Creating aporia

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List of methods / Generic sense-making


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Creating Aporia

The following outlines both principles and practices - they all overlap and entangled in different ways. They should be part and parcel of what we do in organisations.

Most people have learned to play the corporate game by now so to create aporia focus instead on multiple interventions to change the dispositional state of the system and then respond as patterns emerge.

Linguistic aporia


Examples would include Gould’s creation of Exaptation to contrast with Adaptation along with Weick’s creation of sensemaking without a hyphen. Used well these combine the familiar with an unfamiliar twist.

Foreign words

Everyone in philosophy uses Weltanschauung, a german compound noun that means so much more than the literal translation world view. Nonaka’s use of BA, mine of the Cynefin®. Use a word from another language and you can tell the story of its meaning


Think of Zeno, or the liars paradox I always lie which means I just lied so I am telling the truth and so on. Paradoxical statements mean that you cannot resolve the question in a conventional way so you have to think about the problem differently


Has always been powerful. I recently used mycorrhiza to illustrate the role of informal networks in organisations. The Children’s Party story is still the best teaching story I have ever created and it makes the point about the nature of a complex adaptive system clear in a way that anyone can relate to.


A narrative form but powerful, it takes a situation that everyone knows and suggests an alternative. If Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had committed his troops to support Simon de Montfort at the battle of Evesham Wales might well still be independent. Something that of course, any educated person would know. A more obscure example would be if Wolfe hadn’t used Highland troops to scale the cliffs then he would not have won the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and as a result, the threat of French Invasion would have meant the American War of Independence would now have happened. If Lee had not had to reorganise his battle command structure following the death of Jackson, he would have won Gettysburg and so on. Sorry, I like this technique too much so have given more than one historical example, but it also works within organisations, and our Future Backwards method is based on this idea.

Use poetry

One of the great human capabilities, poetry creates space by playing with words that create different ways of thinking. I have used Frost’s Mending Walls many a time along with R.S.Thomas and others. I’m exploring the magical realist’s poets at the moment.


Probably one of the most popular approaches. I used Heidegger above, and I often use Lincoln’s As the times are anew, so we must think anew, act anew. There are many, many others. The authority of the person quoted, the formulation of the words can all achieve change.

Zen koans

Koans are designed to bring about an understanding that is beyond the cognitive. A koan often begins with the absurd and confusing before bringing about an experience of deep participatory knowing that cannot be explained.

Physical aporia

Physical ways in which physical activity and the wider environment can create the conditions to think differently and to find novel solutions in times of perplexity and confusion.

Physical interventions

  • Physical exercise
  • Physical craft skills
    • Woodwork
    • Cooking
    • Sailing
    • The rhythm of the work, the detachment from other concerns can itself be a form of contemplation
  • Meditation type practices
  • Creating space for contemplation
    • At the start of a workshop these can be a power game, an assertion of the facilitators authority and stature.
  • Evening class in any subject (as long as it's something that is nothing to do with problem subject)

More radical physical interventions

  • Fasting
  • Night Navigation

Note: Forcing managers into extreme physical acuities egged on by special forces instructors seems unethical as well in ineffective

Aesthetic aporia

Aesthetic is used in the sense of anything which is not linguistic or physical.

Art in human evolution is critically linked to innovation and the ability to think differently about things. They are part of the scaffolding (to borrow a term from Andy Clark) of our consciousness, and a form of communication in their own right.

Use of artists to create material

  • The use of cartoons, or illustrations like those from Gaping Void have real bite. This picture has the phrase “Same Cross different Nails” and the meaning is not spelled out, you sit back and think about what it means. Think also of Dilbert and many others over the years.
  • Fine art is different from cartoons but it can have a major impact. Think of Picasso’s Guernica and its worldwide impact at the time of that horror and since. Caravaggio has had a major impact on the development of the liminal aspects of Cynefin. Art students in all the disciplines are an underused asset in organisational change.
  • Photographs work in the same way, form the last Century think of the famous picture of a flower being placed in the muzzle of a gun or the naked girl burnt by Napalm in Vietnam. Photographic exhibitions can be very powerful and can link into material created through the first of the learning approaches listed below.
  • The use of satire. The puppets of Spitting image destroyed the career of David Steel in the UK by portraying him as a puppet in the top pocket of his more dominant partner David Owen (British political reference there) and satire is a British specialty. Listen to the Now Show on Radio 4 and many other examples. Satire deflates egos and satirical portraits are a great conference technique.

Real time performance

Learning through art

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