Sunday 4 July 2021

Symbolism: Slaying Raptors, Gods, and Our Most Cherished Delusions


Raptor Slayer

You may have noticed that there are a lot of symbols in my pictures. I also tend to stick with certain themes, though I do make the occasional deviation.

Let's have a look at two recent storyboards, and decode some of the symbols in them. We'll start with Raptor Slayer above.

At first glance, what you see is probable something like nude woman stabbing over-sized parrot with teeth. That is certainly one way to look at it, but there is a little bit more to it:

I see a woman mastering her fear, and despite her vulnerability, that's the nudity, fighting very hard to accomplish the almost impossible, i.e. killing a raptor with a bone knife.

I find that never-give-up-even-in-the-face-of-great-difficulty attitude both admirable and attractive, so yes, the nudity makes symbolic double duty.

Of course, as an observer, you will have your own way of interpreting the picture, based on your values, your experience, your knowledge of the Lost World genre of literature, movies, and art, your social context (i.e. the opinions of your friends, and other people who influence you).

Nubian Queen I: The Death of Sobek

The Death of Sobek is about the importance of critically evaluating our own beliefs, and, when those beliefs do not hold up to scrutiny, killing them off and replacing them with something new and better.

Unexamined beliefs, beliefs that are unsubstantiated by evidence, and who do not hold up to even cursory scrutiny, tend to rule our lives.

For example, you might believe that the best way to boost the economy, is cutting taxes for the rich, so they can invest more, and thus create more and better jobs. Well, according to research on tax cuts in 18 OECD countries, that is not how it works. All that happens when you lower taxes for the rich, is that they get richer:

“Our findings on the effects of growth and unemployment provide evidence against supply side theories that suggest lower taxes on the rich will induce labour supply responses from high-income individuals (more hours of work, more effort etc.) that boost economic activity. They are, in fact, more in line with recent empirical research showing that income tax holidays and windfall gains do not lead individuals to significantly alter the amount they work.”
-The Economic Consequences of Major Tax Cuts for the Rich, by David Hope, Julian Limberg

Feel free to disagree, but if you do, bring research that support your views.

The supply side economics scam has kept political parties alive, and sometimes in power, for decades, to the detriment of all of us, except the very rich people who benefit from the tax cuts.

There are plenty of other common beliefs that do not stand up to scrutiny:

For example the idea that a company can maximize its profits by having everyone work as much as possible all the time. This is an idea from Frederick Taylor's Scientific Management. The problem with it, is that if everyone works at full capacity all the time, you get enormous queues of unfinished material, so-called Work In Process (WIP), in your processes. In extreme cases, you get so much WIP, that nothing ever gets finished. This sometimes happens in software development, but it can, and does, happen in other areas too.

There are plenty of ways to reduce, or eliminate, the problem. In management, you can use Lean, Theory of Constraints, agile software development methods, the Deming Knowledge System, IOHAI, and other methods.

Most companies who implement these methods and frameworks do so, not because they understand how they can help alleviate the problems, but because it has become a fad. When you do that, you will almost certainly do things that short-circuit the new way of doing things, so that you go through the motions, but never get the benefits.

For example, agile methods, mentioned above, rely on something called vertical slicing to create work packages that can be implemented with an optimal balance between capacity cost and queueing cost. Over the past 20 years, nearly every company I have seen, has fallen into the trap of doing horizontal slicing, i.e. requirements are functional, rather than representations of something that has economic value on its own.

As a result, lead times can explode. I have seen lead times go up by a factor of 50, and more, because of this. That means you would have to wait for two years to get something that could be built and delivered in two weeks. Thus, you loose the money you could have made by using that functionality for two years.

Another favourite: You want to implement one of the methods mentioned above, and realize you need new processes, so you decide to invest in a tool for creating the new processes. Looking around for a good, safe, alternative, you decide to go with something like IBM Blueworks. Nobody gets blamed for buying from IBM!

What you do not realize, is that all of these new methods and frameworks, separate process material flow from the flow of directives, and that the flow of directives go in the opposite direction from the material flow. The reason for this, is that it is much easier to reduce the amount of WIP, and thus queueing costs, that way.

Blueworks does not allow you to design processes like that. It does not separate material flow from flow of directives. Topping it off, the economic simulation in Blueworks takes only capacity cost into account, which means you are liable to design processes with sky-high queueing costs.

Suddenly, your unexamined beliefs about tax cuts, how to write requirements, or which tool to use, has become your Sobek, your crocodile god demanding human sacrifice.

It's not just about whether you can slay it, you probably do not even know that you should, and you live in a society of Sobek worshipers that will punish you if you try.

I bet you did not think of Nubian Queen I: The Death of Sobek in those terms. Symbolism is tricky, and symbols can be open to an infinite variety of interpretations.

Because of this, the symbolism in a picture is liable to misfire if we do not talk about what it represents. Often, a picture is just a cool image, without deeper connotations, but we won't know that either, unless we talk, or write, about the picture.

So, lets talk about the pictures we see, and the pictures we create. Otherwise, their meaning can all too easily get lost.

Be seeing you!