Via Negativa


https://www.flickr.com/photos/orinrobertjohn/114430223
The Choices – Orin Zebest https://www.flickr.com/photos/orinrobertjohn/114430223

“It’s simple. I removed everything that is not David.” – Michelangelo’s answer when asked about how he could have created the masterpiece of all masterpieces, the statue of David.

What is ‘Via Negativa’, a term I had only recently known yet had often used when dealing with uncertainty or ambiguous situation?

It definitely has nothing to do with certainty or a definite condition (as the question imply). There, we have just answer the question using via negative approach.

In David’s case, Michelangelo removed away anything that is not David. He focused on everything that is not David before chiseling it away. Similar to that, in the question above, we eliminated the option that seems improbable, that it is used when dealing with certainty, and left with the answer that: ‘Via Negativa’ or the negative path is the path of renunciation, of reduction, of exclusion.

In business world, each of us might have an idea on what new businesses would rise in the next three years. Yes, that one you’re thinking about. Business is filled with lots of new opportunities. But, can we know for sure what is going to bloom? We could only be sure of what is most likely not going to happen, perhaps from history? (But, is failure usually as well represented as the success is?)

Not less complicated than business (and unfortunately not as simple as footwear purchase!), our life is also filled with uncertainty and possibilities. Try asking friends, colleagues, and family what they think life would be like in 10 years. I bet there would be numerous opinions, which are yet to be proven as we are still. Now, can all of their answers be correct? (Yes? Wow, you’ve just got a very complicated, and possibly contradictory, life ahead!) Hints: we probably won’t live in a world where tape recorder, DVD, or B/W TV still exists?

Now, how do we use this approach in our life (and also business and career)?

Unless we have a definite goals that you want to achieve through periods of life, we might have to consider a lot of open paths, one too many to choose from.

If we let ourselves wander for too long in the wrong direction, we might end up being expert in certain areas that don’t matter at all to us. If we turn blind eyes to opportunities, we might end up missing out on what we could have achieved. In business, we might produce products that we eventually don’t give a damn about (hence, it might fall after this realization) or we won’t even make the products.

Intermezzo: note the contradiction between the last two paragraphs above.

To be more nearly sure in following or adventuring in the right path, we could actually:

  1. List down what we want. What we want matters, a lot.
  2. List down all that we don’t want. All. At least at this point in time.
  3. The next time we are faced with choosing the right doors, open the second list and cross out the ones that we are sure we don’t want.

It’s easier. And we are definitely keeping our mind open and body agile enough to flex. 😉

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