I’ve been reading John Ehrenfeld’s “The Right Way to Flourish: Reconnecting to the Real World” (2020). John is a participant in the Channel McGilchrist forum which I joined alongside my reading Iain McGilchrist’s latest “The Matter With Things” (2021). John’s book was largely written before he had read Iain’s previous “The Master and His Emissary” (2012) and he openly admits fitting many references to to Iain’s 2012 work into his own work-in-progress without radically changing the intended structure and messages.
That in itself says something about Iain’s work. That his hypothesis about distinct left and right brain views of the world supports and reinforces natural and intuitive thinking many of us already have in trying to address the sense that we humans have somehow lost our way in the world. Lost our “connection to the real world”. Iain’s is clearly a powerful statement of reality.
In some sense I’m not really John’s target audience. I have already “bought” Iain’s hypothesis and I share many of John’s learning experiences in process engineering and in management generally, in quality management and in management education. If you are a practitioner in that space and you share the sense that our typical processes and procedures are somehow restricting our ability to flourish as individuals and as organisations, and that as a society we are failing to get to grips with the big issues of our time, then this is a book for you. A recommended read with practical recommendations – though as you will discover recommendations cannot be as prescriptive as some might hope.
This is not John’s first work on “flourishing” and for anyone who cares about life’s meaning and purpose, flourishing is the right word, biologically and psychologically, individually and collectively. Connecting this idea to that of sustainability – a totemic objective of so much 21stC effort – causes John some problem in that “sustain” implies some things being maintained or conserved. I might suggest the right formulation is “sustainable flourishing” – it’s the processes of continuous flourishing we are trying to maintain?
Interestingly, John connects flourishing quite early on to the authenticity of Maslow’s “self-actualisation” motives of the individual and the collective and links this to the rehabilitation of “positive psychology” generally.
There are a few quibbles. Recommendations against “management” of flourishing which I suspect would be better framed as warnings against the wrong kind of management – enabling and curating as opposed to direction and control say? His suggestion that we need more critical thinking, when in fact a damaging feature of too much critical thinking is an emphasis on analytical and objective reductionism. But maybe again this is a distinction between good and bad critical thinking?
The idea of the good is however recognised as qualitative, even without any treatment of virtues and qualities more generally. It’s a pragmatic book without too much intellectual philosophy and therefore a much less challenging read than either of Iain’s works.
A “hopeful” book too. Making the distinction between the more subjective (right-brain) hope and the more objective (left-brain) optimism.
I actually made a lot more notes on my read, but one that came up today in another conversation is resisting the increasingly fashionable emphasis on “STEM” in education and recruitment. Obviously, who would deny the place of science and technology in human progress, he and I are both engineers after all, but the relentless emphasis deepens the old two-cultures divide in ways that are unhealthy to genuine flourishing.
I’ve said it before, and John says it too.]