Transformation – and how it happens

I spent the morning seeing pictures and hearing about a recent trip to China – two working professionals spent a month there last November on holiday. One is a lawyer.  Her husband is the dean of a cathedral in a neighboring city.  He started by saying that getting his visa was more difficult than for any other member of the touring group.  Apparently he was seen as a threat who might be up to converting the 1.5 billion Chinese he’d run in to.

They had marvelous pictures – and raved about the luxurious accommodation and the food.  The dean remarked that for him, what was odd was not visiting any place of worship of his own denomination during his time on the mainland – though there was clearly lots of exposure to temples and shrines.  The way he described the experience – and especially the contacts with young English speaking guides was “transforming”.

This made sense to me.  On thing that bugs me about any enterprise is how often we seek transforming experiences is by hanging out with people so much like ourselves. In his book, Imagine, How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer notes how the strength of the high tech industry in Israel is influenced by the fact that most young men have compulsory military service a few weeks of the year.  It means that they make loose connections with people frequently and reconnect – and this spills over into new ideas from varied sources and capabilities in different fields.

But Lehrer also notes that our  “friends” and connections so beloved of social media – surely loose ones – are no substitute for real learning from others.  Thinking that others really care about what I have for dinner, or where I am right now, or my latest selfie may just represent the triumph of ego over reality.  But I find there are benefits of following different folks on Twitter who come from different fields and perspectives.  Some of them are good curators of new ideas well worth a read.