There's only one thing worse than having no data, and that is using the wrong data. Numbers without context are useless. Well, you can say the same for knowledge: Competencies and skills are useful, but without the ability to make deeper associations that lead to ah-ha moments or new insights you cannot ask better questions.
When you don't understand why something is happening, it's because you don't have all the underlying variables. What's evident for data — yet still misapplied — is also true for thinking and reasoning.
If there ever was a time to get outside your comfort zone, it is now.
With that in mind, here's a list of thought-provoking readings to build your mental toolkit. They could help us build a better future by opening minds to other ways of looking at issues. Because the riskiest ideas are the ones you don't recognize.
A new way of seeing things
Molecules Of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine by the late Candace Pert. If you've ever wondered about the mind-body connection, this autobiography from a medical doctor does a good job of shedding some light on the biochemical links emotion creates in the body:
If receptors are the first components of the molecules of emotion, then ligands are the second. The word ligand comes from the Latin ligare, ‘that which binds’, sharing its origin with the word religion. Ligand is the term used for any natural or manmade substance that binds selectively to its own specific receptor on the surface of a cell. The ligand bumps onto the receptor and slips off, bumps back on, slips back off again. The ligand bumping on is what we call the binding, and in the process, the ligand transfers a message via its molecular properties to the receptor. Though a key fitting into a lock is the standard image, a more dynamic description of this process might be two voices—ligand and receptor— striking the same note and producing a vibration that rings a doorbell to open the doorway to the cell.
Helping us understand emotion at a deeper level:
When I use the term emotion, I am speaking in the broadest of terms, to include not only the familiar human experiences of anger, fear, and sadness, as well as joy, contentment, and courage, but also basic sensations such as pleasure and pain, as well as the ‘drive states’ studied by the experimental psychologists, such as hunger and thirst. In addition to measurable and observable emotions and states, I also refer to an / assortment of other intangible, subjective experiences that are probably unique to humans, such as spiritual inspiration, awe, bliss, and other states of consciousness that we all have experienced but that have been, up until now, physiologically explained.
The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning by Jeremy Lent. Facts help, but they're not enough. Lent's discussion of the need for a cognitive makeover reminds me of physicist David Bohm's thinking in On Conversation. If you read that book, this will sound familiar:
As its heart, the crucial question is whether there is ultimately such a thing as the Truth, as opposed to cognitive constructions creating relationships between coordinates that are always true.
Never mind that we're in this quasi-dystopian reality where even facts are nowhere to be found. Take an another example of Lent's thinking our outdated view of “nature as a machine,” or “nature as something to be controlled,” or even “nature as irrelevant” vs. a naturalistic and systems-oriented view. Our ways of seeing the world have gotten nowhere good right now; our language metaphors are blinding us. The better questions though is can we embrace cognitive patterns that bring us together?
In diametric opposition to the dualistic framework of meaning that has structured two and a half millennia of Western thought, the new systems way of thinking about the universe leads to the possibility of finding meaning ultimately through connectedness within ourselves, to each other, and to the natural world. This way of thinking, seeing the cosmos as a web of meaning, has the potential to offer a robust framework for the Great Transformation values that emphasize the quality of life, our shared humanity, and the flourishing of nature.
Lent describes the model of change in complex systems as a 4 stage “adaptive cycle:” (1) a growth phase, (2) a conservation phase, (3) a release phase, and (4) a renewal phase. He sees human civilization as now in a “late conservation phase,” heading into an unknown “release phase” (often referred to as collapse). There's a chance that our old economic system could fail and provide the incentive to change.
Change Here Now: Permaculture Solutions for Personal and Community Transformation by Adam Brock. I've been a fan of the “pattern language” framework developed by architect Christopher Alexander and his colleagues in the 1970s since I worked in startups during the first bubble bust. Brock builds on it outlining strategies for redesigning our social and economic systems to mimic nature's resilience and abundance. By now you probably see the meta-theme in this list. Practical tools to answer the question: Can we bring about a change in how we work together and interact?
Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation by Gary Pisano. I worked in many large companies, and I know that one can't just say “be like [host startup of the day]” and make innovation work there. Having said that, this is a book for the people in the trenches who are focused on innovation work in companies. Forget fuzzy thinking and fuzzier slogans. It takes thoughtful, coordinated capacity and leadership: (1.) Creating an innovation strategy; (2.) Designing an innovation system; (3.) Building an innovation culture:
Creative constructive enterprises are not born, and they do not happen by accident. They are a product of leaders throughout an organization: Creative Constructors are organizational system architects.
Finally, something vintage that has not gone out of style.
Eclipse of Reason by Max Horkheimer is a critique of instrumental reason. Horkheimer is a theorist from the Frankfurt School. He speaks about the transformation of reason into an instrument of power, but he never says we must abandon the attempt to resurrect a form of reason capable of judging ends as well as means:
There is no reasonable aim as such, and to discuss the superiority of one aim over another in terms of reason becomes meaningless. From the subjective approach, such a discussion is possible only if both aims serve a third and higher one, that is, if they are means, not ends.
An engineer could think in terms of means, which are rational, based on the undemocratic idea that one can decide the truths of mathematics and physics on the basis of objective reasoning, irrespective of whether or not the majority assents to them. The ends of engineering work, however, are determined by the opinions of the majority as determined by polls and markets, irrespective of whether or not they are rational. In other words, is the marketplace the only guide as to what activities are worthwhile?
Next comes practice
In uncertain times, it's useful to put yourself to work to figure stuff out. What you're thinking, and also on what you could be making progress. Nobel chemist Ben Feringa puts it simply, “What is the next step that I can be working on? Get resilient at handling the frustration that comes with uncertainty.”
You'll see more conversation about resilience popping up in unusual places, and for good reason.
I share more practical resources and readings in the weekly email.