Trickster & The Rekindling
A new mini-event series + thoughts on renewal and rot
What-ho and hello! I’ve been wanting to burn it all again—to abandon all of my projects and start anew. (And how are you?)
Perhaps this is all due to my ongoing subtle fascination with the Trickster, and the mythic role they play in regards to disruption and renewal. I know this to be a pattern of mine—yet why so this reluctance to write?
It’s certainly not the act of writing itself, for I very much relish it. It’s just that I rarely seem to find the gumption or gall to ‘publish’ on most of my musings these days.
And yet every now and again events conspire to see me do so: such as now.
For I have been conspiring with a friend to put on a few events.
Lo! I present thee with The Rekindling.
The wizard Paul Kearney and I are hosting a humble event series throughout Spring. We seek to gather the bright minds and warm hearts within our network, so as to collectively explore the real and unfurling possibilities of regenerative ecologies, finances, futures and more. Tickets are incredibly accessible, bookings are essential, and all proceeds go to the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Lab. This event is graciously hosted by Kearney Group.
For dates, details, and a little video from moi, head to drjasonfox.com/rekindling.
We are elated to be bringing this event series to you. For the first time in quite a long time, I feel as if I have found a glimmer of what could be ‘optimism’ (amidst the otherwise mess we find ourselves in). It’s given me cause for hope, or at least a simulacrum of such. And I can’t wait to share this with you. Our topics will cover quests, pirates, myth, climate, moloch, web3, regenerative systems and more.
Join us, if you can.
This is The Museletter of Dr Fox; a personal epistle written once every aeon or so. If a friend forwarded this to you, you can subscribe here.
If you’d like to book me for a keynote or a fireside—please let the dangerlam know. Thrice in the past three weeks we have had three folks all request the same date (for events in three different cities). I am not making this up.
Also: the alluringly efficacious ‘Choose One Word’ Ritual of Becoming remains free with the code LETSGETMYTHICAL. I seem to have cursed it for myself by reifying it into A Thing—and so, for the first time in over a decade, I don’t actually have a Word—but many continue to delight in the program itself. I’ll be okay, though, for I’ve learnt to let these things take their own course. Despite the temporary absence of a beacon Word, there is no lack. Or maybe there is a Word that calls to me, yet I fret for what it might entail. I must sit with this a little more.
Meanwhile: I have been speaking at conferences, off-sites and retreats again. Gosh I love it. The posturing betwixt events? Not so much. But the events themselves—wondrous! I still love the virtual events too, of course (so warm, so intimate)—but the return to the corporeal realms has been a veritable delight. I am genuinely surprised by how much I have missed it.
Anyhoo, there seems to be a commonality across the contexts of the various clients I have worked with this year. The thread is that many have grown rapidly over the past two years, amidst the disruptions and opportunities borne of the pandemic. Thus, these events present a chance for remote/distributed individuals and teams to gather, connect and cohere together in person.
If you’re leading a team that’s just merged with or otherwise absorbed other teams, then you’ll know the growing pains this brings.
At one level, the assimilation into a shared modus operandi is the first hurdle. It’ll be bumpy: the teams you have brought on will have had their own way of doing things—systems that may even be better than the current systems you have. Yet there’s not quite the time to get it all neat and perfect for everyone—these new teams will need to ‘hit the ground running’, as it were.
And yet… if their systems are better, does it not behoove us to work to improve the way we work? You know it does. But maybe not all of their systems are better. And maybe some of their ways don’t quite work for the culture you have grown. Hrmm! And thus we find ourselves in the glorious mess of dynamic flux—which is exactly where systems need to be, from time to time.
But such flux is oh so uncomfortable compared to the sense of security found within the predictable patterns of the defaults we already have. Because remember: our defaults are the options we choose automatically in the absence of viable alternatives. They’re what we turn to when we feel pressed for time. They’re safe, measurable and familiar—and therein lies the peril (as I discussed in my last musing: Where does strategy come from?).
But the systems we work with and within are just one aspect of what teams need when merging through change—another aspect is: a coherent story. Or rather: a coherent constellation of stories.
This is very much in the domain of the mythopoetic. What are the meanings we make of our work and the role we play within society and the greater living world? Is our story stale, or brimming in potency? Is it coherent and compelling—or confused and contrived? Does it beckon congruence, or merely compliance? And… is this co-created and emergent—or are we trying to install a neatly manufactured story into the organisation via means of cleverly crafted propaganda?
For we live in an era of flagrant purpose-washing. Every corporate organisation has some version of an otherwise utterly generic ‘purpose’ statement, all polished and pithy, set to the backdrop of stock photography of green fields and clear skies. I’ve written on the Perils of a Pithy Purpose before (<— though my own thinking has evolved since I wrote this post six years ago; goodness)—but I am not necessarily talking about crafting anything here. This isn’t something to be ‘workshopped’ with whiteboards and post-it notes, nor is it about working the thesaurus on the standard set of values (respect, integrity, diversity, care, quality, collaboration, innovation, safety, environment, etc etc) so as to come up with something seemingly unique. Dr Fox does not dabble in the infantile and asinine methods of lesser consultants, and I lament the reduction of the mythopoetic in any form (even as I do so here).
But yes: there’s propaganda and optics—and these things can be architected, to a degree.
But the ‘real’ stories emerge late at night over whisky at the bar. They emerge in conversation with close friends who ask “what’s it really like to work there?” They emerge in frank conversation when family when they ask how you are. They emerge amidst calamity and crisis, particularly when things are not working.
The real stories are thus as nebulous as they are true—there’s nothing to grasp or even point at, if you don’t have some distance from it. And yet still, the ritual of gathering together for an event does offer us the chance to renew our relationship to the stories we are collectively weaving and immersed within. Great events even offer us the chance to coax new coherence, aptness and vim from the stories at play.
So, choose: renewal or rot
It’s a trick question of course (there’s always a third way), but regardless: the path to renewal is nicer without the rot. If things are too rigid, too static, too stagnant for too long—the rot will come. Better to skip the rot by intentionally renewing, I say. For as the philosopher James Carse says: “Only that which can change can continue: this is the principle by which infinite players live.” We play to continue the play.
Events have the potential to be rituals for renewal.
Festering conflict betwixt executives is exorcised through some quality time together, in the flesh (and maybe a heated conversation, a long walk, a whisky, an apology and some laughter). The apathy and torpor borne of extended periods of remote work at one’s home office is dispelled via the refreshing realisation that, huh, my team mates are actually really lovely people.
Events are a kind of magic. Always have been.
Yet the magic is emergent—and so easily quashed if rigidity is heavily imposed.
Some structure is needed, of course. I’ve been to more than my fair share of ‘un-conferences’ with no agendas that end up dominated by the most extraverted narcissists in the space. And whilst these can be fun, they often ring hollow.
But when I see agendas packed with content and big desks of AV crews and runsheets broken down into single minute increments and folks fretting about powerpoint slides and tables arranged far too neatly in some sort homage to the school classroom and pull-up banners and mentos mints and breakouts in stale boardrooms and panel sessions where clearly everyone has been briefed and has rehearsed their responses and speakers who take their own bios too seriously and so on, well: it’s all an invitation for Trickster to come mess things up a bit.
This is a role I seem to find myself playing in response to rigidity—a sort of pleasant and less scatologically-inclined version of Trickster. Trickster-lite, I guess, to intentionally disparage myself. Trickster wannabe (if only temporarily, to serve).
Trickster begets renewal, just as Fool asks the naïve questions and Jester speaks truth to power. There’s a timelessly apt profundity to all of this—and yet I fear becoming a ‘myth bro’. Just as we have crypto bros, gym bros and [insert any edge case]-bros, so too I fear myth becoming rendered into A Thing. In all of these examples, the bros are the belligerent mansplainers; full of conviction yet oblivious to context, perception, subtlety and grace. Just as a sure way to frustrate a poet is to explain their poetry, so too does the explanation of myth (or any complex emergent phenomenon) somehow neuter it. Maybe I am perpetuating this; I don’t know. But I shall do my best to tread lightly and court the whole matter surreptitiously. With sincerity yes, but also with an amused glint.
This somewhat relates to a passage from Lewis Hyde in Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art—in that I am wary of whenever anything becomes reified into a singular Way. We saw this with Agile, and we see this with a lot of Leadership fads, “SeLf HeLp” books and even, amusingly, within complexity science itself. This might be at the heart of my reluctance to publish my writing—it reifies what is otherwise a nebulous, dynamic and contextual proto-synthesis. And then the internet preserves it in a kind of undeathly stasis—free from rot and renewal (a concept I find mildly abhorrent). (Side note: Maria Clara Parente writes of the implications of this in Cancellation is the child of a culture that doesn’t compost).
Anyhoo: the passage from Lewis:—
“Better to operate with detachment, then; better to have a way but infuse it with a little humour; best, to have no way at all but to have instead the wit constantly to make one's way anew from the materials at hand.” – Lewis Hyde
(Yes, I have used this quote before <—the musing from four years ago seems apt today.)
If there was a point to this whole musing, it probably comes from a podcast I became enamoured with recently: Trickster Jumps Sides: Disruption and the Anatomy of Culture on The Emerald Podcast by Joshua Michael Schrei. And that is: we must make a ritual of renewal—and welcome Trickster’s disruption. This may be as an antidote to the terminal seriousness I see plague much of Enterprise Land. To quote from my beloved James Carse again: “To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself.”
I will share my path to finding Joshua’s podcast in a moment, but here are some snippets from the episode that struck me as incredibly timely, resonant and apt.
Trickster is a refresher of worn out systems, a challenger of idols that have gotten far too holy.
Systems, organisations, societies, communities, political parties, spiritual orders, even individual bodies perhaps, need to ritualise their own disruption and renewal—or they rot from within.
Any time any ‘ism’ comes along and gets a little too rigid, Trickster is going to come along and test the boundaries. Any time a social structure gets too comfortable resting on its own laurels and gets reluctant to look at its own dirt, Trickster shows up. Any time we think we’ve found the one world view to rule them all, Trickster says: not so fast.
Joshua’s done sessions with the rogue Tyson Yunkaporta, too, and I am very keen to dive into more. A little worried as well, I must admit: Dr Fox’s reputation was originally built on being the “introverted science-based alternative to fluff and fistpumping rah-rah”. This has and in many context still continues to be a very commercially effective way for me to smuggle mythopoetic notions into Enterprise Land (as part of my everquest to co-create a world more curious and kind). But ever since How to Lead a Quest plagued me with the question “what is meaningful progress?” (particularly at higher orders of complexity), I have found myself drawn to the more-than-rational world (meta-, para- and even trans-rational) as a means to decipher how we might all coordinate more effectively amidst the meta-crisis and sublime decay we find ourselves within.
A little while ago I came across a podcast from The School of Mythopoetics. I love the word mythopoetic—but I rarely see it in use; let alone to behold a fully-fledged School of it. And whilst I still notice within me some allergies to the seemingly hippy aspects of it all, I deeply respect the latent wisdom to be found amongst it. Particularly this episode with Dr Martin Shaw on The Fall and the Underworld, where I think it is fair to say that one may be incredibly attuned to the mythic whilst still being oh so very grounded. Perhaps, even more so. (Definitely, I suspect).
This episode offers a deeper dive on Navigating the Mysteries—an essay by Martin in The Emergence Magazine (and something that can be listened to, too). Verily, I can listen to Martin speak for hours on end. The bardic sensibilities he embodies are so incredibly warming and refreshing.
My meanderings then took me this episode on Egregores, Mobs and Demons—a conversation with Jordan Hall and John Vervaeke on The Symbolic World. I realise now that my own writing on Warlocks at Work (which contemplated the notion of the Enterprise Egregore) was, in hindsight, endearingly naïve. Still; I find it a useful frame—particularly when we contemplate the role of parasitic processes, as discussed in the podcast. Speaking of…
I am pondering a podcasts again
I helped open an event for a leadership offsite earlier this week, and in the lunch that followed I had someone ask me when I was releasing a new podcast episode. “Hoho I deleted my podcast years ago!” I guffawed. But then: lo, it turns out there are rogue impressions of it littered throughout the internet. One can still find my old podcast—even if they can’t listen to the episodes. It thus persists as a mildly embarrassing ghost-of-an-echo of my past self.
Oh the internet, and its undeathliness. Part of me wants it all to be neat. I lament the fact that I have so many websites—drjasonfox.com (my enterprise propaganda), cleverness.com (which sorta hosts The ‘Choose One Word’ Ritual of Becoming), foxwizard.com (my as yet unconvincing attempt at a casual blog), fox.substack.com (the platform for this museletter), medium.com/@drjasonfox (a once-upon-a-time attempt at regular writing). I’m sure there’s more.
I struggle to accept the mess. I want it all prim and neat again before I go contemplate anything like the rekindling of a podcast. But, hohoho, the irony. It’s ridiculous. Earlier in this musing I talked of the glorious mess of dynamic flux (whatever that means) in empathy for teams merging and growing and going about systems renewal. But when it comes to my own world? Ha! Perish the thought. I shall persist neatly in my obscurity, pretending not to look at the mess I have made in my own wake; thoughts strewn about the noösphere.
Except I am feeling that my prolonged time in hermetic Hermit mode may be coming to an end. And perhaps I am just flattering myself with all this avoidance fret-work; a supreme indulgence. Besides: I am curious as to what is emerging here. It may well be a podcast again—I am very grateful to this person (I forget your name!) for being so encouraging about it. I deleted my old podcast at the time because I was going through a kind of grieving and it was beginning to all feel performative and forced.
But I think, perhaps, I may be ready to share in this mode once more. Perhaps. I don’t tend to trust my own proclamations and neither should you but: let’s see.
Okay friends, I must conclude this epistle. Thank you for your attention, it is always appreciated. Come along to the event if you can; it would be lovely to see you.
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