Creating space

October 8, 2010

Two little children were talking at the school yard of a mountain village of Greece, fifty years ago. The one was a clever boy and was doing well with his lessons, while the other seemed somehow slower and wasn’t doing his homework at all. When the first boy asked his friend why he didn’t like school, the other one replied: “I don’t like learning because to do so I have to take off everything I have in my head, so I can make space for new things. But you see, I am very well with what is already there”.

I was told this story in an anecdote circle by the person who once was the first boy. I think it reveals in a very simple way the fundamental requirement for learning: in order to create mental space for something new, one has to empty one’s mind, even temporarily, from existing knowledge and perception patterns. For these are both a valuable gear and an obstacle (perhaps the biggest) for learning.

Clearing of one’s mind is maybe relevant to the Buddhist pursuit of void or to the Christian fasting (leading to a ‘void’ that helps to clear one’s heart) or even to notions and practices of other religions and traditions as well. But, besides the rituals that such systems employ for reaching this state of renewal, is there any other way that could be used in everyday life and, moreover, in the business world? To my knowledge, there are (at least) two.

The first way begins with the destruction of one’s illusions and self-deceptions and the ‘reduction to bone’ of the assumptions, upon which one usually relies perceptions and beliefs about how things should be. It is a hard way along which life teaches us, most of the times through burning experience, to recognize falsity and burn away crystallized thoughts, judgments, habits and relationships. Thus, one makes the necessary space for the new to be let in. In psychological Alchemy this process is called Calcination.

The second way is the one of forgiveness that transforms oneself and the others; forgiving the ‘other’ (for his/her alterity) is a method of creating new mental space. The Greek language helps us make sense of that; the Greek word for ‘forgive’ is “συγχωρώ” (pron. synchoro΄) and comes from the prefix/preposition “συν” (co-, together with) and the noun “χώρος” (space). It means that the original meaning of ‘forgiveness’ was ‘creating space together with’ or ‘sharing space’. This relates directly to the creation of shared meaning and common sense.

I think it also relates to a deeper essence of complexity, beyond definitions and necessary conditions. It is about a deeper acceptance of otherness and the welcoming of different interpretations into the same habitat (Cynefin).

Either the first or the second pathway leads to the ability to cultivate critical relations, among which trust is perhaps the most crucial for the achievement of the critical mass that is necessary for a higher order organizational or social change.

Recent Posts

About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


< Prev

Facilitating change and the Pythagorean theoreum

In Greek mythology the three Fates were: Atropos (the inevitable), Clotho (the spin of the ...

More posts

Next >

Visualizing complexity

Although one can get often trapped by complex tools (thinking that they are ‘holistic’), there ...

More posts

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram