Theory, Practice & Innovation

It is the integrity of each individual human that is in final examination. On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate. ~ Buckminster Fuller

The philosopher Roy Bhaskar writes about theory-practice inconsistency. He likes to use David Hume as an example. Based on the implications of his idealist philosophy, Hume made the statement that it actually made no difference to walk out the third floor window than to walk out the first floor front door.  Bhaskar rightly reprimands Hume for his theory practice inconsistency, since  Hume always left the building through the front door. This of course seems silly to us, yet David Hume is a significant figure in Western philosophical canon. We might excuse Hume by imagining him relating to his theory as thought-experiment — but this was not the case. Hume was absolutely stuck in idealism because he was stuck inside his logics. It didn’t occur to him that there was a different kind of logics — the logics of being-in-the-world — which is all the reason we need to escape radical idealism.

Inside this story is a very serious point —

There is reason in our being and logic in our behavior  that requires paying attention to when we are doing thinking and making theory.

Paying attention is the skill needed to maintain theory-practice consistency. Maintaining theory-practice consistency is required for staying in integrity. It turns out that maintaining theory-practice consistency is rather tricky — because of the many ways we deceive ourselves in our ways of thinking. The primary way that theory-practice inconsistencies show up are as means-ends problems. Whenever we are confronted with a means-ends problem, we can find its root source in a theory-practice inconsistency. Sometimes this examination shows us that we need to adjust our theory or our mind-set about our vision, goals, principles or other types of  “ends”, sometimes this shows us that we need to change our behavior, practice, or other types of “means.” Even if we are left with an impossible situation — it is better to have a proper grasp of where the theory-practice fault line is, then to pretend it is otherwise.

Where the fault line falls is where innovation is most likely to come. Staying with the situation while pressing toward integration, is a fantastic process of continual innovation. Pressing toward theory-practice consistency forces you to innovate beyond what was previously possible. It allows you to move into the future potential.

Organizations and institutions are all operating under layers and layers of theory-practice inconsistency — where our end-goals or mission are constantly being gobbled up in a confusion of means. We can innovate ourselves into a higher integrity and a greater excellence through examining where the fault-lines lie.

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