Questioning the unquestionable.
I suppose one of the things that got me started me on this path that eventually became liminal thinking is the work that I used to do in the newspaper business. I was an information designer. I created infographics. I did charts and graphs and maps and all kinds of visual explanations explaining how things work. Why are they tearing up that street? Why did the plane crash? Where do the candidates stand on critical questions? What will the new stadium look like? My job was answering questions like these, visually, with pictures, charts, maps and diagrams.
One thing that I realized in doing that work was that for any piece of information, there were a thousand different ways, maybe more than a thousand ways, to convey that information, to tell that story, to display that data, to reveal that information.
I would pick one. I would try to pick the best one or the most relevant one. I was pretty conscientious about that.
Another thing I noticed is that once that you had drawn information or displayed it in a certain way, people rarely questioned it. It was very hard, once a thing had been shown, once it had been seen, to see it a different way.
Here’s an example: If you see a movie that’s based on a book, and you see the actors and the characters in the movie, and then you go back and try to read the book, it’s very hard to imagine those characters in the way that you would if you had not seen the movie.
When you read a book after seeing a movie, you tend to imagine the characters as the actors who played the role in the movie. I think this is just a thing about the human condition: Once something has been defined for you, or once you’ve defined something for yourself, you then will rarely question that.
I think that we should question those things more often. Just because you’ve defined something in a certain way, or you saw it a certain way the first time you encountered it, that should not necessarily be the way that you always see it moving forward.
To me, part of what liminal thinking is about is the art of questioning those things that are unquestionable or that you haven’t questioned in the past and actually forcing yourself or imposing on yourself as a discipline, the rigor of questioning those things that you rarely question because therein lie the opportunities for the most profound change.