Empty Space and Learning

E. Forrest Christian Knowledge Leave a Comment

One of the things that Block talks about is for managers to let their subordinates live with uncertainty. When they demand to know your vision, tell them the truth: you don’t know where the company should go right now. “Where do you think the company should go?”

I started thinking about that as I read “Structural Holes and Good Ideas“, a paper to appear in the American Journal of Sociology by Ronald Burt of the University of Chicago. He talks about how creativity occurs at the holes in social structures, these places that are so uncomfortable. It’s an interesting read, but what got me thinking was something Fourtou said that he quotes:


Jean-René Fourtou, former CEO of the French chemical giant Rhône-Poulenc, observed that his scientists were stimulated to their best ideas by people outside their own discipline. Fourtou emphasized le vide – literally, the emptiness; conceptually, structural holes – as essential to coming up with new ideas (Stewart 1996, p. 165) “Le vide has a huge function in organizations…. Shock comes when different things meet. It’s the interface that’s interesting…. If you don’t leave le vide, you have no unexpected things, no creation. There are two types of management. You can try to design for everything, or you can leave le vide and say ‘I don’t know either; what do you think?’” [p 2; emphasis in original]

Le vide is, of course, the point in most things.

Although I prefer to think of it as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup theory of life.

I’ll review the full article later. Very cool.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

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