More beautiful than a ready made world, ctd.

I thought of this older post while sitting in on a meeting yesterday with the many shareholders of the IdeaFestival. The economics and business writer John Kay, on getting there from here:

Obliquity is equally relevant to our businesses and our bodies, to the management of our lives and our national economies. We do not maximise shareholder value or the length of our lives, our happiness or the gross national product, for the simple but fundamental reason that we do not know how to and never will. No one will ever be buried with the epitaph 'He maximised shareholder value'. Not just because it is a less than inspiring objective, but because even with hindsight there is no way of recognising whether the objective has been achieved.

Inspired yesterday by the resolute ambition of the people in that room, I thought I'd take another crack at an older post.

On Kay's view about what we can know about complex systems, certainty is never attained. Whether we are dealing with social networks, economies or the motes in quantum fields, the best that can be done is to approximate or model the whole, to live in concert, to react and adjust to the information at hand. I find this very satisfying.

I think you will too. How many times, for example, have you taken a personal risk only to be rewarded with a pleasant and unexpected outcome, or looked back with hard won contentment at the twist and turns your life has taken? You got the girl or the guy - or the job - or the happy prognosis. To become experts in our lives we must take risks, and having taken the risk, welcome what comes next with the understanding that the knowing is never complete. Contentment, after all, depends at least as much on acceptance as it does knowledge.

And speaking only for myself, we all could do with a little - no, make that a lot - less certainty from the so-called experts in the cable news magisterium, or anywhere else, who would warn us of the perils of change, or focus incessantly on any one outcome in the service of same. The problem is not that these individuals aren't, or can't, be right, but that the rightness or wrongness of any prediction made about economies or technologies or civil society can't be known in advance, or often, as John Kay says above, in hindsight.

For me that means a dialog built on faith is essential, never mind whether that faith calls on the supernatural or not. For me it means putting one foot in front of the other and trusting that I won't fall down.

Kay's uncertain route "relevant to our business and bodies" is also why I love the IdeaFestival. I didn't know exactly why in the beginning, but I knew I had to be a part of a celebration of possibility. What I have come to understand now is that a certain stance toward the future, a stand-up-straight, throw-your-shoulders-back affirmation that we're not, as Stanley Kunitz once lyrically said, "done with our changes yet," can't be separated from the future or futures we get. Nor can it be separated from any change worth having.

Stay curious.


Photo of John Barker: Geoff Oliver Bugbee