Review: Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray
tl;dr Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray is a great read full of interesting observation and sound strategy for anyone wanting to make a positive change in their lives.
Before I get into more detail about the book, let me steal a page (heh) from it and tell you a quick story.
In the heated few days just after we all found out that Donald Trump was going to be the next President of The United States, I got into an argument or two with people who voted for Trump. Votes I believed strongly were misguided and, frankly, also uninformed and stupid.
Somewhere during these back and forth I threw out an argument ending proclamation: “You’re wrong. Just plain wrong.”
Which, ironically I suppose, was wrong of me.
We were arguing over some strong held beliefs. Beliefs that have been constructed over many years and through many experiences. The people I was arguing with don’t share my beliefs — they’ve constructed beliefs through their experiences that land them in a different space.
But here’s the thing: belief is not reality. It’s just as hard to disprove a belief as it is to prove it. Scientific method doesn’t apply.
Belief is a construct based on perception and experience. It’s neither right or wrong and can’t be debated in the same way as a fact would be debated.
This is something I know. And something I try to keep in mind. I’m often saying something along the lines of “just because you believe something doesn’t make it true.” Which, thinking about it, might be a dick thing to say, but, whatever.
By an amazing coincidence, I was in the middle of Liminal Thinking when all of this went down. It serendipitously became a great guide to understanding and unpacking these arguments, and also gave me some waypoints by which I could pull myself into a more objective place. If you found, or think you might find, yourself in a similar spot, maybe with a family member or friend over the holidays, pick up this book. You won’t regret it.
One of the core parts of Liminal Thinking is a deep dive into beliefs; how they’re constructed, what makes them work, etc. I’ve found it extremely valuable not only for the primary reasons I picked it up (to understand better my own beliefs and to explore how to better create positive change in my world) but also in coming to a better understanding of how people, including myself, can become so opposed to the beliefs of others.
It sets the stage by digging into how beliefs are created and then explores how we might navigate the space (the liminal space) between unknowable reality and the personal obviousness in our lives created by our own beliefs.
Liminal thinking … requires a willingness to test and validate new ideas, even when they seem absurd, crazy or just plain wrong.
It’s in this space that change happens and where our world is created. Hopefully for the better. One of my favorite learnings (and there are many) from the book is the idea that in order to effect real, deep and lasting change you need to cultivate a willingness to test and validate new ideas, even then they seem absurd, crazy or just plain wrong.
Liminal Thinking is split into two parts. The first is that dive into how we construct beliefs that define our perception of reality, for good or for ill. The second is an overview of Gray’s “Liminal Thinking” and how we can practice it to make change.
Gray starts each chapter off with a story, and the art of storytelling is a core concept that’s woven expertly through out. Not only does it make reading Liminal Thinking a joy, it serves to add context and weight to the points he’s making.
Speaking of points, I took copious notes during my second read through and made a bulleted list of some of the “take aways” to help build a practice around these ideas. (Because, let’s face it, practice is job number one with it comes to learning or getting better at anything.) Here is that list. It’s raw, but might be intriguing.
- Assume you are not objective
- Operate with curiosity and open mindedness (Beginner’s Mind)
- Be vulnerable
- Emotion is important
- Care about things
- Express your needs
- Question everything
- Fear is not a good motivator
- Create a safe place
- Suspend judgement
- Make connections
- Outside perspective is valuable (Beginner’s Mind)
- Disrupt routine
- Attack the solution
- Try something new
- Test beliefs by acting as if they’re true
- Tell stories to promote and share new beliefs
- Take risks, experiment, prototype
- Chaos is needed to evolve beliefs
Liminal Thinking an easy, interesting and fun read and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to effect change in their lives or anyone trying to understand how beliefs are created and why sometimes it’s so hard to see outside of the bubbles we’ve surrounded ourselves with.