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the_time

A simple truth is this:
When a day is gone, it is gone to never return again.

From the perspective of creative work it means that whatever you have left undone, it remains undone until the next possibility comes.

Time is precious.

When time leaks between your fingers, it is your responsibility to take a hold on it. Time is not a resource as we sometimes assume because we can neither create nor buy more time. Of course, we may be assigned more time to finish a project but it is either due to an ineffective management or a necessity for a better / more complex solution than we currently have.

If you are a person whose progress and work depends on deep thought, guard your time with all your might.

If you are a group leader or manager, your role is to co-create the conditions under which your colleagues work effectively and efficiently, making substantial progress. Guard their time with all your mights.

The challenge is this

People who manage others usually forget how it is to work on multiple projects that require a deep thought and focus. Managers’ days are gone fast, split into small chunks of time, perhaps of 15 or 30 min each. Within these short intervals, they jump between conversations, talks and meetings, and deal with their derivatives such as emails, phone calls, brief readings, short writings or small talks. They need a fast switch between the tasks and a short-span focus. Small talks or humor in between are purposeful because they are refreshing and relieve tension.

On the contrary, thinkers or creative workers, such as programmers, designers, researchers, scientists, analyzers, medical doctors, writers, artists or engineers require uninterrupted chunks of devoted time of a considerable length, say 4h, at least.

Why?

Because it takes a lot of time to reach a deep focus, and even more time to understand what the question or the next step is before taking a small step forward. While some people are able to reach it within 30min, many will need an hour or two. This is both a personal skill as well as the multitude and variety of deep thought involvements in projects a person has to run. The stakes are really high!

Currently, many people have to juggle as many as 10 to 20 projects at a time and each of them of a considerable complexity and difficulty. Small talks are detrimental to the progress and to the person’s ability to conserve energy because they kick him/her out of the Flow.

How can such people deliver creative solutions if they are interrupted by meetings, discussions, calls to action, small talks, courtesy talks, messaging and so on?

Do you realize that any interruption to focused people often wastes a considerable amount of their time and progress? After a short conversation, it may again take them an hour or more to return to the same level of thinking as it was before you interrupted them.

But … what if a meeting is still awaiting ahead? All the time may be lost if there is only little time left before the meeting. Why? Because it would not make much sense to start the real work if a thinker knows, will soon be interrupted.

The goals of creative workers and their managers/supervisors are totally opposite (think marathon runners versus short distance runners), a few tasks and a long term focus versus multiple tasks and short-span focus.

Simple strategies

The next time you knock on sb’s else door or come to start a talk with your team member, ask yourself whether the issue you have at hand is of such importance that it potentially justifies the total waste of their efforts today.

If your progress depends on the quality of your thinking, take all the necessary steps to prevent interruptions. These may involve actions such as:

  • A note on your door indicating when and how you prefer to be interrupt
  • Personal communication to all members of your team, asking them not to approach your with a small talk
  • Using noise-removal headphones to remove all the background distractions
  • Request to your manager to group the meetings or talks together, ideally first thing in the morning or just after the lunch
  • Working from home, or
  • Shifting hours of work

If you are a manager, your main task is to lead the projects and the group towards progress. It highly depends on the ability of your colleagues to maintain deep focus in order to create the solutions your company needs. Meetings severely interfere with the productivity and creativity of your workers.

Even a meeting of 10min, say 2h after the start of the day, may destroy all the progress made in these hours. What is even worse, many creative people may not even start the thinking process because if they have too little time, say one hour before the meeting, they know it is to little to really do something. Consequently, they will choose to procrastinate than to loose the thinking energy in vain.

Your role is to either create or help create big chunks of undisturbed and uninterrupted time for your workers. Not only that, you need to think how to create a positive and open atmosphere in which work is a pleasure. To improve the situation, your actions may ask you to:

  • Cut on talks, discussions and meetings, and when necessary, group them together and make them brief.
  • Choose brief emails (or perhaps messaging) over personal chats.
  • Choose polls on the web to direct and shorten the discussions when important decisions need to be made.
  • Enable other colleagues to work at home.
  • Raise the team awareness on improving personal focus and efficacy.
  • Introduce time for small talks, chats and humor, e.g. before / after the lunch or before the end of the day, to relax the atmosphere.
  • Schedule short time for personal talks with your team members.

Whether you are paid for creative solutions or managing, choose to value the Time. Of yourself and Others. Become a guardian of the Time. It will pay off.

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To learn how a company can be set and run from homes of creative workers, study the success of the 37Signals company. I recommend reading the Rework book, created by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

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Top photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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moment_when_we_top

 

We have been looking for answers.

What is the point of all this?
What is the essence?

Some say it’s about selfish genes.
Others say it’s about game.

Some say it’s about development.
Others say it’s about enlightenment.

Some say it’s about experience.
Others say it’s about sacrifice.

Some say it’s about success.
Others say it’s about love.

Some say it’s about good and bad.
Others say it’s about salvation.

We are looking for new goals and new challenges.

We hope a new job will give us satisfaction.
We hope children will add meaning to our lives.
We hope degrees and diplomas will make us rich. 
We hope a new car will make us happy.
We hope exotic holiday will bring us joy.

All these things can bring us joy, happiness and fulfillment, indeed.

Yet, they are not the answer.

Goals are important because we know in which direction we go. We plan, we act and we optimize our efforts.
The road is important because it defines our experience. We either enjoy it or suffer moment by moment.

Yet, the point is not in the goals, not even the road we travel.

The point is in a moment when we stop.

It’s too trivial you may say.

Have you ever climbed a mountain? Or a rock?

When we are walking or climbing towards our destination, we focus on what needs to be done, step by step. There is a plan of action or a routine to follow. There is a sustained effort.

Yet, there is a moment when we stop. Then we take a full breath and look around. We appreciate the beauty and acknowledge what is behind us and what is before us. It is exactly when we stop to become present in the moment.

We appreciate sore legs, pains in the calves, sore fingers from grabbing the rock, or shoulder aches from carrying a backpack. In such a moment we feel fully alive.

We appreciate the goal, the path and the effort.

What is a stop?
It is a moment between our out-breath and our in-breath.
It is a moment we are to wait. For an appointment, a bus or a friend.
It is a moment we become ill. A common cold or a serious disease.
It is a moment we make a turn when we lost our way.
It is a moment we make a choice.

It is a moment of coaching, therapy, massage, dancing, tapping, prayer, pilgrimage, meditation, travel or volunteering.

You may say that none of the above makes sense to you. You may say that such modalities do not work in your life. You tested all the tools and there is no improvement, but only problems and unhappiness. It has become worse instead of better.

How come?

All depends on how the external stimuli affects you. It does not matter what the stimuli is.

Will it make you curious to search for answers so that your inner playfulness is awaken?
Or
Will it make you paralyzed from fear so that aggression is encouraged?

Natural curiosity is one of the greatest inner resources you have. If you suspend disbelief, disappointment, bitterness and grief, your curiosity will open new horizons. And such a curiosity leads to playfulness.

When children are eager to play, they learn fast. The same holds for you.

On the other hand, lack of learning leads to frustration. Fear fires hostility. Rage becomes aggression. When aggression has been suppressed for a long time this self-aggression turns into an autoimmune disease.

When children are timid and uncertain, they are more prone to aggression. The same holds for you.

***
Sometimes the external stimuli is not to your liking. You don’t welcome it, neither appreciate. However, it comes to you and it comes with a powerful impact.

Perhaps your friend betrayed you.
Perhaps you lost your job or a house.
Perhaps your child became a drug addict.
Perhaps you had a car accident because somebody run into you.
Perhaps your parent, friend or a beloved one was diagnosed with cancer.
Perhaps you made a deal with dishonest people and run into huge debts.
Perhaps your company lost liquidity and you are on the way to bankruptcy.
Perhaps your hard disc suddenly crashed burring all your projects, data and files alive.

You are lost.

It is a moment when you stop.

Have you become fearful?

Whatever the difficulties, in the moment we either stop or are made to stop, we can make a choice.

Do we want to subscribe to fear and become bitter, hostile and aggressive? Or, do we want to spark our curiosity to look for new possibilities? Are we searching for transformation or progress? Can we move from glory to glory?

We cannot change the event. The stop is there. But we can change our perception and response.

***

Photo credit Fe Langdon, available under Creative Commons on Flickr.

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you_are_responsible

Today was a day like many others, yet it inspired me for some deep thinking.

In the afternoon, I was going to travel by bus with my kids. There is nothing exceptional about this, except that my kids adore buses and trams. They can easily enjoy a half a day in buses, given that we change them a few times. Yes, they are still pre-schoolers and love simple experiences.

So, we arrived at the bus-stop and had about 7-10 minutes of waiting, even though I usually plan to wait for five minutes at most (otherwise small kids get too impatient).

Today, however, was a different day. We had a bit more time than usual.

At the bus-stop, what I noticed first, was a small, nearly invisible fume coming through the hole of the public trash-bin. I thought the fume was caused by a cigarette which was not properly finished off. I decided it would diminish by itself, which made me decide to ignore this.

I focused on entertaining my kids.

In the following minutes, however, the fume began to grow slowly heavier and darker. Basically, more intense.

It became clear to me that the little fire had started there. Things were not going in the right direction.

Still, I told myself to ignore what was happening and wait for other people at the bus-stop to take action. I justified myself as having kids on board and having to arrive on time for the medical appointment. As a result, I subconsciously waited for somebody else to put down the fire.

There were many potential candidates for action, including teenagers, young men, old men and women.  A kaleidoscope to choose from. Yet …

Nothing happened for a while.

And then it suddenly became crystal clear to me. My conscious thought that had been kicking at the back of my head got sufficient attention. I said to myself “Ela, this is your life and this fire has manifested in your life.  You did not invite it, but it is there. You see it. You know where it leads to. You are responsible for taking action.”

There was no more excuses.

I decided not only to act, but to make it educational. I explained to the kids that there was a fire developing (which they noticed of course, anyway) and we were to play the fire brigade.

I made a little performance and we all run, while making noises (remember we were the fire brigade) to the nearby shop to buy water.  Then we run back to the trash-bin to put down the fire.

We were excited because we had a mission to fulfill. And we put the fire down. I did the job first, but let the kids have their water flushes as well. They felt important and were very pleased, as well.

And, we managed to catch the bus too. It was a few minutes late.

The moral of the story

When you first notice something in your life, don’t pretend it was not there, because of ease or convenience. You are there to act.

***

When a person on a street begs you for money or food, don’t pretend he was not there. You don’t need to give him money, but look into his eyes and respond with respect.

When your car engine begins to make strange sounds, don’t pretend you have not heard that. Perhaps it is the high time for a repair.

When your body communicates to you that something is wrong with your internal organs, don’t neglect the message. Find a way to relax and look for appropriate help.

When you feel that something is really sleazy with your business partner, don’t excuse his non-transparent behavior by tiredness or personal problems. Confront him with your feelings and seek to understand.

When your child is more and more withdrawn, don’t push this thought away. Make the time to listen to her and help her to overcome the difficulties.

When your job is boring or makes you truly unhappy, don’t explain to yourself that this is the way it is supposed to be.  It isn’t. Don’t pretend things will improve one day. They will not. It’s up to you to find a job that brings you joy.

***

No more excuses.

If something shows up in your life – it belongs to your life. When you notice it, even briefly, you are responsible.

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Photo credit Kevin Dooley, available under Creative Commons on Flickr.

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Other inspirational or educational posts:

increase intelligence by concept learning

Let’s  look at some basic questions, which are nevertheless insightful:

  • How enthusiastic are you about learning?
  • How flexible are you?
  • How do you keep up with the fast pace of our changing world?

Whatever your answers to the questions above I hope you recognize the importance of intelligence. It helps you to tackle problems more effectively. It facilities a life of growth. It makes difficult choices easier.

Would you like to increase intelligence?

I bet your answer is “yes”.

There is a simple practice you can install in your mind: creating accurate and up-to-date concepts about the surrounding world. By concepts we understand mental representations of an object, idea, activity, living creature or phenomenon. Whatever we see, hear, feel or encounter in our lives, goes through mental processes of our brains.

For instance, when we learn what an apple is, we learn a concept of a class of apples in the from of a mental representation of the encountered apples  or an abstract idea of an apple.

We are people of the patterns

We are people of the patterns. We create patterns in our lives, art, work and products. Whatever we do it bears the very characteristic of our whole being. It’s hardly possible, even if at all, for you to create something that is completely not like you. Try it. And report to me if you are successful, because I will find it extremely interesting ;).

I challenge you to write a genuine piece of text that is perceived not like yours. Try to cook a meal which is not like yours. Try to make a design that is completely dissimilar with your previous designs. Try to continuously speak or walk in ways that are 100% alien to you. Try to make something creative that is completely different from who you are. Even attempting this feels weird.

The reason is that at any moment we are attracted to specific ideas or concepts that we live by. These are specific patterns. They permeate our whole being including consciousness, feelings and thoughts.

These drive our actions. When we act, take decisions, make judgements or create something, we derive them from our internal resources. Whatever the output, it is going to bear the watermark patterns of who we are.

Because patterns are so prevalent in our lives, we are very efficient at finding patterns and recognizing traits. Finding patterns relies on noticing the differences and perceiving similarities. We learn concepts, classes or categories after having observed the patterns.

Classification / categorization is essential

A class or category is a group or collection of objects, things, events or experiences that have something in common; there is an underlying similarity.

In this light, any given object or experience is a representative of its class. At the same time any given object may belong to multiple classes, nested or not. For instance, there is a class of oaks which is a subclass of leafy trees, which is a subclass of trees.  Or, there is a class of bananas and there is a class of fruits that you like which includes ripe bananas (but not unripe ones).

Without classes or categories, every object and every experience would be novel, interesting and puzzling. No doubt, this would lead you to a thrilling life of ever fresh experiences, yet without understanding and learning. You would not be able to organize your experiences into meaningful ways.

As a result, you would not be able to tell whether something is a carrot, chair or car, or whether it is useful or friendly. You would not be able to survive.

Have you ever observed how a small child learns to recognize an object?

There are two levels to it: unconscious and conscious classes of experience. Before using a language, a very small child forms unconscious classes of objects or experience. He basically goes through a certain experience and recognizes when something similar happens again. This informal grouping relies on some observable similarity.

An example is a child experiencing an enormous joy in a repetition of a certain play; I bet you’ve seen these situations many times. A child may be laughing when you play with him his version of hide and seek (covering his face with a cloth and asking “Where is  Joe?” and then uncovering and saying with surprise “Oh, there he is!”), over and over again. Even after 20 times the child may still be in the same hilarious laugh as after the 1st time. He recognizes from the first movement what it is going to happen and anticipation makes it great.

In the conscious forming of classes, language plays a role, or more specifically, naming. The whole process begins with a child being interested in the chosen object. He finds this object appealing to his senses, so he interacts with it. And he usually plays with the object in all possible ways. He asks for its name. Naming is essential for learning a concept, because a name labels the class, hence it is identified with the class.

Without the name we miss our reference. The name serves therefore as a handle of a bag. It points to or indicates a group of objects or experiences which are in the bag. At the same time, naming assigns an object or experience to a given class.

The child usually collects sensory experiences and explores the object by touch, taste, sound and smell. He interacts with it in multiple ways. It allows him to create an idea of the object, before a concept is learnt. Later he sees another object of the same kind and explores it even more. Then the next example comes. And some more.

What is interesting is that a few examples are often sufficient for a child to build a good-enough, or sometimes even detailed, concept of the object. If a child is really attracted to this object, he begins to recognize objects from the same category. He is actively noticing them in the world around and happily pointing to them at any occasion. For instance, given a few examples of (playing) balls, a child is able to recognize a previously unseen ball. And you know that it is possible even if the features of a ball such as a size, color or material are totally new.

In the days or weeks to come, a child will further refine the concept of a ball. This is the time he will study (i.e. explore) more examples of balls. Hopefully, such a set includes less typical balls as well. These are important for inspecting the boundary cases. What is even more important are the negative examples, i.e. examples which do not belong to the class. Again, a special focus is put on these negative examples which resemble the object of interest in some way, but are not the object.

For instance, a child may see an orange and recognize it as a ball. If you reply that the object is not a ball but an orange (a different name, hence a different class), a child will be prompted to reformulate his concept of a ball, respectively. When he is pointed out to differences, he will learn the essential discrimination about ball-like objects which are not balls.

The effective concept learning takes place in the presence of both uncommon and negative examples. Borderline cases from both sides of the class are crucial for a good formulation of the concept.

Abstraction

Although the example of a ball sounds simple, the same steps take place for learning the concepts behind more complicated things such as dogs, cars, flowers, airplanes, or particular meals, as well as activities such as cooking, running or playing. What is remarkable, is the step in which a child takes the concept to an abstract level by becoming to know what is the essence of the object or concept. I believe such an abstraction is the basis for our fast intelligent recognition skill that we so much rely on in daily life.

For instance, when my toddler was exploring the world around, attracted to airplanes flying above, he only started to recognize them when he was able to name them. He learned the concept well.

Recently, he has surprised me by the following. In the garden he found two wood planks of different lengths. He put them across, kept them in this alignment in his hand above his head and started to run around the garden. While doing so, he was making humming noises and joyfully shouting that there was an airplane flying.

I understood he made an important step. He was able to bring the understanding of what an airplane was to the next level in which he saw its basic essence. He was able to emphasize a few features essential for an object to be considered as a plane: a particular shape, noise and movement in the air. This is the skill of abstraction applied to in a creative way.

You learn concepts from examples

If you observe others and yourself, and explore of how we learn, you will discover that we learn concepts or classes from examples. Moreover, in an ideal scenario, we actually follow the process described above. And what is more, we are able to learn them from a few examples only, usually three to five. Just ask yourself:

  • How many times do you need to hear your friend speaking in order to recognize her voice?
  • How many examples do you need to be to tell whether a cathedral is gothic or not?
  • How many examples do you need to recognize an impressionist painting?
  • How many coffees do you need to smell or drink in order to learn what a cappuccino is?
  • How many passionate people do you need to interact with in order to recognize a passionate one?

A few examples are often enough. Of course, it does not necessarily mean that you will make no errors when a recognition should occur. There may be difficult borderline cases, changed circumstances, previously unseen mixtures of objects or other situations which may lead us to a wrong assignment. But a few examples are sufficient to get an idea behind the concept. However, you will need many more examples especially near the border cases in order to refine the concept well for arbitrarily difficult examples.

For instance, you may need to hear your friend speaking when he is ill in order to better recognize his voice over the phone in arbitrary circumstances. You may also need many more examples in order to recognize particular sub-cases of the given classes.

Whatever the case, remember to collect a wide spectrum of examples from the class as well as from outside of the class. Otherwise, your concept would either be too narrow or too wide. What you want is a well-formulated, tight (but not too tight) concept, because it will facilitate your learning.

Well-learned concepts increase intelligence

There is no doubt about it. Remember, any concept you hold, whether it is about concrete objects in the world, scientific discoveries, your skill or experiences, it is your building block for the synergistic working of other concepts.  It has a direct influence on the quality (read: happiness, joy, fulfillment) of your life.

For example, the concept you have learned about computers links to your ability of using them effectively or not, or the concept you created about love has a huge impact on the way you create your relationships.

The more factual representation of your concept, the better it serves you to build other concepts and make intelligent choices. The better your concepts, the better your ability to plan and act accordingly. Both recognition and prediction directly rely on the goodness and accuracy of concepts you have created.

Well-learned concepts and well-learned classes are formulated based on all examples (or experiences) with the emphasis on uncommon situations or outliers.

Take your time to inspect your most important concepts about yourself and life.

Learn them anew.

Practical strategy

How do you practically implement the learning of accurate concepts? It’s simple. I will summarize it below:

  1. You learn concepts from examples.
  2. The quality and representativeness of the examples/experiences you use for concept learning is essential.
  3. If you learn a new concept, choose your examples wisely. You need examples that cover a wide range of situations and boundary cases. You will often need as little as 3-5 typical examples and a variable number of boundary examples.
  4. Be open and willing to reformulate your concept when you notice an example that is different, strange or otherwise appealing. What you want is a tight description but wide enough to accommodate what is the gist of the concept.
  5. If you have a concept formulated (e.g. about entrepreneurship, working-out, cars, kids, faith, money, Rembrandt paintings, mountaineering, buying houses etc), inspect which examples or experiences you used to create it. Remove outdated examples that no longer serve you and use more recent examples. Mentally re-crete your concept again by finding patterns, similarities and differences, between the examples you collected. Just think about it and get new insights.
  6. Do it with every new concept you learn.

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The image above shows a quilt by Inge Duin. See www.ingeduin.nl for more details.

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Learning and generalization posts:

 

If you want to understand complex phenomena you can follow dedicated courses, study professional books or read scientific texts.

There is, however, a more exciting path to understanding which relies on self-learning and self-discovery.

While such a path may be guided by the same books or follow the same courses as mentioned above, a key ingredient is to study own observations and personal experiences. There is no substitution for knowing oneself.

When the observations are shared between people in an atmosphere of curiosity and acceptance, a new understanding often arises. It often comes as if magically created before one’s eyes. Although such an understanding may be built slowly, it is profound. There is usually a moment of deep understanding, where all the loose and seemingly unrelated pieces come together and fit into a beautiful puzzle.

I encourage you to follow this path for yourself.

Simply be curious and experiment.

What is consciousness for you?

How do you experience it daily?

Consciousness has been a hot subject of endless discussions and arguments in philosophy, physics, metaphysics, biology, computer science, and so on. In our Consciousness Group we approached it through the subjective lens of our personal observations and life experiences. This is what I will share below.

In one of our first meeting we discussed how fish becomes conscious of water only if it jumps out of the water. As long as it swims in the water, fish is unaware of it. She becomes conscious of the water-world, when she experiences the air-world.

As a result, consciousness can be seen as a threshold experience when moving from one world into another. Such a movement may be slow, and it may also be very fast, in a split of a second. A moment is enough to become conscious. What we distinguish here is not the overall consciousness mind (including subconsciousness) but the sharp point-like experience of your own consciousness.

In analogy, there are at least two worlds for us, a very Private, inner world and the Common world we share with others.

The Private world is a land of personal feelings, impressions, insights or actions. By actions here we understand mental actions such as decisions, for instance.

The Common world consists of two worlds: the physical world outside us (at least, as we perceive it) and the world of thoughts, ideas and concepts. Although thoughts seem private, we can share them, discuss them and achieve some agreements or conclusions. For this reason they are considered as the residents of the Common world.

So, the experience of consciousness happens when we move from our inner world of feelings and morals to the world of external observations, thoughts or actions. If you think about such a threshold experience there are two key ingredients of consciousness that are necessary for that: Involvement and Self.

You need Self, a reference to yourself (whether it is a separate entity, you or perhaps an illusion) in order to have a reference point of who is experiencing what is happening. Moreover, you need Involvement, an active participation from Self, as consciousness is alive. See also the diagram to the right.

We also need to conclude here that we are not fully conscious when we stay in one world only. For instance, you can perfectly arrive at a destination by a car without consciously realizing your driving, the journey, the turns and the steps. Your overall mind obviously works well as you completed the task but your sharp pointy-like consciousness experience was not present there. Some people call this “unconscious competence”.

Such an experience is more common than you may think, and includes tasks to which you dedicate your full attention for some period of time. Examples include cooking, programming, reading, writing, cleaning, designing, etc.

Have you ever focused on writing such that you lost yourself into the words?

Have you ever focused on cooking so much that you only experience the dance of ingredients and your creative act?

Have you ever focused on programming or designing so much that you were simply taken with it for multiple hours without a break?

It is quite common, isn’t it? And yes, your pointy experience of consciousness, the director of your consciousness is not acting then.

Perhaps he/she directs the tasks and stays behind the scene as an observer, and only sometimes as an actor…

What do you think?

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Other posts on consciousness:

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