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Some of us find meaningful progress amidst the unknown; the rest of us wait until there is a clear path to follow. In this musing, I describe—with sincere irony, as if I were a nine-tailed zenko kitsune—The Nine Sensibilities of a ‘Quest Mindset’.
The intended audience for this is those who are not so familiar with the nebulous and mercurial ways of the foxwizard. My hope is the following serves as a conversation starter and grist for reflection.
A note on “sensibilities”
Before we delve into the Nine Sensibilities of a [checks notes] “Quest Mindset”—I feel it prudent to pause on the wondrous notion of ‘a sensibility’.
I consider a sensibility* to be a dynamically attuned perspectival acuity to emergent phenomena. That is, you have a nuanced and intuitive awareness of reality whilst also being aware that your perspective is in itself interpretive and thus only ever partially true. This sensibility informs what fluid, situational and relational stance° you adopt.
* A concept related to—yet distinct from—‘sensitivity’.
° I consider ‘stance’ to be more apt than mindset, but ours is a world that decries nuance so, in this instance, I will humorously roll with ‘mindset’ as the frame.
Sensibilities are very difficult to write about when abstracted outside of their context; and so what follows are more akin to soft principles one might generally adhere to whilst questing.
Are you even ready to quest?
Most aren’t! I’ve learnt this the hard way—as alluded to in my post: ‘Where Does Strategy Come From?’. Ready or not; quests will humble the unready and the ready alike. Or they simply won’t reveal their mysteries to you, and the whole endeavour will feel pointless.* Like a knight gallant, fixated upon a goal, yet finding themselves lost within the forest—happening upon the same glade, time and time again (oblivious to the faë).
* Still, this would be an improvement to conventional innovation theatre, I dare say.
° I highly recommend a viewing ofThe Green Knight—it depicts the mythical nature of questing so aptly.
Unless, perhaps, you adopt the following sensibilities.
You may be ready to quest if...
1. Your curiosity eclipses your conviction
Questing is not the domain of The Certain. If the path were clear—the answer obvious—there’d be no need to quest. If you’ve done it before and it makes sense to do it again, then: do so! Much of our day-to-day falls into this domain; questing is reserved for when the current default options are untenable—yet no viable alternatives seem apparent.
To quest, ergo, means we must venture into the unprecedented, uncharted and unknown. We do not attempt to ‘make’ the ambiguous clear, but instead to venture deeper into the mystery. Thus, a quester seeks not easy answers but better questions. Every question literally begins with a quest.
2. You are suspicious of goals
Save goals for the boy-heroes with stuff to prove, the zealots on a mission, and those who believe they have all the answers already.
To quest is to consort with the unknown. Why pre-determine a clear goal into an ambiguous future? To do so is to collapse all potential for novel discovery.
If one must have a navigational beacon, let it be a fuzzy constellation—a vague directionality to align our sextants to, should we find ourselves lost. Then, within this constellation, we focus not upon the stars but rather: the relationships betwixt. Not a specific north star—but the cloud-like nebulae that encompasses such.
3. You do not settle
Questers have a restlessness to them. A ‘constructive discontent’ with the status-quo, in a manner that cannot be ameliorated by mere incrementalism. The change sought by questers often lies outside of known paradigms. Not mere improvements to existing ways, but instead: whole new ways.
Many will lure you from your quest with shiny improvements to this and that; similar constructs repackaged as new. But questers aren’t so easily satisfied.*
* Remember: in a personal context, questing can bring about profound transformation. And, to make the point explicit for Enterprise Land: questing is the key to breakthrough innovation. That’s not to say that questing can’t inform and inspire incremental innovation—it can and does. It’s just to say that incrementalism does not harness the full potency of questing.
4. You do not play to ‘win’
There’s something a little sad about ‘winning’, in a finite/conventional sense. It heralds the end of play, and the creation of ‘losers’ (or: ‘those that did not win’).
To quest is to engage in infinite play. You do not play within boundaries in order to ‘win’; you play with boundaries in order to continue the play. You engage with the infinite unfurling with a horizonal way of seeing. (Thank you James P. Carse).
5. You are (at least somewhat) ‘construct aware’
To quest is to attain a newfound enchantment that exists on the other side of disillusionment. To find oneself disillusioned is to recognise that the constructs most of us hold to are, in fact, fabrications manifested via inter-subjective belief. To see through these illusions can invite much despair into your life—yet questers are able to transmute this into generative action. Becoming disillusioned allows you greater capacity to ‘see’—and thus to develop a renewed acuity for enchantment (and the glimmer of greater gestalts).*
* Note: this disillusionment might be one of the early milestones of questing. Fun!
6. You live and lead with(in) story
You have a keen sense of the mythopoetic, and the way that patterns of meaningness play out. Questers must (sometimes) seek the eddies in the otherwise default (‘mainstream’) narrative flow—places in which meanings can mix and new rivulets might flow. For a more comprehensive sense of this, I recommend to you Venkatesh Rao’s musings on psychohistory, along with Protocol Narratives.
7. You walk the path betwixt
Questing is non-linear. It’s not a double-diamond ‘ideas funnel’ where, after ‘brainstorming’ ideas, you progressively whittle them down into something palatable for senior executives to endorse, all neat, efficient and linear. When questing we must sometimes walk the labyrinths of reason, around and around, until some sort of post/para/trans/meta-rational (in)sanity becomes apparent. And sometimes we must oscillate betwixt seemingly opposing ways—straddling paradox—in order to surface an otherwise hidden ‘third position’.
The mythologist Dr. Martin Shaw writes:
To become a warrior of the elite class in ancient Ireland you had to learn how to dance on the tip of a spear, to become a sovereign you had two wild horses attached to your chariot, setting out in different directions. Your task was to create, between the warring directives of each, a third movement, forged from the tension of both wills. If you could thrive under that discord, stay upright in the unknowing, make play from the tension, then you had the capacity to be a sovereign. And it wasn’t just a case of bullying the horses but making a kind of alchemical covenant between the two: you rode the counterweight and something new was birthed. That requires patience and a certain amount of discomfort.
So what could that look like in our lives? It means rescuing little ideas that gleam for a second in our soul then disappear. Coaxing them back. It means attention to not this or that but possibly both or some other way entirely. This isn’t necessarily easy, being so conditioned as we are to yes or no, black or white. And sometimes that third position is not what many would call a logical response.
Coax them back.
8. You cultivate for serendipity
In How to Lead a Quest I emphasise the importance of ritual—sacred routines, wherein we deliberately carve out time against the default grain of busyness, in order to progress or protect what matters.
Questing is very much a paradox in the distraction economy. In most contexts, you need to operate in a bimodal manner—tending to the default (operational) demands of work and life whilst also questing deeper.
Rituals allow for the deepening. Done well, they becomes ways in which we can cultivate the conditions for serendipity and emergence. For individuals, this means: morning pages, artist dates, long contemplative walks in nature, long lunches with fellow questers, and intimate hangs with fellow (infinite) players. For enterprise, it means things like rhythmic gatherings of diverse questers into shared contexts with little-to-no agenda—other than that which emerges.
9. Your questing has purpose
Thus to quest is to pursue the unknown ‘betterment’ that at least partially resolves the constructive discontent we harbour. To ‘lead a quest’ is to shine a light on the path for others to follow.
And follow they will! By the time your quest has brought about its revelations—by the time you have, through much effort, somehow stumbled upon profound new insight—your work will have also made the path appear ‘obvious’. If you’re leading the quest well.
And this is where the settlers come in; come to capitalise upon the newfound synthesis and insight you have helped to pioneer amidst the wilds. They’ll find all sorts of ways to ‘optimise’ the insight you (and your crew) have gleaned. What was once profound will be rendered mundane—until the cycle of discontent begins anew.
Such is the way of those who quest
—until a day when, we too, ‘settle’.*
* But it is not this day!
Bah! That was my attempt to write a normie-friendly click-bait listicle. But, evidently: I can’t. I just can’t.
What we have here is a half-baked bricolage-pastiche that limply gestures towards a vague aesthetic without offering any discernible value whilst smugly virtue-signalling all the while (in vain). I’ve been close to deleting this but I am experimenting with the notion that, if I publish more regularly, a more effortless kind of flow might emerge. We’ll see!
Anyhoo, I hope there were at least some elements that struck a chord with you.
See you at The Rekindling, for those who can make it.
I found the following fruits in my traversing of the noösphere. Enjoy!
- I missed Dave Snowden when he was in town this time, so I’ve been on a mini-binge to subsume most (but not all, hoho) of the sensibilities he wondrously purports. I found that the sensibilities shared at ~26 minutes into The Problem with Developmental Models (on the Coaches Rising podcast) to be incredibly well put. I envy Dave’s ability to so eloquently encapsulate. “It’s actually more important to know what you shouldn’t do, than have a model what you should do,” Dave explains. “And if you look at the history of humans, all of our storytelling traditions tell stories of failure, not of success. Because we know the best way we can teach people is to actually tell them what not to do, based on our experience, but then leave it open for them to discover novel pathways. If you tell people what the pathways should be, you make them—to quote Alistair MacIntyre—anxious stutterers in the narrative of their own existence. Because you’re creating dependency on them.”
- 2022 seemed to be the year of ‘vibes’. Venkatesh Rao, as ever, was onto it early—and I long appreciated his definition of ‘vibe’: a vibe is an emotion pretending to be an explanation. Recently, the dangerlam got me onto this incredibly well-written piece (also from 2022)—Vibe, Mood, Energy | Or, Bust-Time Reenchantment by Mitch Therieau. But ‘vibes’ alone are not enough—what seems to follow, memetically, is an interest in ‘lore’. The laws of lorecore and lands of lorecraft (from later 2022) overlap and interplay here. These seem to me to be a renewed cultivation for emergent qualitative coordination principles that serve in an age where global meta-narratives no longer hold as reliable sources of coherence. There is a maturity here in that qualitative coordination principles make more sense as lead-attractors than quantitative attractors do. “Big numba target” only makes sense for period of time, and only at a crude granularity (low-resolution). Likewise, as social media empires continue to balkanize, there seems to be an emerging maturity for vibe/lore/myth (<— all of these said irreverently, in lowercase) to eclipse the quantitative vanity metrics that otherwise hoodwinked us from a decade. In other words: ‘follower count’ is not as meaningful an indicator of quality as many once thought.
- Yet beneath these qualitative ‘vibes’ and the emergent ‘lore’ tended to within the knowledge gardens of a living culture—we still have work to do. I fear we are in an age that is over-indexed in ‘thought leaders’ and ‘executive coaches’—and under-indexed in actual builders, researchers, maintainers, and so on. And because the distraction economy has convinced us we are ‘time poor’, we tend to favour quick, clear, simplistic shortcuts and ‘hacks’ over—bah! I have had this rant many a time. I may be preaching to the converted here; you know what I mean.
- Apologies for the facebook link, but I recently came across this animation from 2016 (which I watched without sound, hoho). It seems to depict the state of ‘progress’ from seven years ago—I’m not always convinced we have done much better. This video came out the same year that How to Lead a Quest was released, which has since plagued me with the question of what meaningful progress means—as distinct from the default progress narrative (“everything is getting better”). As I see that, right now—in 2023, amidst climate collapse—the government of this country is allowing trees that are hundreds of years old to be cleared out of public forests. The intent of this ‘glimmers’ section is to try find the bright things that are worth taking note of. Sometimes, it’s hard to find such. But I am glad for The Bob Brown Foundation, and similar organisations striving for a vision of the future that supports the flourishing of all life on this planet.
- Actually: the bright thing is The Rekindling. The regen-curious and regen-ready minds that these events attract gives me cause for some hope amidst it all. I’ve had many requests to do an online version of The Rekindling—it’ll happen, friends. Stay tuned. ♡
Thank you so much once again.