The Opening Words to a Book I Probably Won’t Write

Enough people have suggested I write a book at this point that I have now found myself wondering what such a book might look like. I don’t consider myself expert enough in anything to say something genuinely unique in the world that isn’t just storytelling about my life, but I do think there aren’t enough people bridging the gap between the academic and applied domains of the fields I’m interested in, so I might actually feel it’s worthwhile to try and offer my voice in service of that goal. That said, I’m too much of a coward to actually decide to write a book. Much easier I think to just do what I already do with writing in a slightly more bookish way and see if I end up arriving at that outcome through the side-door. I’m not writing a book, but if I did, here’s one way I might open it.

I can’t allow myself to be overly concerned with offering you all the sources and citations for the concepts I’d like to share in this book. While I think it’s useful to include those breadcrumbs as I am able, so that you have the opportunity to disassemble these intellectual Lego bricks and reconfigure them into conceptual structures you find more useful for your purposes,  I’m not personally convinced that there is a strong correlation between a concept or lens being grounded in the foregone thinking and publications of respected academics and it being useful for making sense of lived experience, thus making the tedium of sourcing feel a bit pointless.

I should warn you here I enjoy crafting long sentences and I’m not that empathetic about the plight of those who voluntarily take up the task of trying to decipher my drivel…

Many lenses generated by academics often appear to me to only serve as methods of critically examining the lenses of other academics from even further in the past, whose lenses might have only been lenses for examining other lenses themselves. Theories about theories are even less attractive to me than feelings about feelings. Twice or more removed from what’s actually happening in the world (at least feelings can be described as something being experienced), and I get bored and overwhelmed trying to wrap my head around why any of it matters or how to wield it against the monsters we face daily. My point here is that you don’t have to consider the lack of citations or sources to be a weakness in the materials presented. You might find that the most useful lenses are those you construct personally in an ad-hoc manner from components whose progenitors are lost or invisible to you. The landscape is being reshaped so rapidly that no mapmaker, no matter how clever, could have possibly concocted a representation of what you’re experiencing that’s more useful to you than the maps you draw with sticks in the ground based on your actual experience in the present, or the maps we draw on whiteboards to disambiguate, deconflict, and debug collective conceptualizations of what’s happening, who’s involved, what matters, and what should happen next.

Further, I am myself a proponent of adopting lenses which are completely arbitrary in nature in order to force abstract connections to be formed and serendipitously generate opportunities for sense-making. An example of that approach can be found in an exercise I like to facilitate in which groups are assigned random or selected analogies to map onto a particular system, problem, or context. The exercise is derived from one I learned in Think Wrong training from Solve/Next called System Spotting. The inherent qualities of a particular analogy don’t appear to be important, so much as the kind of thinking that adopting constraining lenses like metaphors provokes. To focus on WHY EXACTLY the metaphor of the Ferris Wheel works to generate new and useful insights about an education system (an actual example from the facilitated exercise) might be attempting to reduce something irreducible, and the lessons we derived from our attempts at discovering WHY – perhaps the unexpected nature, the challenge of it all, the mechanistic and experiential elements…. might only lead us to explanations that are intransitive in nature–completely useless to apply to any future context.

And now I’m wondering whether the correct word here is in fact “intransitive”, or if there’s a better word for components of a system that cannot be uninstalled and plugged into another system because their capacity and effect are too contextually intertwined, like organs that can’t be transplanted…

So it’s not the function of metaphor as map that matters so much as it is the fact that metaphors enable us to consider the components of the maps we ourselves construct, and relational qualities between those components. Metaphors in this exercise challenge us to think about how we’re thinking so that we can make the choice to think differently, in ways that were unavailable to us when we were only operating based on observation and instinct, before we became aware that there are other ways of observing and revealed the effortful analytic and sense-making techniques that can only be found on the secret menu.

Either way… what I’d like to share here might be best described as lenses through which to try and make sense of lived experience–to draw your own maps. They aren’t maps themselves and they won’t necessarily work. I hope that some of them you agree with and others you find utterly rejectable, for any number of reasons. You can take one and leave the rest. You can find some offensive because they suggests you consider social concepts like privilege or other modes of critique that don’t particularly favor your worldview or position. Or maybe you will open yourself to actually consider that there is utility in the employment of lenses that don’t favor your worldview. Maybe I’ll convince you to start ordering off the secret menu even though the food there tastes bad to your culturally attuned appetite for the less healthy, default offerings.

A lens isn’t intended to describe all of reality. It is intended to frame reality in a way that helps us understand and make sense of it. It is a compositional process that requires the subtraction of real information in order to identify useful patterns to employ or exploit. I don’t want to tell you how the world is. I want to offer some alternative ways of determining for yourself how the world might be.

This has been an exercise in penning the opening words to a book that I don’t really intend to write, but I suppose if I was going to continue, I would spend the next chapter exploring the whole concept of lenses, perhaps using the metaphor of photography, before a series of chapters digging into specific examples of my favorite lenses to be employed.

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