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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Our Best Work Happens When We Don''t Know What We're Doing

Our aim in this paper is to explore how and why we do what we do, in our work as academics, with particular reference to some of the ideas and theories of Wilfred Bion.It has been suggested that Bion's: 'only assumption' was that 'the mind grows through exposure to truth' (Symington and Symington, 1996: 3; their italics). By growth of mind, Bion meant the ability to act more consistently and rigorously in relation to truth. This truth Bion 'named' with the symbol 'O': the 'imminent' reality of anything whatever (1984a: 147). We refer to this as truth-in-the-moment. In keeping with our own thinking and with the specific context of our own work, our version of Bion's assumption about the effects of exposure to truth is that learning comes from working at the edge between knowing and not-knowing. The core activity linking our organizational research, consultancy, management and teaching - namely, 'learning', or 'growth of mind' - involves exposure to truth-in-the-moment. This depends on the capacity to stay at the edge between knowing and not-knowing.In this paper we do not intend to try to prove our assumption. Instead, we will explore the ideas behind it and illustrate its implications for our work. We argue that 'not knowing what we are doing' constitutes a working method which involves a focus upon truth-in-the-moment. This method requires the adoption of an appropriate disposition to engage with not-knowing, comprising (i) a conviction that learning may come from working at this edge between knowing and not-knowing; and (ii) a preparedness to wait until a pattern forms and the necessary insight is gained. We will illustrate the method of 'not knowing what we are doing' from our practice. We conclude by considering the extent to which it is possible to call this 'best work' and the relationship between knowing and not-knowing.