Freedom To Explore the Network


At every step of the way, I can make a choice. Go left, go right. What I will pay attention to. What I will prioritize. Where I will go.

Look left. Look right. Where is the excitement? Where is the challenge? Where is the meaning? Where is the known, where is the unknown?

But why? Why be free?

That’s a bad question! Also, it’s actually two questions. (1) Why be? and (2) why be free rather than nonfree?

“Why be?” is also a bad question. It is not something we can choose. We cannot choose to be. We are not given a choice to be or not to be before we are made. We can choose to take our life. But the choice “Why be?” is not a question of suicide.

The other question if better. “Why be free rather than nonfree?” We can answer this question with agency, adventure and learning. To be nonfree is to live without agency, to avoid adventure, and to avoid learning. Let’s choose to be free.

That freedom means something. We exercise that freedom every day, whether we believe we do or not. A single unit of freedom is a choice. Yet, if freedom was to make one choice, life would be boring. Choices compound and unlock new options.

That is the freedom to explore.

Leisure is freedom, work is striving towards goals. The two work together, both are needed. Without structured effort working towards goals, we limit our capability. Without unstructured exploration of the network, we never discover what our goals actually were.

Work and leisure are not good or bad. They are tools for us to shape our life.

I don’t like 8 hour workdays. “fill these 8 hours”. Yeah, right.

8 hours is too long for highly concentrated work. And too short for roaming exploration. For me.

I tried cutting at six hours. More leisure after work helped. Yet, I am in a culture, and I felt other people’s expectations weighing on me.

I do realize I need both. All leisure is not good. But what is the balance? I need balance.

Is it all about goals and values? What do we aim to achieve? No. Goals are one parts. Needs and capability is another. And those intertwine with communication. What should we be doing? What are we able to do? What are we motivated to do? They connect. Perhaps a start is to define high-level categories. Each category has a different shape of work. Make it explicit.

In Unicad, we currently have three major goals:

  1. Land expert engineering projects where we can take a part, produce something extraordinary, learn from the experience, and make some money.
  2. Grow number of parametric design users.
  3. Grow number of calculation documentation users.

I could take the three, and split along goals, capability and motivation. Divide those into activities. Gain some sanity.

Then dedicate 3-4 hours each day to narrow work towards one of those goals. For the rest, allow roaming.

Decication and focus is valuable, and important. Always looking for the next new thing lets us see what others don’t notice, without doubt. But that effort spent looking in all directions at all times has a cost. By always looking for new things of strategic importance, we fail to execute the obvious right in front of us.

I had a delightful balance between work and leisure two weeks I spent in Spain with friends while writing my master’s thesis1. For 3-4 hours every morning, I worked on the thesis. Other than that, we roamed around.

The shape of the thesis work was given. Deliver this text. Will the shape of this so called “structured work” fit? Not necessarily.

Possible courses of action:

  1. Set aside 3 hours each morning for individual work. Collaboration after lunch.
  2. Define high-level goals, and actions working towards those goals. Purpose: with defined goals and defined actions towards those goals, we make the work explicit.
  3. Limit total workday to 6 hours.
  4. Introduce kanban-like system.

Perhaps this is a matter of setting expectations. I will never spend 100 % of my time on execution. That is not for me. I will continue to explore. And in the event of having to do execution-heavy work, I will interperse that work with light exploratory work. I do this out of self respect.

  1. Finite element implementation of lower-order strain gradient plasticity in Abaqus↩︎