Every Friday in 2021, I invited four people to a new type of space. A place where we set a monthly focal point, in the shape of a question, which we never answer and each week look at that question through a different lens (context).
Critical Business School (CBS) builds energy through prompts. Each context invites a prompt: an ambiguous question that can be interrupted in different ways, and effect acts as a Trojan horse to individual interests.
Prompts are discussed in breakout rooms and then shared in the main Zoom room. True to ideas of circles (as prototyped in Thirdness), the discourse is intersubjective. Each person is subjective, science/facts are objectives, this is something in between a secular place to incorporate ideas, and integrate them into our work, in a way that can cross the lines between the intellectual, emotional, and visceral.
The use of prompts is intentional. It does not ask to produce anything and happens in the line between our inner-thinking and the outside world. When compared with a brief, a prompt is an exploration of how we think, while a brief is an act of production. The etymology of the word prompt is ‘bring to light,’ where the brief is ‘to dispatch.’
There are a few guiding principles that help maintain this delicate balance between active thinking and sensing,
In CBS, we commit to ambiguity by resisting introductions and engaging in prompts without much clarification or anchoring. When we introduce ourselves in a new space, we don’t only say who we are; we also say who we are, not in a way that limits the range of conversation and creates social cohesion. Certain people group and there is an implicit order of insider/outsider.
We look for differences and moments of divergence in thinking. We shift the perception of friction from something to be avoided to something that needs to be understood. We do that by reflecting on ideas and themes that a person might repeatedly bring up. Can we ‘hold it to the light’? Is this a signal to a more profound, subjective moment; does this add texture to how this person shows up in their work and practice?
Technologists (and designers) mitigate friction as a bug or an inefficiency, only to later complain about economic systems gone rogue or the lack of thoughtfulness. Friction is the context in which we engage with the world. It is our experience of objective reality. When we put language on it, we can view the world in a post-binary way and negotiate with reality in new ways.
CBS is not a place of collaboration. Collaboration is the cruelest red herring in open spaces of learning and support. Collaboration is a soft word for starting a business, and CBS is about learning together but learning different things. It is not about the transaction of skills or resource allocation. It is about mutual development — of ideas, of opening up the aperture of our practice. When we meet in intersubjective spaces and allow ourselves to philosophize and see things metaphorically, new things emerge. It becomes net positive to everyone and everything we touch. It might seem romantic, but it is the epicenter of the truism: teaching a person how to fish rather than giving them a fish. If a person repeats a specific theme in the space of conversation, we might hold against the light; “should we discuss it?” Once in language, a generative axiom (new ways of thinking) is born.
Ideas are free to appear and linger, and it is the merit of the host to both confuse and cherish the moments within the space. CBS is more of a doing space than Thirdness. It is faster and more active; it feels like we’re doing burpees for an hour and then end abruptly. The intent is to use all of this surplus in our week (or weekend, CBS is on Friday). We start weeks 2-4 with a reflection on last week’s prompt; ‘did anything else come up?’ If we keep with the physical exercise metaphor: it is the recovery between strenuous moments when development happens. Similarly, it is the moments of reflection and articulation between prompts and discourse that create the reverberation that delivers value.
CBS deals with profound ideas and advanced technologies, but in many ways, it is less about science and more about the psychology of scientists. It is secular and pluralistic. What is the share of thinking that lead to this set of ideas? How might I position ideas with one another? And most importantly, how can I philosophize, build metaphors and make generative the scientific facts in front of me?
How might they move from an objective utterance or subjective expertise into intersubjective meaning?
CBS sessions, a pop-up version of CBS, states the following in the invitation
No intellectual fencing; don’t mention a book or a dead philosopher: instead state the logic, metaphor, or poetry
Intellectual fencing is brute force objectivity. Because we live in a world of abundant science and efficiency, it is an intersubjective meaning which is scarce. And it is primarily scarce because of a lack of communication skills to unpack and repack the cognitive shape that leads to a research question or the focal field.
Our previous prompts You can read more about Critical Business School here