The Importance of Understanding Context

In This Podcast
Show Notes
Nora Bateson
E 144

In This Podcast

  • The perception habits we need to ditch
  • We have to learn to do things together
  • What is this warm data stuff?
  • The future Nora wants to see

There is a real pressure to solve the climate crisis and the myriad other environmental and social issues by breaking them down into their constituent parts, to solve them individually. But, says Nora Bateson, award-winning filmmaker, writer and educator, and President of the International Bateson Institute, this approach is the biggest challenge we need to overcome. 

We live in a complex, interdependent world, and to find new solutions we need to relearn how we think, feel and navigate, we need to adopt a different mindset. 

In this episode of Corporate Unplugged, Vesna and Nora discuss the need for a more diverse ecology of knowing; how do we know things? What is our ability to zoom in and study the details? And how can we zoom out and see the context?

To find out more, download and listen to this latest episode. 

Show Notes

Why we need to improve our perception of the complexity we live within with Nora Bateson

Nora Bateson is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and educator, as well as President of the International Bateson Institute (IBI), based in Sweden. Her work seeks to answer the question: “How can we improve our perception of the complexity we live within, so we may improve our interaction with the world?”.

The perception habits we need to ditch

The problem with our approach to trying to solve the many complex global issues we’re facing, is you can’t simplify a living system, says Nora. We don’t live in a linear world, where things are simply over there, or over here. When something ends, something else has already begun, it’s all mixed up. The major problems in the world today are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think. 

The way we understand things means we don’t see all of the beautiful interdependencies around us. That understanding of what causes what, what is effective, what is productive, are the habits of thinking which have been infected by industrial factories, says Nora, producing a logic that’s really deeply ingrained, that’s mechanistic. But that’s not how a meadow is; it’s not how a forest is.

“If you’re looking through the lens of a mechanistic idea of a functional forest, even the word functional has a mechanistic metaphor. When you do that, you start to illustrate an ecological system as parts and wholes that are functioning within particular thresholds.”

But these are the perception habits that come from the engineering world. Looking at the world this way, as a blueprint, is not how an ecology happens. That comes about over long periods of time, with millions and billions and trillions of organisms all changing each other. The question is, says Nora, what do you do about it? 

“When you’re looking at living systems, you’re never just dealing with something at first order. And yet, if you look at the SDGs, for example, there are a bunch of first order issues that are really all deeply end order systems.”

We need to address the issues of our time, says Nora, with the same logic and credibility and structure of thinking that’s creating the problem. This isn’t happening yet. But when that changes, when it becomes possible to perceive different things with different perceptions, says Nora, that’s when we’ll get different forms of action. But if we keep the forms of perception within the familiar, the responses will also remain within the familiar.

We have to learn to do things together

In the United States, says Nora, there’s this expectation that somehow success has to do with independence. And so there’s no implicit, tacit intergenerational learning of how to be dependent, and how to allow other people to be dependent, which is in absolute stark contrast to the trend right now around collaboration and community.

If we’re going into a time when we don’t know what to do, says Nora, the most important thing we can take with us is the possibility of improvising together.  We need to know how we’re going to get through it: what are we going to do when we’re in this new situation? Are we going to freak out? Are we going to kill each other? Are we going to hoard things? Are we going to share things? Are we going to build things? 

“Begin the practice of perception, the practice of improvisation, the practice of what it feels like to be in mutual learning. And one of the most challenging places to do that is in the intergenerational space.”

Which brings us onto warm data. 

What is this warm data stuff?

You can’t tell somebody to fall in love or not fall in love, says Nora. You can’t tell them to just stop being racist. You can’t tell them to stop wanting shiny things. You can’t tell people to care. They have to actually care. And so Nora’s work is about that nourishing of the underbelly, the submerging place of allowing people to perceive the world in a different way, with no instructions on how that will change their behavior or the way they think or feel. 

“You can’t tell people what to feel. But you can put things side by side that allow them to perceive things in other ways. And then they will feel differently. But you don’t get to say how. So for me that is ecological.”

When Nora works on warm data with organizations, one of the things she does is to invite the participants, the employees, to bring somebody from their life into the work, so that half the room are people who are have nothing to do with the organization, who know nothing of the inner toxic workings, the bad things, the politics, the gossips. They’re simply associated through somebody that they care about. 

Why? Because who someone is at work isn’t their whole being. This practice forces organizations to realize that the organization is more than just an organization. For too long there’s been a free pass for the business world to say, but profits come first, we have to make a profit. But at what cost? Asks Nora. Organizations have to know where the cost is coming from.

“Warm data work is never about the organization. It’s working with complexity, and the complexity is going to include more than the organization, if it doesn’t, you’ve done something terribly wrong.”

The future Nora wants to see

“The future I want to see is the one I cannot even imagine right now, I have no idea what it would look like because that’s the one where I know the limits of my perception have been expanded.”

If you can envision a future, then change hasn’t happened, says Nora, and we’re still limited by the same perception we currently have. So, how do we get somewhere we don’t know exists? By pushing our sensory processes – by painting the texture of your coffee, dancing the flavor of a rose, doing things you aren’t used to doing will allow you to open possibilities of new perception.

Doing things that are surreal, says Nora, things that are asking you to perceive in new ways, being with people from other cultures who confuse you, getting lost, bringing neighbors into the organization, anything you can do to push the boundaries, to make it confusing, is how we’re going to find solutions. We have to get disoriented in order to get our orientation.

“We’re very much like that movie, The Matrix, where you can only see what you see, because you see what you see. So you see what you see. Because that’s all you can see.”

There is a creature in all of us, says Nora, that’s exhausted from being contained in the cages we’ve created around us. Don’t forget to be human, together with other humans. We’re a living creature in a world of living organisms; don’t forget to be alive. It’s what the world needs most right now. 

If the talk resonates with you, we’d recommend you listen to this episode too: Oren Lyons