I just ran across the expression “paradoxical curiosity”. Its a part of John Paul Lederach’s concept of the moral imagination. In simple terms, moral imagination is the ability to be grounded in the real world but to be able to imagine a better world. In some ways, having a finely tuned capacity for paradoxical curiosity strikes me as being the perfect framework for what organizations need to strive to become “learning organizations”. These are some of the qualities:
- Rise above dualistic polarities
- Go deeper and get excited by things that are not immediately understood
- Hold together seemingly seemingly contradictory truths in order to locate a greater truth
- Respect complexity as a friend
- Be inquisitive about contradictory social energies
- Seek something beyond what is visible
- Mobilize the imagination
- Lift relationships and understanding relationships to a new level
- Suspend judgement but do not relinquish opinion or the capacity to assess
My deeper question is this: how can we best instill this kind of thinking into the culture of our organizations so that paradoxical curiosity and learning is not only tolerated, but is respected and expected by all?
Jed Emerson, speaking about his new book “Purpose of Capital” (in the video linked below), describes paradoxical curiosity as on the one hand having answers, and on the other hand having the humility to realize you don’t know anything. So in one word? Humility.
We need humility to listen. To hear multiple perspectives and understand that they all carry truth. To know that the world is complex, that there really are no easy answers. And to know that the process of answering tricky questions together, by engaging as many stakeholders as possible, to find solutions is the key to lifting relationships to a new level.
(Photo credit C.Funk; 99% rally at Victoria BC legislative buildings)