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Corinthians 1:13 (well it is Sunday) & un-influence

September 9, 2006

One of the most thoughtful guys I know in the Blogosphere is Patrick Lambe. Always interesting with a gleeful and intelligent sense of humour. He has just posted on Invisible Influence. The posting will ruffle a few feathers with some gentle but deserved criticism but over all it is a reflection on the questions of influence and acknowledgment. I should also confess that he says nice things about me which I would like to deserve …..

However, as always with Patrick it got me thinking. I know that there are people and books that have influenced me so much that I probably don’t acknowledge the influence formally as often as I should. I get really angry when people don’t attribute my stuff to me, especially when they claim it as their own (in which respect I resonate with Patrick’s gentle criticism). I am also finding that influence can itself be dangerous and with at least two blogs I know I have caused offense (which means the count is probably higher). I’ve also realised that people can move from being sensitive to paranoid very easily! However I don’t think I regret anything to date and the British have a reputation for satire and irony into which tradition I fall.

So where is this going? Maybe no where, but a sense that now we see as through a glass, darkly (not the 1961 Bergman film but Corinthians 1:13) to something beyond influence to innovation. Patrick also talks about white space, the least significant stories and the need to see into the gaps. One of the workshop techniques we use is as ancient as the hills – create a structured matrix on a wall and then cross your eyes. You are more likely to see patterns that way than through analysis. Given that our influence patterns are a part of our cognitive apparatus, how easily can we open ourselves to those white spaces? It fits my own findings that we learn most from worst rather than best practice. One of our great intellectual powers is the ability to blend concepts and context to create new insight and understanding. However true innovation requires us to make all of our old patterns unsustainable so that we can see the world afresh.

So maybe we need to start to develop a theory of un-influence in the same way as we have a theory of Un-order. Now much as I get angry if people do not reference my work, I also find the constraints of over referencing in academic work can often be more negative than positive. There seems to be an idea that everything builds on something else. To a degree it does, but also new insights and thinking while influenced are not always derived. There also seems to be an attitude that if you can reference it, you then it must be true without critical evaluation.

If we look at Science Fantasy (yes this is connected honest) then some of the really great authors find ways to explore the current human condition by placing us in another world, another context. Ursula K Le Guin does this in two classic books published in 1974 and 1969 respectively she explores politics and sexuality. The Dispossessed (1974)explores a world governed by Anarchist principles and its consequence for scientific discovery. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) has a world inhabited by hermaphrodites who change sex in season according to proximity. So they can be male or female depending on context. She explores the social fabric of a world in which your sister’s mother can be your father and other combinations brilliantly. However when a permanently male (and therefore pervert) lands on the planet things get interesting. Especially when he is forced on a long journey with someone he assumes to be male, who at a point on the journey, in season becomes female ……

These two books, although they are about a fictional setting are actually about the present. Other authors do the same and I mentioned some of the most amusing in a previous blog. Metaphor and the use of fiction are basic narrative techniques designed to get people to see the world from a different perspective. We can go beyond simple forms though and create whole game and simulation environments in which the current context is ever present but not visible, to allow people to explore possibilities they would not countenance in day to day practice. Alternative history, a growing genre in literature, like science fantasy allows us to explore new concepts and new ways of thinking.

So we don’t want to avoid a recognition of influence, but we do want to avoid constant derivation. To use Patrick’s phrase I don’t see them very often because I see through them which reminded my of St Paul’s insight which heads this section. (Not that I see Patrick as a St Paul type figure by the way). Patrick uses this phrase as in although he is equally good at seeing through pretension as his blog evidences. Its influence Scotty, but not influence as we know it ….

Innovation and un-influence may well be linked, we have some methods in this space, and some of the forthcoming ideas on the software will focus on perspective shifts happening serendipitously, thus enabling self discover rather than direction.

Anyone else out there with ideas?

PS: not all new thinking is received well the first time. The Left Hand of Darkness is one of the most famous books in Science Fantasy and an all time best seller. However its first reception was not good.

PPS: The full text of Corinthians 1:13 follows as its a great text and contains more wisdom in its 13 short lines than many a text book

1: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 
2: And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 
3: And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 
4: Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 
5: Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 
6: Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 
7: Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 
8: Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 
9: For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 
10: But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 
11: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 
12: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 
13: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

That of course is the King James version which contains more poetry (and meaning) to my mind that the revised standard. The main difference is the replacement of charity with love and I think that looses something

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