The factory of a new vision of the world

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...or the eloquence of the birds.

Transition, change, complexity... in this troubled period that we are going through, our thirst for meaning, coherence, reassurance brings us back to the foundations of the myth.

Around us, the world is becoming more and more visible. Faced with this great Transition and the increasing complexity of the environment, our inertia, our blind spots and our fear of change are handicapping us, slowing down our evolution.

At the last congress of the American World Future Society - which brings together most of the Anglo-Saxon foresight community - a session dedicated to the storytelling was a testament to its importance. In 1998, on the other side of the world, the Indo-Pacific prospector Sohail Inayatullah was already explaining the essential role of the narratives in the construction of future thinking (1). But what exactly are we talking about?

Storyletting and narratives

Let's first consider the storytelling like the art of storytelling. Stories that are coherent, constructed, believable. An art that you know is difficult to master if you've read a suspense novel whose plot is obvious from the very first pages! The storytelling thus refers as much to creative imagination as to the technical skill to express it. However, these two qualities seem to be beginning to be lacking in a Western world where the acceleration of the pace of life is precipitating the loss of technical knowledge - particularly the mastery of sustained language - and where the education system values the reproduction of knowledge rather than its creation.

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The concept of narratives is a little more complicated. It's not just constructed stories, it's meaningful stories. Storytelling is indeed one of the four rethoric models identified by the ancient Greeks: its aim is to highlight a logical order and clear consequences. But more than that: the narrative - oral or written, painted or mimed, fictional or realistic - expresses a vision of the world, a worldview. That is to say, the way in which we represent ourselves, individually and collectively, the order and logic of things.

About the importance of myths and birds...

The narrative is therefore the educational or moral message underlying a story. Myths, tales, parables, cosmogonies have in common that they are first and foremost narrative. It is not the likelihood that characterizes them but their capacity to overcome apparent contradictions (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) by making a meaning, a structure (Claude Levi-Strauss), timeless.
In this way, they contribute to the foundation of an explanatory paradigm of the world and the events taking place in it.

When an old order collapses, tightened on its preservation at all costs, a double language emerges, carrying new ideas, proscribed, in a hidden form. The "language of the birds" is one of them (2). But the reference also refers to the recent work of ABE & WATANABE (3) Bird trills: for centuries we have considered bird trills as the simple musical expression of a species devoid of intelligence (a "bird brain"). Yet today we are able to reverse our point of view to understand that they may correspond to a complex language. The original myth of birds, messengers of the gods and reflections of the future, may arise again: we are ready to hear it, ready to understand that we can rise from our ashes like the phoenix, that we must forge mental wings for greater fluidity and adaptation, or that we must now rise to the heights. (macroscaling), to give priority to synthesis over analysis, to finally see the "Big Picture" and act accordingly.

...to change the paradigm

For the narratives are also intended to prepare us for change. Thus we are gradually replacing mathematical certainties with statistical certainty and the prediction of meaningful narratives. (narrator) that we need to learn how to make (storytelling) Managers need it to solve the dilemmas that arise when facing globalization and managing differences. HR managers need it to manage a social body that aspires to happiness, intangible values, a renewal of meaning and a reenchantment of the future. Marketers need it to value brands and their growing influence in the conceptual economy. Citizens need it to come together around a common culture, richer than the ambient individualism. Our children need it to understand this new world that they need to be prepared to live in and that we don't yet know how to explain to them.

(1) Inaatullah Sohail, "Causal layered analysis poststructuralism as method", Futures, vol. 30, n°8, Oct 1998, pp 815-29
(2) Burger Baudouin, La langue des oiseaux, Saint-Zénon (Canada) : Louise Courteau éditeur, 2010
(3) Abe Kentaro, Watanabe Daj, "Songbirds possess the spontaneous ability to discriminate syntactic rules", Nature Neuroscience, 14, 2011, pp 1067-1074.

Fabienne Goux-BaudimentDirector of ProGective, Paris; Associate Professor at the University of Angers (ISTIA); President of the Société Française de Prospective.

With our sincere thanks to the magazine RH&M n°54, in which this article was published in July 2014.

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