Manhattan: Nikon D3s

Manhattan: Nikon D3s

“I believe I will never quite know. Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know our part is not knowing.”

(Mary Oliver)

I’m supposed to know stuff. It’s my job. I’m a CAW (Consultant, Academic, Whatever…) so I should know.

Yet whenever I’m asked my view on today’s specific circumstances, in the expectation that I can apply some of yesterday’s ‘change management’ thinking to an emergent case of business complexity, I hear the voices of insanity in my head.

The voices tempt me to give an opinion, to offer a definitive view. Answers are easy; just ask Alexa, say ‘hello’ to Google, read a book, check out Facebook, listen to your politicians.

But the danger in answers is that the audience might think they have a prescription, a handy management theory, a cure - will feel good that their situation is resolved - and believe that the world really works like that.

So, sometimes I’m courageous enough to say that I’m not sure - and then they think I don’t know my stuff.

Sometimes I offer to improvise with them in the moment - and then they think I’m unprepared.

But, despite this, I can usually help people, sometimes groups, learn together. As long as they are willing to enter into relationship and be vulnerable enough to admit that none of us really know that much anymore.

Without the illusion of easy answers, the real work is to think together, move out of our expensive facilitation rooms, and apply our embryonic learning to our actual, lived experience of struggling teams, fractured societies and damaged ecologies. As we do, we should step away from conventional logic, certainty, reason and rational knowledge; all of which imply that we can project past thought onto future conditions.

Instead, we need to work intuitively, aesthetically, artfully; and sensitively feel our way towards new versions of our world.

So, if you wish, enjoy the insanity of answers that offer certainty. There are plenty of (not so holy) CAWs out there who will give you that.

Or, take a step into not knowing and discover that the most important thing we can do is graciously live together with the questions.


I had no idea why that billboard was on Canal Street, just off Manhattan Bridge, or who put it there, until I found Baron Von Fancy (AKA Gordon Stevenson).

Stanford academic, James March, is an example to me. He would start his classes by saying, “I am not now, nor have I ever been, relevant.” He tried to communicate aesthetic joy as he worked with his students; their job was to apply that thinking in the world.

Have a look at David Bohm’s ‘On Dialogue’, where he writes about how thought itself is the problem behind many of our contemporary issues and proposes thinking together as a way to surface the unhelpful patterns in our thoughts.