Commune with the experts

Half a step forward in personal development is knowing what you don’t know.

We perhaps have to thank Donald Rumsfeld for summarising a position as having three aspects: we may know what we know, we may also know what we don’t know but there is also stuff we don’t know that we don’t know.  Rumsfeld was speaking as the US Secretary of Defence under Bush 2.  Thanks Don – you just about nailed it – whatever it was.  Perhaps his words were something one might expect of a career politician.  However I think there is something useful here beyond covering every base with camouflage in one sentence. The value comes from accepting that to make progress one needs to find ways to turn unknowing into knowing in ways that supports further transform towards wisdom.

Some of the self-awareness principals distilled into digestible teaching stories retold by Pir Vilyat Inayat Khan and Idries Shah and others includes the prompt to increase skill and subtle command in an area one should ‘commune with the experts’.

I suggest that if the opportunity arises to ‘commune with an expert’ then grab it with both hands.

I attended a workshop arranged through the UK Royal Photographic Society this week.  The workshop focused on how to take photographs of architectural subjects.  The workshop’s presenter, Martine Hamilton Knight is undoubtedly an expert.  Martine’s work had for a long time been plate camera-based.  This is a hugely challenging technology where there is only one opportunity to get the picture right – no post processing.  Imagine the old style camera then you have it – tripod supporting a bellows with a lens at one end and sheet film holder focusing screen at the other, squinted at by the photographer whose head is hidden under their black cloth draped over the camera.  It would have looked very Laurel and Hardy.  However the results were stunningly high resolution images with verticals that were parallel, free from lens distortion often with spectacularly rendered colours – just what the architect ordered.

There are wonderful examples of the genre and of Martine’s work on the UK Royal Institute of British Architect’s (RIBA) web site.

Martine has not stayed still.  She moved into and is now expert in her field with modern digital technology, with stunning results.

Martine’s workshop was focused on helping us, her students albeit for a short time, become more familiar with the subtleties in using 35mm perspective control lenses.  These lenses have the same adjustments as are available to plate camera photographers but in a modern package.  She also introduced us to some of the design elements that make up successful architectural photography.

I made my atrium photograph with a perspective control lens taken inside Nottingham University’s Jubilee Campus Education building.  It has two critical success features missing.  A blue sky (the rain was torrential) and usefully placed people ‘dressing’ the space to illustrate the building’s function.  However, I was pleased that vertical lines were vertical not distorted by the lens’s wide angle.

Communing with the expert within the workshop environment gave me benefits that I believe were not accessible through reading a book or watching a video.  Martine adjusted how she explained subtle points as she went around, ‘speaking to people in accordance with their understanding’.   All this was in the inspiring surroundings at Nottingham University.  My photograph of workshop colleagues working with interiors was taken in the Sir Colin Campbell Building’s reception to the University’s Innovation Park.  This image deliberately distorts lines and converges verticals, which is OK in this context, I think.

Knowing that we don’t know something can only give rise to a path to greater knowledge if we act to broaden what we do know.  Communing with the experts offers opportunities for them to shine lights in our dark corners.  If we are looking we can then come to realise stuff lurks there we hadn’t noticed so we can then deal with it.  I don’t think that communing with experts is either easy or superficial.  Perhaps if the engagement is either of these things then the communing isn’t working.

Can Tweeting a specialist constitute communing with an expert?  I don’t think so but then I haven’t tweeted so perhaps there is stuff here I don’t know that I don’t know.  Thanks Don that moves me forward.

Photographs © Mark Percival (all rights reserved).

The Royal Photographic Society Workshops:

Martine Hamilton Knight –


Wet and windy in London and Venice


Masks on sale in Venice in June 2012

Venice Mask sales display.

London’s summer is the same as summer in any other city or town with history.  There are lots of opportunities for tourists to be liberated from their cash for goods or services.  Payer beware.  Whether the goods are well made or shoddy is something tourists must judge for themselves.

How is it that many folk suspend their critical powers as soon as they don their virtual “kiss-me-quick” hat or their sandals with socks.  Looking for quality amongst the tourists tat requires critical powers to be intact.  Looking for service value equally is as fraught.

In Venice recently, I could have bought an elaborate fiesta mask.  Some of them were fashioned into exquisite pieces, if somewhat weird.  Why would I want to walk around wearing a long beak?  Quality may not have been in question.  Did they deliver value though?  Walking the streets in the rain with high tide flooding St Mark’s Square, uniquely dressed like a festive puffin?  Difficult to see the value there.

The fiesta mask is iconic and strongly redolent of Venice, of that there is no doubt.  Iconic though of hedonistic days when Shylock risked his money for a pound of flesh forfeit.  No one is going to get rich on mask sales in Venice this year.

You have to admire the Venice mask vendors who, like their equivalent serving the London tourist magnets, stand stoically waiting for passing trade.  High wind or torrential rain, they still have a shed-load of tie-on beaks to shift.

Transport systems and sauna behaviour – common ground?

I am setting up ITSB24, a new consulting enterprise focused on getting benefits from Intelligent Transport Systems (sometimes called ITS).  ITS includes driver information messaging, navigation systems, traffic control room and all sorts of stuff that for years just sat alone doing things in isolation.  ITS seek to integrate the technology to improve its utility and value.

Setting up a new business is tiring.  We need time out.  I was in my gym last night and decided a swim is best followed by a good sauna.

There was another chap in the gym’s large family sauna.  I greeted him – very un-British – not the stiff-upper-lip silent stoical treatment we usually dispense each other.  A chat followed that was both jolly and useful (it gave me the idea for this blog).  I think he and I were both nurtured by the exchange.  It elevated that sauna occasion to something more than just getting hot (perhaps I should get out more).

Finding benefits from ITS and uncharacteristically having good chat in the sauna have a key factor in common: ask the right question.  “How’s the sauna tonight?” is sufficient to ‘break the ice’ in a sauna in southern Britain.  Asking the right questions in an ITS Benefits Audit is along the same lines but requires more thought.  However, the outcome is basically the same: people love to talk, they just need the right encouragement.