We resolve your management dilemmas and double binds through insights from mimetic theory and network economics.
We provide business strategy consulting using insights from interdisciplinary knowledge. Here are brief summaries of the main theories we apply in our consulting to give your business or organization the competitive edge.
Mimetic theory was proposed by Rene Girard, Professor of French Literature at Stanford, when he discovered the connection between mimetic desires in literature and the anthropological origins of civilization and religion. Mimetic conflicts arise out of mimetic desire -- people copy each other’s desires, then fight over this desired object. One of his students, billionaire entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel, used it to gain foresight into investment opportunities. Mimetic theory greatly influenced his book on startups, Zero to One.
In The Nature of Value, Nick Gogerty explained that the economy evolves in a way much like an ecosystem. Both evolve to be more complex and efficient over time, with individuals finding their own comparative advantages or niches. Complex adaptive systems form networks and that the economy is more accurately understood as networks rather than markets. When people focus too much on the market, they often end up forgetting that price is not value.
Nassim Taleb coined the term antifragile to describe systems that benefit from stress over time. The biological evolutionary process is naturally antifragile because stress leads to adaptation in a previously unknown environment. Something is antifragile if it has a positive convex response to increases in volatility.
Friedrich Nietzsche expressed his understanding of antifragility when he said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Taleb was a fan of Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who were both associated with Existentialism. Lev Shestov, another Existentialist influenced by Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky, wrote All Things Are Possible, in which he used the problem of induction to expand our imagination. Taleb's book The Black Swan was all about the problem of induction. It is this failure to expect the unexpected that forced life to become antifragile so that it could still survive in unexpected environments.
The Existentialists primarily dealt with the meaning of life. Nietzsche and Camus were big on using mythology to interpret existential issues. Joseph Campbell was influenced by their ideas and came up with the hero's journey to explain how people overcome trials in their lives and live life as a meaningful narrative. He revealed the common themes among all world mythologies and how these themes and symbols continue to influence modern business, literature, and movies. Jordan Peterson also explored mythology and existentialism in Maps of Meaning. Rene Girard also uncovered insights into the origin of mythology after first noticing mimesis in the works of Dostoyevsky.
As a professor of psychology, Peterson was also influenced by Freud, Piaget, and Maslow. Many of our consumer desires reflect our needs at different stages of psychological development. For example, we must buy what we need to meet our physiological needs before meeting our social needs and our self-actualization. Much of what we call culture is psychological sublimation of taboos, and we can also see this in Mimetic Theory. Robert Kegan came up with a subject-object model of adult mental development stages to show that in our increasingly complex world, we need to be able to think in more abstract, meta-level contexts.
Robert Cialdini's Influence was the most important book in the past few decades that connected behavior psychology to marketing and negotiation. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky's research in behavioral psychology led Kahneman to his Nobel Prize in economics.
Kahneman documented his findings in Thinking, Fast and Slow. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche explained the balance of the Dionysian and the Apollonian in art, music, and tragic plays. Kahneman's system 1 thinking is somewhat analogous to the Dionysian, and system 2 thinking is somewhat analogous to the Apollonian. While Kahneman's work focused on reasoning correcting intuition, the Existentialists warned against the dangers of hyper-rationalism. To live meaningfully according to our subjective values, we should use rationality, but we can't all become Spock. In fact, Kahneman's conclusion is that the rational Homo Economicus model of economics is not reality. This is why viewing the economy as a network of social exchanges of reciprocal value, rather than rational agents in a market, is so important.
A double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual or group receives two or more conflicting messages, and one message negates the other. This is a situation we frequently face in any type of work. Gregory Bateson described Double Bind Theory in Steps to an Ecology of Mind. He saw the human mind as a complex adaptive system. Zen koans teach people to go beyond the rational mind to overcome double binds, because they reveal the infinite possibilities in meta-rationality. The Zen perspective also matches Albert Camus's concept of the Absurd, which is no surprise, because Camus was influenced by Shestov. Girard also described the double bind in Mimetic Theory, in which the role model for a desire can become the rival competing for the same desire.
We live in an era when the forms of media is changing from the physical to the digital and that information technology, big data, and machine learning are becoming increasingly important. Internet memes are influencing consumer decisions and even the 2016 US Presidential Election. The philosophies of Marshall McLuhan and Walter Benjamin can help us interpret value in this age of mass digital reproduction and social media networks.
The best way to come out ahead in a mimetic conflict is to practice balance of power strategy. The British Empire was dominant and antifragile for centuries because it was able to resolve double binds through balancing the power of its rivals. Value investing uses the same basic principles, because the investor avoids overextensions due to confusing price with value. A strategy for long term profit allows a company to stay antifragile in a complex, dynamic market.
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