“Fore thee, my gentleheaereted Charles, to whom no sound is dissonant which tells of life.”



“Fill’d the air with barbarous dissonance.”

John Milton


Dissonance (definition):

a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements


Life is tricky and complex, but we tend to simplify it in order to live it. For example. We tend to take a moment and celebrate its ‘flow.’ Ok. We don’t just celebrate, we idolize. We make ‘flow moments’ the pinnacle and, yet, simultaneously seek to make that pinnacle the norm. its almost like we want to believe that one of those moments when everything seems aligned, in sync, is “it”, i.e., the way life should be lived 100% of the time. Yeah. Once again. Its is the pinnacle of what Life is supposed to feel like. Well. Let’s be honest. Believing that is kind of like grabbing onto a straw in the middle of a hurricane.

The truth is that Life has layers (see opening image, Stewart Brand, Pace Layering). Some of which we ignore as out of our control and some of which actually define how we live our Lives. Flow is most typically when all the things we cannot control and the things we can control align – if but for a moment or two. While we often say context matters (and it does), flow is when the environment, the context, are in sinc when you actually have your shit together.

Now. About things you can’t control. The majority of us know some things are out of our control and because of that, well, we simply ignore what we cannot control. All I can say is “ignore the other layers at your own peril.” Why do I say that? Dissonance. Going back to my original thought on celebrating the moment, if you ignore all the layers it is quite possible that one moment of ‘flow’ is simply masking a level of dissonance in your life – that dissonance can be corrosive or it could simply be some aspects of Life not in sync. But the masking is a technique we all do. The trouble with masking is that it can, and usually, doesn’t work in the long run. What do I mean by masking? Well. Assume life has these layers (see image). I can get hooked in the ‘fad’ layer and make it feel like I am in flow (with a fad). Feels great. Incredible high. But all the time all the other layers are doing their own thing and many times their own thing is to the detriment of your longer term ‘thing.’


Which leads me to the relationship between the concern for change and the concern for stability.

That phrase was introduced by Jamshid Gharadjadaghi in his book “Systems Thinking”. He offered the idea within the concept of multidimensionality. The truth is dissonance is found when we seek binaries in the world. Make things black or white. But flow is actually found in the shades of gray within the continuum of things – the comfortable blur between different pace layers. Some things may be going faster, or slower, in places, but not fast enough or slow enough to actually impede the feeling of flow. But the larger issue comes down to, well, pacing. It’s a version of optimal newness in that true creativity & innovation (lets call it imagination) needs a balance, or an equilibrium, between change and stability. The stability offers the construct from which any cultural change is forged. And maybe that is my larger point – on a larger narrative. What we, personally, feels like life dissonance can also be felt on a meta level culturally and in society. If we put too much emphasis on change it not only ‘de-optimizes’ creativity, but increases a feeling of dissonance. It is not like being in a liminal space (in which you feel the discomfort between one place and another) it is a dissonance found in drowning or going nowhere or being a hurricane in which you cannot even grasp a straw.

This permits me to circle back to the system. If we do not worry, or think, about the performance of the aspects of the system we will be doomed to have any ‘flow’ only be random in its occurrence. By sheer luck of the slot machine handle all layers come up ‘apples’ at the same time. But if you do think about it then while you may not be able to control aspects of pace layers you can be aware of them and try to improve the system in any way you deem possible. You not only increase your odds of flow, lack of dissonance, but possibly improve the system so it actually increases the odds of flow. I would argue that while this is systems thinking, in Life, it is actually a world view. You see the system, and systems, as purposeful systems and therefore you have actively decided to intervene within the system to affect the system. This may sound like philosophical mumbo jumbo, but at its core it is simply accepting you are an architect of your own fate (or as Beethoven said “I shall seize fate by the throat.”

Life dissonance is going to occur no matter what you do or how hard you work the system or even work to change the system. But. The world only changes if you attempt to nudge it or put a dent in it. there should be no debate on that.

Which leads me to patterns.

I bring up patterns because the trick to navigating layers of life’s pace layers is to identify patterns. And, specifically, two types of patterns. Let’s call them predictive (recognized) patterns and emergent (unpredictable) patterns.

I will not get into mental models but to successfully navigate pattern recognition you need to be self-aware enough to find a proportional thinking space in which you do not become to enraptured by the predictable or the unpredictable. You need to constantly evolve your thinking to recognize you cannot outrun the problems found in too much predictability nor be fast enough to always ‘catch up to’ any emerging opportunities. The trick is somewhere in the grey – the continuum between predictable and emergent. In other words, you have to get better at seeing patterns. The way to become better at pattern recognition actually has zero to do with pattern recognition itself. It has to do with how you learn, gain knowledge and asses the learning you gather. It’s a different piece, and thought, but simplistically you have to absorb two fundamentally different streams of learning – things you are comfortable with and things you are uncomfortable with (easy to believe, less easy to believe). By absorbing two conflicting streams of information, you train your brain to reassemble useful patterns (and constantly rethink existing beliefs). Patterns are found within that exercise.


The intent is to find the optimal newness in intelligence, i.e., purposefully build in some intelligence dissonance with the information flow with the objective to both captures defined ontologies as well as escape from defined ontologies.

Bottom line. Context matters. If we change the circumstances, we change the inspiration. The intent is to inspire from the known and the unknown. The intent is to create dissonance to avoid dissonance.

Ponder that last sentence. Within may lay the path to minimizing Life dissonance and maximizing Life flow.   


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Written by Bruce