salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! In case any of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī are wondering, Saturday’s trip to the Apple Store was very productive – though we do have to return in a few days when the replacement part arrives. Whenever I’m there (and there’s not one in town, so it’s not a spur-of-the-moment trip for us), I’m always overwhelmed with the care the company has taken to make it a delightful, enjoyable experience. So many interesting, beautiful things to look at, and no pressure to buy!
Obviously the Tres Columnae Project is very different from an iPhone or an iPad (though I’m told it runs and displays beautifully on both). But I would love to be able to bottle and borrow some of their essence – or some of the essence of the other truly visionary, amazing companies that stand out in today’s hyper-competitive, but oddly homogeneous commercial world. I recently finished a remarkable book that explores the connection between hyper-competition and homogeneity: Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd, by Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon. Her thesis is that when organizations are excessively focused on what their competitors are doing, they naturally tend to emulate each other … just as people who discover an area of weakness tend to focus on improving it, sometimes to the exclusion of building up their strengths. In both cases, the ironic result of focusing on perceived differences is increased sameness! Sometimes you actually get less of what you focus on.
This recent post at Fireside Learning comes at the issue from a different angle, but I especially like her idea of a “reflective or internal focus” that can emerge in a learning environment without an “over-emphasis on searching for the right answer.” Just as companies and other organizations fall into undifferentiated sameness when they focus obsessively on competing with each other, I think teachers and learners squelch our creativity when we focus obsessively on “right answers” rather than … rather than what? Asking the right questions? Providing freedom to generate good questions? Creating beautiful, engaging things together? I’m afraid we’re so answer-focused that it’s hard to imagine or verbalize the alternatives … but I do think the Tres Columnae Project’s vision of a Joyful Learning Community is a big part of that different vision. Powerful things to think about as a new school year is approaching!
And in my case, that new school year is approaching rapidly! If you’re reading this post “live,” I’m celebrating my last “day of freedom” before the start of a new school year with a short trip to look at houses. Yes, I realize the obvious connections with Caelius and Vipsania’s renovations! There’s nothing wrong with the current house; in fact, the family has truly enjoyed it for the past six years, and we continue to like the lot and the overall location. On the other hand, as I think about the future of Tres Columnae Project, it would be nice to have a dedicated space to serve as a home office. The current bonus room fills many purposes, and so does the comfortable sofa on which I’m sitting as I write the draft of this post. But neither the bonus room nor the sofa is, or can be, completely dedicated to Tres Columnae; they both fill many other necessary functions. So we’re starting to think about a differently-configured house … it would be nice to have a screened porch, for example. Today’s trip involves three charming-looking older houses, any of which would probably be able to provide more living space, more working space for Tres Columnae, and a lower overall cost than the current house. They’re also very different from each other … perhaps because they all date to a time when people built and designed houses that they wanted to live in, rather than houses that would compete with the other builders’ products.
We’ll see what happens, of course. Sometimes a house that looks charming and lovely on the outside, as these three do, turns out to be something very different on the inside! As Dr. Moon points out, companies and products that really are different from the “competitive herd” aren’t for everybody. They’re perfect for some people and completely wrong for others – and that will probably prove to be true of at least one (and maybe all three) of these interesting old houses. The good news is that there’s no immediate pressure to move. If and when the time is right, we’ll know.
As I was writing the draft of this post, I saw a number of ways that these themes of sameness and difference – and the related theme of competition – relate to our current set of stories. Caelius and Vipsānia embark on their home renovation project for a number of competitive reasons:
- As we saw in the first story in the sequence, she is apparently upset when she compares their vīlla to the much grander house of their friend in Rome.
- She also probably feels as though she has to compete for Caelius’ attention, as we saw in stories like this one and this one.
- From our perspective, there seems to be a big competition for control between them, though I’m sure a Roman wouldn’t have expressed this notion in our terms.
- And as it turns out, there’s some competition between Frontō architectus and his brother Marcus the contractor.
As you’ll see in today’s story, which you can now find here on the Version Alpha Wiki site, they have an interesting relationship as siblings often do:
paucīs post hōrīs, Frontō ex equō suō dēscendit et urbem Herculāneum ingreditur. celerrimē per viās urbis contendit. ad officīnam, ubi M. Iūlius Frontō redēmptor labōrāre solet, mox advenit. Frontō iānuam officīnae pulsat et “heus! mī frāter! Quīntus Iūlius Frontō architectus adsum! nūntium optimum tibi ferō!”
servī, quī in officīnā labōrant, verba architectī audiunt, sed nihil respondent. tamen ūnus ē servīs, Celerrimus nōmine, “vah!” exclāmat, “fortasse mē decet surgere et iānuam aperīre.” Celerrimus lentē per officīnam prōgreditur et iānuam tandem Frontōnī aperit. “quis iānuam pulsat?” rogat. “cūr in viā clāmātur?”
Frontō attonitus, “Celerrime,” exclāmat, “sine dubiō pessimus omnium servōrum es! nōnne Quīntus Iūlius Frontō architectus ipse adsum, dominī tuī frāter? nōnne iterum iterumque iānuam pulsō et vōs quaerō? nōnne vōs servōs omnēs decet vapulāre, quod verba mea contemnitis? heus! ubi est dominus tuus?”
Celerrimus, quī tālēs minās tōtam per vītam nunc iam solet, haudquāquam timet. “mī domine,” respondet, “ignōsce mihi, quaesō! strēnuē labōrāmus servī, quod dominō nostrō pārēre cōnāmur. vōcem tuam haud agnōvimus, verba haud intellēximus, quod strēnuē labōrābāmus. quaesō, mī domine, officīnam intrā et sedē. mē decet dominum meum tibi quaerere.”
Frontō laetus minārum oblīviscitur et officīnam ingreditur. in sellā splendidā, in quā frāter sedēre solet, statim cōnsīdit. Celerrimus per officīnam contendit dominum suum quaesītum. Frontō redēmptor enim tesserās dīligenter īnspicit. “heus!” exclāmat, “istae tesserae haud virīdēs sunt!” mercātor, quī tesserās vēndere vult, respondēre incipit; Frontō redēmptor tamen haec īrātissimus interpellat: “fūr sceleste! nōlī mē vexāre! nōlī umquam revenīre mihi ista vēnditum! exī, exī nunc!” mercātor tesserās tollit et celerrimē per postīcum ēgreditur.
tum Celerrimus servus, “domine,” inquit, “frāter tuus advenit tē salūtātum. in officīnā nunc iam sedet. ‘nūntium optimum’ tibi fert.” et Frontō redēmptor, “nūntium optimum? nūntium optimum! sī dūcentī dēnāriōs, quōs mihi hōs quattuor annōs dēbet, iste sēcum portat, nūntium optimum rē vērā mihi fert. num tū vīnum istī dedistī? num cibum obtulistī? num sōlum relīquistī?” Celerrimus, “mī domine,” respondet, “haud stultus sum! tibi tamen festīnandum est, quod iste in sellā tuā nunc iam sedet.”
et Frontō, “vae sellae meae!” exclāmat. “sine dubiō iste frāter eam vel frēgit vel abstulit!”
quid respondētis, amīcī?
- Again, you probably noticed that we have relatively few examples of non-present-tense verbs. Have we used them effectively and appropriately?
- What do you think of our commitment to use “new things” gradually rather than intensively?
- As for the story itself, what do you think of the relationship between the Frontō brothers?
- Do you have any new insights into Frontō architectus? Or any new predictions about the outcome of the renovations?
Tune in next time, when the brothers develop a proposal, which they’ll present to Caelius and Vipsānia in the story we feature on Wednesday. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.