Intuition, Paradigm Shifts and the Four Qualities of Knowing

Jung's Mandala and the Four Ways of Knowing

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about intuition as I have been thinking about this a lot recently. The word intuition is often closely associated with feelings, in that we sometimes say that we have an intuition that something is good or something will happen without really knowing why. Although some leading scientists such as Rupert Sheldrake have investigated this aspect of intuition in both people and animals, on the whole most scientists reject any notion of parapsychological aspects to intuition.

It is of course interesting that many scientists experience many of their greatest insights in the three Bs – bath, bike and bed. The human brain never ceases to amaze me and how it can carry on processing issues and problems in the unconscious, then surprising us with an answer at a point in time when we least expect it.

This type of scientific intuition is getting closer to what I want to talk about, but it is not quite what I mean by intuition. If you look at Jung’s mandala above, there are four different types or ways of knowing, all of which are tightly connected and are in no way independent of each other. The mandala reflects the fact that we all have our own unique paces on it, and some of us have one particular way of knowing which is more pronounced in us than all the rest.

The intuition that I would like to speak about is not one based on feelings, and neither is it based on our intellectual academic symbolic abstract logical way of thinking. It is an extremely profound experience of the direct comprehension of an idea, phenomena or process which can only be experienced in one’s intuition and which can not be expressed in any symbols, language, mathematics or model.

For me one of the greatest intuitive scientists was Goethe, who developed a scientific method he called Delicate Empiricism, and through this method Goethe was able to perceive the underlying lawful principles of morphology across animals and across plants. Darwin too was a great thinker who in spending eight years observing barnacles, came to the realisation that variation in species did not happen only in rare moments of change, but that variation was in fact a continual condition or quality of life itself. Darwin unlike Goethe them attempted to locate a theory in which to express this insight, and his theories were influenced by the industrial and economic theories of the times in which he lived.

I am not entirely sure that we have any way of measuring intuitive insight in people. The IQ tests of intelligence that claim to measure intuition only seem to be aiming to measure our ability to solve problems when not consciously focussing on them, but scientific intuition is all about the conscious comprehension of complex or profound insights. It is therefore a subject that I continue to be interested in and studying, while at the same time helping businesses to first become aware of this faculty in their staff, and then actively work with it.

What do I mean by this? Well for me what I see in business is a great focus on process and processes. I also see quite a big difference in the style of thinking and business practices between North America and Europe. American gurus seem to love their step processes, 5 steps to this, 7 steps to that, 10 steps to unlimited wealth and happiness. Us Europeans, and again I certainly mean no offence to those wonderfully profound North American thinkers from whom I have learnt much, we Europeans seem to be much more comfortable discussing meaning, the meaning behind the appearance of things.

I don’t really know why this is, but perhaps this is because Europe (as compared with North America) has such a longer history, and was founded on a culture of philosophy from Ancient Greece. (Again, I am someone who greatly respects indigenous wisdom from around the world, and also the much older cultures from India and Asia, but again this do not form part of what I am discussing today).

The Balanced Scorecard business process

Where I am trying to get to in all of this is that we now seem to be living in a period of time when our business lives are dominated by process. Many businesses have developed their own internal processes, and there are many successful processes such as Balanced Scorecard which have materially changed the nature of many organisations around the world. These processes are absolutely needed for the smooth and successful operation of any large organisation, but sometimes they are not enough. In our highly connected and complex world, however strong the processes are of an organisation, it still seems that we encounter problems. The solutions to these types of problems do not lie in more processes, but the solution lies in the transformation of our thinking.

What I would like to offer here is a description of the four qualities of knowing. It is quite rare to discuss the qualities of thinking, although Otto Scharmer in his book Theory U does an excellent job in taking people through one particular form of changing consciousness and awareness. What I am about describe is far outside of the comfort zones of the majority of organisations, but we need to open the dialogue on this, since this for me is the process we need to go through to achieve a genuine comprehension of new paradigms.

Paradigm shifting is a concept that business seems to love, but from my perspective rarely, if ever, achieves, so let’s now take a look at how we can comprehend the four qualities of thinking by likening them to the four elements of earth, water, air and fire.


Earth thinking is our every day three dimensional mechanical thinking. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, it helps us navigate our world which we experience as having four dimensions – three directions and time, even though our science tells us that our world is quite the opposite of how we imagine it to be. Earth thinking is one of solidity, solid concepts, it is the world in which we are grounded, reassuringly familiar, predictable, controllable and knowable. Many people are so comfortable in this way of knowing our world, they are so rooted to it that they are unable to engage in any meaningful dialogue, so sure they are of the facts, of reality, that their version of reality is the true one.

Water and flow

When we engage in true dialogue, we move into a more fluid way of thinking. Our concepts become less fixed as we realise that we may have significant things to learn from others, and we are therefore able to adapt our concepts as we take on the alternative perspectives and points of view of others. Conversations can flow when barriers are removed, such as our certainty in our own beliefs, our desire to learn, our abilities to listen without judgement.

Air – Twilight over Edinburgh

In Portuguese the word inspiração means both inhalation and inspiration. Air is much lighter than water, and when we transform our thinking again we are able to achieve ever higher levels of inspiration, sometimes without truly understanding where this inspiration came from. In yoga and other practices there are many breathing exercises which are used to calm the mind and achieve a deeper level of mindfulness. Air thinking is not bounded by limitations or restrictions, our concepts collide and fuse in a heightened level of creativity and insight.


Fire is the element of transformation. Just as we are scarred of fire as it can burn us, we are loathe to enter into fire thinking as it involves the dissolution of ego. We can not transform ourselves with this thinking unless we can leave our prior selves behind, and many people are unable to take this step into the fire. Fire is higher than air, since we no longer separate that which we observe and attempt to comprehend from ourselves. We no longer comprehend and aim to comprehend objects which are separate from we subjects. It is only by entering the fire that there is an alchemical transformation enabling us to reach a depth of profound comprehension which previously eluded us.

It is almost impossible to really put this level of comprehension into words, it is more a level of comprehension that can only be directed towards. It is the place where paradigm shifts do and can happen, such as comprehending life not as a machine, not as mechanism, but life and reality as dynamic process, as unity, where there are intrinsic as well as external relationships between phenomena.

There are of course now many questions arising from my own take on the four qualities of thinking. Just reaching the fire stage is one thing, there is then the question of what do you bring back into this world based on the insights attained, if indeed you wish to?

There will be plenty of people who do not wish to undergo this process of personal transformation and that is fine. But for those who do, how do you instigate it? Who is able to facilitate the process, how long will it take and what does it mean for creativity, innovation and dialogue in organisations?

It is fascinating for me to see the whole notion of storytelling suddenly becoming fashionable recently as a business trend. Much of it is superficial, and appears to be a way of enabling organisations to communicate with their customers in a way in which the customers can comprehend the service or offering. Storytelling did not begin with the objective of selling more stuff to more people. It began as an attempt to enable we humans to explore and comprehend our place on earth. Storytelling through myth allowed those who had stepped into the fire to come back out of the fire and give all people from every direction, from the north, south, east and west a sense of who we are.

I just wonder if we can utilise storytelling not to enable us to carry on as we have done, ironically enough, with the same story of selling more, consuming more and wasting more, to one where we experience a true shift in paradigm, one where we are able to live in harmony with the planet. This time will come when more and more of us are no longer content with our own personal stories, and we come together to learn, shift our thinking, deepen our intuition of what life is, and commit ourselves to this path of transition.

9 responses to “Intuition, Paradigm Shifts and the Four Qualities of Knowing

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  7. Hi Simon,

    I would like to dive deep into this topic you are writing, could you recomend any reading. I am now with Henri Bortrof’s book.

    Thnk you!

    • Hi Delifina,

      In our book Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design we cover this issue extensively, especially in our chapter titled “The Transition of Consciousness”. We also cover this issue in Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter. The other book you may wish to look at is Emma Kidd’s “First Steps to Seeing” which I review here:

      • Simon thank you!! I am actively researching a Program in School Climate and Emotional Education, and what I am finding is that when we create nourishing spaces where we can bring ourselves fully we can heal. I think its connected with this 4 ways of knowing.

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