“Your flaw is to seek convenient explanations, explanations that fir you and your world…The explanation is not what you would call an explanation; nevertheless, it makes the world and its mysteries, if not clear, at least less awesome. That should be the essence of an explanation, but that is not what you seek. You’re after the reflection of your ideas.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Christopher Alexander on Doing Work Together

One beneficial side effect, I believe, to a process as described in this quote, would be that group decision-making would probably take more time (then is typically allocated for it) … as it should. This kind of process unveils the illusion of quick-feel-good-superficial-consensus. It takes time, engagement, care, patience, attention to detail … if a group does not have time and space for this kind of engagement the process will make it known … it has potential to keep a group from escaping to superficial agreement … it may bring a group’s attention back to itself … to its own ability to function … instead of allowing a disability to be overlooked and generating disabling decisions.

When people work together, in small groups, how then does the unfolding process work?

No one quite knows where to start. They want to express themselves, they want to express their own individual ideas; yet they want to work together. How to curb the bounds of individualism, when to give in, when to insist? It is extremely hard …

If, for example, we are to place a bench in a neighborhood, and say there are quite a number of people involved in it. And suppose, for the sake of example, that two alternatives are placed before us. Choice is (in theory) the classic tool of democracy. So let us – together, perhaps thirty or forty of us – try to decide which of the two benches is better for this place, bench A or bench B.

The problem is that bench A and bench B differ in so many different ways, on so many dimensions. One bench is wood, one bench is metal. One is blue, or is black; one has a more comfortable profile than the other does, perhaps A is comfortable, B is more formal. On the other hand, A, which is more comfortable, is perhaps made with a shape not entirely pleasing to the eye; while B, less comfortable to sit on, is very delightful in its shape.

So as we, the thirty of us who want to decide this thing, set out to work together, how can we decided whether A or B is better? Of course we cannot … The difficulty comes from the size and extent of the decisions we are trying to agree on. Choice among alternatives, as a strategy, does not work realistically.

The answer, the solution to the difficulty, lies in the use of the fundamental process, applied over and again, focusing on very limited, tiny decisions taken one at a time, in sequence … the steps can be made so small and so particular that for each step the thirty of us will find it possible to succeed in deciding among the possibilities, what is best by checking versions, testing them, trying things out …

Even when the whole is as big as a building, or even a portion of a neighborhood, the complex of answers optimizing a group consensus can be arrived at by arranging the whole evolution of the form, as a sequence of smaller questions. Provided the smaller questions are taken in the right order, step by step, resolving one step at a time, in a manageable way, we shall be able to reach agreement even as a group. But the end result of these limited agreements will not be a single choice among half a dozen alternatives (inevitably a phone choice). It will be a unique thing which has been generated, truthfully, as a product of twenty or fifty or a hundred true answers to unique questions … because the questions were small enough and reasonable enough, not arbitrary, so that people could discuss them, feel them the same way, settle them, move on to the next, and thus gradually approach consensus on the emergent whole.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 3: A Vision of a Living World

Nature of Order - Table of Contents"

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