Holonomic Thinking and Service Design

Service Design NetworkI would like to start this post by letting those of you in Brazil know that this year’s Service Design Talks will be on 4th October in São Paulo. These will take place at Escola Design Thinking (The School of Design Thinking), and I have been invited to talk about Holonomics, holonomic thinking and the relation to service design.

For more information and registration please check out: www.eventick.com.br/sdt2014
Service Design Talks 2014

This gives me a chance to share a few thoughts on how holonomic thinking can help transform the way we approach service design, especially when we are involved in the analysis, specification, design and implementation of complex services.

I had a great time on Wednesday at the São Paulo Service Design Network meet up, which brings together service designers, user experience designers, customer experience designers and product designers in an informal atmosphere where we can share insights, ideas and also support each other too. I was asked about Holonomics, and the main insight I talked about was how half of our book is about the dynamics of seeing.

Understanding the dynamics of seeing is for me what separates a true designer from say managers whose work is in some way related to design, for example business development. It’s all about understanding lived experience, and while service designers are steeped in getting into the customer experience, those executives who are the ones who have strategic and operational responsibility for the service usually have no idea at all about this aspect of design.

The Holonomics Platform

The Holonomics Platform

And so if we start with the holonomic platform, we see that there are three core elements – mental models, systems models and business models. Our treatment of mental models is not cognitive as such, it is phenomenological and hermeneutic, it is about the way in which we experience our lives as meaningful.

Seeing demand

The slide above comes from my systems thinking module for service design, and as you can see, the theme of ‘seeing’ runs all the way throughout. There is no point moving into systems thinking, or rather, attempting to introduce systemic solutions if the managers and executives responsible for the service can not see the system. Literally. I am speaking literally.

This is why I spend a huge amount of time with students and clients exploring mental models and the dynamics of seeing. because once they get the way in which we have a direct experience of ‘meaning’ (we do not perceive objects and then add on the meaning afterwards), then they are able to start to understand the concept of flow, how work flows through a system, and how systemic elements can result in good people performing badly.


Holonomics is all about people and planet, and when we design services badly, we end up with a monumental amount of waste:

  1. Physical – resources, equipment, travel, meetings, documentation – you name it
  2. Marketing – a company has to spend around 6 times more to win a new customer than what is needed to retain a happy customer
  3. Psychological – the psychological toll a badly designed work environment can have on a workforce, harming their motivation, health and well-being

In a recent post on storytelling and sensemaking I spoke about much of this waste in high level IT projects in the UK. It is worth repeating:

  • Rural payments agency (subsidies to farmers) spent £32 million on a failed system. They then rehired the same IT company to do more work.
  • HMRC (UK tax office) spent £9 billion on an IT led change. 2m pay have paid too little tax, 4m people have paid too much.
  • 160 out of 9,000 health organisations are using a new patient record system costing the NHS £12.7 billion.
  • A project that was meant to save the Department for Transport (DfT) about £57m eventually cost £81m
  • The BBC abandoned its Digital Media Initiative (DMI) at a cost of £98.4m last year.

Freedom from Command and ControlCan you imagine the insane levels of waste in all of these projects? What was missing was a holonomic understanding of the projects as a whole. One of the great writers on this topic is John Seddon, who has translated the Toyota Production System for service organisations, and just as in Holonomics we explain the dynamics of seeing, in his book Freedom from Command and Control, chapter 6 is titled “Learning to see, leaning to lead’.

So this is the challenge for service designers, the fact that they are attempting to implement changes that leadership simply cannot see, and therefore cannot appreciate. Where Holonomics comes in, is that it explorers leaders, and in fact every single member of an organisation, a value chain or ecosystem, with an expanded level of consciousness, so that they start to understand their systems as an authentic whole.

Holonomic Thinking

Those leaders who are inspirational are the ones who give meaning to our lives. Those business leaders who inspire us help us understand our contributions to the whole, and ensure that our work is meaningful. They also understand that there is now a huge shift towards conscious consumption, and businesses are responding with conscious innovation which itself is a part of a shift towards conscious capitalism.

Human Values

The final aspect of Holonomics I do of course need to mention is the role of universal human values. While there is this shift towards conscious capitalism, innovation and consumption, there is a huge difference between discussing these concepts and actually implementing them. The difference between those great organisations I have had the pleasure to know and work with, and those who are still struggling, js the presence or absence of human values – peace, truth, love, non-violence and right action.

When these values are present, an organisation becomes sustainable, resilient and agile. People know what they need to do, they know what is best for the whole, and they act with full consciousness and consideration for others. The next generation of service designers will be designing with a very different logic, an organic logic that understands a service from the point of view of process, flow and meaning. You understand both your own contributions and the impact and effect of your actions on others. This has huge implications for sustainable brands, because service designers will de designing for authenticity, and this can only be done from when you have a holonomic understanding of the system.

I really looking forward to the service design talks. It is brilliant to see service design taking off, and it has been great to meet and share ideas with guys here in Brazil who are at the cutting edge of service design, UX and customer experience design. i will be sharing some of my experiences which relate to the history of smart phones and the mobile internet, from the perspective of holonomics. I am also really looking forward to hearing the other talks in the morning, and taking part in the workshop in the afternoon too. I hope to meet some of you there. It’s going to be good :)


Service Design Network Brazil

Related Articles

Some notes on storytelling and sensemaking

Developing Sustainable Leadership and Holonomic Thinking

Complexity, Flow, Mindfulness and Holonomic Thinking

Some notes on Business Design, Customer Experience and Systems Thinking

The Human Factor: BT’s Design Thinking and Business Design in the early 1990s

BT’s OnePhone – Understanding the difference between the customer experience and design thinking

Holonomic Brand Values: What can we learn from a Brazilian gym?

A Brief (and Personal) History of Mobile Telephony 1992 – 2002

What Is Holonomic Thinking and Why Should You Care?

Holonomic Thinking

Holonomic Thinking

Tamay Kiper has written an article for Sustainable Brands about our book Holonomics, in which she writes:

In a fascinating new book, Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, authors Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson reveal what it means to ‘think holonomically’ rather than mechanically. The book aims to not simply present this elegant mode of systems thinking, but also to give examples that make readers aware of a set of ideas not commonly discussed in this particular combination.

Holonomics brings biomimicry, life cycle analysis, systems thinking, spirituality, nature’s interconnectedness, philosophy, literacy, physics, biology and business all together in a way that opens readers’ eyes to uncommon dimensions of thought that could still have very practical applications. The content is arranged in three easy-to-follow parts that build on one another: The Dynamics of Seeing, The Dynamics of Nature, and The Dynamics of Business.

What was really great in this article was seeing the way in which Tamay picked up on our exploration of the concept of belonging together, and how this relates to systems thinking and the understanding of authentic wholeness in a system:

Holonomic thinking encourages the understanding of relationships in their wholeness. This perception of ‘wholeness’ comes from both scientific and artistic consciousness. When perceiving phenomena, the underlying organizing principles appear in the imagination, in a place of authentic ‘belonging together.’ The better we see the ‘belonging together,’ the better our mental models will be — there will be effective feedback loops and we will become more aware of our own thinking, and also aware of mental processes and experiences that are otherwise hidden from us. At the same time, we shouldn’t become so entranced that we confuse any advanced model with the deeper truths of reality, the totality of which cannot be modeled explicitly. Holonomic thinking emphasizes the ‘belonging’ and the meaning of the systems and their coexistence.

To read the whole article please follow this link: What Is Holonomic Thinking and Why Should You Care?

Maria Sustainable BrandsAt this year’s Sustainable Brands summit in London, Maria and I will be running a three-hour workshop and also presenting a plenary talk, both titled Holonomic Thinking: Upgrading Our Leadership Skills and Systems Thinking for the New Economy. To see the whole programme please take a look at the Programme Overview.

This one tip from Gilberto Gil will transform your experience and use of Twitter


There is something I feel I need to share with you, which will help transform your use and experience of Twitter. I know some of you know this tip, but it still seems that many of you do not so with the help of Gilberto Gil, together we will explain.

Bela Cozinha

Tonight Gilberto Gill appeared on the very excellent programme Bela Cozinha (Beautiful Cooking) which is presented by his daughter Bela Gil. It is a programme in which Bela, who graduated in Natural Cuisine from the Natural Gourmet Institute and Nutrition and Food Science at Hunter College in New York, teaches us how to cook very healthy and ridiculously tasty food. Maria and I love Bela Cozinha and watch it a lot.

Credit: GNT

Credit: GNT

As this was the opening of a new season, after the programme Gilberto, Bela and his other daughter Preta had a question and answer session with viewers.

Now here is a question asking about how to use green banana flour:

TweetVerena may or may not be thinking that this tweet was broadcast for all her followers to see, but in fact it wasn’t. Because she started the tweet with @ and someone, this tweet was only seen by those people who follow both her and Bela.

Let’s look at how Gilberto is answering people tonight:

tweetGilberto is replying to Kappsmariana, but did you see what he did? In order to avoid starting with an @ he started with a dot. He could have started with anything, but as he is a Twitter whiz, he now knows that this tweet will be seen by all 1.03 million followers that he has.

If Gilberto didn’t do this, but just replied to peeople starting with their @names, it would be a pretty poor question and answer session, since the answers would not come up in our feeds. Of course we could all follow the hash tag, and I know most of you will know about these, but the people not following the hash tag would have lost out on the opportunity to know what was happening on Twitter this evening.

So now you know. If you want to ensure that your tweets are seen by one and all, don’t start with an @. You can rephrase the tweets if you don’t want to go for the whole ‘start with a dot’ business too. Be creative.

And you know what, as I have been writing this article Verena has just said thank you to Bela:

TweetShe does, it now seems, know that she has to start with something, and in this instance she has gone for the ” look tonight. Gilberto knows. Bela and Preta know. Verena knows. And now you know too. Happy tweeting :)

Oh, and if you want to follow us on Twitter I am @srerobinson and Maria is @DoraMoraesR.

In Praise of Globo TV’s Navegador

I just need to start this post by going a little retro, and head back to the UK in 1982, when a geekie 12 year old Simon was watching the very awesome new BBC programme creatively titled The Computer Programme. This was the year that PCs started to head out of offices and into people’s homes, and you can see the first episode here:

I can’t remember if I was first given my Vic 20 with 3.5K memory and a 16K RAM pack, but it was probably 1983, when the BBC then followed up with Making the Most of the Micro.

All good clean nerdy fun, and it is quite nostalgic looking back at what is now both hideously out of date, but also in some funny kind of way still relevant, as we head into a new paradigm shift, a new turning point, this time not just computational, but connected.


Which brings me to 2014 and Brazil, where there is a new-ish tech show on Globo called Navegador (which translates as navigator and browser), presented by the excellent Ronaldo Lemos, José Marcelo Zacchi, Alê Youssef and Hermano Vianna.

"The challenge of participation"

“The challenge of participation”

These guys sit around a hi-res table discussing a number of technology-related projects, initiatives and sites as well as discussing new ideas in business, culture, science, technology and the environment, such as last week’s feature on the circular economy.  The show is broadcast at 8.00pm, primetime, which means it is an extremely important showcase for many of the excellent, innovative and important initiatives which are happening all around Brazil.

This week there was a report about the renovation of an old chocolate factory, which has now become a hive of creativity for entrepreneurs, artists and young innovators. In my little neck of the woods in São Paulo, there are a huge number of derelict factories which would be amazing if renovated into tech-hubs for creative innovators. It would be amazing to have something like this.


You know what. I still go to lots of meetings, workshops and presentations where someone will put up a lot of slides saying how behind Brazil is in terms of innovation, and there will be graphs showing the UK, Sweden, the US, Japan and all the other countries leading the way. Well I’m bored of this.

These presentations teach me nothing about what my contribution could be to help develop, improve and put Brazil on the map. They also don’t reflect my own experiences here, where I see a hot bed of creativity and start-ups and a right old mish mash of something rather wonderful which is starting to emerge. The rest of the world would do well to start paying attention.

That is why Navigador is so important. Brazil doesn’t need more news reports of kids who have slept three weeks out on the streets waiting for the new iPhone, Xbox or Playstation. We need to be celebrating all that is excellent here, and showcasing it on primetime. The Navigador team ensure that there are many communication paths open to them to allow people to submit their own projects and initiatives, and that’s brilliant.

More please.

Related Articles

In Praise of Joia Rara – Globo TV’s Buddhist Soap Opera

Some notes on storytelling and sensemaking

Over the last few weeks the following short clip of Bertrand Russell has been appearing in my Facebook news feed. It is a wonderful clip and well worth watching:

In his message to future generations, he says that when studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ‘ask yourself only what are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. Look only and solely on what are the facts.”

This is quite awesome, but of course, there is one aspect that has to be taken into account, and that is that troublesome philosophical question of “what is a fact?”

Star Wars Storytelling and Sensemaking

I had a great time teaching holonomic thinking last weekend at Sustentare Business School, and we really went into this question in detail. As I think some of you will have seen, I have been using Star Wars recently to discuss the way in which leaders need to understand the path from data to wisdom, and this path takes in storytelling, sensemaking, mindfulness and humility.

We looked at the great experience of Dee Hock, the founder of VISA, who says that visionary and innovative leaders must be able to hold four different ways of thinking about a situation in their minds at the same time:

  • How things were
  • How things are
  • How things might become
  • How things should become

So unlike Bertrand Russell who only wants us to deal with the facts, for me I would side with Hock who takes a much more fluid way of thinking about reality and the world, in order to imagine how things could be in the future.

In thinking about intelligence, we can consider the well-known pyramid of knowledge. In this story, we start with a collection of data. This data is then processed into information, this information is then analysed which leads to knowledge, and this knowledge is then studied which leads to wisdom.

Wisdom pyramidHowever, this way of depicting the path from data to wisdom misses some important aspects of the way in which we process information. The biggest problem we have in organisations is the fact that as humans we pay attention to different aspects of reality based on how we imagine reality to be. So when faced with a wide array of data, our backgrounds, assumptions and world views will filter the data so that we focus on different patterns.

(There is also a huge parallel story of people who collect data but think they have information, people with lots of information who think they have knowledge, and people with plenty of data, information and/or knowledge who are convinced that they have achieved wisdom, but whose actions in life fall mightily short of the words they speak. But this is a separate story to where I need to take this article).

Different people will take the same data, select a limited set to analyse, ending up with different sets of information from which very different conclusions will be drawn. Just to help us think about this, we can scatter the pyramid of knowledge in the following manner:

Data Information Knowledge Wisdom

To make this more concrete we can imagine a large and complex IT project which consists of many different stakeholders from different organisations. Large IT projects not only have business owners, but also project managers, technical designers, programmers and outside consultants.  The reason why many complex IT projects either fail or are delayed at great expense is that different members of the project team fail to come to a unified understanding of what the requirements of the project are, at what stage the project has reached and what now needs to be done.

In the UK, in early 2014 the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) announced that it would have to abandon its Digital Media Initiative (DMI) at a cost of £98.4m last year. This caused a huge outcry amongst MPs angry at such a waste of taxpayer’s money.

In the last few years there have been many other high profile complex IT projects managed by the UK Government which have also failed:

  • Rural payments agency (subsidies to farmers) spent £32 million on a failed system. They then rehired the same IT company to do more work.
  • HMRC (UK tax office) spent £9 billion on an IT led change. 2m pay have paid too little tax, 4m people have paid too much.
  • 160 out of 9,000 health organisations are using a new patient record system costing the NHS £12.7 billion.
  • A project that was meant to save the Department for Transport (DfT) about £57m eventually cost £81m

The command-and-control logic of western high-volume manufacturing creates huge amounts of waste in organisations, as management separate the management of work from a workforce who actually do the work. But when an organisation, or a complex ecosystem of stakeholders manages to achieve a unified vision and instil a shared purpose across the whole organisation the results can be remarkable.

Sensemaking began in the world of human computer interaction to study the way in which people understood the technology they were being asked to use. It then spread to organisations, and there are now a range of methodologies to help people understand the way in which we frame situations differently, and therefore understand the same situation or scenario differently.

One example of sensemaking software is Sensemaker® developed by Cognitive Edge. The starting point for understanding Sensemaker® is based on the insight that people primarily make sense of the world through telling stories, and not through analysis.

Although people tell stories, they rarely tell fully constructed stories. Rather, when people engage in conversation, they do so by sharing fragmented narratives, such as anecdotes shared around a water cooler at work, or the swapping of memories at a family reunion. Sensemaker® attempts to capture these fragments of narratives, as these are the fundamental way in which we communicate, learn and perceive the world.

These narratives form a hugely valuable set of research data, and therefore must be captured in the field in their original form. Computers should not capture and analyse this data since semantic analysis is limited due to the flexibility of language. And neither should experts interpret the data, since as we have already seen, people are limited due to cognitive and cultural bias.

Sensemaker® allows the person providing the data to decide what it means. So for example, a traditional questionnaire may ask a question such as “are you consulted at work on a regular basis?” The answer that comes back will be an average answer based on month’s of experience.

Sensemaker® is different in that instead of asking questions, people are asked to provide anecdotes, each of which is a discrete item, and then to signify that these mean. In the example below, people are asked a question about leadership behaviour, and in giving them three dimensions, they are forced to think more about their response than just being given two dimensions. The placing of the dot in the triangle generates three items of quantitative data.


In terms of complexity, what we now have is distributed cognition, where people are adding layers of meaning to their answers, as opposed to the content being interpreted. Because the data does not suffer from disintermediation, i.e. filtered by some form of analysis, the data can be visualised using complex representations, such as fitness landscapes, which can store thousands of stories. The removal of intermediaries also allows the original material to be easily accessed in a variety of forms by decision makers.

Sensemaker® fitness landscape

Sensemaker® fitness landscape

In this landscape diagram for example, it is now possible to identify belief systems, and this approach to research is in direct contrast to traditional employee satisfaction surveys and customer questionnaires, because it allows the continuous free capture of narrative with instant feedback.

Sensemaker® software allows the interpretation of the capture of thousands of stories almost instantaneously, whereas traditional research such as questionnaires and surveys often result in a delay of weeks or months before the data is available.

Having sensed or seen an anomaly or interesting pattern, Sensemaker® therefore provides a powerful, natural and intuitive approach to gaining multiple perspectives and new insights into complex problems. It reveals the world as seen through the eyes of customers, staff and stakeholders, identifying ‘weak’ signals of hidden and emerging opportunities and threats. Good decision makers therefore use sensemaking tools in the following manner:

Good decision makers therefore use sensemaking tools in the following manner:

  • To empower decision making in policy, strategy and planning
  • To gain deep insights into customer, staff and stakeholder attitudes, opinions and values
  • To support organisational knowledge across teams, departments and silos
  • To assess project or program impacts and efficiency
  • To identify market shifts or trends before they can become a surprise

If we come back to my module at Sustentare last week, I was teaching a group of HR professionals. In a few weeks I will share some research from their thoughts on the value of developing sensemaking skills and an appreciation of complexity. But for now the main observation was how they described the current problems with leadership that they are facing.

These problems are not unique to this particular group. I would categorise the current crisis in leadership as an inability to see. This is what makes Bertrand Russell’s observation so interesting. It is one thing to collect and analyse facts, but some people simply cannot see what is right in front of them. They are not able to make sense of rapidly dynamic complex scenarios, and they are using outdated tools to understand how to really gain deep knowledge and wisdom by understanding the fragments of stories that people narrate.

Using Sensemaker® is one way forward, but leaders first have to understand why tools like it are so powerful. As Henri Bergson said “the eye only sees what the mind is willing to comprehend.”


SenseMaker® is a software ecology which integrates decision support, research, monitoring and knowledge management. It is available from Cognitive Edge from which the extracts in this article about the software come.

A Special Announcement: Our Workshop at Sustainable Brands London November 2014


I am absolutely delighted to be able to announce that Maria has been invited to join me this November at Sustainable Brands London where we will be running a workshop Holonomic Thinking: Upgrading Our Leadership Skills and Systems Thinking for the New Economy:

Maria Moraes RobinsonConfronted with rapid escalation of complexity in the world, business leaders and brand managers increasingly feel that they are no longer equipped to deal with the new economic paradigm which is emerging and being co-created. Many executives are continuing to use frameworks and methodologies designed decades ago, but this approach is no longer working. It is not always the case that we need to change our methodologies. What we need is a new way of seeing and thinking that allows us to be mindful and truly make sense of complex situations.

Holonomic thinking upgrades our way of seeing by expanding our mode of consciousness from the analytical to the intuitive; one that not only is able to understand the parts of a system, but at a deeper, intuitive level of perception, is also able to understand brands as the relationships and processes within that system.

This workshop will appeal to professionals who are looking to deepen their leadership skills relating to sustainability, strategy, branding, systems thinking, creativity and dialogue. It will include both powerful practical experiential exercises and case studies which practitioners can take back and implement with their own organisations and communities.

This is a three hour workshop which will take place on November 3rd. It is a deep dive into Holonomics and holonomic thinking, and will be our only workshop in the UK this year.


We are both really looking forward to the three day event which starts with six workshops, three in the morning and three in the afternoon. The next two days will see plenary presentations, break out sessions and plenty of networking opportunities, as well as the innovation open, a great opportunity for new start ups to showcase their ideas and gain global exposure to the world’s top brands and thought leaders in sustainability.

Sustainable Brands LondonAnd finally, Maria and I are very happy to be able to offer all readers of Transition Consciousness a special 20% discount for those of you wish to attend. Please get in touch with us via our contact page to find out more and for the discount code. We are grateful to Sustainable Brands for allowing us to extend this offer to all our readers of Holonomics, and also to all the friends of, and colleagues at Mandalah, Biomimicry for Creative Innovation, The Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open) and Schumacher College.

For complete information about Sustainable Brands London 2014, please be sure to check out the website: www.sustainablebrands.com/events/sblondon14

Encounters with otherness: Towards a participatory way of knowing – A Dissertation by Joana Formosinho

Joana Formosinho

Joana Formosinho

I am delighted today to be publishing this third dissertation from the 2014 class of Holistic Science at Schumacher College. Joana Formosinho is a zoologist with a background in animal behavioural research, but as she says in her introduction, she felt that her research and research methods had not brought her a profound level of insight:

I found that the doing of the science took me away from my study subjects rather than bringing me closer to them. After months of science on a particular species, I would find I knew a lot about them that was factual, but did not understand more about their way of being in the world; sometimes, I found I understood less, as though being was drowned in a sea of facts.

This is a feeling deeply shared by many scientists, including myself, trained in cognitive psychology, which brings them to Schumacher College, and to the masters degree in Holistic Science which has as its focus the mission of developing a science of qualities to complement quantitative scientific practices.

Joana’s dissertation is titled “Encounters with otherness: Towards a participatory way of knowing” and you can download a copy below. Please note that due to her illustrations, the file is quite large, 67MB, due to Joana’s beautiful sketches in which she illustrates her work.

Encounters with otherness: Towards a participatory way of knowing

Encounters with otherness: Towards a participatory way of knowing

In introducing Joana’s dissertation, I have two different audiences to consider. The first audience are those of you who are already familiar with Goethe’s way of science, with participatory forms of enquiry taught at Schumacher College and other like-minded educational institutions, and of the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods.

A second audience though who come to Transition Consciousness while having deep interest and a great deal of experience in the areas of sustainability, innovation, strategy, leadership and business design, may not be so acquainted with the form of inquiry that Joana’s dissertation takes, and so I thought I would first introduce some words which come from the late Henri Bortoft, one of the world’s foremost scholars in Goethean science:

Paying attention to the outer world generates inner responses that reveal the essential nature of whatever is being observed. The science that Goethe advocated was one in which we simultaneously observe the outer world as well as our inner responses to it. It is in a sense a mystical approach to science, a science of subjectivity rather than objectivity.

Goethe came to believe that all of life unfolds through the repetition of patterns. Everything that exists is a record of a unique pattern of unfolding and when you observe anything deeply enough you will see the unique underling pattern that is its essential nature.

Radical Inclusivity is the direct knowing of the nature of reality. When we liberate our minds, at least to some extent, from its current perceptual framework. We begin to see the underlying pattern of reality that normally lies hidden beneath our conventional awareness.

These three paragraphs of Henri’s were recently commented on by James Soutter, a regular contributor to the Henri Bortoft Facebook page which brings together researchers and practitioners of Goethean science, as well as those who have an interest in hermeneutics and phenomenology, and James made a hugely important observation on the importance of what Henri was trying to communicate:

These three paragraphs of Henri’s [above] express something which he seemed very keen to help people understand. Yet although there is little that is actually difficult about what he is saying here, its implications are so mind-blowing – and go so much against what we have been taught – that most people just seemed to glaze over when confronted with it.

What appears in the ‘exact sensorial imagination’ (although this is true of all imagination, albeit without its limpid clarity and receptivity) is not a *representation* of the phenomenon but a *higher dimension of the phenomenon itself*. I feel I should repeat this: what appears in the ‘exact sensorial imagination’ is not a *representation* of the phenomenon but a *higher dimension of the phenomenon itself*. It *is* knowledge of the phenomenon, in the exact meaning of Aristotle’s famous – but much misunderstood – observation that “knowledge is identical to the thing known”.

The epistemological implications of this are beyond immense. It means that knowledge is directly conveyed to us – without any intermediation – by the appearance, the manifestation, of the phenomenon within the imagination (another point Henri was often at pains to try to get across). True knowledge is the appearance of the phenomenon in the imagination, again not as a static image or representation, but in the dynamic form of appearing which shows us truths about the phenomenon – as a direct knowing – which are not discernible merely by an outward examination of it. And Henri wasn’t being hyperbolic when he suggested this is a ‘mystical approach to science': this is a form of knowing which is identical to the knowing of the mystics (for instance, the ‘infused science’ – “knowledge conferred on human beings without previous experience or reflection” – of the Catholic mystics).

And so this brings us back to Joana’s dissertation, which in focusing on encounters with otherness, is her journey into acquiring knowledge of things in themselves. The dissertation is written from the first person perspective, as Joana points out for the following reasons:

Firstly, because one of the problems with modern science is the passive, impersonal way we talk about it. By virtue of the methodology—detached objectivity—the scientist is removed from the science, and from the sharing of the science with others. The intention behind this is a striving towards objectivity, to get ourselves out of the way of seeing. It has a fundamental problem, however: that we, us as subjects and seers, are the only way we have to access the world and that no matter how much we try to remove ourselves, we are still there, trying to remove ourselves.

Secondly, because experiential narrative is in keeping with the phenomenological tradition within which I am working, where the focus of investigation is on direct experience as lived.

Thirdly, because the direct experience of the practicing scientist matters. Science is a human narrative of the world and scientists are transformed as citizens in the doing of their science. The science we have is an expression of our society and, engaged with at the level of process as well as outcome, can reflect our society’s state of being back to us for reflection.

All of these three reasons focus on science, but as Maria and I show in our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, this approach which facilitates encounters with the higher dimensions of phenomena are of equal importance in business. Last week I spent two days teaching what we call holonomic thinking to HR professionals, an approach inspired by Goethe’s phenomenological approach to science, where we re-aquaint ourselves with ‘seeing’.

Joana Formosinho illustrationIn these classes rather that exploring encounters with plants, we explored the sensory world of restaurants, and discussed how few business leaders have this expanded level of consciousness, which when combined with humility, keeps them open to an intuitive understanding of customers, clients, stakeholders and ultimately, their own business, their products, services, and of course people. I use this example to show just how important this exploration into ‘otherness’ is, and that it is not a philosophical extravagance, but a desperately needed aspect of our education that our current schooling misses out, thus leaving us as adults with a highly diminished and restricted experience of reality.

For this reason I strongly recommend that you download a copy of Joana’s dissertation and take time to enter into the spirit in which it is written – detailed, sensory and insightful. It complements the other two dissertations I have also recently published by Louise Pardoe and Richard Widows (links below).

Reading Joana’s dissertation is an opportunity to experience a first-hand account of ‘exact sensorial imagination’ and the other stages of Goethe’s extremely fluid methodology. As she writes in her closing section, ‘Goethe saw the essential aspects of nature as unquantifiable and sought instead to participate in nature’s qualities, to open himself to the things of nature, to listen to what they say.’ When I speak to students, I tell them I am attempting to help them master just two things – seeing and being receptive. When we acknowledge otherness, we acknowledge that we need a degree of humility to achieve this degree of openness to otherness, but those who do achieve this humility, gain an expansion of vision and untold power. Not a power over others, but in recognising others, the ability to co-create untold new realities in authentic participation.

To be taught how to listen to nature is to be taught from nature about our own powers of perception. These are huge lessons to learn, and I hope you enjoy all of these dissertations, that you yourself may then wish to be inspired to explore further the participatory way of knowing.

Related Articles

What if Human Beings Could Experience Life and Death Simultaneously? A Dissertation by Louise Pardoe

Goethe as a Pathway to Meaning and Connection – A Dissertation by Richard Widows