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Reflections, 24 January

The Floody River Derwent at Duffield Bridge 21 Jan. I’ve never seen it this high in 35 years.

Time to go from Preflections to Reflections. Three weeks into 2021 has provided more than enough material, and with floods to add to pestilence and Brexit, it all feels a little bit Biblical.

Mystics understand the root to the Tao but not its branches; scientists understand its branches but not its roots. Science does not need mysticism, and mysticism does not need science, but man needs both.

Fritjof Capra. the Tao of Physics.

Right now, I have to disagree. In a period of significant change mysticism and science do need each other. Both have something to add to the debate as we wrestle with climate change, inequality, biodiversity loss and pandemic. Any conversation that doesn’t bring humility and soul into the frame to counter our scientific and technological hubris won’t take us where we need to go.

I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on efficiency this week, and in particular on its shadow. On the face of it, who wouldn’t want efficiency? Doing more with less. Eliminating waste. Bringing prices down and doing it faster.

The thoughts that have been occupying me:

  • Our pursuit of efficiency, and the elimination of waste has easily taken us to a huge lack of resilience. The NHS right out of capacity based on forecasts rather than reality. Schools torn between competing short notice requests for being open, being closed, teaching online, safeguarding children, with not enough staff – and still being inspected regardless.
  • The spoils of efficiency are unevenly distributed. Skills are outsourced for short term gain, resulting in enriched shareholders and impoverished local communities.
  • Innovation and efficiency don’t get on at all well. Innovation is messy and unpredictable and thrives on instructive failure. Not at all efficient.
  • Process and improvisation don’t get on either. Process carries a hint of law about it, with the associated ceremonies and priesthoods of orthodoxy. Improvisation is rebellious and carries a hint of heresy.
  • Efficiency is a great servant but a soulless master. It has short term perspectives, and only measures what can be measured. It is of little use when the pressure is on. Efficiency feeds on complicated, but has a nervous breakdown when things edge over into the complex and systemic.
  • Efficiency gives power to managers. The change we’re in needs Leaders. All effective leaders are managers, not all managers are effective leaders.
  • The pursuit of efficiency can make us blind to reality. The demand by backbench MP’s to give a firm timetable for the exit to lockdown is a great example.

Efficiency is important, but it is not a panacaea, and has real limitations. Right now, it needs to take a back seat. What we need is improvisation right now to meet the short term needs and a focus on effectiveness over medium term strategy to come out of this aligned with what is emerging.

Following the science is important, but so is tending to our individual and collective soul.

We need both scientists and mystics.

What’s making me think

Books

Sand Talk. Tyson Yunkaporta. For me, a startlingly provocative view from Indigenous Wisdom. Making me see things from another angle and making my mind ache. I’d really encourage you to read, or at least watch the video link in videos below. I think this is important, as well as humbling.

Falling Upwards. Richard Rohr. A somewhat renegade Franciscan Monk’s view of the world. An inspiring read. It’s been one of those reading weeks 🙂

Articles

Mary Bateson. A wonderful summary at Edge.org of an extraordinary systems thinker who died earlier this month. Her wisdom will be much missed.

How to be Lucky. We can get in the way of serendipty. From Psyche Magazine,

What a robot thinks is important. Shaping Tomorrow’s AI forecaster. Food for thought.

Secrets about People. A short and dangerous introduction to Rene Girard. I really enjoyed this.

Videos

Stuart Brown on Play. I’ve always liked this. Well worth a watch in these times.

Another from 2015 and very current. The Myth of the Objective, and why greatness cannot be planned.

Tyson Yunkaporta on indigenous thinking and saving the world…….

What’s coming up.

I’m participating with some others in U.Lab 2x.. I want to find out how we help people to have the challenging conversations that these times needs. And by challenging, I mean challenging ourselves more than others. If it interests you, drop me a line.

Have a great week. These are important times.

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