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by | Mar 9, 2017

Our times are inarguably subject to profound challenges and wicked problems—troubles entangled within and by complex systems, which defy reductionist solutions and even become worse for the effort. Certainly this is the case with many growth and development-centered approaches to poverty, environment, healthcare, freedom, justice and education.

In looking to solve our way forward, we may do well to consider that the wisdom and insight needed—like the closet exit on an airplane—may be behind us. Reaching back to retrieve forgotten or overlooked resources in the form of ideas, objects and especially people can be the key to creating transformation. In fact, Steven Johnson, the author of Where Good Ideas Come From, notes that great innovations are often built out of the broken parts of failed ones.

I am inspired by a short poem written 2,500 years ago and attributed to the Chinese philosopher Laozi. It strikes me as intuitively trans-disciplinary and quantum-minded, qualities that allow us to be rigorous about and open to change.


The wheel’s hub holds thirty spokes

Utility depends on the hole through the hub.

The potter’s clay forms a vessel

It is the space within that serves.

A house is built with solid walls

The nothingness of window and door alone renders it usable.

That which exists may be transformed

What is nonexistent has boundless uses.

About Lines of Thinking

Lines of Thinking is a monthly feature from College President Tom Manley. Each installment features a poem selected for its powers to transport us to some higher, lower or common ground, and, possibly in the process, provide fresh perspective and insight on the ground we occupy daily.