I’m in a dangerous place right now.

I am wrestling with my MSc. The topic is Managing Business Creativity and Innovation, and I am studying at the University of Bedfordshire. My course is part time, which means that I am studying, for the most part, alone. Now I used to be smart, I’m sure I did. I have certificates to prove it. I remember reading things and the stuff sticking. But as I’ve got older and more tired I’ve noticed my brain working in different ways. Sometimes it works hardly at all. I certainly don’t know anything with any great certainty any more. However, I have noticed something new, sometimes I read and I read and I absorb and nothing seems to happen and then BANG I’ll have a vision.

Now visions, as I am sure you are aware, are usually reserved for those with particular kinds of religious zeal. I’ve always been intrigued by them, being brought up as a lapsed Catholic (there are more of us than you think, who started off lapsed). When I was young I had this worry: that I, being a particularly special type of individual, in every likelihood may have been singled out by the almighty for special purpose and I might be sent a vision give me the heads up about my special mission in life. Now, I imagined that the vision could be a huge strapping inappropriately sexy male angel, but more likely some variation of the blessed virgin. I also imagined that it might happen when I least expected it, which, I thought, would probably be in the downstairs loo. While I was on it. And my worry (it was a genuine concern) was that I would accidentally blaspheme when the Holy Mary Mother of God popped up. You would wouldn’t you? Even if it was just a quiet, incredulous, lower case ‘bloody hell’. Game over.

Anyway, these days my visions are far more straight forward, having lapsed so far I am no longer concerned by the thought that I may be in any way special. You see, I am a visual learner. I discovered this late in the day. Aged 30 ish. If I can’t see it I don’t get it. And I don’t mean I have to see the thing to understand it exists. I mean I don’t get the theory until I can picture what it might look like. This might be a model, a mind map, a pattern. But more and more frequently it is a metaphor. A full blown HD full-colour moving metaphor.

Last year after a year of studying innovation and Not Understanding One Bit I was sat outside with my group and tutor and I had a clear vision of trees falling in the forest. Massive trees. Trees that should be Too Big To Fall. But they do, we’ve seen the movies, if not the real thing. And what happens when they fall? The tree dies, it brings down a few more, causes catastrophic devastation to the habit of squirrels, upset a few birds and squash a few badgers (I have no idea what wildlife lives under big trees, does it show?). DISASTER. But the forest as a whole quite likes it. It gives sunlight to the forest floor, it enables saplings to grow, it encourages different kinds of wildlife. The felled tree too is fertile ground for different kinds of animals, so it goes on being useful elsewhere. Now this may make me sound like an UTTER hippy, but it makes sense. As a model, or a system, the forest is like other systems. Exploration of the forest system helps us understand better other systems. How many banks were deemed Too Big to Fail? But they did, we’ve seen the news. Institutions will rise to fill their place, of course, and we will believe that they won’t fall either, and forget to stash our nuts elsewhere.

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Now I don’t want to bang on about forests because they aren’t the point but I have recently come home from a holiday in the lake district having pilfered an old forestry commission leaflet from the ancient cottage I stayed in. It is about the Grizedale Forest. Read this with me;

” This birchwood has regenerated naturally since the wood was felled perhaps thirty years ago. Birch are quick to colonise felled areas or neglected grassland but if left undisturbed they will gradually be ousted by oaks. Birch is a typical “pioneer” species; they are never dominant in an area for long as their very presence changes the conditions (of humidity, temperature, soil chemistry and so on) which originally favoured them, but which then favour other species. ” (Mill wood Forest Trail, Forestry Commission, Grizedale, Hawkshead, Cumbria, undated)

What an an elegant way of describing regeneration. What if the forest were a town, or a company? Who are the Birch? What are the conditions? What can this tell us about what we need in order to innovate in our own communities?

So back to my study. I am, as you may have noticed interested in metaphor, in knowledge art, in meaning and communication. I am looking for a research topic that will allow me to dive in. I am having flashes; a realization that words themselves are metaphors for abstract thought. That we need metaphor to bridge the gap between people. I know that visual metaphor can be powerful and can sidestep the thorny brambles of language.

Today I had a vision. I was driving and I noticed that driving helped me to think. I had an urge to drive the long way home, to allow me to take some long straight roads. I saw a picture of a brain. I saw the tangles of neurons, that reminded me of also of rivers and streams. I remembered something about neural pathways being strengthened by activity and thought. It struck me that roads are a little like this. Some paths are less travelled, others so big as to be almost permanent. As I allowed by poor tired brain to rest from forging new pathways, I found calm in traveling down old roads. Could landscapes serve as metaphors? Could travelling down roads, or taking different pathways, aid the brain in making new connections? Could learning be helped by moving through physical metaphors? I don’t know. But I think I may be onto something.

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