There was a wonderful programme on Radio 4 yesterday ('In Doubt We Trust') in which writer Mark Vernon asks an important question – whether we have lost our ability to doubt well. Mark is well qualified to talk about doubt: having studied physics he was ordained in the Church of England only to then leave the church after feeling that he had lost his faith.
The various speakers in the programme talk about how important doubt is in allowing us to question what we believe, encourage further exploration, revise and revisit old theories or ways of doing things. In this way doubt is often the foundation of certainty, its purpose being to arrive at faith.
But the programme also focuses on how poor we are at allowing the expression of doubt. Our addiction to certainty and completeness means that in our political and media discourse doubt and uncertainty become unacceptable things to express, associated with failure, indecision, and weakness. I'd suggest the same is true within many corporate environments.
There are many reasons why I blog. One of them is that it helps me straighten out my own thoughts and connect previously disparate ideas. Ideas that have often come from the spoken and written opinion of other people. Blogging thrives on imperfection and incompleteness. When you express an opinion, it doesn't have to be a fully thought out argument. In fact it's better when it's not. When you express a thought, it doesn't have to be a finished one.
When people ask why I bother blogging, I try to explain about the value in the expression of incomplete thoughts in questioning why we do what we do and the connections with people that that brings. I probably don't do this as well as I could. So I want to share, somewhat indulgently, a wonderful piece of feedback (anonymised and with permission) I received last week. Apart from being the best e-mail I got all week, I think it expresses this better than I could:
"I came across your blog in a really strange way…while skimming Google images for an appropriate image to use in a post about book endings. You had used a Warner Bros Loony Tunes "The End" image in a post. I clicked, I copied (with the intent to paste) and in the midst of this, whatever was in your post caught my attention. I read. I subscribed. And I've been following your blog for a few months now.
It's been a revelation for me because it's made sense of a lot of frustrations I've had with inflexible and dated working practices in my firm. By way of example, there's some old-fashioned notions in my firm around "knowledge management" (ironically, the firm believes they're very modern – in short, their objective is to commit knowledge to paper – it takes forever to get perfect then it's out of date) whereas I favour trying to spark engagement and discussion – getting brain synapses sparking off each other and creating ideas instead of creating fixed products that will do little but gather dust. Your blog has helped me shape my frustrations, giving me a new language to work with.
So, thank you for having a blog that is full of challenging and interesting ideas and that has helped me both articulate thoughts that were already in my brain and consider new ideas altogether. I hope that as time passes, I will be able to influence my organisation more along these lines. Slowly, I've started pinging a few of your posts here and there, slowly started trying to sew a few seeds…"