The Congruent Scientist: Playing the infinite game builds personal wisdom


The aikidoka does not let distraction affect her kime 決め… her focus and attention. She is congruent in her form.

“Yet notoriously the cultivation of truthfulness, justice and courage will often, the world being what it contingently is, bar us from being rich or famous or powerful. Thus although we may hope that we can not only achieve the standards of excellence and the internal goods of certain practices by possessing the virtues and become rich, famous and powerful, the virtues are always a potential stumbling block to this comfortable ambition” (MacIntyre, 1984).

PLEASE NOTE: This is a draft of a bit of the Open Scientist Handbook. There are references/links to other parts of this work-in-progress that do not link here in this blog. Sorry. But you can also see what the Handbook will be offering soon.

Alasdair MacIntyre’s caveat rings true when applied to finite power games in and out of the academy. It’s the same “nice guys finish last” logic that your academic advisor may have given you; “practical” advice that many in the academy have used as an alibi against sharing their data and methods openly. Open scientists know better. This logic exposes how the external goods of the neo-liberal market are crowding out the internal goods so vital to the success of science as a practice. Nicholas Gruen (Retrieved February 21, 2020) puts it this way: “Here’s the serpent in paradise. External goods are necessary, but, at the same time, in tension with internal goods. This is an ethical tension. The risk is always that the pursuit of external goods compromises the pursuit of internal goods, and thus the excellence of the practice.”

Certainly, during the transition phase to open practices of Fierce Equality and Demand Sharing, there will still be games for external goods where the few consider themselves winners and all others as losers. The hyper-competition for scarce external goods in the academy is not going to simply disappear on its own. Today, dozens of open science endeavors have articulated alternative solution pathways for distributing external goods without supporting perverse incentives (Edwards and Roy, 2017; Bartling and Friesike, 2014). However, building alternative practices through intentional culture change takes time and effort. The open, infinite game of science treasures its abundant internal goods — including internal measures of recognition and modes of compensation — above money, fame, and glory. Something to remember when you have little of the latter.

One particular internal good in the academy happens when your work and your person become congruent. The practical wisdom you learn and apply to your research, and with your teammates, you can also use in your life with friends and family.

Background on the notion of congruence

In 1961, the psychotherapist Carl Rogers compiled three decades of papers into the book On Becoming a Person. The main frame of the book describes his client-centric approach to psychotherapy, how he arrived at this and what he learned as a practitioner, many of the articles — which read very much as blogs do today (and were unpublishable in the scientific journals for this reason). He then links this frame to other human endeavors. In particular, he looks to education and personal relations in organizations.

His main therapeutic process involves how the psychoanalyst as a person, develops her own personhood by becoming more congruent (more about this in a minute) and then uses this congruence as a communication tool to open up the client to the process of becoming more congruent. The therapist is really only someone further along the same road to “becoming a person.”

The process of becoming a person, of achieving more and wider congruence, and so having fewer and fewer defenses, brings the client to a better life, with less tension and fear, better communication with everyone, and new opportunities to explore each moment fully. For Rogers, congruence happens when one’s real self (the one we all start out with — all infants are congruent — also the one we can shape with our own skills and the virtues we learn) fully resembles one’s ideal self (the one we acquire from social interactions with others).

The lack of congruence leads to the need to defend the ideal self every time the real self behaves differently, or when people respond to the real self instead of the ideal self. The real self becomes hidden and, indeed, often unknowable; which forms the reason for therapeutic intervention. The goal of congruence is also extremely well aligned with the goal of “becoming a scientist:” congruence unlocks intellectual creativity.

Creativity in science is a self-therapeutic practice

“The mainspring of creativity appears to be the same tendency which we discover so deeply as the curative force in psychotherapy — man’s tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities.…This tendency may be come deeply buried under layer after layer of encrusted psychological defenses; it may be hidden behind elaborate façades which deny its existence; it is my belief however, based on my experience, that it exists in every individual, and awaits only the proper conditions to be released and expressed. It is this tendency which is the primary motivation for creativity as the organism forms new relationships to the environment in its endeavor most fully to be itself” (Rogers, 1961).

The ideal self represents the roles you acquire in order to play finite games in your life and career. For example, in your academic position, you are “The Scientist.” As Carse (1987) noted and Rogers might agree here, you have forgotten that you have the freedom to set aside your role. Quite the reverse: the role has become you. This is why you spend so much effort defending your ideal self/role, even (or especially) against your real self. How do you escape?

“[P]rogress in personal life and in group living is made in the same way, by releasing variation, freedom, creativity” (Rogers, 1961). The creativity you invest in the infinite game of science builds the capacity you can use to release your real self from the roles you play in finite games. You acquire the mindset of an infinite game player and become self-directed toward congruence. As Rogers notes:

“[T]he individual who is open to his experience, and self-directing, is harmonious, not chaotic, ingenious rather than random, as he orders his responses imaginatively toward the achievement of his own purposes. His creative actions are no more a chaotic accident than was Einstein’s development of the theory of relativity” (ibid).

Simon Sinek (2019) would add that your infinite game mindset is precisely what you need to succeed as a team member in 21st Century science.

Open science and an open you

How does the authenticity of doing science as an infinite game bleed over into your personal life? Can science really make you a “better person”? The skills you acquired to become a scientist, and the cultural practices of open science you are weaving into your work are tools you can use if you bring along the courage to seek change; “making courage part of your personal culture means you are always willing to keep making changes in your life until it is the life that you want and the life that you deserve. Courage in your life means you accept that there will be missteps — that constant and repeated change may be necessary, but that it is nothing to be ashamed of if it leads to a more fulfilling, positive outcome” (Dudley, 2018).

The intellectual tools of science, such as rigorous, reflexive curiosity, openness, and intellectual humility are available to the scientist for use in other circumstances. You can bring these skills home with you. The same kindness and humility you bring (one hopes) to your teaching and research can become an interactive style elsewhere.

On becoming an organization

“If things aren’t going right, the first response is: let’s make more rules, let’s set up a set of detailed procedures to make sure that people will do the right thing. Give teachers scripts to follow in the classroom, so even if they don’t know what they’re doing and don’t care about the welfare of our kids, as long as they follow the scripts, our kids will get educated. Give judges a list of mandatory sentences to impose for crimes, so that you don’t need to rely on judges using their judgment….Impose limits on what credit card companies can charge in interest and on what they can charge in fees. More and more rules to protect us against an indifferent, uncaring set of institutions we have to deal with” (Barry Schwartz, 2011 TED Talk<https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_using_our_practical_wisdom/transcript>; Retrieved 02/17/2020.

In the Handbook’s section on Learning Organizations, we discovered double-loop learning/governance. Double-loop governance maps directly into congruence at the organizational level: the so-called “ideal” organization being the first loop, and the real organization being the second loop. Instead of hiding the real organization behind the idealized intentions of the founder, or top-down rules and regulations derived from an imperious CEO or provost, double-loop governance makes the real organization available to every member. Each member has the same view and purview of the rules and roles, the values and the vision of the organization, and also an obligation to make these congruent with the everyday activities of the organization.

The notion that your organization can also be a therapeutic setting where members can learn to become more congruent may seem peculiar today, where management mainly promotes rule-governed compliance. Barry Schwartz tells us to stop already with the rules and use our everyday interactions to grow social and personal virtues:

“Rules and incentives don’t tell you how to be a good friend, how to be a good parent, how to be a good spouse, or how to be a good doctor or a good lawyer or a good teacher. Rules and incentives are no substitutes for wisdom. Indeed, we argue, there is no substitute for wisdom. And so practical wisdom does not require heroic acts of self-sacrifice on the part of practitioners. In giving us the will and the skill to do the right thing — to do right by others — practical wisdom also gives us the will and the skill to do right by ourselves. (Barry Schwartz, 2011 TED Talk<https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_using_our_practical_wisdom/transcript>; Retrieved 02/17/2020.

Remember also that organizational Knowing — the stock of sharable knowledge that defines your academic institution’s main research resource — is a series of conversations between two or more people. Knowing cannot be stored, only generated anew as each conversation leverages the prior ones. Your organization’s culture and governance sets up the circumstances at work where members can (or cannot) communicate effectively to share their insights and grow creativity. Mainly what they share is a specific, collective scientific ignorance.

“This [the shared ignorance in a scientific conversation] is knowledgeable ignorance, perceptive ignorance, insightful ignorance. It leads us to frame better questions, the first step to getting better answers. It is the most important resource we scientists have, and using it correctly is the most important thing a scientist does” (Firestein, 2012). Using open science and the infinite game, you can make your organization a place where each member can become more of a person. In return they will make your organization a better place in which to get science done.

Coda

You’ve likely met one or more congruent scientists. Someone who has engaged you in conversation at a workshop or conference. You walk away thinking, “She is so open and intellectually humble, knows so much, and asks really great questions. She must be such fun to work with.” You might have also sensed a wellspring of truthfulness, justice, and courage there. A corner of your ego might wonder what she thought of you. If you were playing the infinite game with her, and not trying to win points, she probably noticed.

You may also have visited a congruent organization (or, with great luck, you’ve ended up working in one), and come away wondering how they manage to avoid all the administrative bullshit you deal with every day. How do they sustain that level of creative interactions? How come everybody felt safe enough to say those things out loud? What does one need to do to get a job there?

In the Earth sciences, there’s a virtual organization called Earth Science Information Partners (ESIPfed.org). This is a great example of a congruent organization. A few years back, they hired an independent review organization to advise them what they could do to improve. The report came back: sorry, everyone who knows you, loves how you work right now. The reviewers were apologetic about not exposing a range of problems. ESIP has been a double-loop learning organization for two decades. It shows. Here’s an introduction to their bi-yearly gatherings.

The Open Scientist Handbook offers tools for you to become more congruent and to build congruent governance practices into your own academy home.

References

Bartling, Sönke, and Sascha Friesike, eds. Opening Science: The Evolving Guide on How the Internet Is Changing Research, Collaboration and Scholarly Publishing. Heidelberg: Springer Open, 2014.

Carse, James P. Finite and Infinite Games. Ballantine Books, 1987.

Dudley, Drew. This Is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters. First edition. New York: Hachette Books, 2018.

Edwards, Marc A., and Siddhartha Roy. “Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition.” Environmental Engineering Science 34, no. 1 (January 2017): 51–61. https://doi.org/10.1089/ees.2016.0223.

Firestein, Stuart. Ignorance: How It Drives Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

MacIntyre, Alasdair C. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 2nd ed. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984.

Rogers, Carl Ransom. On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995.

Sinek, Simon. The Infinite Game. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019.

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