I’m so excited to learn a quirky but profound word recently – “adumbrate”. I came across this in Barone and Eisner’s book ‘Arts based Research’, 2012. According to the authors in the arts, symbols adumbrate, they do not denote. When aesthetic, visceral, emotional, art forms [including those that are non-verbal] adumbrate, something happens… people take note. What people notice often becomes a source of conversation that co-creates new knowledge and generates new ways of going on.
However, in Western education (not least my area of interests, i.e., leadership, organising and management) positivist, logical rationalism continues to be privileged as the (only) way to gain knowledge and to progress. In organisations, truth is only accepted when propositional claims can be verified through some form of accepted scientific methodology. Little or no room is given to ambiguity. This is probably the reason why organisations continue to use various forms of IQ tests in their leadership selection processes. In this setting, leadership abilities are attributed to those who are good at thinking and speaking in propositional terms. When this is imbedded in their talent management programmes, organisations inadvertently set up a process that replicates the identification and development of transactional, rather than transformational leaders.
In my view, as the world becomes more complex and ambiguous, we not only need people who are good at linear, causative and propositional thinking but more importantly those who can adumbrate!
Barone and Eisner suggests that the play by Arthur Miller, ‘Death of a Salesman’ is an artform form that adumbrates. It is “not about any particular salesman; it is about middle- aged men who lose their jobs and strain their relationships with their wives and children. Through the playwright’s skill, qualities of life are revealed and the reader learns to notice aspects of the world”.