The Nature of Reality

I have always been fascinated by debates on the differences between objectivity and subjectivity; art and science; East and West; X and Y.  The truth normally lies somewhere in between.

85 years ago two great minds met in Berlin and debated such issues in what must be one of the most interesting thought pieces in the history of the twentieth century.

einstein-vs-tagore

THE NATURE OF REALITY

Albert Einstein in Conversation with Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore visited Einstein’s house in Caputh, near Berlin, on July 14, 1930. The discussion between the two great men was recorded, and was subsequently published in the January, 1931 issue of Modern Review.

TAGORE: You have been busy, hunting down with mathematics, the two ancient entities, time and space, while I have been lecturing in this country on the eternal world of man, the universe of reality.

EINSTEIN: Do you believe in the divine isolated from the world?

TAGORE: Not isolated. The infinite personality of man comprehends the universe. There cannot be anything that cannot be subsumed by the human personality, and this proves that the truth of the universe is human truth.

EINSTEIN: There are two different conceptions about the nature of the universe—the world as a unity dependent on humanity, and the world as reality independent of the human factor.

TAGORE: When our universe is in harmony with man, the eternal, we know it as truth, we feel it as beauty.

EINSTEIN: This is a purely human conception of the universe.

TAGORE: The world is a human world — the scientific view of it is also that of the scientific man. Therefore, the world apart from us does not exist; it is a relative world, depending for its reality upon our consciousness. There is some standard of reason and enjoyment which gives it truth, the standard of the eternal man whose experiences are made possible through our experiences.

EINSTEIN: This is a realization of the human entity.

TAGORE: Yes, one eternal entity. We have to realize it through our emotions and activities. We realize the supreme man, who has no individual limitations, through our limitations.  Science is concerned with that which is not confined to individuals; it is the impersonal human world of truths. Religion realizes these truths and links them up with our deeper needs. Our individual consciousness of truth gains universal significance. Religion applies values to truth, and we know truth as good through our harmony with it.

EINSTEIN: Truth, then, or beauty, is not independent of man?

TAGORE: No, I do not say so.

EINSTEIN: If there were no human beings any more, the Apollo Belvedere no longer would be beautiful?

TAGORE: No!

EINSTEIN: I agree with this conception of beauty, but not with regard to truth.

TAGORE: Why not?   Truth is realized through men.

EINSTEIN: I cannot prove my conception is right, but that is my religion.

TAGORE: Beauty is in the ideal of perfect harmony, which is in the universal being; truth is the perfect comprehension of the universal mind. We individuals approach it through our own mistakes and blunders, through our accumulated experience, through our illumined consciousness. How otherwise can we know truth?

EINSTEIN: I cannot prove, but I believe in the Pythagorean argument, that the truth is independent of human beings. It is the problem of the logic of continuity.

TAGORE:  Truth, which is one with the universal being, must be essentially human; otherwise, whatever we individuals realize as true, never can be called truth. At least, the truth which is described as scientific and which only can be reached through the process of logic—in other words, by an organ of thought which is human. According to the Indian philosophy there is Brahman, the absolute truth, which cannot be conceived by the isolation of the individual mind or described by words, but can be realized only by merging the individual in its infinity. But such a truth cannot belong to science. The nature of truth which we are discussing is an appearance; that is to say, what appears to be true to the human mind, and therefore is human, and may be called maya, or illusion.

EINSTEIN: It is no illusion of the individual, but of the species.

TAGORE: The species also belongs to a unity, to humanity.  Therefore the entire human mind realizes truth; the Indian and the European mind meet in a common realization.

EINSTEIN: The word species is used in German for all human beings; as a matter of fact, even the apes and the frogs would belong to it. The problem is whether truth is independent of our consciousness.

TAGORE: What we call truth lies in the rational harmony between the subjective and objective aspects of reality, both of which belong to the superpersonal man.

EINSTEIN: We do things with our mind, even in our everyday life, for which we are not responsible. The mind acknowledges realities outside of it, independent of it. For instance, nobody may be in this house, yet that table remains where it is.

TAGORE: Yes, it remains outside the individual mind, but not the universal mind. The table is that which is perceptible by some kind of consciousness we possess.

EINSTEIN: If nobody were in the house the table would exist all the same, but this is already illegitimate from your point of view, because we cannot explain what it means, that the table is there, independently of us. Our natural point of view in regard to the existence of truth apart from humanity cannot be explained or proved, but it is a belief which nobody can lack—not even primitive beings. We attribute to truth a superhuman objectivity. It is indispensable for us—this reality which is independent of our existence and our experience and our mind—though we cannot say what it means.

TAGORE: In any case, if there be any truth absolutely unrelated to humanity, then for us it is absolutely non-existing.

EINSTEIN: Then I am more religious than you are!

TAGORE: My religion is in the reconciliation of the superpersonal man, the universal spirit, in my own individual being.

Share

Hearts, Minds and Connecting the Dots

I was recently asked to comment on a blog exploring the idea as to whether or not it is critical to follow your heart”.  It got me thinking (quite a bit).  Oh, and I make no excuses for the apparent New Age flavour to this post.  It’s just how it came out!


 

Over the past few years, I have become more aware that we have several centres of intelligence. The mind is but one. The heart is another.  More recently, the gut has been recognised by scientists as having its own intelligence.

In such a fragmented world, where academics and book writers are rewarded for micro-ideas that can be framed into sound bytes (such as the one above), I find it interesting to call on history and the ancient wisdom of the Hindu/Buddhist Chakra system.  In this system, there are seven centres of energy within the body. Each system nowadays has a colour of the rainbow associated with it.  The heart charka is green and is at the centre of the system.

Chakra

One of the main issues in today’s world seems to be that the mind (indigo) and communication (blue) centres are so energetic – with our so-called “knowledge society” coupled with “mass broadcast media” that the other (lower) forms of subtle energy get drowned-out.

Maybe this is an age-old problem?  For there is also an ancient buddhist saying that “the longest journey in life is from the head to the heart”.

Anyway, I am currently doing some research on how the seven centres of chakric energy can become better balanced – not just within the context of an individual – but also in organisations AND society in general.

For:

  • Without a higher purpose, life becomes meaningless.
  • Without mind that is connected to serve others, life becomes ego-centric and selfish.
  • Without clearly articulating what you want for yourself or your organisation, others won’t understand where you are coming from and ignore you or misinterpret your ideas.
  • Without being allowed to truly express your feelings, life becomes emotionally blocked.
  • Without a sense that you are truly empowered, life becomes deeply frustrating.
  • Without a co-creative connection with others in your family or tribe, life becomes lonely.
  • Without a place to call home, life becomes frightening.

And so, to the main discussion about whether or not it is critical to follow your heart.

On thinking about the idea, I came to the conclusion that it isn’t just when the heart-centre is “in flow” – or we are “in the groove” that we get that feeling of life-is-good.  It is when ALL the energy centres are aligned to create an organic energy that is more than the sum of its constituent parts.  It is at such times that we, as human beings, are most connected to our fellow human beings – and to the natural world around us.

In terms of organisations, as regular readers will know, I look for much of my inspiration in the work that I do a as a beekeeper. I find the universal energy which is generated in abundance from the colonies of bees that I keep is indescribable – it has to be felt to be understood. The ways that the movements and (unrecordable) energies from each tiny, individual bee are compounded to create a colony that vibrates and energises the space around for the greater good of the colony is not too dissimilar to an organisation or society where the subtle forms of energy are recognised, amplified and aligned to a higher purpose.  Religious movements are one obvious answer.  But there are many other examples – some with “good” objectives.  Others perhaps, with more dubious ones.

I’ve also come to believe that intuition and flashes of inspiration (Ahah! moments, if you like) are not from us, but come to us when we most need them or call upon them. The egoic state sees itself as the centre of the universe. But spiritual practice is about removing the ego and tuning into more subtle forces of universal energy that pull you.  It is as if you are plugged-into connected consciousness and more aware of the subtle energies that might give you a greater chance to allow your energy to be mixed in more rewarding, unique ways.

So, it probably is important to follow your heart (over your head). But true connectedness comes when each energy centre is in alignment with the whole. It is then that we give up pushing and allow ourselves to be pulled.  It is then that all the dots are joined-up and where everything makes sense after the fact. This was so well articulated by Steve Jobs when he delivered his famous speech to Stanford graduates:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward,” Jobs told the Stanford grads. “You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Trouble is, it’s very difficult to put all this stuff into a few sound-bytes and broadcast them over Twitter – or even a blog post like this!


 

Share

The Heart’s Intuitive Intelligence

Last Thursday, I had a meeting with a business colleague.  We had only met once before – but somehow the energy felt really good between us.  Conversation flowed.  Ideas bubbled to the surface.  Creative spirit abounded.

During the conversation, it became apparent that I had talked in our previous meeting about intuition.  I had forgotten this – but it  is something I have recently become very interested in.  In summary, it’s the idea that the world is far too “mental” and that many have lost touch with their intuitive guidance system – based around the heart.  I’m also a strong believer in the idea that everything is connected.

And so it was, just by chance (as happens when browsing the internet) I came across this video below:

I don’t know too much about the organisation behind the video – but just love the overall theme, messages and visuals.  It somehow helps us to remember things we have forgotten or lost – so we can get back into the life-force and remember who we are.

Sit back and enjoy!

Share

Two-Speed Engines and Wonky Gearboxes

I was with a client yesterday and drew attention to a recent article Two-Speed IT: A Linchpin for Success in a Digitized World from BCG Perspectives on how some organisations are being forced split in two with the pressure of the internet.  The BCG paper describes a “two-speed IT” – but in many ways, the IT is only part of it – and BCG have taken the two-speed analogy far further with other thoughts on organisations, economies and governments.

It would appear that, in order to survive, successful organisations now need to have (at least) two speeds or engines  within in them.  One is there to cope with traditional “industrial speed” business and the other need to cope with innovation and customer interactions at “digital speed”.

There is no finer example than Telefonica-O2 – which has recently split itself in to two companies.  One which manages the more traditional “industrial” network and handset business.  The second (called Telefonica Digital) was set up to manage innovation and all the different aspects of interconnecting the network business to new technologies and services.

I’m with O2 – and it was disappointing that even after splitting itself in two, the industrial part of the business, they still managed to knock-out my service for 24 hours in the early summer.  Even more reason to believe in the importance of  creating and adapting organisations so that they can take both the expected and unexpected demands placed upon them.

A better example of success is probably BT’s execution of the Olympic Games.  I am sure the stories will start to come out in the next few months, but I heard at a conference recently that there were over 50 severe attacks on the Olympic Network that could have brought it down – had BT not had the right protection in place.  In the industrial network game, true success normally means not failing!

As many of you know, I like to draw analogies, and I thought that this client that I was working with had a problem of shifting from first gear to second gear.  Somehow, they had all the parts to make very solid machines for the industrial age, but they were not thinking of designing and creating smaller, lighter, more nimble components to put in the small engines of the digital age (for new organisations such as Telefonica Digital).  To use a truck-car analogy, they were still assembling large-scale gearboxes for big trucks – (where each component takes days and weeks to manufacture and assemble) – whilst missing the market opportunity to provide new, smaller gearboxes (or even components) that will allow emerging digital organisations to engage with the bigger industrial engines of the past.

 

 These new gear boxes are going to be smaller, cheaper and faster to assemble.  It might even require a new, separate  organisation to design, market and support them.   The possibilities were very interesting.

So I was charmed by the Queen of Coincidence, when, whilst I was preparing for the client presentation, a good friend, Jo, sent me this brilliant recording of a telephone conversation between a guy who has just bought a BMW with a “wonky gearbox” – Listen and enjoy!

Please click here to listen to the WONKY GEARBOX STORY

Sometimes we simply get this whole technology thing completely wrong by not reading the instruction manual!

 

Share

The Lords’ Verdict

For those who have followed this blog for a while, you will know I presented evidence at the House of Lords’ inquiry on the present UK’s government’s policy on Next Generation Broadband.  So it was at midnight on Tuesday, the Lords published their report which can be found <HERE> entitled “Broadband for all – an alternative vision”.

Lord Inglewood was interviewed in a video:

“Our communications network must be regarded as a strategic, national asset.  The Government’s strategy lacks just that – strategy.  

The complex issues involved were not thought through from first principle and it is far from clear that the Government’s policy will deliver the broadband infrastructure that we need – for profound social and economic reasons – for the decades to come.”

The report has had a mixed response.  Supporters of a truly open-access fit-for-purpose National internet Infrastructure applauded.

Other analysts were eless complimentary:

Matthew Howett, lead analyst of Ovum’s regulatory practice, said many aspects of the inquiry’s report are “simply odd”.

“With nearly 50 recommendations and no indication of costs or how they should be met, it’s likely to be dismissed as nothing more than a pipe dream,” he said.

Odd it was for me that so many Peers took the time out to learn about the industry and the pros and cons of various options for technology and business models.  It was a piece of work that involved many hours of  their time to see the problem from different perspectives.  It challenged the status-quo and came up with an alternative vision for what the UK’s national internet access infrastructure might look like.  It was bound to be unpopular in certain quarters as it threatened the status-quo.

Sure, the government and BT’s in-house analysts might dismiss the ideas as pipe-dreams, but one wonders where the whole BDUK process is heading.  It might be the Games in London – but this particular game will go one well into the Autumn after all the athletes have left London.

It is definitely time for the status-quo to be challenged.  BDUK is at best a strange construction and at worst a totally bonkers policy for a government set on Localism and Community Engagement.  The Lords’ report went to the heart of this matter and has suggested a framework for a truly revolutionary approach to fixing the monopoly of BT’s infrastructure – particularly in the middle-mile.

At times, I think of giving up banging this drum and doing something more conventional and toe-the-line.  Yet at one minute past midnight on Tuesday, I had a new surge of enthusiasm that the ideas that we have been working on for several years now are getting some traction and that a body of revered and highly intelligent Peers actually understood what many on the fringes of the industry have been saying for a while.

If only the Government could stand back and listen to some of the concerns about the current vision and understand that they have alternatives that are better, faster and cheaper that will help the UK’s international competitiveness, we  might actually come up with something that really does get the economy back on its feet in a fairer way, based on an infrastructure that no single part is too big to fail.  Surely there is a lesson here from the banking system that is staring us in the face?

Come on, Jeremy.  Put the bell head back on the stick, put the bell down and start listening again.  Unless, of course, you get reshuffled – in which case it is round-and-round we go!

Source of quote and more on this story at:

http://www.cbronline.com/news/lords-uk-broadband-strategy-heading-in-the-wrong-direction-010812 

http://www.totaltele.com/view.aspx?ID=475352&G=1&C=4&page=3

 

 

Share

Become What You Are

I pulled off a book from my bookshelf the other night with the title of this post. The book is a collection of writings, including nine chapters never before published in book form by Alan Watts. Watts was a British pilosopher, lecturer and author who interpreted Eastern thought for Westerners. He was born close to where I live in Chiselhurst, Kent in 1915 and died in California in 1973. Other more famous titles of his include “The Way of Zen” and “The Book”.

I have copied the article below – which has the same title as the book – which gives a good insight into Watts’ writing – as well as a piece to ponder on this Thursday:

.

Become What You Are

.

It has been said that the highest wisdom lies in detachment, or, in the words of Chuang-tzu: “The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives, but does not keep.”  Detachment means to have neither regrets for the past nor fears for the future; to let life take its course without attempting to interfere with its movement and change, neither trying to prolong the stay of things pleasant nor hasten the departure of things unpleasant.  To do this is to move in time with life, to be in perfect accord with its changing music, and this is called Enlightenment. 

In short, it is to be detached from both past and future and to live in the eternal Now.  For in truth neither past nor future have any existence apart  from this Now; by themsleves they are illusions.  Life exists only at this very moment, and in this moment it is infinite and eternal.  For the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it persists for ever.  This movement and change has been called Tao by the Chinese, yet in fact there is no movement, for the moment is the only reality and there is nothing beside it in relation to which it can be said to move.  Thus it can be called at once the eternally moving and eternally resting.

How can we bring ourselves into accord with this Tao?  A sage has said that if we try to accord with it, we shall get away from it.  But he was not altogether right.  For the curious thing is that you cannot get out of accord with it even if you want to.  Though your thoughts may run into the past or future, then cannot escape the present moment.  However far back or forward they try to escape, they can never be separated from the moment.  For those thoughts are themselves of the moment; just as much as anything else they partake of and indeed, are the movement of life which is Tao.

You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now – otherwise you would not be here.  Hence the infinite Tao is something which you can neither escape by flight nor catch by pursuit; there is no coming toward it or going away from it; it is, and you are it.  So become what you are.

Source: Become What You Are – pp10-11 from the book with the same title by Alan Watts – (c) Shambhala Press 2003

More on Alan Watts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Watts

Podcasts at: http://www.alanwatts.org/

Share

The Universal Relaton Field

Whilst away at Easter I started to read Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell’s book “Godhead: The Brain’s Big Bang” which was published last year.  It is the latest accumulation of Griffin and Tyrell’s ideas on the Human Givens, and the importance of the REM state in sleep and the Universal Relaton Field.  Yet to list out the other many ideas in the book is impossible.

What is impressive about the work is that it attempts to bring a set of organising ideas to some of the BIG questions that mankind has asked since the beginning of history such as: “What is consciousness?” and “How was time created?”.  It gives some very interesting frameworks for understanding the universe by relating concepts like the big bang theory to the development of the human mind.

By drawing on their previous ideas of caetextia (or context blindness), the authors link the development of the human brain to the two very separate ways that we think: left-brained thinking and right-brained thinking.  This is very similar to the System 1 and System 2 in Kahneman’s “Thinking, fast and slow” which I reviewed a few Thursdays ago.

However, Griffin and Tyrell (being psychoanalysts) bring out some very interesting new theories on how the human mind developed to become more conscious – both to become more objective (or left-brained) as well as subjective (right-brained).  Each half of the brain (in balance) creates a rounded self-consciousness which connects both sides of the brain for human living.  However, too much focus on the path towards objectivity (which they also call the arc of descent) creates a tendency towards scientific genius and autism.   Too much focus on subjectivity (or the arc of ascent) creates art and a tendency for certain folk to become schizophrenic.  They also suggest that mood swings, depression and bipolar disorder are, perhaps a mixture of both without the ability to create balance between the halves – and yet have also produced many of our most creative geniuses such as Robert Schumann, John Keates, William Blake, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Peter Gabriel and Spike Milligan…..and their list goes on much longer (p.96)!

However, the book is far more than a set of ideas on the development of the physical brain and mental health.  In the second and third parts of the book, the authors bring together a set of very powerful organising ideas on how human consciousness connects with the “one-ness” of the Universe through an invisible field of “relatons”.  Since only 4% of the Universe is made up of matter that is visible (detectable by radiation), the authors believe that the field of relatons (or subjective matter) is contained somewhere within the remaining 96%.  These relatons have some very interesting properties.  They are undetectable (like all dark matter).  They are also capable of relationships with solitons (objective matter) and are always generating consciousness (or information).  And when two solitons are joined as matter, relatons are released!

The struggle that the mind has in balancing between objectivity and subjectivity (and the ability of such thinking to drive us mad in the process) was well narrated in the timeless classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”over 30 years ago – which had a major influence on my thinking at the time.  The authors suggest that this balance-of-two-halves-in-time (between the two sides of the mind) appears to echo the same dance that plays out from the largest to the smallest objects in the Universe and that somehow time breathes in and out between objective and subjective states through states of probability.

The book is not just analytical and mind-stretchingly interesting.  It intersperses spiritual stories and poems – and one of my favourites is here:

“How often do you sense that there is a profound meaning in a poem but, without an organising idea to consolidate it, you can’t hold on to it and it slips away from consciousness?  T.S.Eliot knew this, as we see from other lines of his great “Burnt Norton”, where he reveals his intuitive grasp of the nature of truth but also that he is aware of the failure of words to hold on to what he has grasped:

Words, after speech reach

Into the silence.  Only by the form, the pattern,

Can words or music reach

The stillness, as a Chinese jar still

Moves perpetually in its stillness.

Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,

Not that only, but the co-existence,

Or say that the end precedes the beginning,

And the end and the beginning were always there

Before the beginning and after the end.

And all is always now.  Words strain,

Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,

Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

Will not stay still.

Overall, the book presents a fascinating set of ideas and theories which draw on thinking from our latest understanding of the physical brain, quantum mechanics, spirituality, creativity and the development of mental illnesses – and much more besides.  Big ideas which the book far better articulates on over 450 pages than I can in this short article.

I remain fascinated on how we can apply some of the ideas to the areas of Information Management and Organisational Design.  My previous article on Organisational Caetextia started to explore some of these themes.  Expect more to follow – particularly with colonies of bees interwoven in the stories!

I hope that it makes some of you interested enough to buy what I think is one of the best books I have read in the past year.

Picture: (c) iStockphoto not to be reproduced without licence.

Share

Lorne at the Lords

I gave evidence at the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications on Tuesday – all about the future of UK Internet Access.

There is  a video of it here:

Share

Everything will be All Right in the End…..

Susie, my wife, booked us to go and see a film on Sunday evening – “The best exotic Marigold Hotel”.   A very funny film and well worth watching!  You can’t leave the film and not remember the line that one of the leading characters, Sonny, keeps saying throughout the film:

“Everything will be all right in the end; if it’s not alright then it’s not the end.”

Apparently this is a quote of the Brazilian writer Fernando Sabino: “No fim tudo dá certo, e se não deu certo é porque ainda não chegou ao fim” – but I am not sure if he really was the originator or not.  Doesn’t matter.  It is a great quote.  Actually, Susie has often quoted the first bit at me and it is strange, but somehow, everything always does work out in the end….

Anyway, it got me thinking back to the Thursday Thoughts theme two weeks ago about optimism – and the Optimist’s Creed.

And so it was that last night I got to Chapter 24 in Daniel Kahneman’s Book “Thinking, fast and slow” (which I started to review last week) only to find that  this chapter – entitled “The Engine of Capitalism” is all about optimism too!  Or perhaps, more accurately, over-optimism.  Coincidence or what?

Kahneman summarises in a section entitled COMPETITION NEGLECT:

“It is tempting to explain entrepreneurial optimism by wishful thinking, but emotion is only part of the story.  Cognitive biases play an important role, notably the System 1 WYSIATI (What you see is all there is):

  • We focus on our goal, anchor on our plan, and neglect relevant base rates, exposing ourselves to the planning fallacy.
  • We focus on what we want to do and can do, neglecting the plans and skills of others
  • Both in explaining the past and in predicting the future, we focus on the causal role of skill and neglect the role of luck.  we are therefore prone to an illusion of control.
  • We focus on what we know and neglect what we do not know, which makes us overly confident in our beliefs.

What was more extraordinary is that as I was reading this, a good friend and follower of this stream, David Brunnen wrote to me and  sent me this link: http://www.innovationpolicy.org/my-new-book-title-eh-the-future-will-be-okay   with the  comment: “Worth a read I think – partly because of his realistic assessment of US R&D funding and partly because Rob gets close to the tendency that has long-plagued the ICT world – eternal optimism and hype.” 

Even more coincidence.  Anyone else thinking about optimism, over-optimism and the way we think about the future?  Please join in the flow by commenting below!

Share

Clean Thinking and Clean Language

Have you ever been in a situation where you say something that you regret later? For example,  I was with a close friend the other day trying to “help” her work through some problems.  The suggestions that I made to her were taken the wrong way and the conversation broke down.  Purely because I put too many of my own thoughts into the flow.

It made me think: I wondered whether there was a way we could communicate without putting our own ideas, suggestions and bias forward?  In my research,  I came across a whole system of communication that originates in psychotherapy that allows you to do just that!

The originator of the approach was a guy called David Grove (whom I never met) – who died far too young four years ago in January 2008.  The ideas behind the system have various names – but one of the best-known terms is that of “Clean Language” – popularised in an excellent book published shortly after Grove’s death called “Clean Language” by Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees.

Rooted in the idea that we all live with our own very personal, subjective metaphors, the technique allows the person being questioned to explore those metaphors without any judgement or bias from the interviewer  or therapist.

The basics of using Clean Language are simple:

  • Keep your opinions and advice to yourself
  • Listen attentively
  • Ask Clean Language Questions to explore a person’s metaphors (or everyday statements)
  • Listen to the answers and then ask more Clean Language questions about what they have said
If the person being asked the Clean Language questions is seeking to change, then the change can happen naturally as part of the process.  It is not a technique to force change on anyone!  I have found that there are equally useful ways in which to use the method: whether it is gathering information on a project, interviewing someone or asking children about their own worlds that they live in.
In the book there are twelve basic questions in Clean Language with a further 19 “specialised” questions.   However, to get going, other articles refer to the five basic questions which are designed to help clients add detail and dimension to their perceptions:

1. “And is there anything else about [client’s words]?”

2. “And what kind of [client’s words] is that [client’s words]?”

3. “And that’s [client’s words] like what?”

4. “And where is [client’s words]?”

5. “And whereabouts [client’s words]?”

There is a great video on the use of Clean Language in therapy – with some interesting results:

Another strand of this line of research was published in an earlier book “Metaphors in Mind: Transforming through Symbolic Modelling” by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins in 2000.  There is a short two-part article by Lawley on some of these ideas as they apply to organisations which can be found here: Metaphors of Organisation – an angle to this whole work that I find fascinating.  There is also a quote from Gareth Morgan at the start of the article which sums-up some of the ideas:

“All theories of organisation and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that persuade us to see, understand, and imagine situations in partial ways. Metaphors create insight. But they also distort. They have strengths. But they also have limitations. In creating ways of seeing, they create ways of not seeing. Hence there can be no single theory or metaphor that gives an all-purpose point of view. There can be no ‘correct theory’ for structuring everything we do.” 

To open up our thinking, Morgan seeks to do three things:

(1) To show that many conventional ideas about organisation and management are based on a small number of taken-for-granted images and metaphors.

(2) To explore a number of alternative metaphors to create new ways of thinking about organisation.

(3) To show how metaphor can be used to analyse and diagnose problems and to improve the management and design of organisations.

I wish I had known this a month ago before the encounter I described at the beginning of this thought.  The outcome would have been very different, I’m sure.  I’m also very interested to know if you use any of these ideas in the work that you do.  Please comment below if you have any thoughts or observations.  In the meantime, try using clean language in your everyday work and play – it is a really useful tool – even if you are not a fully-trained psychotherapist!  It is so clean it can’t hurt anyone – and can actually be quite fun realising how much of our own “stuff” we put into normal conversation.

Share