Over the past few months my wife and I have been renovating our kitchen. During the process we had two contractors. Contractor Joe was communicative, open, and pleasant. Contractor Pete was aggressive, defensive and hostile. Choosing a path towards becoming a liminal thinker compelled me to pause and look more closely at why there was such a difference between the two contractors. It would be easy (simple) to conclude that Pete was asshole and Joe wasn’t. Joe was a professional and Pete wasn’t. But being a liminal thinker requires thinking beyond the simple. The goal is to think differently so I can do things better.
“Liminal thinking is the art of creating change by understanding, shaping, and redrawing beliefs” (p. xxiii, Liminial Thinking).
If I want to avoid experiencing unprofessional asshole contractor Pete in the future (change), I need to understand, shape and redraw my beliefs about him. So how do I proceed?
It starts with realizing that the contractor Pete existing in reality is unknowable. It’s simply not possible for me to know every action and thought contractor Pete has ever had. So this leaves me with my belief about Contractor Pete. Gray illustrates this so clearly by asking you to think of an elephant. Now that you have an elephant in your mind, is there an actual, real elephant in your head? The elephant in your mind is a construction of an elephant based on your past experiences with elephants.
The unprofessional asshole contractor Pete is my construction based on my experience with him. He is not a fact in reality. The unprofessional asshole version of Contractor Pete only exists in my mind like the elephant in your mind moments ago. Undoubtedly, Contractor Pete will have a different belief about his professionalism and character. His belief is also a construction and is not a fact in reality.
“A belief is something you hold in your mind, a kind of map or model of external reality” (p.6, Liminal Thinking)
The result is a situation in which I will battle for my version of reality and Contractor Pete will battle for his – because it is so obvious to both of us who is right. Unfortunately, the argument over whose belief is right distracts from the learning needed to do something better. We get stuck battling over whose obvious is more obvious and forget that the original goal is to do a better job of the kitchen installation.
Liminial Thinking Principle 1: “Beliefs are models. Beliefs seem like perfect representations of the world, but, in fact, they are imperfect models for navigating a complex, multidimensional, unknowable reality.”