Acceptance of Non-Knowledge

Managers should pay special attention to the appropriate handling of knowledge and non-knowledge. While in linear systems it may be reasonable to aim at knowing as much as possible and basing decisions on this knowledge, it is essential for the regulation of complex systems to recognize and accept that there are complexity-related non-knowables. New situations open up new combinations of possibilities and stimulate the imagination to create new realities that were not even conceivable before. The ability to innovate does not primarily depend on the amount of accumulated knowledge and experience, but above all on the perceived possibilities, creativity and implementation skills.

A short dialog between father and son according to Gregory Bateson shall serve as an illustration:

Son: “Do fathers always know more than their sons?”

Father: “Yes.”

Son: “Who invented the steam engine?”

Father: “James Watt.”

Son: “Then why didn’t James Watt’s father invent the steam engine?”


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