Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Beginner's Mind

In the philosophy of Zen (chan), there is the concept of beginner's mind.

Essentially, the mind of the master and the mind of the beginner have the same form and this is revealed in their works. The beginner will create a simple work because they don't know enough to attempt a complex work, and the master will create simple works because they know enough to do that. The differences will be subtle, stylistic, but immediately apprehended by even a casual viewer. In the work of the beginner, one may only see simplicity but may also see the genius of the universe that comes serendipitously to the beginner's mind when it is sensitive and in motion. In the work of the master, one will see both simplicity and the genius of the universe that comes continuously because the master's mind is empty and still, therefore, ready.

I see this in XML design. The schemas of beginners are simple and contain just those elements and attributes needed to do a small task. The schemas of masters are simple and contain just those elements and attributes needed to do a small task in the context of a larger task. The schemas of the journeymen are often very large, use as many of the features of the schema language as they can manage, and attempt to capture all of the tasks in a single grand unified design.

Some think such are the product of committees and blame the size of the committee or the process, but committee work is really the work of one or two individuals who collect and attempt to synthesize all of the requirements while maintaining consensus. They create risk averse schemas because they think that the safe bet is the right bet when in truth, loss is part of the art.

"What to leave in, what to leave out" - Bob Seger

The work also reflects the lifecycle of the committee or working group that may have completed its initial task and now is attempting to gather up other tasks in an act of self-perpetuation. Such works are never completed because the work reflects the desire to remain affiliated so they never have the properties of beginner's mind or mastery. They just fatten and rot. If one compared this to theatre, they are soap operas, a never ending story instead of sit-coms, episodic with recurring characters.

Unfortunately for the current period of XML design and fielding, and more unfortunately, procurement, we see mostly the works of journeymen and committees. It is notable that few have the patience, will, resources, or opportunity to do enough of these to master the art of simple effective design, and those that do are often led away from these design jobs to management and other tasks that provide more means but fewer challenges to the skill that they labored so hard to master.

Intuition is not trustworthy. Technique is not trustworthy. Practice is trustworthy. Sit before the Buddha every day if you wish to learn the artless art.

1 comment:

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