Storytelling, Divination, Forgiveness. My most important tools and where I picked them up

(This might be the most intriguing Edgeryders mission so far. I really have no time to do it, but I want to do it anyway.)

I am a knowledge worker. I spend most of my day interacting (mostly online) with other humans to produce and manipulate information into knowledge. So, to a first approximation, the skills I use everyday are reading, writing, summarizing, researching. I use English a lot, French occasionally. I read and write budgets and contracts. I occasionally deploy math (game theory, or graph theory, or run-of-tjhe-mill calculus) to decode a theoretical model. But that does not tell you very much: it is just a cloud of skills. I believe they can be grouped into just three high-level skills, which are my indispensable tools of the trade.

Making a difficult decision with storytelling

The first one is storytelling. Cognitive science tells us humans think in terms of stories, and solve the uncertainties implied by inhabiting a rapidly changing world by framing their situation as a story (picked from a rather small repertoire of archetypes), and themselves as a character in that story. Suppose you have to decide whether to choose between a safe, perhaps slightly boring professional path and a more high-risk, but socially relevant one. Computing probabilities is impossible, you just don’t know the full range of implications of your choice. But you do know you are like Neo in Matrix, and Morpheus is right there offering you to choose between a blue and a red pill, so the choice becomes obvious. You are The One, that’s your path, and that’s the end of it.

The ability to tell stories unlocks the power to steer your career and your life. For example, it unlocks fundraising: unless you are doing standardized stuff, people will fund you because they recognize a story, and their role in that story is to support you. In an older project of mine, Kublai, I persuaded the Ministry of Economic Development in Italy to do a very advanced project because they bought into the narrative of the “helpful (central) State”, reaching out to work with citizens rather than against them. I try to narrativize every important thing that I do: all important professional projects, but also stuff like moving to a different country (which I did, more than once).

The second ability I will call divination. By this I mean a stance which combines formal analysis with a humble approach, that downplays the role of individual people and organizations in the unfolding of things. The personality of the CEO is important in a company, but even more important are market conditions, corporate culture, long-term trends like globalization. Many powerful people feel they are not powerful at all, and that they really are in the hands of the organizations they are supposed to lead, or just those of the next turn of events. So, divination for me means rummaging into society, looking for causes and for forces to align with, in the countless interactions we engage in every day. This ability unlocks analysis: once you have it, you are not going to delude yourself that, if just the Prime Minister changed her mind, everything would be different. It also disqualifies conspiracy theories and the need for people to blame (the politicians, the banks, the media).

The third ability is forgiveness. By this I mean the deep acceptance that there is no point in pushing people to conform to a certain standard: people are what they are, and it is more constructive to try to find out what they are good at and organize activities around them rather than bend them around activities (which is mostly impossible anyway). I once worked with a young man who was crazy. I don’t mean he was odd: I mean he was constantly negotiating illness. At one point he was forcibly hospitalized and put on medication with a pretty heavy psychiatric diagnosis. And yet, this person is a brilliant coworker in the kind of projects I tend to be involved in. He works superhard. He is the best connector ever. He always has time for people, and he tends to be online and available about 16 hours a day. Mind you, he is not brilliant despite being ill: he is brilliant because he is ill. He is obsessive, and if you channel his obsession he becomes a happy, well functioning overachiever. Of course, he is not good at everything, but then neither am I, or anyone. This ability unlocks management: once you let go of standards you can get down to the real work, which is to design environments for people (as they are, not as they should be in some ideal world) to get results. It is also useful in personal life: if you have no standards you can enjoy the company of people very different from you.

  • I learned storytelling mostly from reading fiction and comics. An economist called David Lane explained me why that is important in a university seminar, long after I had finished my degrees. High school contributed somewhat to me picking up this skill, especially as I studied history. In retrospect, if I had had a good art teacher I could have learned a thing or two about storytelling by Renaissance painting, but no luck there.
  • I learned divination from economics. For some reason a phrase by Albert Hirschman (taken from his introduction to his main book) stuck in my mind: he participated in the rolling out of the Marshall plan, and that experience "developed in him a healthy respect of the market's ability to outsmart you". This humble statement by somebody involved in the most successful economic planning exercise of all times struck me at a very deep level. Later, complexity science gave me a framework for that.
  • I learned forgiveness from an older coworker in my first job, who later became my best friend.
I don't see why these things could not be taught in schools. In my time (and in my place, the Italian province) the approach to knowledge was old fashioned: you were taught notions rather than skills. But that must have changed. Maybe they do teach them now?

“ECUTO” Evolution of Consciousness in Understanding and Transf

Good insight, I would like to share mine with you, I do some research related to discourses maybe we could share some common interests.

Bring it on

Thanks Andres. Go right ahead: when you have done let me know, maybe by leaving me a comment here or a message on my wall (just click on my name anywhere to get there). I’ll be happy to discuss with you.

Pardon, flexibilité, ouverture d’esprit

L’histoire de la pilule est vraiment formidable!

Bien entendu, il y a plusieurs définition au mot ‘divination’, et la mienne serait sans doute une version assez différente de la tienne. Mais ce qui me fait vraiment plaisir, c’est est de voir cette notion, cet art de la divination dont tu parles, a des applications positives jusque chez des économistes.

Quant au ‘pardon’, j’ai trouvé très beau ce que tu as écrit. Arriver à voir de la beauté et apprécier des qualités chez chaque personne n’est pas très courant. Nous avons été élevés à critiquer et à démolir l’autre en face de nous, et non pas à s’efforcer de le tolérer dans toute la splendeur de ses défauts et des ses qualités. Une fois que les gens ont le malheur de commettre des erreurs (et nous en commettons tous, jour après jour), il arrive souvent que des gens condamnent et restent coincés dans cette vision, qu’ils s’entêtent à perpétuer et à étirer pendant une si longue période que lorsque vient le temps d’y mettre fin, ils ne se souvienne plus des raisons qui les ont projetés dans cette rigide résistance. Pardonner un peu à chaque jour, accepter les gens comme ils sont, ce n’est pas facile. Mais il s’en suit un sentiment de libération. Le poids s’enlève des épaules, et les gens deviennent légers comme une plume. On dit souvent qu’ils ont des ailes, lorsqu’ils sont soulevés par la passion et une force peu commune.

Y a-t-il des travaux à ce sujet, des processus qui permettent aux équipes collaboratives d’appliquer la notion de ‘pardon’ à leurs modes de fonctionnement? Je n’en connais pas. J’ai beaucoup entendu parler de ‘flexibilité’, et plus récemment, dans le cadre des réflexions sur le gouvernement ouvert, de la nécessité d’avoir un ‘esprit ouvert’ (open mind).

J’aimerais que davantage de réflexions comme celle que tu fais ici, aient lieu chez des dirigeants gouvernementaux. Je vois cela comme faisant partie du volet ‘collaboration’ de la philosophie du gouvernement ouvert.

Tu crois que l’ordre des choses a changé à ce point dans les institutions d’enseignement? Que l’emphase sur les compétences sont de nos jours priorisées dans l’enseignement?

La puissance des introvertis

Le «pardon» dont tu parles, qui permet à chacun d’être tel qu’il est, m’a fait penser à cet article, ‘Silence, la puissance des introvertis’,

J’ai été très surprise de lire dans cet article que «la population est composée de 30% à 50% d’introvertis, qui se révèlent terriblement inefficaces dans des systèmes basés sur l’argumentation et la confrontation publique.» La moitié des gens, ça fait beaucoup de monde!

Or, la société valorise la posture extravertie.

D’après Susan Cain dans The Power of Introverts, — the Quiet Revolution — indique les introvertis atteignent les mêmes objectifs que les extravertis, mais en faisant cela d’une manière différente.

Des plateformes collaboratives (telles que Edgeryders) accordent un espace et une ouverture à divers types de gens, ce qui garantit un accès équitable pour que tous les participants s’expriment, c’est-à-dire fassent leur propre ‘storytelling’.

No, they don’t

I’m 23 years old, so I finished school just 4 years ago, and I can tell you that nothing changed about it in Italy.

When I was in the elementary school our italian teacher gave to a pupil the assignment to check everyday if everyone had done their grammar homeworks. But the pupil who had to check others wasn’t checked by anyone, so she never did her homeworks. One day I asked the teacher for someone to control the controller-pupil too, because the situation was unfair. The teacher get angry and told me that it was not my job and that she would have checked her homeworks, but she never did it. I was very disappointed then, because I believed that I was doing a good job by telling the teacher that there was a problem, also the controller-pupil was a good friend of mine, so I had to “betray” a friend for my sense of justice and the teacher didn’t care about that.

Then, when I was in high school, during the first year professors told us that we could earn some credits (useful for our final grades) by doing extra-disciplinary activities such as sport or volunteering, or by attending courses organized by the school itself (theatre, arts). At the end of the fifth year of school (when those extra credits could have been useful for the final exam) they told us that they were, in fact, useless and we were going to be evaluate only by our scholastic career

So neither the show of personal skills (my sense of justice and fairness during the elementary school), neither the interest of cultural activities outside the “school path” was never evaluate or awarded in my scholastic career, also if it was theoretically possible (see the credits system in high school).

This is really sad, because to me school should educate also to be “human” and should award those people who are willing to do experiences and to learn and cultivate skills not provided by the scholastic system.

But how can we change it, since the school situation in Italy is very dramatic from a lot of different point of view?

Lost cause

Ok, I get it. Pretty much  lost cause. I guess young Italians will just have to learn relevant skills and abilities outside school, just like we did. With the major advantage that they now have the Internet, which we did not have. In a different mission I have tested online teaching of math, and man, does it work.

A device to measure the degree of life energy in the body

Alberto, I agree with you that it is probably a lost cause… and alternative paths are the solution.

However, Ginevra raises a very good point. Where, and when, what she calls her ‘personal skills’, get useful and serve a purpose? Why is it that these are not more recognized in society?

He/she who thinks only about lies, cheat, steal, bribe, manipulation, etc.. is often in the position of power and control, while the one who cares to do good around him/her, thinks about of sharing, collaborating, loving, valuing, is often despised.

Purity of spirit is far from being well respected in our society, and those seeking to live with respect for others and their environment, receive little attention for their efforts and achievements. There are possibilities for mankind to develop beyond the present condition (of the human brain). It is not easy to keep a clear soul. It requires making choices, which sometimes are heartbreaking, as Ginevra mentioned it.

For now, there is no tool that can measure the degree of goodness of a person, as one can measure the blood sugar or glucose in the blood. We have no way of taking such measure. Therefore, material posessions (which can be measured very easily) have been prioritized so far, at the expense of intangible capabilities.

One day, I predict - yeah, my attempt at divination here - that science will be able to detect the degree of energy of life in the body. Our five senses are not able to feel this energy (prana). 

We can neither touch it nor hear it, or see, feel it on our skin, or taste it. But it exists in every living being.

When the existence of this energy is accepted, and that it is also accepted that some individuals have an ability to generate more of it in their body (because there is a process allowing to do so), it will be easier to accept and acknowledge sets of abilities and skills which are developed as a result of a larger accumulation of this energy in the body.

These skills have a lot to do with what Ginevra calls her ‘personal skills’. What is interesting is that youth, who often reject the materialistic lifestyle, are currently developing these sets of skills and abilities, at a much higher level than older generations (stuck on material concerns and other perceptions of separation).

When the detection of this energy becomes possible, there will be a shift in what is perceived as successful in society.

Those with a pure mind, and therefore able to increase the level of this energy in their metabolism, will be seen as having reached higher capacities, and will be considered as more successful. This is why, many consider that we are moving away, we are in the middle of a transition, from the Age of Information, to the Age of Wisdom. Youth is playing a determinant role in this transition. Many young people are on their way to becoming sages.