Open Thinkering


Life has no instruction manual

I’m currently reading a book entitled Jimmy the Kid, in which hapless criminals decide to kidnap the child of a wealthy man after being inspired by a novel. As you’d imagine, things don’t exactly go to plan.

It’s reminded me of the futility of complaining that things haven’t turned out as you expected, when ‘what you expected’ was your life to replicate someone else’s. Rifling through pages in an attempt to find answers, as the protagonists of the Jimmy the Kid do on a number of occasions, doesn’t work. Nor does it’s modern-day equivalent of scouring social media, videos, and even blog posts like this one.

Even the same person in a similar context is unlikely to replicate the exact steps that previously led to success. As Heraclitus, the Ancient Greek philosopher noted, you can’t step into the same river twice; not only has the river changed, but you have changed. So it’s not possible to uncritically take advice from people who have achieved success and apply it to your own context.

I think this is why I’m finding the work on my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice so useful. It’s not the academic side of it that I’m finding so difficult (and interesting) but the application of it to my professional and personal life. The danger, of course, for any reflective person is in over-thinking everything.

Ultimately, there may well be an optimal strategy and approach for every situation. But identifying and implementing that in the moment is difficult based on the incomplete information we are likely to have on hand, distorted by our biases and previous experiences, and approached through the heuristics we have developed.

The only solution to this is to keep learning. Or, in the words of Alvin Toffler, to “learn, unlearn, and relearn”. Unlearning is difficult, and until I came across this free e-book from Casco Art Institute (a rather hefty PDF) I hadn’t seen many specific exercises for doing so.

So, no, life has no instruction manual. But that’s a fact that can liberate us to create our own futures, together, without being hamstrung by previous ‘best practice’ or ‘what worked last time’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *