• Andrew Scott

Useful Fictions

I have been thinking about the concept of useful fictions a lot, recently. The Shifting Stories approach springs from a desire to get ever closer to the truth, and for that reason, I try always to be careful to be clear when I am making a truth-claim and when I am not.

However, there are many approaches, techniques, and ways of thinking that are demonstrably not true (and some that are not demonstrably true) and yet may be useful in a particular context. That is what I mean by a Useful Fiction.

One obvious example comes from the work of Nancy Kline and her Thinking Environment. The useful fiction there is that everyone in a group is an equal in terms of their thinking. Clearly the odds are against that being true; but as a working principle it is very useful, and defends a deeper truth: that we do not know who is the best thinker in a group. Naturally we may have views on that, and naturally, they may differ, so the Useful Fiction is very useful indeed.

I think a similar principle applies, though with more caution, to things like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I do not think its personality types are true in any absolute sense. The constructs are questionable, the underlying Jungian thinking is highly dubious in many ways… and yet the typology does provide the stimulus for useful conversations that again defend a deeper truth: that we are different in many ways, and similar in many others; and that exploring these differences in a way that is free of attack and defence is a valuable thing to do.

I am sure there are many other instances of Useful Fictions to explore, and I am still formulating my thinking on the concept, so would be particularly interested in your views.