How many potatoes can you see?

How many potatoes can you see in this photograph?

King Edward potatoes (

Is this a strange question? Is this a trick question? What is your answer?

If your answer is three then that is the same as my answer. But if your answer was three, that is not the same as my answer.

What on earth am I talking about?

There are I guess a number of answers, but from a Goethian perspective, from the perspective of someone who has studied Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants, the answer is three and the One.

There are three potatoes there, but also there is also the One plant, the One potato plant which is only able to be comprehended in one’s intuition.

John Seymor in his book The Country Explained explains:

“The potato is not grown commercially from seed, but from sets which are just potatoes, and so all the potatoes of one variety in the world are one plant. They are one individual which has just been divided and divided. When you produce a new variety you have to first of all fertilise the plant with the pollen of another one. But when you have got your new variety, after that the breeder arranges for the new variety to be multiplied by setting the actual potatoes from it. And if it proves a popular variety the original half dozen or so potatoes on the first ever plant of that variety may turn by division and subdivision into billions and billions of potatoes, all parts of that same plant. It would be interesting to know how many billions that first Kind Edward potato had turned into.”

If this post is a little strange, it is designed to make one single point. When we attempt to comprehend organic systems, we simply can not do so using mechanistic thinking. Organic systems have what Henri Bortoft calls “the internal dimension of One” which is an additional dimension to the three of space and one of time that we use in every day thinking. When we look at organic systems, we have to do so at a much deeper level than we do when analysing machines, and this thinking is on the whole missing in business life. Although there is a trend towards seeing organisational systems as organic systems, if we view organic thinking mechanistically, we are left where we started, seeing the organisation as a mechanism, and failing to see is whole.

Much of my work is designed to really help people see and comprehend authentic wholes, as opposed to seeing counterfeit wholes, and this is in relation to seeing organisations as systems, organic systems and not mechanistic systems. Be aware of this when people tell you that they are systems thinkers. If they are only seeing in three dimensions plus time, then they can only ever talk to you about counterfeit wholes, and not truly organic complex systems.

2 responses to “How many potatoes can you see?

  1. Pingback: Reflections on my two days at Sustentare Business School « The Transition of Consciousness·

  2. Pingback: The saying of what you meant to say – a deeper look at Storytelling « The Transition of Consciousness·

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