Toyota Taking the Lead

For a decade or so I have been saying terrible things about our automobile companies, and for a couple of years I have been saying them here. (Bullshitting in the Economist is a suitably provocative example. You can search the blog for automobile, Toyota, or Detroit and you’ll get a bunch more.)

Now Toyota is about to pass GM as the #1 auto company in the world. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are not catching up. They are headed in the other direction. Yes, I know the same old excuses are still on the table, to which now we see added “this unexpected economic turnaround.” “Who could possibly have predicted….?” Anyone who was paying attention. Many are culpable. The auto executives, who stopped thinking and learning a long time ago. The media, who have been buying the excuses. The rest of us, who have not spoken out early enough or strongly enough. Our American style of bravado, in which, Rocky style, we praise what is “ours” no matter how obviously troubled it may be.

Business Week, in a December article about the world’s most influential companies, doesn’t spend much space on their automobiles. They tout the way that the quality of thinking in the company is being applied to other fields. Healthcare in this case. (Anne Miller gave me the article.)

Toyota deserves the praise it is getting. What a pity that with 50 years to listen to them – and they have been talking to us for that long, and they have not been hiding their secrets under baskets – we still don’t know how to listen to them.

Argh.

I would appreciate your help

As I noted a few days ago, my colleagues and I at CareCyte have posted a proposal to the Obama Healthcare team, inviting them to undertake a project that we believe would significantly reduce healthcare costs at the same time that it improved quality, and, simultaneously, because we would be using automobile-style manufacturing processes, make a huge contribution to the automobile and steel industries in the U.S.

(Roald Laurenson reminds me that it is not so easy to find the proposal in the way that I pointed to it.  So I put this link to the proposal in this posting. Thank you Roald!)

I would really appreciate it if you would take a look at the proposal and help us raise it to the attention of the new administration. You can leave your comment on the Change.gov website.

To see how to do that, click here.

Thank you very much!

Chauncey

An Invitation from Fernando Flores

My friend Fernando Flores (see here, here, and here, and, for readers of Spanish or those who know how to get a web page translated, see here) briefed me last week about his new venture. I asked him to send me something in writing about what he is doing, and I reprint below substantially all of what he sent me. I recommend you read his invitation and consider it carefully.

Dear Chauncey:

As we discussed, I am in the process of starting a new enterprise that takes the work that we have done together in the past to the “next frontier” if you will, by putting it in the center of what people need to cope and thrive in the reality of our world today.

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Important Advance in Oral Health

I have had severe gum disease since I was in my late 20s. I brought it on with a combination of poor home care and smoking. I have evidence that 0steoporosis and some poor orthodontia contributed to my difficulties. Of course, as a dutiful son, I held my mother responsible. She always got a laugh out of that.

Along the way I have discovered that a lot of people suffer with difficulties with oral health – cavities or periodontal disease. The published numbers say that more than 5% of those over 35 have moderate gum disease. By the time you get to my age, more than 10% of the population have at least moderate gum disease.

The real problem is some wicked little bacteria that like to live in pockets and create mischief in our mouths. And, recent research has shown, that mischief in our mouths can contribute to even more serious difficulties in other parts of the body, including the heart.

Some friends of mine have developed and just released a probiotic product that puts into the mouth a combination of “good bacteria” which, when ingested as directed (and alongside appropriate home care) will effectively eliminate gum disease and dental caries. Side effects that they promise include fresh breath and whiter teeth….

I have just ordered my first supply of the product, EvoraPlus from ONI Biopharma, Inc. They have an offer where if you set up automatic reorders they pay shipping. In a few weeks or months this product will be available in your local Drugstore.

If you have any concerns at all about the health of your mouth, your teeth, or your gums, I recommend you join me in using this product.

Full disclosure: Stanley Stein, the CEO of ONI BioPharma, is chief strategist for CareCyte, and I serve on the board of directors of ONI BioPharma’s Mexican subsidiary.

Violinist in the Metro

My friend Alan Solinger alerted me to this striking story. One of the world’s best violinists, dressed as a street person, played for 45 minutes in a Washington DC Metro station during rush hour. No one recognized him. He collected some tips, and the most interested listener may have been a small child. No one stopped and really listened. Read the whole story. It’s amazing. What conclusions would you draw about the way we listen in our world today?

Think you know how to be responsible for your money?

My friend Fran Quittel has the background, the discipline, and the diligence to do the homework about what it will take to be responsible for your money in the world that is coming to us. By “be responsible” I am talking about the basics – finding out about the rules of the road at your local financial institution. What can you count on your bank (or credit card issuer, or insurance company, or …) to tell you, and what do you need to plan to dig to find out. The situation is getting hairier and hairier.

What do you need to do to exercise minimal, prudent vigilance over your money? Rest assured that you cannot trust today’s financial institutions, as a general rule, to exercise good judgment in your behalf, to act on intentions that are built around your concerns, or, to put it succinctly, to treat you as a customer. The bad joke of the recent election – capitalism for the masses, socialism for the financial elites – describes our current situation, not one that is in our past.

Read Fran’s essay in a recent issue of the California Progress Report, here.

Lovely Interview with Eric Schmidt

Lavinia Weissman showed me this interview with the Google CEO on “Google’s view on the future of business,” executed and presented by McKinsey & Co. Get it here. Click on “Launch Interactive” just under the drawing of Eric Schmidt. Be patient. It takes time to load. See if you can figure out how to listen to it. Move your cursor around on the page, and click on the little arrows to listen to the different parts of the interview.

Schmidt talks about:

  • Changing competition
  • The “long tail”
  • Making money
  • Evolving management
  • The nature of innovation
  • Strategic platforms and global standards

I find what he has to say lucid, elegant, concise, and very worthwhile. Pay particular attention to his comments on evolving management.

See what you think.

ACM Publishes CB’s Paper on Design

A version of my essay on difficulties with design was published last week by the Association for Computing Machinery in their journal, Ubiquity. Ubiquity, in the words of the ACM, ‘is a Web-based publication of the Association for Computing Machinery, dedicated to fostering critical analysis and in-depth commentary on issues relating to the nature, constitution, structure, science, engineering, cognition, technology, practices and paradigms of the computing profession. Ubiquity is concerned with helping us see what we do not see. Ubiquity looks for novel perspectives on what is going on in the core of our field. Ubiquity looks also to the edges of our field and beyond, seeking the perspectives of those in other fields who are impacted by computing. We need to know about what they think.’

I am honored and pleased to see this essay published by the ACM, and invite your reading and comments.

You can see the ACM’s announcement of the essay here, and the essay itself is published here.

Thanks to Peter Denning for making this possible.

Dealing with Jet Lag

My niece is traveling to Israel this week, and her mother asked me to make suggestions about how to avoid jet lag. She knows that I have traveled above 4 1/2 million miles in my years. (If you divide 4,500,000 by 300 you’ll get the number of hours I have spent in airline seats.)

So I sat down to write a few lines on what to do to cope with it; I doubt there is any way to avoid it. A little later, I discovered that I had written a lot of stuff, and my wife Shirah suggested I post it here as others might find what I had written useful. Here is what I said:

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Preparing the Way for Wisdom in Organizations – Part 5

Continuing the set of six tiny essays inviting reflection about the construction of the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings.

“Inventing” Waste

Historic inventions are often built from historic difficulties, and they always involve the invention of new distinctions. We have posted about the “Five Great Wastes” before, here.

Let us give two examples in which critical new distinctions of historic inventions have to do with what people at the time thought of as “wastes.”

Henry Ford, Mass Production, and the Model T

At the turn of the 20th century automobiles were expensive toys available only to the very rich. Henry Ford invented practices that we summarize as “mass production” and the “Model T.” He succeeded thereby in making automobiles less expensive and more accessible to the average American worker. At the same time, he produced a way of doubling the income of American Workers, thereby giving them the income to purchase the Model T. Ford’s new system produced cars quickly and so efficiently that it considerably lowered the cost of assembling the cars. He decided to pass this savings along to his customers, and in 1915 dropped the price of the Model T from $850 to $290. That year, he sold 1 million cars. (Parts of the story from http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventors/ford.htm.)

Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System

At the end of the Second World War, the people of Japan were in terrible trouble, their morale, productive capacity, and international relations demolished. An engineer named Taiichi Ohno, in the enterprise today known as Toyota, began the task of building a new capacity for Japanese production on top of Henry Ford’s designs, with some important additions. For example, Ford incorporated everything into one plant; Ohno designed for operation in a network. The operational heart of Ford’s designs was the way the engineers designed the coordination of the work on the assembly line (the employees found the repetition boring and only stayed because of what Ford called the ‘wage motive.’) Ohno centered his design in processes that built the capacity of each person on the production floor to take responsibility for the quality and coordination of their work. His invention became the foundation of the quality movement that swept the world starting in the 1970s and 80s.

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Concerned about Healthcare? Watch this!

Last week I had my first meeting with my new primary care doctor. He works with Qliance Medical Group here in Seattle. I cannot tell you how pleased I am with their services. I have already recommended here looking at what they do.

On March 26th, Dr. Garrison Bliss, who founded Qliance Medical, spoke to the Washington Association of Health Underwriters about the situation of healthcare in the US, and what to do about it. If you are concerned about healthcare, for yourself or for the nation, or for both, I strongly recommend listening to this talk. Listen here.

Below I have paraphrased a little of what he said, as a teaser. The talk is really excellent.

Bliss asks, Why do we have the healthcare system we have? His answer: we designed the system to work this way, albeit not with the intention of producing the results we have produced.

He asks, with the current system, who wins?

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Revised on Problems with “Compumorphizing”

(We revised and re-posted this on April 21st.)

In response to my posting on Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk, my son Nicolas posted a comment. “Papa,” he said,

“I know that this take on the human being as processor (Pentium 17) really gets your Heideggerian goat. If I recall correctly, this is the approach that has taken over university philosophy departments, leaving guys like Rorty to sneak Nietzsche into literature classes. I wonder if you would say why you so dislike the compumorphizing interpretation? What kinds of problems do you see this interpretation producing in the world? (My italics.)

I am going to attempt to answer the biggest questions I think Nicolas is asking.

In my interpretation, he is touching on one of the central questions of the great spiritual and intellectual traditions. His question, ‘What kinds of problems are produced by poor interpretations about what human beings are?’ sits alongside what I consider the most important questions for us as human beings: Who are we? What are we doing here? and How best to use the short time that we have here?

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Remembering Francisco Varela

Thanks to the passionate involvement with certain questions and communities of my wife Shirah and my friends Jon and Tova Ramer, I had the opportunity last week to visit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu (at the Seeds of Compassion Event, in the company of a lot of other people).

Video feeds of the many parts of this extraordinary event are already available on the Internet. Go here. I particularly recommend the video of the morning of Tuesday April 15th. You have to scroll down in the window entitled, “EVENT GUIDE” to select it.

Francisco Varela, of blessed memory, “sat beside me” while I was there. I kept remembering him. Fernando Flores introduced me to Varela. As a scientific advisor to the Dalai Lama, Varela was instrumental in starting the fruitful exploration being supported by the Mind and Life Institute.

Here is Francisco talking about his life’s work:

“I guess I’ve had only one question all my life. Why do emergent selves, virtual identities, pop up all over the place creating worlds, whether at the mind/body level, the cellular level, or the transorganism level? This phenomenon is something so productive that it doesn’t cease creating entirely new realms: life, mind, and societies. Yet these emergent selves are based on processes so shifty, so ungrounded, that we have an apparent paradox between the solidity of what appears to show up and its groundlessness. That, to me, is a key and eternal question.

“As a consequence, I’m interested in the nervous system, cognitive science, and immunology, because they concern the processes that can answer the question of what biological identity is. How can you have some kind of identity that simultaneously allows you to know something, allows cells to configure their own relevant world, the immune system to generate the identity of our body in its own way, and the brain to be the basis for a mind, a cognitive identity? All these mechanisms share a common theme.”

And here he is speaking about his dream of a peaceful future of survival and dignity for everyone on the planet:

“If everybody would agree that their current reality is A reality, and that what we essentially share is our capacity for constructing a reality, then perhaps we could all agree on a meta-agreement for computing a reality that would mean survival and dignity for everyone on the planet, rather than each group being sold on a particular way of doing things.”

Argh, but we miss you, Francisco.

I Suggest: Read Glenn Greenwald’s Blog

Today I added a link in this blog to Glenn Greenwald’s blog. Over the past months I have been deeply impressed with what he pays attention to, and with the quality of his comments on the situation in the US and the world. Last week I followed carefully his direct criticism of the recent duplicity of the newly appointed Attorney General of the United States, and decided to cite his blog in mine. Today Greenwald has done a scathing characterization of the state of the media in the country, and I want to call attention to it.

This is not a political blog. I am committed not to speak casually about things to which many people that I appreciate and respect are paying serious attention, and I am also committed not to “vote” or pass around opinions in this blog. On the other hand, I consider the construction of the public agenda (which is what I understand politics to be really about) fundamental to the question of “Social, Commercial, and Technological Invention” that is, after all, what I said was the focus of this blog.

Here is how Glenn Greenwald begins his posting on the media today:

The U.S. establishment media in a nutshell

In the past two weeks, the following events transpired. A Department of Justice memo, authored by John Yoo, was released which authorized torture and presidential lawbreaking. It was revealed that the Bush administration declared the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to be inapplicable to “domestic military operations” within the U.S. The U.S. Attorney General appears to have fabricated a key event leading to the 9/11 attacks and made patently false statements about surveillance laws and related lawsuits. Barack Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania and had a low score.

Here are the number of times, according to NEXIS, that various topics have been mentioned in the media over the past thirty days:

“Yoo and torture” – 102

“Mukasey and 9/11” — 73

“Yoo and Fourth Amendment” — 16

“Obama and bowling” — 1,043

“Obama and Wright” — More than 3,000 (too many to be counted)

“Obama and patriotism” – 1,607

“Clinton and Lewinsky” — 1,079

Ouch.

In a book review (also in today’s Salon) entitled Can Stephen Colbert save America? Louis Bayard quotes Stephen Colbert from his White House Correspondents roast, on the subject of how the media works at the White House:

“Here’s how it works,” Colbert explained. “The president makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home … Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know — fiction!”

I pray for the continued health of Mark Twain’s spirit. The rest of the book review is worth reading as well.

To see Greenwald’s whole posting, click on the title “The US Establishment….” To see the book review, click on the title “Can Stephen Colbert ….”

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

I offer homage to Waylon Jennings, for his song which echoes in my head as I think about what I want to say here, to Joe Alberti, the acting and drama coach whose comment I have been interacting with, and which inspired this posting, to Fernando Flores, teacher and mentor, and to Greg and Margaret and Shirah, faithful partners for reflection.

This posting has a moral: Be bloody careful about the language in which you make important interpretations, or your language will “invent you” as something you may not be happy with. Winston Churchill, in a speech in the House of Commons on October 28, 1944, said, “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” (http://drmardy.com tells us that Churchill made the speech during the rebuilding of the House of Commons, after it sustained heavy bombing damage during the Battle of Britain.)

  • Paraphrasing his words and idea, we say,

    We shape our language (our interpretations of the world, and the moods and distinctions in which we listen and speak), and afterwards our language shapes us.

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  • Comment on Jill Bolte Taylor’s Impressive TED Talk

    (After listening to reactions from several reviewers I edited this post on Friday April 4th.)

    Over the last week several people sent me links to this video. After reviewing and reflecting, I concluded that I wanted to say something about it. Ms. Taylor’s talk is brilliantly done, compelling, and potent. I find it poetically inspiring. At the same time, I want to take advantage of what she did as an opportunity to distinguish something of how we moderns think, (and don’t think) about important things in our lives.

    So start by watching the talk by clicking on the link in the first sentence above. It takes about 20 minutes. This narrative is brought to us by a person interpreting and presenting herself as a scientist. Manifestly she is a scientist, but most of what she is doing is not science. In a nutshell, Taylor recounts how she arrived at brain science as a career, how she underwent a massive brain hemorrhage, how she experienced that event, and the conclusions she developed from that experience.

    Ms. Taylor has a passionate, poetic sense of life, and she has undergone a unique experience. Her talk gathers awesome force and credence from the combination of her professional credentials, from the way she describes her experience of her own stroke, and from the actual physical presentation of a human brain on the stage. She inspires her listeners, calling on us to pay attention and commit ourselves to important human possibilities and values.

    I have struggled to understand what bothers me about the talk. When I first wrote about it, most of my readers interpreted that I was put off by the fact that she “clothes” the talk in the language of science, while at the same time she is doing good poetry. I don’t think that is the source of my interest in the talk. Rather, after several days of reflection and listening to it several times, I think the issue for me is that this can represent a waste of an important educational opportunity. Rather than opening us to an important new direction for thinking about the human experience, I fear that this talk will produce a kind of ecstatic tranquilization. And, because its poetry and showmanship is so good, it may be a strong misdirection.

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    Wise Organizations? Continued …

    To see the earlier parts of this long posting which reflects on the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings, click on the links below. To get back to this page, click on the title of the blog in the upper left.

    Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

    We are continuing the set of six tiny essays inviting reflection about the construction of the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings.

    Preparing for Ethical Action

    The concern for action is central to the question of wisdom, and there is a direct relationship between the exercise of wisdom and ethics. Let’s take these one at a time. Wisdom has more to do with action and less to do with dry abstraction than a casual look at many traditions would have us believe. Even the extraordinarily rigorous contemplative activities frequently found in the practices of some wisdom traditions, when carefully examined, will be found to have to do with getting prepared for taking or being involved in action. We meditate, contemplate, and the like in order to be prepared to take action, or to support others taking action when the moment for action arrives.

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    Wise Organizations? Continued…

    Preparing the Way for Wisdom in Organizations – Part 2c

    We have been talking about language-action and the constitution of organizations. To see the earlier parts of this long posting which reflects on the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings, click on the links below. To get back to this page, click on the title of the blog in the upper left.

    Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

    Next we turn to the implications of language-action for the design of systems. In their book Understanding Computers and Cognition, Fernando Flores and Terry Winograd outlined a three point theory of management and conversation in their that shows well many of the features of how software designs could embody the insights we are exploring here:

    1. “Organizations exist as networks of directives and commissives.” Directives include orders, requests, consultations, and offers; commissives include promises, acceptances, and rejections. (These names for performative verbs are from a different taxonomy than I use and present here, but the reader will see the relationships.)
    2. “Breakdowns will inevitably occur, and the organization needs to be prepared. In coping with breakdowns, further networks of directives and commissives are generated.”
    3. “People in an organization (including, but not limited to managers) issue utterances, by speaking or writing, to develop the conversations required in the organizational network. They participate in the creation and maintenance of a process of communication. At the core of this process is the performance of linguistic acts that bring forth different kinds of commitments.” (Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. p. 157.)

    Flores and Winograd claim (and I am convinced that their claim is a good one) that the classical idea of decision-making is not well supported phenomenologically. (In ordinary language, this fancy expression means “bad theory” or “the evidence doesn’t fit the claims,” or, “that dog won’t hunt.” The problem is that when people are talking about decision making it appears to all concerned that they know what they are talking about, and, in fact, normally they do not.) Flores and Winograd recommended substituting the notion of ‘dealing with irresolution’ and supporting people in coming to resolution. (Ibid, p 144ff.)

    Stay tuned. More to come.

    © Copyright Chauncey Bell, 2003-4. All rights reserved worldwide.
    Copyright © 2005, Idea Group Inc. Copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of Idea Group Inc. is prohibited.

    The Challenge of Changing Behaviors

    [We revised this posting on Wednesday 26 March.]

    This posting is inspired by the questions Joe Alberti asked here. Joe teaches theatre and acting, and is working on a PhD. Some time ago he began studying wierd stuff – the writings of Fernando Flores and Humberto Maturana in particular. I like the heart of Joe’s question: the central challenge he faces is changing the orientations, ways of thinking and acting – the behaviors – of the people with whom he works. That is the central challenge that a lot of us face.

    Frequently people speak of “those not under our control” as emblematic of this challenge. The way we talk about work in modern organizations produces the illusion that we have some people under our control, and others not. This is an illusion. We don’t control cats, we don’t control goats, we don’t control dogs, we don’t control horses, and we don’t control human beings. We dance with them in consensual spaces. (Yes, I agree that there are places and situations in the world where, effectively, people move with guns held at their heads. That is not the common situation in the developed world today.)

    The overall challenge is to design reliable structures in which the right kinds of actions can happen when people are working together.

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    An Impressive Start on a New Service Delivery Model

    Today I began the process of signing up for a new kind of primary healthcare services. What I am signing up for has not been available in most of the US since I was a child. I will have a primary care doctor who will be available for appointments on the day I call, or the next day, 7 days a week, and available by phone when I need help. The doctor will meet me in their office, and not in a hospital. The doctor will track my health with me, and advise me on how to design my life so that I can remain healthy to do the things I want to do in my life. Of course, the doctor takes time off, and if I get sick when he or she does, I will be served by one of their colleagues. For this service I will pay $55/month.

    I will maintain my health insurance, because this is primary care we are talking about, and not care for what we pray we will not encounter – the terrible illnesses in which we might need the dangerous and formidably expensive services of a big hospital. But I will increase my deductible massively so that the cost of that insurance will come down from its current level of $1,000+/month for Shirah and me. After we finish balancing the various services I will pay a lot less for healthcare than I do today, and I will get far, far better service.

    You can see what I am signing up for here, and you can see the inventor of the service talking about his invention here. I recommend you think about this as an important start on a new future for healthcare in the US. It looks simple, and on the surface very similar to what is already done. It is not the same; this is a radical departure from the approach found throughout the country today. One place where you can grasp the difference is that my new doctor will have under 1,000 patients, and a “normal” primary care physician will have 3-4,000 patients. The service I am signing up for is currently available only in Seattle, but it will expand rapidly to other parts of the country.

    For some time now I have been preparing a new company, CareCyte. My colleagues and I at CareCyte have been speculating about and beginning the design of a new kind of primary care that is desperately needed here in the US and in many other parts of the world. The group that I am signing up with is working on the third generation of a design to address the same challenge we have been working on. They have arrived at the point where they are preparing to scale an effective new approach to primary care services that fits beautifully with what we have been preparing ourselves to do. And, better yet, they are our neighbors here in Seattle. We hope to help them spread this across the country by providing a new standard of high-quality facilities for healthcare service delivery at lower costs, and much faster than has been possible in the past.

    Now about listening …

    From TED, again. Margaret McIntyre referenced this in a comment, but it is too good to be buried there. Here is a glorious example of what our friend Fernando Flores called the difference between listening — the act of interpretive attunement to the concerns of another human being — and hearing — the mechanics of receiving potentially meaningful signals of one sort or another.

    “In this soaring demonstration, deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie leads the audience through an exploration of music not as notes on a page, but as an expression of the human experience. Playing with sensitivity and nuance informed by a soul-deep understanding of and connection to music, she talks about a music that is more than sound waves perceived by the human ear. She illustrates a richer picture that begins with listening to yourself, and includes emotion and intent as well as the complex role of physical spaces — instrument, concert hall and even the bones and body cavities of musician and listener alike.” (Quoted from the TED introduction to the event.)