We must change ourselves to change society after all

This blog post is part of a dialogue with Augusto Cuginotti on his post Bummer, We Can’t Change Society After all.

Augusto is very skeptical on how apt we are to change a system we are part of. If are part of a web of conversation that formats the way we live, think and event shapes our brains, how can we change that system? Fishes are not aware of water; they’re immerse in it as we are in consumism, materialism, modernism and many other “isms” that paved our way to the present disaster.

But I disagree with Augusto in some way, and that pleases me, because we usually agree so much that our conversation might not be creatively relevant J. He’d agree that variety is the basis of innovation (to use Paul Pangaro’s words).

My point is that new language emerges not only as adaptation to changes in the environment, as my friend argues. I’d point to some possibilities of emergence of new language, conversation and societal innovations that might be of another nature:


The first one, of course, and very dear to me is art. Take literature, take Nietzsche for example. His words are certainly not reactive, although he cannot speak from anywhere other than where he stands: German society in the second half of the 19th century. Says him:

“When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding. Yet this is how matters stand regarding seeking and finding “truth” within the realm of reason.”

We usually find in things what we have put in them, therefore we are trapped.

Maybe that is what Augusto means when he says we must step out o four own world to try to see it more clearly. That is exactly the operation proposed by Maturana with his powerful question “how do we do what we do?sharkspan

Now Nietzsche is a philosopher. Take Leonardo, or even contemporary artist Damien Hirst and his intriguing piece called “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, featuring a huge white shark that seems alive against all possibilities. We cannot imagine what death is, even when facing it. All we can think of is “it looks alive”, we cannot feel death even then.

So being close to artistic perspective is today more important than ever, because we need to dare, we need odd questions, enigmas. We must imagine the unimaginable.

Analytic imaging

On the other side of the spectrum there are “analytic guys. I’ve never been so fond of engineers and programmers as I am today. In the classroom I can feel they are good listeners (be logical and convince me, them I’ll follow you) and can be highly creative.

In his book Program or be Programmed, Douglas Rushoff proposes we must crack the codes of society, we must understand what is behind the life we live, specially after technology blurred our consciousness of how things work by offering beautiful digital interfaces. That is a job for hackers (not necessarily evil, as most people like to imagine), but it’s a job for all of us. It is time to hack ourselves and that is a lot of work. It is about asking all the “why”s in the world and letting go of some usual “hows”.

My last post (in portuguese) about servicizing as a way to build innovations that really matter for sustainability is about building new “hows” after understanding important “whys”. Engineers, economists, scientists led Spree, author of the video, to combine math and imagination. It is all about calculating what will make the most difference to our world at this point and building public policy around it. Why not? Creativity applied to that as well. We need all intelligence we can mobilize.


And then we have this marvellous ability to ask questions. Neruda’s “The Book of Questions” is Always with me.

“Tell me, is the rose naked
or is that her only dress?

Why do trees conceal
the splendor of their roots?

Who hears the regrets
of the thieving automobile?”

We have children to remind us of questioning all the time and in my consulting activity with innovation teams, mapping questions is one of the best ways to spark a creative process.

We must find the relevant questions before looking for answers, and to find those answers we must meditate.


In Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, the bottom of the U is about meditation. In that state we can have some contact with a kind of wisdom that maybe goes beyond consciousness. But event if you are not fond of meditation, you might annotate your dreams or take surrealist writing exercises to get in touch with your inner language. We are crossed by fluxes we might not even imagine, our creativity is as mysterious as that. I am a mother, a professional, a girlfriend, a crazy woman walking on the streets of my neighbourhood. There are many perspectives within me.

How much we dare to access the unknown in us, and to engage in conversation about what really matters? It is painful and it takes stepping out of our daily trance. But I really believe that this is another path for new language to emerge. Of course, as Augusto puts it, conversation will be creatively fruitful if we have diverse people in the room. But it all starts with us facing our own internal variety.

So my guess is, we must change ourselves to change society after all. It’s the obvious, but inevitable.

Lets make it happen, somehow.


One comment

  1. Lovely to read your reactions. We’ll certainly have a coffee (or two) over this.

    Some comments on your words:

    I’d defend that there’s no reactive communication, not only the arts, literature, etc, but none at all. They are all re-creations, but indeed a response to another and never a creative subjective spark.

    Maturana’s “how we do what we do” is useless while we’re doing it – there’s no observer of society’s doing outside society.

    I do believe in creativity (specially from engineers!) , but it’s convincing the idea of all being a creative remix.

    All well, but we surely disagree on the meditation/theory U. Consciousness is just another system of communications and we can never step out of it alone, only in relation. Meditation is the art of paying attention, but only brings up what we’ve already carrying.

    We can only change ourselves through others.

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