Post of the Month (Year?)
To doubt one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man. –H. G. Rickover
It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows. –Epictetus
Please visit and read this post from James Hoffman, World Barista Champion 2007. Best post of this month, if not all year.
As a neophyte to home roasting, cupping, and green coffee buying, and the specialty coffee community, I am heartened to read his words. Underneath the general warmth and openness of the community, there is at times an appearance of an insiders’ game–one laced with longstanding relationships, inside jokes, old grudges, and “we’ve already learned that” attitudes than can be off-putting to newcomers.
What we all must remember is that an inwardly focused, insular community cannot grow, innovate, or overcome the natural incompleteness, indeterminacy, and entropy growth of any closed system. New perspective and growth of knowledge can only be added from an outside the current system–whether that’s from introduction of new people, or from an old hand’s willingness to shatter the status quo and re-forge a new system. I think Boyd’s premise of Destruction and Creation applies here. To quote:
“Taken together, these…notions [incompleteness, indeterminacy, and the 2nd law of thermodynamics] support the idea that any inward-oriented and continued effort to improve the match-up of concept with observed reality will only increase the degree of mismatch. Naturally, in this environment, uncertainty and disorder will increase…. Put another way, we can expect unexplained and disturbing ambiguities, uncertainties, anomalies, or apparent inconsistencies to emerge more and more often. Furthermore, unless some kind of relief is available, we can expect confusion to increase until disorder approaches chaos…”
Boyd hypothesized that the solution to this cycle of disorder and confusion was to apply a continuing process of destructive deduction (analysis) and creative induction (synthesis) to create new paradigms or mental models. The destruction flows from the shattering of rigid conceptual patterns and deductive analysis into individual elements; the creation results from the inductive synthesis of “finding common qualities, attributes, or operations to link isolated facts, perceptions, ideas, impressions, interactions, observations, etc. together as possible concepts.”
Our ability to start the dialectic cycle of destruction and creation necessary to expand the knowledge and concepts used to describe our expanding world of observed reality flows directly from the ability to shatter rigid conceptual patterns. In other words, the ability to accept the possibility of being wrong–to throw out a new idea, to listen to a newcomer’s perspective–is the cornerstone to our community’s ability to expand our understanding of coffee, of our business, of our world.
James has touched eloquently on THE essence of how we can grow and thrive. All of what we can do for ourselves, our community, our environment starts with our ability to humbly open ourselves to new ideas, new thoughts, new people. To quote a home roaster turned professional roaster and cafe owner Mike McGinnis—
“Ultimately the quest for Koffee Nirvana is a solitary path. To know I must first not know. And in knowing know I know not. Each Personal enlightenment found exploring the many divergent foot steps of Those who have gone before.”
I put forth that our knowledge and growth hinges on our ability to collect and share our solitary paths–rigorously examining each others’ lessons and mistakes without prejudice–for we cannot hope to learn all the lessons on our own.
Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever or whatever abysses nature leads, or you will learn nothing. –Thomas H. Huxley