certain way so as to prevent the dozer from being swallowed up by the heaving unstable clay. Dup then excused himself from the site for pressing business at the office. When he returned a few hours later he found that the dozer was gone, but on closer inspection he established that he could see the top few millimetres of the exhaust protruding above the clay - and on further inspection found the operator hiding somewhere behind some shrubs.
He then asked the operator what the problem was, whereupon the operator explained that he thought it would be better to doze the material from the eastern towards the western bank. A bigger dozer was then hired to extricate this dozer from the clay, and after many hours and many thousands of Rands this was accomplished.

He thereupon summoned the first dozer operator to him to give him a lecture on thinking. He said in my own words, that this operator had only thought one thought on that day and that it had cost the company five thousand rand. Could this operator now just imagine, if every person of the forty million living in this  country, took the liberty of thinking only one thought today, how many billions of rand it would cost the country.

Having been in the Defence Force some ten years before, I was disciplined never to think anything, so this argument was nothing new to me, although I must admit that refraining from thinking was always a very difficult task for me.
And so it happened in my life that I started to think - and I have become so arrogant as to think every time I have to make a decision - and even more - I would think what the normal thing would be to do in these circumstances, and then do precisely the opposite thing. Needless to say, it has caused me many hardships, but also many exciting victories and successes.

In modern parlance it means thinking out of the box. And for a South African that is an almost impossible activity. We have this idiosyncratic behaviour that we have to place everyone in boxes, like post in mail boxes. I have since my youth rebelled against this type of thing - and against everything else, so I did not need a lot of encouragement to think out of the box.
And after all - what makes this intricate and complex life more enjoyable than venturing into unknown territory. Following the road less travelled - in more than one way. Come with me and let's stretch this envelope to unbelievable new vistas and experiences.