Space to Think

So thinking can develop

Of Patterns, Prejudice and Slow thinking

Steven Johnson, in his stimulating book, Emergence, offers a quote by the futurist, Ray Kurzweil to emphasis the importance of pattern formation and recognition.

Because each individual neuron is so slow, [Ray] Kurzweil explains, “we don’t have time to think too many new thoughts when we are pressed to make a decision. The human brain relies on precomputing its analyses and storing them for future reference. We then use our pattern-recognition capability to recognize a situation as compatible to one we have thought about and then draw upon our previously considered conclusions.”

This raise two thoughts for me in quite different directions. The first is that Kurtweil seems to be alerting us to a neurological dimension to prejudice; and this may give us some clues as to how to deal with undesirable prejudice in ourselves and society. The second thought is that Kurtweil seems to offer a way of understanding the importance of forms of slow thinking and collaborative dialogue.

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March 19, 2008 Posted by | complexity, dialogue, emergence, learning, slow-thinking | , | 1 Comment

FOO Camp as model for Dialogue

What if we could get passionate, smart and enquiring people together for long enough in the kind of environment that encouraged ideas to bounce off one another, new and surprising thinking to emerge and everyone’s ideas and questioning to be equally valued?

Too often we gather for a purpose and the purpose dominates, or particular experts or presentations come to define a sort of orthodoxy and so limit thinking, or the structure of gathering requires or encourages posturing and reacting. It is hard for anything new to come in such settings, and yet this is what most professional and academic conferences take as inevitable. If we gather around a purpose it may surpose that we already know what matters. If we gather around an expert or acclaimed expertise it may surpose that the thinking has been done. Peer review and scholarly debate and questions rarely recognise the limits of the accepted paradigm, and rarely bring expertise from different disciplines into a dialogue of equals.

We have recently had a NZ version of FOO Camp. It got some good coverage on Radio New Zealand National. The interviews are worth listening to. They can be found for a short while here (Kim Hill interviewing Nat Torkington and Ian Wright live at Kiwi FOO Camp.

FOO stands for “Friends of O’Reilly”, as in O’Reilly publishers. The background can be found on Wikipedia here. Basically this is a limited invited crowd of interesting people who take the space and time to interact and share. Stuff happens.

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February 5, 2008 Posted by | complexity, dialogue, learning | , , , , | Leave a comment

Importance of fantasy and inadequacy of experts

Reading Alan Bennett’s annual ‘diary’ in the London Review of Books (vol.30, No.1); his entry for 15 October reflects on a conversation with Peter Gill who was bringing out a book on acting, Actors Speaking. Bennett writes:

He thinks that what has been a shortcoming of American actors, namely, that while superb at naturalism they find artificiality difficult, is now the case here [UK] …

Bennett goes on to comment, with Gill, “today’s generation of actors are better at imitation … but what they lack is fantasy…” Bennett gives examples of actors from lowly backgrounds who have been very successful both generally and at portraying a range of characters.

… all of them had some sense of their proper position in life, a fantasy of what they wanted to be which these days would probably be disapproved of or discouraged, fantasy frowned on as some sort of escape.

This all got me thinking. Perhaps we have so exalted the expert and technical knowledge that we fail to value the contribution that imagination and fantasy can make to our lives, personal and corporate. If the only standard against which we measure ourselves and others is established expert knowledge, or orthodoxy then there can be no real innovation, only adaptation; no entrepreneurship or leadership, only management. If we are measured against some agreed sense of ‘reality’ then what we must do is imitation rather than creativity.

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January 30, 2008 Posted by | Cognitive Edge, complexity, Education, imagination, leadership, management | , , , , , , | 1 Comment