A brief conversation on Twitter with Duff helped me crystallize something that’s been bothering me here lately. Bear with me on this point, because I’m going to violate my standing rule about talking directly about philosophy. (As some of you may know, I’m slowly working on finishing my Ph.D. in philosophy.)
What’s been bothering me is the boundaries of productivity and personal development. When most people talk about productivity, they’re talking specifically about action. When they talk of personal development, they tend to talk about thinking, believing, etc. There seems to be this conceptual split between thinking (personal development) and doing (productivity).
This split is nonsense, really. Productivity without perspective and intention is just wheel-spinning. Personal development without action is just daydreaming.
On to the philosophy bit. The Greeks had two words for the intellectual virtues: sophia and phronesis. Sophia is what many of us would think of as wisdom, and phronesis is something like practical wisdom. Sophia is concerned with generalities, such as the law of gravity, whereas phronesis is concerned with more particular things like using levers to lift heavy objects.
The main insight that I’d like to draw out here is that we need both sophia and phronesis to flourish. Knowing the types of things that make us flourish (sophia) is well and good, but it’s insufficient to bring about our flourishing. Knowing how to make things happen in the world (phronesis) is handy, but fire both destroys and creates – we have to direct our actions toward the good to flourish.
Back to personal development and productivity. I’ve had trouble recently talking about productivity and personal development in a mass format because I have to speak in generalities, when I know that true, personal change only happens in the particulars of our daily life. I’m tired of the productivity pr0n and personal development woo – if you want to do something in the world, let’s talk about what you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to do it, and how we’re going to get it done. Otherwise, sudoku is a lot cheaper and less guiltifying.
Shaving an hour off your work day is easy; figuring out meaningful things to do with that time is hard. Writing a high-minded mission statement is easy; actually manifesting your mission day-to-day is hard. Personal development is sophia; productivity is phronesis. Marry the two and you get flourishing. Keep them separate, and you get the see-saw that way too many of us are familiar with.
I’ll wrap this up by saying this: if your journey towards becoming more productive and/or “developed” is leading you away from flourishing, you aren’t becoming either more productive or more developed. The end of both productivity and personal development is flourishing, so use that as a guide.
(This discussion should clear up the lingering question some of you may have regarding the less-than-cool domain name of this blog.)