From critical thinking to critical imagination

When situations are complicated; lots of interdependent moving parts, all of which can be understood, critical thinking is vital. It’s complicated, spreadsheets from hell complicated, and we need the skills to make sure we put the parts together in the right order to achieve what we intend.

When complicated crossed the border into complex however, all the rules change, There are parts to what we are looking at that we cannot see or understand, and they appear unexpectedly at random and cause results we not just could not foresee, but could not imagine. To start to get to grips with this, we need critical imagination.

The border between complicated and complex is a liminal space, as old orders disappear and new ones emerge. Chaos often has a hand in it, and expertise, treated as truth, is a massive handicap. When experts create maps, projecting what they believe they know onto what they do not, we’re in trouble. We create short term elastoplast answers to gaping complex wounds.

In liminal spaces, character beats expertise hands down, and improvisation in pursuit of the important beats management of the mundane.

Right now, we are in such a place. All around me, here in the UK, we are easing lockdown and people are venturing out to find the maps we’ve created are not the territory. The short term sugar rush of heading back into the shops does not disguise the deep dysfunction that exists in retail. People heading back to offices, either in search of comfort or at the behest of management, finding it’s not the same. Large companies with agonised balance sheets beseeching government support to shore up what were already unsustainable practice, from air travel to football.

People huddling down in safe local spaces rather than recognising the global issues we have.

In the last Renaissance period, we did not have the facts or the understanding to deal with the changes that were emerging. Science was turning religious dogma on its head, and those pesky printing machines were making the rationale of that dogma widely available. It started five centuries of critical imagination. Creating ideas and testing them. Setting off over the horizon to the unknown, and in that process deeply upsetting the established order. It’s transformed our world, for both good and bad, and that period is at a close.

I suspect we are in for Renaissance the sequel in reponse to the established order doing what it always does, getting complacent and assuming that what worked for a while will work in perpetuity. We are at the edge of that map, venturing into the unknown.

What, I wonder, will the new explorers look like?

At one level, they will be those exploring the boundaries beyond the planet, which will reveal much that astonishes but seems unlikely to solve more pressing problems back here on earth. At the time of the start of the last Renaissance the population of Western Europe was a little over fifty million, and that of the UK five million, and there was plenty of (relatively) easily accessible territory to expand into. Today, we are right on the edge, some say beyond a sustainable global population when we consume resources the way we do.

Perhaps today’s explorers wil venture into how we live more than where we live. How we thrive with what is open to us if we respect it and use it more sensitively. How we turn the chronic and absurd maldistribtion of the proceeds of those resources into something that does require a tiny proportion of our population to live within the precincts of Muskville on Mars.

Perhaps these expeditions will explore how we make far more of the resources we already have by harnessing our critical imaginations to consider how we work outside of the confines or corporate self interest, and how we harness the constructive and regenerative feminine energies to balance the more aggressive and destructive masculine energies that have characterised the period since the last Renaissance. Like the rest of us, I just don’t know, but that is no excuse for not setting out to explore these, and many other ideas.

The change will not come from the current establishment. Firstly, it is not in the interests of that small and tiny minority, and secondly they mostly lack the critical imagination to think generations ahead, or the critical communication and leadership skills to capture hearts and minds even if they did.

The thing is, we don’t have to wait to be rescued, providing we can harness and connect our critical imaginations to give our critical thinking skills something to work on.

We can define our own expeditions – small steps such as:

  • How to work from where we want to on our own terms.
  • How to create our own maps for what we want our lives to be.
  • How to work with those who want the same as we do.
  • How to create and work with “beautiful businesses
  • Contribute our imaginations to something beyond making money.

Movement requires to things. Firstly, getting unsrtuck form where we are, and gaining personal “mobility”, and secondly somewhere to head for.

There are lots of possibilities. At Originize, we’re working out how to start getting unstuck, and meeting those who are building places to head for.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: