Conversation is full of fuzziness that is intolerable in technical tools, yet functions with high efficiency and effectiveness.

A comment thrown over the shoulder at 10am: “I’ll meet you and the rest later on at the usual place” will likely result in a completely satisfactory coordination of 5 people – Bill, Stan, Mike, Peter and Col, all arriving with in about 5-10 minutes of each other, in the beer Garden of the Whistler’s Arms. And if it’s raining, just inside on the right….

This amazing everyday power that we all hold in our speaking needs to be consciously harnessed as we face complexity. Why would we not want to understand how to make such an amazing thing work for us when we face the indeterminate and messy state of the world? We will of course retain all this tacit brilliance, but we will add the capacity to know when to explicitly value this capability and utilise its features so it can do its work. For example, we need to know when to step away from the search to answer “What is X?”, and the drive to technical precision in our answers.

We would also need to understand that our obsession with quantification and measurement will also put a wedge between us and this remarkable capability.

“Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead they demand “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him."(1)

We have to switch from connotation to denotation in order to measure – hence we are inherently restricted to a subset of the conversational habitats we need to use to be creative and adaptive. So the drive to measure will in and of itself reduce our options for what we regard as useful or valid in our approach to complex systems. This may be “obvious”, but it gives an insight into the dynamics of conversational behaviours.

"As complexity increases, precision and meaningfulness become incompatible. While precision thrives on stable (fixed) meanings, the fuzzy meanings are unstable – they can simultaneously relate to several attractors and express specific types of meaning-generating crises. Instability of the fuzzy meanings make them flexible for interpretation and open for evolution and transformation. And these are precious qualities necessary for understanding social complexity.“(2)

(1) Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

(2) Vladimir Dimitrov, Strange Attractors of Meaning, 2000

David Jones

Changing the ways people talk to get work done.

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