Doting Over Dots! — Quotidian — 413

(Transcript of video originally posted on 29 Aug 2022)

A Kamalahassan movie titled “Apoorva Sakotharargal”… In that, Kamal will come up with a contraption to perform an assassination. This Honda ad is quite similar too. Composed of spare parts from a Honda car, this video shows a little spare part touching another, triggering an action, setting something in motion, and so on. You must have seen many videos like this one, on the Internet. Can you connect this advertisement to a cartoonist who was born nearly 150 years ago…? What links them both? Shall we see?

Namaste! Four Hundred and Thirteen. It is all about dots!

This is the cartoonist I was referring to. Rube Goldberg is his name. And, they say, there have been many people whose names have entered the dictionary, but, first name, last name, together, he is probably the only guy to have entered the dictionary. A Rube Goldberg contraption, or a Rube Goldberg machine, is a setup that is very very very elaborate, almost as elaborate as somebody touching their nose with their arm snaking around the back, doesn’t achieve much, in fact, it is silly and ridiculous. Always has a much straightforward, easy, simple alternative that could have done the job. But, there is a lot of creative genius involved.

For example, let us look at just one of the many many cartoon-like graphics that he has drawn and given schematics for. The Simple Mosquito Exterminator is the name of the invention. The mosquito enters window and walks along board, which is strewn with small chunks of rare steak — after munching steak as he walks, he is overcome by fumes coming from sponge which is soaked in chloroform, and falls on platform. When he regains consciousness, he looks through telescope and spies reflection of bald head in mirror. He mistakes this for the real thing, jumps off spring-board and dashes his brains out against the mirror, falling lifeless in to can. Silly? Funny?? Creative! The Rube Goldberg machine, or the Rube Goldberg version of something, they call it. Creatively coming up with different moving parts, each connected to the other.

On BBC, there used to be a TV program called Connections. A science-based TV program. There weren’t many, but this one, it was called Connections, it ran for three seasons. It even came out in book form. The same scientist who played host, was the author. James Burke was his name. In that creative, science-based television series by James Burke, the standout feature was how he stressed on the concept that “Science did not have a roadmap. It did not have a plan. We have got this invented. Next, we have to discover that. And then, we will be able to reach that destination.” etc. No! Science just kept collecting one after the other, and then, a structure started to emerge. Only after turning the corner off a narrow street, one gets to view the wide highway that opens up to the left! He takes the example of how the nuclear bomb actually came about. He starts with gold. People used to cheat by mixing other metals with gold. And along the way, there was one invention. A touchstone. This touchstone was able to prove whether it was pure gold or not. And, when this happened, people switched from bartering to currency. And, because of the arrival of this currency, Alexander became a very famous king, he was able to occupy a lot of territory, and he brought knowledge from all around the world, and there was a library, created in Alexandria. The library of Alexandria. It became the collection-point for a LOT of information. From the far corners of the world. One of the pieces of information? Star maps. How to navigate by looking at and tracking the stars up there in the sky. Information about that. And, because that information proved accurate and useful, Man was able to venture out into the Seas. Places He hadn’t been to, before. And, only when He started doing that, he was suddenly shocked to realise, that this compass wasn’t pointing towards the North Star, but was instead reacting to the magnetic field of this thing called Earth itself! And, he started experimenting! And, from that experimentation, came Electricity. This led to much research about atmospheric electricity. Can we bring those two things together, was the question. The Wilson Cloud Chamber was the answer. To talk about the atmospheric effects of electricity. An indirect discovery there was the boundless energy hidden inside the atom. If we were to aim a fast proton on to the nucleus of another atom, we would see the release of that energy! Gold replaced the barter system, one connected with the other, and finally we have the nuclear bomb. If we look back, we can see all the dots connecting. But, we can’t start with the goal, an end goal. That would be severely limiting. It would be too blinding, says James Burke. Connecting the dots.

We have all watched The Big Bang Theory, haven’t we? The television series. My favourite character in it? Sheldon of course! It could be this young man. Or, it could be this tiny tot too. But, one thing that stands out when we think of them, is their intellect. The precocious kid, or the genius-level college researcher. We always look up to this guy. Socially, probably, he is not very well-adjusted, but, wow, every time, he would be the smart resolver! For Sheldon, in the Big Bang Series, they would dedicate a small video series inside, do you remember? It wasn’t about Explaining Physics or Understanding Chemistry.

It was about having Fun with Flags. So many countries. So many flags. This man has a nearly photographic, eidetic memory, and he would talk about each country and its flag. Why do you think they picked something to do with memory, and a childhood obsession, when talking about probably the smartest man in television? Is there a connection hidden there?

We know this person. Viswanathan Anand. A book about him, by him. Called Mind Master. He talks about something pretty confessional. You may lower your opinion about me if I tell this to you frankly, he starts. He talks about how he forgets their wedding anniversary, and his wife mocks him for his so-called photographic memory. Aruna is her name. And, for this scolding he receives from her, he shares a research that collected data about the so-called photographic memory of chess players at various levels.

From a beginner, an intermediate player, a Master, and a Grandmaster. They tested how good the memory of these players were. The way they tested it? They gave a lot of chess positions. They were tested on how well those positions were remembered and recollected a while later. Were they able to recall those positions blindfolded? And propose a best next move? Clearly, the Grandmaster was able to recall and reproduce, but the beginner was clueless. He couldn’t do well.

You know what they did next with the same groups of people? They randomised the chess positions. These positions simply won’t happen in the natural flow of the game of chess. Giving them such random positions, the researchers tested their memory power once again. The Grandmaster and the Intermediate player and the Beginner? They all performed equally BADLY. What is Anand trying to say here?! That this Memory prowess of chess champions is actually a myth. We don’t really remember every piece in every position. We get an overall sense of groups, of valid next positions, … That’s what the Mind Master, the Chess Genius, says. I am able to memorise and remember meaningful positions, but I am clueless when it comes to complicated positions that don’t really occur in reality.

We have encountered Metcalfe’s Law. If a node exists in a network, the number of different combinations that can result from it is directly dependent on how many other nodes there are. In a crowd of entities, as the number of entities grow, the number of interactions among them grows exponentially. If there are three nodes, only three connections are possible. But, if there are five, it is ten. If seven, twenty-one. And, among just nine entities, we see a full thirty-six connections being revealed. Isn’t it readily apparent from this? If you have one little entity of knowledge in your mind, you have one idea. But, if you have three entities, you have three ideas, and if you have more entities, the number of interconnecting ideas, (for, it is in interconnections that ideas are actually born!), for that number to go up, you need to have more entities in the first place. Do you see that from Metcalfe’s Law?

His name is David Perell. He has written a lot about a concept called The Personal Monopoly. To stand out in the world, to stand out on the Internet, to be an exclusive personal brand, his advice is that you have to go deeper and deeper and narrower and narrower, you will have to keep overlapping and looking at that overlap zone, until you are the World’s Expert in what YOU do. And, David Perell says, a life of creativity is all about collecting the dots, yes… You need to first be divergent, voraciously pick and collect from everywhere. After that, you will have to spend time connecting the dots. And, only after that, you emerge with YOU as your personal brand. He calls it the DICE framework. You DIverge and Collect; and then, having collected, you Converge by connecting them up; and finally, having created your personal identity, you branch out and Emerge! And, those dots? What are they really? It may be information. It may be contacts. People you know! It may be exposure to environments! (I have been in a corporate environment. I have been in the Arctic cold. I have attended a Western music event. All of these are experiences from unique environments). It could be new ways of thinking. How would my project plan change if I had an infinite budget? How would we paint this if I were allowed only blue and shades of blue as my constraint? If the weapon I had in my hand were only a hammer, how will we open this box? It could be new ways of thinking. It could be new points of view. If a mosquito or a fly perceived the world, with a million little eyes, how would the world look? If Cyclops, with the famous third-eye, how would he observe the world, how would he thread a needle…? Points of view. So, each of those dots need not be bits of information alone. It could be all of what I said just now. He calls it the DICE framework. Diverge (collect, collect, collect), then Converge (by connecting), and then, Emerge! I want to extend this a bit. Instead of DICE, I want to call it DICES. Add a little thing at the end. I hope he wouldn’t mind.

That S is for Sharing. You have collected. You have connected. You also have to Share with the others. Not as a benevolent, altruistic, friend of the world. For personal gain, for selfish benefit, you can benefit simply by Sharing. Want to know why?

There is an App like this. It is called Shadowmatic. Available both on Android and iPhone. And, let me play a sample video for you. It is about a wall. Two/three pieces hanging in air, casting a shadow. Seems to make no sense, when you look at these.

But, when you look across to the wall, something is taking shape! Those dots that you collected from one point of view, that you connected from one personal point of view, will be influenced and biased by your own mindset. But, when you share and give away those dots, somebody else, obviously from some other viewpoint will look at it, and what wasn’t apparent to you, the seahorse, they may be able to recognise it right away. And they, in turn, will give it away back to you. And, that’s when two plus two becomes, not four, not five, but probably twenty-two. DICES. Diverge. Collect. Converge. Connect. Emerge. Share.

My closing thought for today is a little deeper dig into the greatest minds that we have seen in recent times. Steve Jobs. We all remember this quote of his, from the Stanford Commencement Address. Creativity is about connecting the dots, you can only connect the dots backwards. But…, an autobiography titled “I, Steve”. In that, he talks again about these dots. And, what did he say there? He says, “Creativity is about having enough dots to connect!” Some people, simply because of the minimal experiences and exposures they have had, become a one-track mind. They can have only limited thoughts. But, when you collect seemingly unconnected experiences, they get to a better position, and they are able to see patterns where others only see dots. We will meet again. Thank you!

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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

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Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.