Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation

Design thinking

In the current business world, time given to think and explore is a luxury. Most smaller businesses are forced to be in survival mode, fighting to stay alive from day-to-day in a very competitive environment. Google, however, is known for its whiteboard culture, the envy of other companies. as part of its drive for innovation, its people are given time to draw things out with marker pens, and think.

In a way, Google’s example dovetails with what I had just read in the book “Design Thinking for Strategic Innovations” by Idris Mootee, which highlights the need for a new way of thinking in business.

Design thinking is about the ability to see and make meaningful connections of all the different dots in a very complex and fast moving world. This ability to make meaningful connections between different things is a powerful part of innovativeness. Some call this combinatorial creativity.

Interestingly, Idris points out that this is not about a way of thinking for just a few but for the company as a whole. “Hiring design thinkers is not enough; We need to create design thinking companies.”

Hence the challenge lies in the cultural dimension. Culture, however, doesn’t just happen, it has to be built intentionally. It requires time and a clear focus. It requires investment.

Why would an Internet search company invest so much into its culture? For Google, it is all about one thing: innovation. For Google, this investment has paid off. Google employees have delivered innovative ideas for the company including Gmail, AdSense and Google News.  -Amy Celep, Community Wealth Partners


Design Thinking Applied in the Field

In the last few years, our team has been working on a model for leadership training and community transformation which incorporates design thinking as the engine for innovation and development. Coupled with this is a Midrashic-type of communication system, which allows for our people to do just that.

Scholars have come to realize that Midrash as a form of interpretative expression is not limited to rabbinic exegesis of Scripture.

In his book The Midrashic Imagination – Jewish Exegesis, Thought and History, Michael Fishbane proposed that one of the most compelling and characteristic features of Jewish creativity is its “midrashic imagination.” The practice of Midrash is a powerful way in which creativity is unlocked but it requires a culture conducive to such activities and resources allocated for it. Midrash is the life-blood of innovation and discovery, especially in the field.

What we need now is just time. Time to test our hypothesis and work out an operational kingdom start-up venture so that we have a prototype to showcase.

In the field of agriculture we can clearly see how the adoption of different paradigms create huge impacts for either good or evil. We are familiar with industrial agriculture that has been highly destructive to the environment and people. In the industrial paradigm, the focus is on scale. In contrast, a paradigm based on design thinking, is focused on ecology. Applying design thinking to agriculture would involve the principles of permaculture to understand the interplay of all parts of creation. The outcome would be an abundance that reflects a symphony of life, not the monotone sound of a one-string broken guitar.

With design thinking, even microbes which the human eye can’t see, are considered and recognized for the role they play. And by taking care of even the microbes, we build up an ecology that is inherently sustainable and where every part makes their contribution. Man is task with the most significant role, that of understanding the design for life and overseeing creation.

Boman has this to say of the Hebrews:

Instead of trying to confine Him to limited human definitions and descriptions they focus their efforts on pursuing Him and the character and qualities that determine His makeup. The understanding of the world around them, including God, is to pursue life and God to the fullest, rather than spending time passively trying to define Him. In the pursuit comes the understanding and comes the relationship between the Divine and humanity.

We all have the opportunity to think and live in the way God intended for Man, but it requires humility to study and learn His thoughts on things. This is where God has given us one of the most precious things on earth to guide us, His Torah, the Prophets and Writings. And along with it, a Midrashic culture embedded with the power of Hebraic thought and logic to solve complex problems.

Idris Mootee’s book on Design Thinking has been a conceptual confirmation that we have the right framework and system for developing holistic and sustainable prototype enterprises that empower communities for good.

Leave me a comment, let me know if you found this information useful. Have you applied design thinking in your business or work? Do you have more information on the creative process, hebraic thinking or Midrash?

Let me know …


Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 4.25.48 PMDesign Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School
By Idris Mootee, 2013, John Wiley & Sons

“Design thinking thinking powers strategic innovation.
It can be used to begin at the beginning of an idea or used to unlock hidden value in existing products, services, technologies, and assets – thereby reinvigorating a business without necessarily reinventing it. A disciplined process that can result in significant economic value creation, meaningful differentiation, and improved customer experience.

Design thinking is by nature unorthodox. But it also holds the core capabilities behind innovation.

We are all more connected than we know. Whether its’s business or any other systems-level organizational challenge, design thinking helps us appreciate and make sense of the complex connections between people, places, objects, events, and ideas. This is the most powerful driver of innovation. It’s what guides long-range strategic planning. It’s what shapes business decisions that have to be based on future opportunities rather than past events. It’s what sparks the imagination. And it’s what reveals true value. (p.14)

Hiring design thinkers is not enough; We need to create design thinking companies.

Foreword (Excerpts)

Our world is increasingly complex and difficult to interpret. Multiple forces – technological, regulatory, competitive, and so on – act on a given context to shape the rules of what is possible and probable. Uncovering the most valuable opportunities is increasingly challenging for innovators, especially those using a traditional tool kit. New product development processes typically churn out incremental, me-too solutions when more substantial innovation is needed to capture competitive advantage.

Design thinking helps to anchor innovation on the fundamental drivers of user behaviour, their interactions with the surrounding ecosystem, their interactions with one another.

To embed design principles into an organisation to give it insight into valuable opportunities previously hidden from traditional ways of working.

It provides the framework that encourages a culture of learning and way of working that will enable collaboration, insight, and learning, the allocation of resources to the best opportunities, and ultimately the formation of a more consistent stream of value creation.

This mode of thinking and doing encourages a company culture:

  • Flexibility over conformity
  • Exploration of questions over answers
  • Critical thinking over key assumptions
  • Enablement of teams over organisation structures
  • A focus on doing over studying

This is a different set of capability that is at the core of a company’s growth engine and innovativeness.

Design must allow different factors to coexist in a complementary and symbiotic way.

  • Desirability (product form, user experience, design)
  • Feasibility
  • Economic viability (cost control, efficiency, profit)

Technology exponentially interconnects people, places, and objects in increasingly new ways. Understanding the nature of these interactions both at the physical and emotional level will be required to unlock the value of these complex relationships.

~Erik Roth, Partner at McKinsey, Leads McKinsey’s Global Innovation Practice


Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams defined a mission statement as “a long, awkward sentence that demonstrates management’s inability to think properly.”

We need a new way, one that’s smart, human, cultural, social, and agile and that puts innovation at the core of every move it makes. That way could be design thinking.

Despite pouring millions of dollars into enterprise resource planning systems, however, we can only project three to six months into the future at best with any reasonable accuracy. Why? Because most business leaders are averse to chaos, are overly linear, and are disconnected from global ripples not directly related to the world of business.


Making Judgment Matter


Picture via True Activist
Picture via True Activist

Does Judgment Matter?

Food is a topic that interests everyone.

Lately the trend has been towards an awareness of what is good and bad in our food choices. Good as that is, however, many of us don’t realize that we are also part of an invisible economic system that is literally killing people in the millions around the world through its agriculture and food production methods. That we do not even question the status quo but accept it as an acceptable and normal part of life should be food for thought.

A Leader’s Most Important Role is Making Good Judgments

Learning to make the right food choices involves making judgments. The ability to make good judgments should not be limited to food but for all things in life.

We are by and large an uneducated lot. Most of us are much like sheep pushed around by what the big corporations decide and instructed by the corporatized media. This is what Carl Bernstein called in article he wrote entitled “The Dumbing Down of America.” Bernstein was one of the two journalists who broke the Watergate scandal and brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

Learning to make good judgments should be something we’re conscious of yet it is something seldom discussed. In fact this was the findings of two professors who researched into the phenomenon of leadership judgment. They found that most people had murky notions about it or thought of it simply as an event. They discovered that “good leadership judgment occurs not in a single moment but throughout a process,” and that the quality of the judgments we make have impacts not only on our lives but also others. 

Our ability to make the right calls has an obvious impact on the quality of our own lives; for leaders, the significance and consequences of judgment calls are magnified exponentially, because they influence the lives and livelihoods of others.

A leader’s most important role in any organization is making good judgments,” well-informed, wise decisions that produce the desired outcomes. When a leader shows consistently good judgment, little else matters. When he or she shows poor judgment, nothing else matters. (Making Judgment Calls by Noel M. Tichy and Warren G. Bennis, Harvard Business Review, October 2007)

Judgment Grows Out of a Process

Their researched also showed that most important judgment calls reside in one of three domains: people, strategy, and crisis. Their findings are summarized as follows:

  1. People judgments—getting the right people on your team and developing up-and-comers who themselves demonstrate good judgment—are foundational. The people around you help you make good strategy judgment calls and the best decisions during the occasional but inevitable crisis.
  2. Judgment doesn’t occur in a single moment but grows out of a process. First is preparation, during which leaders sense and frame the issue that will demand a judgment call, and align their team members so that everyone understands why the call is important. Second is the call itself—the moment of decision. And third is execution—making it happen while learning and adjusting along the way. Good leaders take advantage of “redo loops,” which can occur throughout the process. If you recognize judgment as a process, you have a chance to go back and correct the framing before you move on to the call, greatly improving the odds of success.

This research was done in context of large, complex multi-dimensional businesses running for the bottom-line. The biggest takeaway is that judgment grows out of a process. This means time, effort and growth. If businesses can run aground purely because of poor judgment by its business leaders, what about the greater enterprise of life that Christians have been called to undertake? It is any less onerous for us?

Learning to Make His Judgments

For those who desire to seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness, it means learning to make His judgments. The measure of such judgment is not man’s wisdom of success but guided by what is good or evil. The Word of God is the source code. This requires great wisdom and understanding. It also requires time as learning judgment is a process-led activity.

Quite unfortunately, many modern Christians have perhaps subconsciously outsourced the Bible to “specialists” instead of digging into God’s Word themselves. We live from Sunday sermon to Sunday sermon but life is much more complex than what Sunday sermonettes can deal with. And Christians should be encouraged to ask questions about the world around them in deeper ways than as a mere spectator, much like a couch potato watching the news on TV. For example, if we were to learn how to make judgments in the context of  food, what would our considerations be like? Perhaps some of the questions would be:

  • Why is so much food being made in a plant (factory)? What is driving that?
  • Consider the percentage of food grown on a plant to food made in a plant today, what does that percentage look like?
  • Why are foods still being made in a plant in the way it is when it is a proven fact that it is bad?
  • What does that say about corporations that continue to mass produce food in a plant when they know it is bad?
  • And lastly, why are Christians not asking these type of questions?

Jesus said that God’s people are in a condition where we are pretty much like the blind leading the blind. We have been called to be a people of truth. We must learn how to divide between good and evil so that our judgments of things will lead to right decisions. By right meaning bringing no harm to our neighbours and restoring life where there has been destruction.

If we are as blind as the world, like salt that has lost its saltiness, what use are we then to a world grappling for real solutions amidst great challenges?

The God-given light to man’s path in the world is His word. God’s word is likened to salt. His servants are the ones to translate the Word of God into a usable form that can bless the world. God’s Word (the Torah) provides us the blocks required for making good judgments. We have to dig deep in, like miners mining for gold and silver, like those searching for precious stones. The deeper one digs, the more precious the things that are unearthed. His desire is that man shall have life that satisfies – body, soul and spirit.

Do you agree that we do not have enough understanding of what making judgment is all about and and how it impacts our lives?   Do you have  a story to share on this ? I would be very interested to know what you think.

Let me know…

Theology of Land

Land as inheritance
Excerpt from Joshua and the Promised Land, copyright © Roy H. May, Jr.

Yahweh commands Joshua to divide the land as an “inheritance” for Israel. Repeatedly in Joshua 13-19, the land given to the tribes is called “inheritance.” This is another clue for the Book of Joshua and the biblical theme of the land. Land is never just dirt. It is inheritance. Land carries social and spiritual meaning that goes beyond agricultural potential. For traditional farmers, land bonds them to family and God. This bonding imposes limitations and obligations regarding its use and distribution.

Inheritance is a theologically rich concept that guided Israel’s relationship to the land. The basic idea is that the land is Yahweh’s land. “The earth is the Lord’s,” the psalmist could sing (Ps. 24:1). “The land is mine,” says Yahweh (Lev. 25:23). Throughout Joshua 13-19, land is first and foremost an inheritance given to Israel by Yahweh. Land is Yahweh’s gift to be passed on from generation to generation.

The idea that God owns the land had not only theological significance but also real sociological meaning– land in ancient Israel was not conceived of as private property. It was a trust or “loan” administered by Israel on behalf of Yahweh. Land was the inheritance of the tribe. The tribe apportioned the land according to families. The plot or “portion” each family received was their participation in the tribal inheritance. Each family enjoyed lasting rights to use the land, but never as a commodity that could be bought and sold for private gain. Their portion was family property. They managed it on behalf of the entire tribe.

But this sociological significance was never separable from theological or spiritual meaning. For the ancient Hebrew, land as inheritance meant Yahweh’s presence and faithful fulfillment of God’s promise. Land was viewed as the historical manifestation of the covenant Yahweh had made with Israel’s ancestors. Land was the sign of salvation. Thus, in Psalms 16:5-6 and 142:5, “portion” is equated with total assurance of God’s presence, as we sing in the old hymn, “Thou my everlasting portion, More than friend or life to me…” (#407, The United Methodist Hymnal). For ancient Israel, that’s what land as inheritance meant.

So it was with ancient Israel. The Israelites couldn’t do with the land as they might choose. Land as inheritance required that it be used only in ways faithful to Yahweh. This meant social justice. Thus, the Old Testament laws relating to social justice are, to a great extent, laws about the land. The Deuteronomic* laws mentioned in the previous chapter say much about land use. The ancient traditions of Sabbath and Jubilee (Ex. 23: 10-11; Lev. 25; Deut. 15:1-18) are especially direct. These date from the origins of Israel.1 They required that crop land lie fallow during certain intervals. This sustained its capacity to grow crops. Family land that had been lost was to be returned to its original owners (Lev. 25). These laws also required that debts be pardoned (Deut. 15: 1-3) and that Hebrew slaves and bonded servants be set free. The law that part of the harvest be left for the poor (Deut. 24:19-22) is another example of social legislation regulating land use. Managing the land and social justice were united in ancient Israel. This unity is based on the idea of land as Yahweh’s inheritance.

1. Art Davidson, Endangered People (San Francisco:Sierra Club Books, 1993),p.38

Native people upset over land issues

Whenever I read stories of people struggling against big powers that run them over with arrogance, something in me goes off. I’m at first upset and then I wonder how things like these can take place. Is there no legal redress? Unfortunately, that’s exactly where the problem lies. By way of the legal definition of what makes up ‘indigenous’ land,  injustice occurs.

It’s an age old game that the old colonial powers played well, using the doctrine of “terra nullius,” they take over lands they deem to be “land belonging to no one” or “territory that nobody owns so that the first nation to discover it is entitled to take it over.” That’s fair enough until we discover that even where land was already occupied by people, they  are still taken over. On what grounds do they make their claim? Or should I say pretext? The following website by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation gives a comprehensive explanation on the issue:

The colonisers acknowledged the presence of Indigenous people but justified their land acquisition policies by saying the Aborigines were too primitive to be actual owners and sovereigns and that they had no readily identifiable hierarchy or political order which the British Government could recognise or negotiate with.

Well nearer to home, I salute Carolyn Hong, Malaysia Bureau Chief of The Straits Times, for this courageous piece of writing with regards to the issue of land and the future of the native people who live there and are its true owners.

Native people upset over land issues.

The Straits Times | March 17, 2011
By Carolyn Hong, Malaysia Bureau Chief

KUCHING (SARAWAK): A group of villagers in northern Sarawak’s interior set up a blockade last week to stop the construction of a Petronas gas pipeline to Sabah.

The villagers at Long Atip in Baram were demanding that the national oil company first fulfil its promises said to have been made in 2007 to upgrade the road, install lamp posts and provide them generators.

Such blockades are not uncommon, but they are usually aimed at logging and plantation companies that the indigenous people say are rapidly encroaching on their land. These measures have turned violent on occasion. Last month, the longhouse villagers in the remote Ulu Niah area of north Sarawak clashed with a plantation company that allegedly infringed on their land.

‘We had 2,458ha of native customary land, but we found out that the land was converted into state land,’ longhouse head Changgai Dali told The Star newspaper. Lawyer Baru Bian said this was just the tip of the iceberg. His firm has filed over 100 such cases in court in the last 10 years, and he believes that there are more than 200 cases in total awaiting judgment.

Mr Baru, 53, heads the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat in Sarawak and will be contesting the election in the interior. He is a Lun Bawang, a member of a minority tribe in the highlands.

Such land disputes are among the biggest issues in Sarawak, especially native customary land where the government and the native people disagree over the definition.

Under the law, land that was occupied by indigenous people in Sarawak before Jan 1, 1958 is considered native land, usually based on the presence of burial grounds, and the planting of crops and trees. But the people there insist that it should also extend to what they call territorial domain and the forests which provide them sustenance.

The government, however, considers this state land and has awarded concessions to timber and plantation companies.

‘It’s a problem everywhere, from Lundu to Lawas,’ said Mr Baru, naming two towns at the extreme ends of the state.

Even in areas where the native claims are not disputed, problems arise. For instance, not far outside Kuching, several villagers of the Bidayuh tribe said they are still waiting for titles promised to them 10 years ago.

One of them, Mr Smith Jenih, said they need the land titles to get bank loans to start small businesses.

‘This is really the biggest problem for us,’ he said, adding that the lack of titles has also caused quarrels among the villagers who do not know where their properties start and end.

‘We want a solution to our problems before the election,’ said Sibuluh village chief Jien anak Nyobek.

The opposition hopes to capitalise on these longstanding issues but has so far not had much success in the remote interior. It had tried to make inroads among the Ibans in the last by-election in Sibu last May, but that did not happen.

The isolation of these areas and their close-knit communities are the biggest stumbling blocks.

Hebraic versus Hellenistic Thinking – Contours of Thought


However, whether we realize it or not, our thinking is shaped and influenced by the particular contour of thought that we adopt. Our way of thinking, whether in a Hebraic or Hellenic way will either bring light to or colour our understanding of the things around us, God’s world as well as His Word.

The following article by Richard Niebuhr looks the contours of thought  in context of the self and history but it has implications for our economics and politics too. Niebuhr’s article is rather scholarly and not the easiest to read but there are a few gems there worth the find.

Short Excerpts from Richard Niebuhr’s Writings

“Rationalists of all ages of Western history have regarded the rigorous monotheism of the Hebraic prophets as inferior to this philosophical monism. But they did not observe that the God of the prophets convicted all particular forces in history, including the “elect” nation and its “rulers” and “princes,” of violating the divine command of justice while the Greek philosophers were complacent about the social realities of the Greek city-state and lived under the illusion that the rulers were the instruments of justice because they possessed a higher measure of mind, in short, the contingent character of all social achievements was discerned by prophetism and obscured by even the most sophisticated Greek philosophy. The God of the prophets made judgements which left even the elect nation uneasy. The God of Aristotle was a universal mind with which the mind of the philosopher claimed a complacent identity. So the tension between the finite self and the divine self was obscured.

The contrast between the two forms of monotheism was revealed even more clearly in their attitudes toward the “rulers” of their respective civilizations. The prophets were severely critical of the rulers or “elders” of Israel. Their criticism was directed at their pride and injustice. (“They turn aside the needy at the gate,” declared Amos; and Isaiah charged that of the poor is in their houses.) This happened to be an accurate description of the actual behavior of ruling groups throughout the ages.

In contract we have both Plato’s and Aristotle’s complacent acceptance of the aristocratic structure of Hellenic society, and Aristotle’s conviction that some men were “by nature'” slaves. The basis of this conviction was clearly their confidence in the “reason” of the “guardians” as a source of justice and as the agent of order in the polis. Ignorant men would strive for immediate ends, but the “philosophers” would with superior intelligence strive for more inclusive ends and thus create a political order which would imitate the cosmic order created by the divine mind. The provisional truth in this assessment of the human situation lies in the fact that some men excel others in the rational comprehension of the forces and factors which are involved in any political situation. These are the potential rulers in a community. But their superior rational endowment guarantees nothing in regard to the justice with which they will wield their power or exercise their eminence. The basic fallacy of the Greek philosophers was to regard the rational faculty as the source of virtue. This error was partly due to their failure to recognize the ability of the self to use its reason for its own ends… Nevertheless the Greek tradition is still preferred to the Hebraic because it displays a neater coherence of the world of the self and the world, and of the self and God. For the world, the self and God are all contained within the continuities of “reason.” ….

The Self and the Dramas of History
by Reinhold Niebuhr

The Hebraic and the Hellenic Approaches to the Problem of Selfhood and History, Chapter 13

We have sought to interpret the unique character of human selfhood without particular references to the presuppositions which governed the inquiry except the frequent references to the misunderstanding of the self which was occasioned by the identification of the self with mind. This had an obvious origin in Greek philosophy and has persisted through the whole course of our Western civilization. Our analysis of presuppositions became more explicit as we finally turned to the examination of the religious dimension of self-awareness and found that a rationalistic approach to the problems of the self easily leads to a mystic one. There is a path not only from Plato to Aristotle, but from Plato to Plotinus in the history of Greek culture. And both Aristotle and Plotinus fail to understand the self in its wholeness, its uniqueness, its particularity, and in its involvement in the dramatic realities of history.

The simple fact is that the same Greek component in our culture which is responsible for laying the foundations of all our philosophy and sciences and is celebrated by every intelligent person as the fountain and source of what is “enlightened” in our history is also responsible for all our most serious misunderstandings about man and his history. These misunderstandings have two sources in Greek rationalism. The one is the failure to distinguish between the self and its mind, resulting in the illusion that the true self is mind, subordinating the passions to rational control. The other is that the history, which the self elaborates and in which it is involved, proceeds on a “rational,” that is to say an ontological, pattern. The drama in history is obscured by the alleged ontological framework of history. For “ontology” means the science of being. A science of being, to be distinguished from the particular sciences which analyze the structure of particular beings, seems confronted with the alternatives which Aristotle and Plotinus adumbrated. Either being is defined as an essential structure which is represented as the final cause, determining all processes of actualization; or being is described as an undifferentiated “ground” of all particular realities from which they emanate. In either case, the ontological analysis of selfhood and of history is productive of error. Historical drama is equated with natural occurrence by Aristotle because the forms and structures determine actualization as much in the historical, as in the natural, scene. History, on the other hand, is made meaningless by Plotinus. It is merely an emanation from an eternal ground, and its actions have no significance. Aristotle can not find the particular self. The self’s mind is identical with a universal mind. Plotinus also seeks emancipation from particular selfhood, not however by rational but by mystic means, that is, by extricating universal consciousness rather than universal mind from particular selfhood.

Modern ideas of a temporal process have altered these alternatives somewhat. But they have not succeeded in giving the self or its dramas any real significance.

There is no doubt, on the other hand, about the wholeness of the self in its finiteness and freedom, about the height of that freedom above the limits of formal reason, about the dramatic reality of history, and about the distance and the relation of God to that drama, in the culture of the Hebrews, which furnishes the other component of our Western civilization, and which is embodied in the Bible. It is commonly asserted that we have our religion, and possibly our ethics, from the Hebraic side, and our philosophy from the Hellenic side, of our heritage. This generalization is, broadly speaking, correct, but it does not point accurately to the peculiar virtues and defects of each part of our heritage. It does not do justice to the fact that there is a yearning after the ultimate in the Hellenic, as in the Hebraic culture; and that there are ethical and religious concepts in both. But the Hellenic is defective in understanding the self and its dramas because it tries to understand both rationally and ontologically. The Hebraic, on the other hand, is defective in analyzing any permanent structure in the flow of temporal events. For the one history is made into another dimension of nature; and for the other nature is subsumed under history. Both nature and history are understood as standing under a divine sovereignty, rather than as subject to self-explanatory laws. Thus the one culture misunderstands human selves and their history, where freedom is more apparent than laws. The other misunderstands nature because it is primarily to be understood in terms of analyzable laws.

The Hellenic heritage has been so serviceable in our understanding and “conquest” of nature and has won such increasing prestige by these accomplishments that it has threatened to discredit the Hebraic component more and more, relegating its characteristic insights to outmoded “superstitions” at the precise moment in history in which its insights would be most serviceable in understanding man’s history; and the more consistently a proud Hellenic culture tended to misinterpret that tragic drama, the more its philosophies and sciences became “empirical” and more intent upon the “facts.”

Christianity is commonly believed to be a joint product of Hebraic and Hellenic cultures. This is true only in the sense that, beginning with the Johannine literature in the Bible, it sought to come to terms with the Greek concept of the permanent structure in things, and has embodied in its own life the permanent tension between the Greek and the Hebraic ways of apprehending reality. But this does not change the fact that when it is true to itself, it is Hebraic rather than Hellenic. It believes in a personal God despite the embarrassment of its philosophers. It has, as Judaism, the other religion of the Bible, the sense of a covenant community based on commitments and memories of past revelations; and it relies on these historic revelations to penetrate the divine mystery rather than upon an analysis of the permanent or “eternal” structures through which the temporal events flow. It is therefore Hebraic rather than Hellenic in its essence, even though in popular piety the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul has usurped the Hebraic idea of the “resurrection of the body.” This usurpation is significant because the idea of the resurrection clearly implies the finiteness of historical man and the wholeness of the person in his finiteness and freedom. That there should be a transmutation of that person “in the resurrection” can clearly only be held “by faith.” On the other hand, it is supposedly more rational to believe that an immortal soul flees from a mortal body upon death. It may seem a more rational belief, but it rests upon a very dubious distinction between an immortal “mind” and a mortal body. This distinction is the key to the Greek understanding of the self.

The sharpness of the contrast between Hellenic and Hebraic ways of knowing must not obscure the similarity of their origins. Both cultures began with a poetic-dramatic apprehension of historic reality, which was probably not so different from the poetic ways of knowing in all early cultures and analyzed so perceptively in Henri Frankfort’s Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man. The similarity was preserved beyond the primitive beginning of the cultures and was apparent in the period when a developing reason and imagination refined the early myths. For this refinement in the Hebrew prophets and the Greek dramatists was remarkably similar in ethos. The dramatis personae of Greek drama were real persons engaged in actual history, subject to conflicting claims upon their consciences which were not easily resolved. They were actuated by compulsions which were derived from their thymos rather than from the lusts of the body to which the philosophers attributed all non-rational compulsions.

The persons in Greek drama were not under the illusion that they could bring all the vitalities of life and history into a neat order if only the subrational impulses were subordinated to the order of “mind.” These persons were men of spirit, who were betrayed into evil by the same capacity which made their creativity possible: their freedom over natural impulses. The Dionysian impulses may have been at war with the Apollonian sense of order in Greek tragedy. But there is no suggestion of a war between the mind and the body. That division was introduced by the philosophers.

The idea of an inner conflict in man does, however, introduce the first real difference between the Greek and the Hebraic analysis of the human situation. The Promethean theme in Greek tragedy and the myth of the Fall in the Bible both deal with the inclination of man to defy the limits set for him as a creature. But they arrive at different answers of the problem.

Both in the “Fall” myth in the Bible and in the Promethean theme in Greek drama this tendency, defined as hybris or pride, is regarded as the root of evil rather than the subrational impulses of nature But in the Promethean theme, Zeus is regarded as motivated by an unjustified jealousy against the creativity of man or against Prometheus, the quasi-divine protagonist of man. Prometheus is responsible for giving man all the arts of civilization. It is, in short, not possible to exploit all the capacities of man and establish civilization without violating Zeus’ rather unjustified restraints upon those capacities. It is unnecessary to say that Zeus is the forerunner of the principle of order which Greek ontology exalts as the rational basis of existence. In the “Fall” myth it is not regarded as inevitable that man offend God in his creativity. God sets limits for finite man; but those limits do not exclude his dominion over nature and all that this dominion implies. God is, in short, much higher than either the order of nature or some principle of rational coherence. He is “transcendent” to any conceivable order; but He reminds man that there are limits which he must not exceed. Man*s sin consists in a pride which pretends to defy those limits. Human creativity has much wider scope than in Greek tragedy. Therefore the Old Testament does not reveal the ambivalence between Zeus and Prometheus of Greek tragedy. God is not unjustifiedly jealous; and the defiance of God is not the tragic prerequisite of man’s creativity. The myth of the “Fall” obviously derives from an interpretation of the human situation, first elaborated by the great prophets of Israel. Both this and the Greek dramatists’ interpretation are poetic and dramatic; not ontological. But the Hebraic frame of meaning is superior because the principle of meaning is placed in a position of transcendence over the actual structures of existence. Therefore the whole scope of human striving does not inevitably violate the principle of order in human existence. This is the first clearly stated difference between the Greek and Hebraic modes of “knowing” God. It is the beginning of what finally becomes a clear distinction between an “immanent” and “transcendent” God. This distinction also involves the derivative distinction between the immanent and the transcendent human self. Throughout the course of Western history men found the facts of selfhood to correspond to the symbol of transcendence. But they never ceased to be apologetic for the “irrational” symbol of the transcendence of both God and man, in their embarrassment, partly occasioned by the spatial implications in the symbol of transcendence, and partly by the fact that transcendence could not be fitted into a system of rational coherence, they violated all the “facts” of experience in order to achieve the “rationality” of divine or human immanence. One side of our culture, and significantly that side which was proudest of its “culture” took the superiority of Greek monism for granted and regarded even the most rigorous prophetic monotheism as a slightly cruder form of the monotheism which the Greek philosophers achieved.

From the sixth century, when Xenophanes first seriously challenged the anthropomorphic Gods of Homeric legend and constructed a rigorous rationalistic monism or monotheism to the flowering of Greek philosophy in the thought of Plato and Aristotle, the Greeks were agreed in the proposition stated by Plato that nous, or mind, was “king of heaven and earth”; that the rational principle of order, immanent in the variegated structures and “natures” of existence, was really God. And since that time almost every philosopher, even Christian ones, have celebrated this Greek emancipation from both parochialism and anthropomorphism. In comparison with this achievement the faith of the prophets of Israel seemed less impressive. Did not their God exhibit anthropomorphic traits? Did He not manifest love and hate and all the passions of a finite self? Histories of culture had to do some justice to the Hebraic side of our culture. But the average historian could not bring himself to any judgement fairer than that of Hegel, who regarded the Biblical faith as a crude and picturesque form of poetic thinking which, in every case and every age, philosophy had to refine. The prophets arrived at their truth “by revelation and authority” in the words of Gilbert Highet1 and their God was, though one and not many, still irrationally “transcendent.” The prophetic achievement could not compare with that of the philosophers who had achieved a conception of God thoroughly “immanent” in the world*s processes and established as a certainty by the most rigorous rational disciplines.

There is, in fact, a rather rapid descent from the appreciation of the “existing individual” in Greek drama to the loss of the individual in the ontological systems of Greek philosophy. The individual is partly known and partly obscured in Socrates’ thought. His dialogic procedure, his emphasis upon the maxim “know thyself,” his belief that his conscience was “a little God” with which he conversed — all revealed an awareness of the realities of the inner and outer dialogue in which the self is engaged. In Plato this residual understanding is partly obscured by his elaboration of the dictum of Socrates that “men would do the good if they only know it.” The supremacy of the mind and its identification with the self is established. The Eros doctrine of Plato however is a qualification on the later mind-body dualism. For it assumes that the mind has the task not only of suppressing and ordering the physical impulses of the self, but of transmuting the “spirited” element of the self beyond its immediate goals to the ultimate ones. Thus the idea of “intellectual Eros” is elaborated. It does not, of course, change the essential contempt of the body in Greek dualism. Those who “take themselves to women and beget children” are regarded as engaged in a lower enterprise than those who harness thymos to the search for “truth, beauty and goodness.” These insights into the complexities of the self*s creativities are more consistently obscured in the rationalism of Aristotle. He excludes self-knowledge specifically from the competence of the mind, acknowledges that the mind is involved in the body, but insists that pure mind is impersonal and universal. It is, as it were, provisionally imprisoned in the body. It is the “form of forms” and therefore the principle of meaning for all sensible things in their structures and forms. Thus the inconvenient self is dissipated into mind; and mind into the structures of existence.

The identification of mind or nous with God and the belief that the rational order is really the creative principle of life is succinctly and religiously expressed in the words of Anaxagoras: “Everything else has a share of everything. Nous, however, is infinite and self-ruling and is mixed with nothing, but is alone itself by itself. For if it were not by itself but mixed with something else, it would not share in all things, it would not have a share in all things if it were mixed with any. . . .Mind arranged all such things as were to be and were (that is things which now are not) and such as are present; and it arranged this whirling, too, which the stars and the sun and the moon and the air and the ether — as they separate off — perform.” Thus did the Greek mind identify meaning with rational intelligibility and state its confidence in the power of reason, which remains a strong motif in our culture and expresses itself in even such strong and Aristotelian philosophers as John Dewey.

Rationalists of all ages of Western history have regarded the rigorous monotheism of the Hebraic prophets as inferior to this philosophical monism. But they did not observe that the God of the prophets convicted all particular forces in history, including the “elect” nation and its “rulers” and “princes,” of violating the divine command of justice while the Greek philosophers were complacent about the social realities of the Greek city-state and lived under the illusion that the rulers were the instruments of justice because they possessed a higher measure of mind, in short, the contingent character of all social achievements was discerned by prophetism and obscured by even the most sophisticated Greek philosophy. The God of the prophets made judgements which left even the elect nation uneasy. The God of Aristotle was a universal mind with which the mind of the philosopher claimed a complacent identity. So the tension between the finite self and the divine self was obscured.

The contrast between the two forms of monotheism was revealed even more clearly in their attitudes toward the “rulers” of their respective civilizations. The prophets were severely critical of the rulers or “elders” of Israel. Their criticism was directed at their pride and injustice. (“They turn aside the needy at the gate,” declared Amos; and Isaiah charged that of the poor is in their houses.) This happened to be an accurate description of the actual behavior of ruling groups throughout the ages.

In contract we have both Plato’s and Aristotle’s complacent acceptance of the aristocratic structure of Hellenic society, and Aristotle’s conviction that some men were “by nature'” slaves. The basis of this conviction was clearly their confidence in the “reason” of the “guardians” as a source of justice and as the agent of order in the polis. Ignorant men would strive for immediate ends, but the “philosophers” would with superior intelligence strive for more inclusive ends and thus create a political order which would imitate the cosmic order created by the divine mind. The provisional truth in this assessment of the human situation lies in the fact that some men excel others in the rational comprehension of the forces and factors which are involved in any political situation. These are the potential rulers in a community. But their superior rational endowment guarantees nothing in regard to the justice with which they will wield their power or exercise their eminence. The basic fallacy of the Greek philosophers was to regard the rational faculty as the source of virtue. This error was partly due to their failure to recognize the ability of the self to use its reason for its own ends. It was partly due to the inclination to find in the sub-rational impulses the cause of confusion and egoism in human behavior. This error was to be repeated again and again in the history of Western thought. It has made the whole Greek tradition inferior in the understanding of human nature to the Hebraic one. Nevertheless the Greek tradition is still preferred to the Hebraic because it displays a neater coherence of the world of the self and the world, and of the self and God. For the world, the self and God are all contained within the continuities of “reason.”

The Hebraic tradition, which is allegedly more crude and less rational, is still relegated to the sphere of “pre-scientific” or “pre-philosophical” thought. It is, despite these prejudices, more “empirical” than the Greek tradition. Its superior empirical accuracy consists in its understanding of the wholeness of the human self in body, mind and soul, in the appreciation of the dramatic variety of the self’s encounters with other selves in history, and in the discontinuity between the self and God. The self feels itself in dialogue with God. In this dialogue, God is not the “wholly other”; but he is certainly the divine other.

The self is not related to God by sharing its reason with God and finding a point of identity with the divine through the rational faculty. The self is related to God in repentance, faith and commitment. All these forms of relation imply a certain degree of existential discontinuity with God. The self is always a creature, conscious of its finiteness, and equally conscious of its pretension in not admitting its finiteness. Insofar as it becomes conscious of its pretensions it is capable of repentance and a new life. The encounter with God is in short a dramatic one. The personal encounter takes place in the context of a framework of meaning defined by a collective encounter between God and His people. The prophets speak to Israel, and finally to individuals in Israel (particularly in the case of Jeremiah and Ezekiel) on the basis of the assumption that God has a covenant with Israel. This covenant is at once the presupposition and the fruit of prophetic inspiration. The Covenant of God with Israel is an article of faith. It is not altogether clear whether it was Moses or Abraham who was the human agent of the covenant. This indicates either a confusion in the tradition or perhaps the collation of two traditions, perhaps stemming respectively from Palestinian and Egyptian sources. But the confusion does not prevent the gradual consolidation of the idea of the covenant and its service as the ground upon which prophetic thought proceeds. The circular movement between the presupposition of prophetic thought and its consequence will disturb the rationalists. There is a perfect analogy in the thought of the early Church about the “second Covenant” in Christ. For the “Christ event” is at once the presupposition of the faith of the early Church and the consequence of the increasing confidence of this community of faith that the drama of the Christ event which was the basis of its life disclosed both the kernel of meaning in the mystery of the divine and provided a norm for the life of man. Both were comprehended in the agape of Christ.

Prophetic consciousness assumed a covenant between a God, “who laid the foundations of the earth,” — a God who did not depend for His prestige upon the victory of a nation, who was sovereign of both nature and history; — and a particular people. The Covenant is involved in the same scandal of Einmaligkeit as is the later Christian revelation. A particular event in history is believed to be the clue to the mystery of the divine majesty, which is sovereign over all of history. In the modern mind (and for that matter the classical mind) such revelations are identified with theophanies which the credulous believe and the intelligent reject while they look for the ultimate in either a principle of rational order in the world or in a mystery which annuls all historic purposes and meanings.

But meanwhile the prophets gave ample testimony of the fact that they were in encounter with the “true” God rather than the idols of human imagination. From that encounter they returned to preach judgement upon the “elect” but rebellious nation. They warned against the prophets “that make you vain. They speak a vision of their own heart and not out of the mouth of the Lord.” They proved the falsity of their imaginings, these false prophets, by increasing the complacency of the human heart, intent upon its own ends: “They say still unto them that despise me, ‘the Lord hath said you shall have peace’; and they say unto every one who walketh after the imagination of his own heart, no evil shall come unto you.” (Jeremiah 23:17) The prophets did not engage in the fruitless debate whether “religion,” or “reason,” was most serviceable in eliminating human vanity. They knew very well that the religion of false prophets accentuated human vanity and pretension. “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord,” Jeremiah continues, “Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord. I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. . .The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.” (Jeremiah 23:24-28) It might be observed that rational discrimination is undoubtedly a resource in distinguishing religious visions which are in the service of human pretension and the “word of the Lord” which punctures all human vanities. But it must also be apparent that the prophets had no difficulty in distinguishing between a genuine word of the Lord, which was “sharper than a two- edged sword,” and the “dreams” and “imaginations” of the false prophets. The latter always accentuated human complacency and pretension.

It was left to a later Alexandrian Jew, Philo, anxious to make the prophetic tradition acceptable to the Greek world, to interpret the prophetic encounter with God as “ecstatic,” which is to say, as consisting of precisely those “imaginations” which the prophets defined as the marks of the “false prophets.” For the Greek culture could understand “ecstasy” as the visions of men who were “beyond themselves”; and it might even make religious ecstasy more tolerable by purging it of caprice and identifying it with mystic efforts of the self to escape from itself. Thus the effort to make the scandal of prophetic consciousness acceptable to the Greek mind robbed it of its genius.3

The community of the covenant was maintained, on the one hand, by prophetic interpretations of the Covenant, which had the effect of increasing the sense of the significance of the Covenant and of purging the Covenant people of any false pride and security because of their “elect” status. It was preserved, on the other hand, by memories of critical historic events by which the people were separated out and became a “peculiar” people, part nation and part church. The force of these historic memories, refreshed by liturgical observances year by year (most of which were festival of nature religions transmuted into historical anniversaries) — the force of these memories has been powerful enough to preserve the self-identity of a nation through the centuries, though it has lacked a “homeland” and lived in the “diaspora” for many centuries until very recently. The other means of survival has been the observance of the Torah, the law, about which a Christian can not speak sympathetically because one of the reasons for the emergence of a “new Covenant” was precisely the problem of the adequacy of the law as a mediator between man and God in the final encounter. It is possible only to say as one who stands by religious commitment outside this Covenant, that the religious consciousness of the Jews is determined from the beginning by two strains, legalistic and prophetic, which were expressed in the very idea of the covenant. For it was the Sovereign of history (“I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt”) who also enjoined the precepts of the Decalogue which follows that introduction. For the Christian it would seem that the “new covenant” is the fulfillment of the prophetic consciousness about God, man and history and the negation of the legalistic interpretation. But he must certainly guard against the misinterpretations which have contrasted the New Testament as containing a “religion of the Spirit” with the Old Testament, as a “religion of the ‘law.’” Certainly, despite the ages of post-exilic legalism in Judaism, the prophetic-dramatic-historical genius of prophetism was sufficiently vital in Judaism to produce two thinkers, Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber, in our own generation, who perceived the realities of both human and divine “selfhood” and of the dramatic character of history more acutely than any Christian theologian.

Furthermore, if Jewish legalism proved as inadequate as Christian obscurantism in dealing with “modern” situations and the modern man’s quest for rational understanding of his world, both survived in an unfavorable environment because their approach to the mystery and meaning of the self and of God, and of the reality of human history, made their “foolishness” a source of wisdom. It might be necessary to cherish this wisdom in a corner but it was cherished nevertheless by men who knew themselves to be selves and to be in encounter with God, in ages in which this dimension of human existence was denied. The fact that such men as Spinoza and Freud, not to speak of Philo, were Jews, and that Maimonides was as anxious in the medieval period to conform Judaism to Aristotle’s wisdom as Aquinas was to conform Christianity, merely proves how difficult it was to appreciate the peculiar genius of one’s own culture and faith in ages in which everything tended to make that faith seem to be primitive and picturesque but not rationally respectable.

1. Man’s Unconquerable Mind.
2. Werner W. Jaeger: Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers, p. 160, Oxford University Press.
3. Cf. Abraham Heschel: Die Prophetic (shortly to be had in English translation).


‘Sun Come Up’ Carteret documentary nominated for Oscars

From the Carteret Project Blog

Congratulations to Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger on the nomination of SUN COME UP in Best Documentary, Short Subject film at the 83rd Academy Awards for an an Academy Award, the U.S. film industry’s top prize. It was nominated for the Oscar from a list of 30 eligible entries which was narrowed down to eight. The Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2010 will be presented on Sunday, February 27, 2011. Look out for it!

Sun Come Up Trailer from Sun Come Up on Vimeo.

SUN COME UP has been described as “a lyrical documentary that follows the relocation of the first indigenous culture to lose their ancestral land to climate change – the Carteret Islanders, a community of 3,000 people living on a chain of low-lying islands in the South Pacific Ocean. This is a story about the human face of climate change and a people faced with the loss of a land in which their identity rests.”

The documentary was produced in 2009 when the Carteret Islanders were faced with no options but a bleak future. In that same year however, in May 2009, the Carteret Islands Project was birthed. This is a prototype community transformation project owned and driven by the islanders themselves and assisted by a venture philanthropic company based in Singapore in terms of funding, management know-how and technology. The success of this project would empower them with resources which would give them options to find alternative solutions other than relocation.

“The sentiment among Pacific Islanders suggests that they do not want to abandon their homelands or be absorbed into cultures where indigenous people already struggle for acceptance. “It is about much more than just finding food and shelter,” said Tarita Holm, an analyst with the Palauan Ministry of Resources and Development. “It is about your identity.” One clan chief said that ”he would rather sink with the islands than leave.” (Refugees Join List of Climate-Change Issues, By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, May 28, 2009)

This project has struck a powerful chord with the islanders. If they had a choice, they would rather stay on in their island home. Now they have.

Director Redfearn says about the Carteret islanders’ plight, “I want to move people. I want to either make them angry, make them sad, make them frustrated, and I want to take that anger and that frustration and that sadness and turn that into action.” Voice of America | 7 February 2011

If you have been moved and you want to be part of something that will empower the islanders to stay on in their islands, contact us.

Carteret Islands Transformation

The Carteret Islands Project is an innovative community development project. It provides a holistic solution to the plight of the Carteret islanders. The project incorporates a School of Life that comes with a fishery workshop that teaches the islanders how to make a living within the business of making life. | Project Blog

Carteret Islands Tribal Chief in Singapore

I had the pleasure of meeting Bernard Tunim, a chief of the Carteret islands in Singapore (17 Dec 2009) on his way home from the Copenhagen Climate Conference 2009, Dec 7-18. He was the sole representative of his island at the Summit. At the Summit, Bernard was given the privilege of speaking on behalf of his people to highlight the challenges facing them in the face of climate change. Watch The Sea is Killing Our Island Paradise by telegraphuk where Bernard shares more of his thoughts on this.

Fresh from the Copenhagen Climate Summit, Bernard is really excited about Project LiveFish, a transformation project that provides a holistic solution to the plight of the Carteret Islanders that combines making a living within the business of making life.

When I did a Google search on the Copenhagen Climate Summit, it produced 20,900,000 results. Climate change is a hot topic but for the Carteret islanders, it is not just a topic discussed over coffee but a reality with consequences that may mean losing the only home they have.

Ultimately climate change is not just about the science of it but involves the economics and therefore politics of rich and poor nations. This is where the dynamics of self interest, money and power will determine the issue of emission controls.

Not only were there reports of increasingly ill-tempered negotiations taking place but Guardian UK reported on 8 Dec that “The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.”

Meanwhile, Bernard Tunim, the tribal chief will not be waiting for global leaders to decide their future. The Carterets islanders have found the solution in their own backyard, the God-given natural resource of fish abundant in their waters. Project LiveFish provides the road map for the Carteret islanders, empowering them to find a solution for themselves through partnership with friends who will assist them. If you are interested to know more about Project LiveFish, click here.

Political Vision and Leadership

“Scientists can now credibly say that the early childhood years-from birth to age five-lay the foundation for later economic productivity, responsible citizenship and a lifetime of sound physical and mental health. Conversely, deep poverty, abuse, neglect and exposure tin early childhood can all lead to toxic stress in children. When it occurs, toxic stress can actually damage the architecture of the developing brain, leading to disrupted circuits and a weakened foundation for future learning and health.

Thanks to a remarkable convergence of new scientific knowledge about the developing brain, the human genome, and the effects of early experiences on later learning, behaviout and health, these are not hypothetical questions. We have the knowledge to secure our future by improving the life prospects of all young children. What is needed now is political vision and leadership.

Neuroscience and the biology of stress help us to begin to understand how poverty and other adversities are literally built into our bodies. We can thus comprehend why children born into such circumstances have more problems in school, are more likely to commit crimes, and are more prone to heart disease, diabetes and a host of other physical and mental illnesses later in life.

Children burdened by significant economic insecurity, discrimination or maltreatment benefit most from effective interventions. In developing countries, shifting the focus of international investments from an exclusive focus on child survival to integrating that with early childhood health and development offers greater promise than addressing either domain alone.

Neuroscience, child development and the economics of human capital formation all point to the same conclusion: Creating the right conditions for early childhood development is far more effective than trying to fix problems later.

Finally, leadership is about more than smart economic decisions. It is also about moral responsibility, wisdom, judgment and courage – and about leveraging knowledge to promote positive social change.

The gap between what we know and what we do is growing and increasingly unconscionable. The time for leadership for vulnerable children is now.

Would [political leaders] have the political courage to act now in the best long term interest of their people? Or would they become mired in ineffective, poorly funded attempts to obtain quick results, and then say it couldn’t be done?”

Excerpted from “Preventing Toxic Stress in Children” The Straits Times Thursday May 7, 2009, PageA24, Review, By Jack Schonkoff. The writer is Professor of Child Health and Development, and Director of the Centre on the developing Child, at Harvard University.