Building 20

Nobody would have guessed and nobody tried to guess either.  The hodgepodge of Building 20 was the result of simple expedience and neglect.  Where did MIT put disciplines that didn’t fit, researchers who had no clout, projects that made no money, student hobbyists, and anything and anyone else that just didn’t seem to matter?  In the cheapest, nastiest space they could find.  If Building 20 hadn’t been a mess, these strange collaborations might never have happened.*
(Tim Harford)

Building 20 had seen the development of some of the most amazing radar technology during World War II.  Designed and built quickly, it was full of design and safety problems and was to be torn down at the end of the war.  But a stay of demolition led to it becoming the skunkworks for technologies from video games to Bose and it was only finally demolished more than fifty years later.

There’s no denying that it was an ugly, ungainly building.  And there’s no denying these were still very smart people who were to later inhabit its spaces.  We are, though, provided with a powerful metaphor or story for what can happen when people find a place to quietly get on with the things they love doing in proximity to people who do different things with similar passion.

We may think those in control know what they’re doing.  That’s why they are in control, right?  Often, though, they may have unwittingly paid their dues to the machine, to the system, and they are in all the way to their souls.

The rest of us keep quiet when really we ought to be finding our Building 20.

Viktor Frankl, survivor of Nazi labour camps and death camps wrote:

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances but only by lack off meaning or purpose.”**

We find the same sentiment in Paulo Coelho’s Aleph pondering life without a cause:

“After all, a life without a cause is a life without effect.”^

Building 20 found itself being crammed full of meaning and purpose and therefore with effect.

(One place we can find an expression of Building 20 is in the Presencing Institute’s U.Lab.  You can check out what this is about here but part of the experience is to connect to a local hub and/or coaching circle.  Interestingly, it’s also based at MIT.)

(*From Tim Harford’s Messy.)
(**Viktor Frankl, quoted in Dan Ariely’s Payoff.)
(^From Paulo Coelho’s Aleph.


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