Ludwig Wittgenstein said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” From this it follows that adding new words to one´s vocabulary (or a new connotation for a known word) can broaden one´s mind. Therefore, giving a “proper name” to a phenomenon at hand can fundamentally change and deepen our understanding of that same “thing”.
This is exactly what happened to me on December 7th, 2013. It was the last onsite period of MAPP 13/14´s first semester – and we had the great pleasure of having Esa Saarinen as a guest lecturer. Esa is one of Finland´s most widely acclaimed philosophers. With this post, (among other things) I´d like to give him massive kudos:
- First, for being a really cordial person.
- Second, for gracefully sporting a style that makes Lapo Elkann look like an old spinster.
- Third, and foremost, I´d like to thank him for giving me a new word: “Holding Back”.
But first things first. Together with a colleague, Esa has developed and endorses what he calls Systems Intelligence – an extension of systems thinking. In his own words, Systems Intelligence is…
[…] “intelligent behaviour in the context of complex systems involving interaction and feedback. A subject acting with Systems Intelligence engages successfully and productively with the holistic feedback mechanisms of her environment. She perceives herself as part of a whole, the influence of the whole upon herself as well as her own influence upon the whole. By observing her own interdependence in the feedback intensive environment, she is able to act intelligently.” (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2007, p. 4)
“The Systems Intelligence approach stems from a deep belief in the human potential. In its positive overtones and strive towards flourishment, as opposed to avoiding pitfalls or neutralizing negatives, Systems Intelligence runs parallel to Positive Organizational Scholarship and to Positive Psychology.” (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2007, p. 7)
Now, a central tenet in Systems Intelligence is the notion of “Holding Back”:
“The concept refers to mutually aggregating spirals which lead people to hold back contributions they could make because others hold back contributions they could make. We believe such systems are fundamental to human interaction – indeed, our conviction is that human interaction has a tendency to slide into systems of holding back unless conscious effort is launched to counter this tendency. A negative dance of holding back will prevail unless it is countered time and again.” (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2007, p. 26)
“We speak of ‘Systems of Holding Back’, and of ‘Systems of Holding Back in Return and in Advance’. The subject holds back what would benefit the other because the other first holds back from me what would benefit me. Systems Of Holding Back gain momentum […] because there is a bias in human mental constitution to be more aware of the contributions others fail to make to me than of the contributions I fail to make to others.” (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2008, p. 824)
A simple example for the phenomenon of “Holding Back”: a young man wants to say “I love you” to a young woman – but refrains from doing so out of fear that the feeling is not mutually. Unfortunately, it´s exactly the same for her. As a consequence, they break up after some time…
Now obviously, this is not something entirely new to me. I´ve experienced things like this myself – and I see similar occurrences on a regular basis when working as a coach. But the term “Holding Back” has induced an elevated level of understanding, a new kind of clarity – and the desire to explore this phenomenon; particularly: what we can do about it…
I´ve decided to make only one New Year´s resolution: 2014 is going to be my year of “Not Holding Back”. I´m going to monitor my behavior closely – and when I detect “Holding Back”, I´m going to figure out why – and then do something about it. 2014 is going to be my personal “Year of Kindness”. I will try hard to be a more considerate person. And I´m going to do it systematically – turning it into a personal change project. My mantra: “Don´t hold back!. Animate. Validate. Elevate.” Keep your eyes peeled, there´s something coming up…
But for now, I wish you an exceptional New Year´s celebration and a happy and healthy year 2o14!
Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen, E. (2007). Systems intelligent leadership. In R.P. Hämäläinen & E. Saarinen (Eds.), Systems intelligence in leadership and everyday life (pp 3-38). Espoo: Helsinki University of Technology.
Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen, E. (2008). Systems intelligence – the way forward? A note on Ackoff’s’ why few organizations adopt systems thinking’. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 25(6), 821-825.