Gregory Ronczewski is the Director of Product Design at TeamFit – view his profile
Top image: The pier in the winter, Sopot, Poland. Photo by: Andrzej Otrębski

 

I grew up a few hundred meters from a white sandy beach. We lived in an old, strange looking house with a tower. Paper airplanes flew really far when we launched them from it. When in 1967, French president, General Charles de Gaulle came for a state visit, secret police appeared at our doors to check the tower before a column of big, black fancy-looking cars drove by. It was scary. The sea was always cold, and the bay would often freeze in winter. Everyone knew that you should stay away from the ice and yet, after school, we tried to walk as far as we dared. At night, the flickering lights of villages on the peninsula were barely visible—right on the edge of the horizon.

I loved this cold sea as much as I love the ocean outside my window on Bowen Island. I am not sure what it is about the distance and open space that is so appealing. It helps me gain balance and perspective. However, if you ask what my favourite place is, without any hesitation, I will choose the mountains. Mountains are exceptional, sacred to me in so many ways. They also help you gain balance and perspective. My fondest memories are connected to my grandfather’s log house, which he helped design and built in a small village not far from the southern border. The overnight train ride from the coast was nine hours long. The smell of a steam engine and the view of a brand-new, red pair of skis promising so many adventures are still so vivid. It was a long time ago.

The sea and the mountains. Duality. Tall and flat. Big and small. Contrast is one of the key ingredients used by architects and designers. Perhaps that’s why I fell in love with Vancouver and later, with Bowen Island. How cool is it to have the ocean and the mountains in the same place.

Carlo Rovelli, in his book The Order of Time, takes the reader by surprise stating in the very first chapter that the passage of time changes according to where you are. Time flows more slowly when you are closer to the centre of the Earth, which means that in the mountains, time moves faster. There is more time when you are in the high country. Interesting enough, at really high altitudes, the movement experienced by climbers is slow. One step, one breath. One step, two breaths. Lack of oxygen slows you down. Time moves faster, but the experience of its passage tells you otherwise. Strange, clear thinking is listed among cognitive performance and mood states at a higher altitude. Of course, I am not talking about five thousand meters altitude. At those heights, most of us will just get sick regardless of how fast or slow time moves.

We have been talking recently at the office about the structure of a competency model and structure-making in general—the hierarchy. At the top, usually, we have just a few elements. At the bottom, there are plenty to choose from. A pyramid diagram comes to mind. At the same time, when you think about a structure, any structure, the time you spend analyzing the very top level takes longer than the organization of those elements at the bottom. Why? Because if you don’t get it right, the implications will cascade down, forcing you to re-do everything. The decisions require deep thinking, analyzing, predicting not to mention the domain knowledge related to the structure on the drawing board — a lot of skills at an expert level. The very top layer should be simple enough, to capture the essence of your arrangement and complex enough to allow middle and bottom layers to fit into the matrix. What user experience we should promote taking into account the gravity of decisions cascading down the mountain? What affordances will spark mindful, not hesitant choices?

 

Carlo Rovelli is a physicist. I remember reading somewhere that he is a physicist and a poet, although, to me, a philosopher would be a better term. Still, there is a lot of poetry in the way he talks about quantum physics. He is not the only theoretical physicist who takes the reader on an adventure attempting to answer the most difficult questions ever asked. Stephon Alexander in The Jazz of Physics looks for a link between music and structure of the universe. Now, that’s a huge structural puzzle to be solved. And yet, some of the answers are distilled to just a few simple rules. What fascinates me is the coalescence of science at a very high level where it almost feels like the research needs to reach into places that usually would remain distant. It makes me wonder, with our specialization-focussed education system, how are we going to support minds with a desire to reach across disciplines? I suppose understanding your skills, your knowledge and experiences are the first steps towards a twisted path that one point may take you high into the mountains. Time moves faster when you take the high road.