Leo Smyth

Professor of Management, National University of Ireland

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: Deeply held frames inhibit creativity, even without our being aware of it. We simply cannot be creative. We don't have the psychic energy, or the freedom to look at alternatives, to visualize alternatives for joint gain. They do take energy, and we don't have that energy because it's robbed, if you like, by the pain of what it might do to some of our most dearly cherished assumptions.

Q: So, asking about what the future might look like is one way to get at those assumptions? Do you have any ideas of other ways to get there?  

A: ...a lot of learning can take place by analogy. You really need to step back from your own conflict in which you are immersed and look at somebody else's. I think that's part of what learning is. These are not brand new ideas. I think many practitioners have known for years that working by analogy is a way of learning that sometimes brings insight in a way that the insight is blocked if you try to look at it on your own parish, if you like, or your own back door. Those kinds of things.

Q: So by analogy, you mean someone, say, steeped in the Northern Ireland conflict might take a step back and look at where for example and get some insight?

A: Oh yes, and it has been done and is being done where people look at other people's conflicts, and look at the dynamics. Some of these dynamics are similar, and of course they will each have their own particular cultural, historical, political, and economic particularity. The essence of the thing is to stop the defense rushing in. The classic example is in the Old Testament. I forget which prophet he was, but he gets this message from God to go and confront King David about the fact that he has not only been living in sin with someone else's wife, but has actually caused her husband to be murdered or at least killed. 

From the point of view of walking up to your king and saying, "You know, excuse me, but I have a message from God for you," is a hard way of doing it. So he goes about it and says, "Your majesty, I would like justice for somebody in your kingdom. This poor guy had only one sheep, but one of his neighbors who had about a thousand sheep, came by and stole his farm." That's not something that you want to push too far, because it would be offensive to women. Of course, King David jumps up off his throne and says, "This is totally unjust. Bring me this man and I will punish him as nobody's ever been punished." The old prophet, he doesn't exactly say, "Gotcha!" but it boils down to the same thing. This is a classic example of learning by analogy.

Q: So the idea, is some sort of self-revelation in that sense. You, ensconced in your own conflict would look at another conflict and say, "Wow!" I can't believe you're behaving like that and then in that second you say, "Wait a minute, that's exactly what we do!"

A: Right.