Learning to wield an invisible power
In fields requiring systematic, rational competence—science, engineering, business—some few people can do what may seem like magic.
They step into messy, complex, volatile situations and somehow transform them into routine, manageable problems. Textbook methods that were failing to come to grips with anomalies start working again.
Often these magicians have less relevant factual and conceptual knowledge than others who found the situation impossible. They may have no special skill in applying technical methods. Instead they may:
- Notice relevant factors that others overlooked
- Point out non-obvious gaps or friction between theory and reality
- Ask key questions no one had thought of
- Make new distinctions that suggest different conceptualizations of the situation
- Change the description of the problem so that different solution approaches appear
- Rethink the purpose of the work, and therefore technical priorities
- Realize that difficulties others struggled with can simply be ignored, or demoted in importance
- Apply concepts or methods from seemingly distant fields
- Combine multiple contradictory views, not as a synthesis, but as a productive patchwork.
They produce these insights by investigating the relationship between a system of technical rationality and its context. The context includes a specific situation in which rationality is applied, the purposes for which it is used, the social dynamics of its use, and other rational systems that might also be brought to bear. This work operates not within a system of technical rationality, but around, above, and then on the system.
This is meta-rationality. This book is about that.