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9.6.2. Words, Music and Dance


How To Invent (Almost) Anything9. Managing in a Complex World > 9.6. Translating Intent Into Action > 9.6.2. Words, Music and Dance

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Our input system of the five senses is complemented by our output system through which we interface with the world. For physical action we have a skeleton and muscles, whilst to communicate with others we not only have sounds and words but also the way we say them and the way we move our bodies whilst we are speaking.

Communication is not evenly balanced between these three systems: while words can be significant, our body language and voice tone speaks volumes.


All animals communicate in some way, but humans are unique in the complexity of our linguistic system. Chimps can be taught a few words of sign language, but many humans have a vocabulary of tens of thousands of words.

Words, nevertheless, are limited and limiting chunks, they are individual building blocks through which we must interpret our deeper intent. Despite the words and syntax available to us, we can never fully express what we really mean. As such we have to start compromising in what we say.

Much of what we say is a distortion, for example when we say ‘I’m boiling hot’ it is not literally so, but is distorted using the metaphor of liquid-to-gas conversion in order to try and communicate the feeling of discomforting temperature.

Explaining the detail of what we mean would take a long time, so we also miss out a lot. For example, if I say ‘I am confused’ then there is a deletion in that I have not said what I am confused about or why I am confused.

A third factor is generalisation, where we extend a single or few experiences to the whole world. For example ‘I always make these mistakes’ or ‘They are all like that.’

Distortions, deletions and generalisations in what we are saying may well highlight limitations in our own internal thinking. We think, as well as speak, in words and if we can stand back to observe our self-talk, we can detect and correct these limiting effects and thus become more effective and open creative thinkers.


When we speak, it is not in a monotone: the pitch of our voice goes up and down, we emphasise words, sometimes we speak faster and sometimes slower. These musical variations allow an enormous extra amount of information to be overlaid on the words themselves. We can say no and mean yes, and say yes and mean ‘maybe’ or simply ‘I understand.’


The final and largest part of our communication and interaction with the outer world is through our actions. When we are talking, our body language adds a great deal, and it also gives the game away if we are trying to deceive.

Generally, people deduce a great deal from our day-to-day actions. They will conclude that if we generate new ideas to solve difficult problems, we are creative and practical. If, however, we talk about ideas but do little, then they might reasonably assume that we are all talk and no action, and will treat us accordingly.

We also make deductions about ourselves from our actions, creating reinforcing spirals of negative or positive behaviour. If I think that I am not creative, then I will not create. Seeing myself not create, I conclude that I was right about my not being creative. The reverse is also true. If I am open and investigative in my experiments and persistent in my actions, then the creative success that results will reinforce a self-image of being innovative.

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