Author and scholar Aaron Cheak is on the latest Daimonosophy 2.0 podcast where he briefly talks about Metis as “cunning awareness” and as a kind of fluid engagement with the world that reshapes the psyche. He mentions Peter Kingsley’s book Reality (The Golden Sufi Center, 2004) on Metis. Cheak and I discussed Metis and Kingsley’s book in 2005-06, in the context of my 1998 Book of Oblique Strategies ‘received text’ experience.
Thomas Wendt‘s Persistent Fools: Cunning Intelligence and the Politics of Design (Createspace, 2017) considers Metis as an “anti-strategy” that can inform a sustainability design ethic. The book’s details:
Persistent Fools: Cunning Intelligence and the Politics of Design explores the manipulative qualities of design, the unsustainability of capitalist rationalism, the anti-strategies of cunning intelligence, and new approaches for responsible and ethical design practice. Design is not a purely benevolent activity. Even in an age of human-centered design (or perhaps because of it), the practice is linked to deception. But rather than this being a downfall, Persistent Fools argues that we can use its deceptive qualities to introduce a new way of strategizing: cunning intelligence over rational logic. The very connection between design, deception, and capitalist exploitation might also be the lever for shifting power relations back toward sustainability, if only we can flip the dominant logic. Persistent Fools argues that design is a political act and should be understood as such. It is a call to action for designers to shed the baggage of industrialist thinking and adopt new forms of futuring that are better equipped to deal with social and political complexity.
I updated my Research page and Google Scholar profile today to reflect Metis (cunning intelligence) as the hedgehog concept that underpins my personal research program. In particular, I am interested in Metis in the context of foreign policy decision-making, investigative journalism, hedge funds, and special warfare.
Metis or “cunning intelligence” (Marcel Detienne & Jean-Pierre Vernant, 1978; 1998) is an overarching Hedgehog Idea in my personal research program. Metis underpins craft, cunning, skill, and wisdom. It integrates a range of life experiences and research interests, including investigative journalism, initiatory self-work, PhD studies in strategic culture, and study of financial markets trading. Below is a draft book / film list that illustrates different aspects of Metis and metic intelligence in contemporary life. I am working on an annotated book / film list, which will be available in the future on this site.
The first phase establishes the concepts. The second phase has an emergent theme of organisational and political skills in a Hobbesian and Machiavellian world. The third phase illustrates some life philosophy and scholarly work, including several books and films which have influenced me.
The Craftsman by Richard Sennett (New York: Penguin, 2008). (TS-3). A defence of craft as a vehicle for fluid and metic intelligences in the contemporary world.
Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas by John Shirley (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2004). (TS-3). An accessible overview of the Graeco-Armenian magus and Teacher of Dances, including his Caucasus and France experiences. William Patrick Patterson made the connection between Gurdjieff and the Detienne/Vernant work on Metis in a footnote to Struggle of the Magicians: Exploring the Student-Teacher Relationship (Fairfax, CA: Arete Publications, 1997).
The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk-Taking, Gut Feelings, and the Biology of Boom and Bust by John Coates (London: Fourth Estate, 2013). (TS-3). John Coates is a Research Fellow at Cambridge University who uses neuroscience to study financial risk-taking. Coates’ study of Wall Street traders suggests that metic intelligence can have physiological effects due to environmental and psychological stressors.
The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens (London: Short Books, 2011). (TS-3). Brooks explains how to lead a philosophical Good Life, and includes a chapter on Metis.
Taproots: Underlying Principles of Milton Erickson’s Therapy and Hypnosis by William Hudson O’Hanlon (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1987). (TS-3). Identifies the common patterns and phases in Erickson’s strategic therapy and trance inductions. Includes a useful bibliography of Erickson’s major work. O’Hanlon later wrote on brief therapy.
Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman (New York: Basic Books, 2013). (TS-3). An introduction to the current debates about expertise, giftedness, and high abilities. Covers the Cattell-Horn-Carroll model of intelligence. I have a broader reading list on these subjects here.
Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands A Pagan Ethos by Robert D. Kaplan (New York: Vintage Books, 2002). (TS-3). Recommended to me by Spiral Dynamics coauthor Don Edward Beck. Kaplan explains why classicist authors such as Livy, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Hobbes continue to have relevance in Understanding geopolitics.
Capricorn One (1977). A conspiracy theory film that evokes Metis as survival sense, and know how in ambiguous, changing situations. A personal ECI on my mother, shortly before her death in March 1978.
The Clash: Westway to the World (2000). The punk rock group The Clash explain in their own words how they dealt with the 1977-82 period of their career arc, and its aftermath.
Collateral (2004). Michael Mann’s thriller involving a contract killer is really a meditation on Metis as survival sense.
The Cove (2009). A team of environmental activists use covert techniques to uncover dolphin killings by Japanese fishermen in the Taiji cove, Japan.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Bane’s initial operations illustrate metic intelligence via strategic surprise.
Limitless (2011). An exploration of the potential for giftedness and high abilities.
Moneyball (2011). A film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ reportage on how Billy Beane used ‘sabermetrics’ statistical analysis at the Oakland A’s baseball team to gain an edge.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991). FBI cadet Clarice Sterling undergoes an initiatory ideal at the hands of serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Skyfall (2012). The villain Silva gives an island hideout speech about geopolitics and risk arbitrage that conveys metic intelligence.
The Usual Suspects (1995). The character Keyser Söze embodies Metis and metic intelligence in this thriller.
Kata and the Transmission of Knowledge in Traditional Martial Arts by Michael Rosenbaum (Boston, MA: YMAA Publication Center, 2004). (TS-3). Kata are codified fighting patterns that are culturally transmitted through martial arts teaching, and the creative evolution of specific forms, styles, and schools. Rosenbaum examines how kata are the foundation of traditional martial arts and the contemporary warrior’s way. Kata is also considered in Carol A. Wiley’s edited anthology Martial Arts Teachers on Teaching (Berkeley, CA: Frog Ltd., 1995) (TS-3).
More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite by Sebastian Mallaby (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011). (TS-3). Mallaby is Paul A. Volcker Senior Fellow for International Economics and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This is a near-definitive history of hedge funds — a limited partnership that has a private investment pool — and the fund managers who have used fluid and metic intelligences to become a new financial elite. The influence of performance and sports psychology in hedge funds during the past two decades is visible in two books: Brett N. Steenbarger’s Enhancing Trader Performance: Proven Strategies from the Cutting Edge of Trading Psychology (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007) (TS-3), which uses K. Anders Ericsson’s deliberate practice, and Ari Kiev’s The Mental Strategies of Top Traders: The Psychological Determinants of Trading Success (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010) (TS-3).
More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom In Unconventional Places by Michael J. Mauboussin (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013). (TS-3). (MAM-1). Mauboussin is head of global financial strategies and an adjunct professor at the Columbia Business School. In this book Mauboussin applies scientific knowledge to the investment process of finding alpha: returns above a market benchmark due to active management or skill. Useful both as an overview of recent scientific advances, and as an example of fluid and metic intelligences in investment management.
The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World by Jonathan Powell (London: Vintage, 2011). (TS-3). Powell was Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff from 1994 to 2007, and this book draws on his unpublished diaries to give a Machiavellian meditation on power. Powell’s insights can be contrasted with Carnes Lord’s The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need To Know Now (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) (TS-3).
Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t by Jeffrey Pfeffer (New York: HarperBusiness, 2010). (TS-3). Metis involves the creative exercise of different forms of power for finding solutions. Pfeffer is an expert on organisational politics.
Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change by Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan (Malden, MA: Blackwell Business Publishers, 1996). (TS-4). A popularisation for business managers of Clare W. Graves’ emergent, cyclical model of mature adult biopsychosocial systems intelligences. It features a useful bibliography of further resources. The framework has had some diffusion challenges similar to the Enneagram and Neurolinguistic Programming. Cowan and Natasha Todorovic later edited Graves’ unpublished notes as The Never Ending Quest: Clare W. Graves Explores Human Nature (Santa Barbara: ECLET Publishing, 2005) (TS-4).
Tactics: The Art and Science of Success by Edward de Bono (London: William Collins, 1985). (TS-3). ‘Lateral thinker’ Edward de Bono interviews fifty exemplars about the choices and strategies they used to become successful.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013). (TS-3). Winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2013. Packer used John Dos Passos’ USA trilogy for his reportage on the life decisions that his interviewees made between 1978 and 2012, as they navigated the changing social contract in the United States of America.
When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management (London: Fourth Estate, 2002). (TS-3). The influential study on the demise of the LTCM hedge fund which involved several Nobel Prize for Economics winners and leading Wall Street traders. The LTCM playbook is dissected in Ludwig B. Chincarini’s The Crisis of Crowding: Quant Copycats, Ugly Models, and the New Crash Normal (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012) (TS-4).
Breach (2007). The entrapment ploy designed to expose double agent Robert Hanssen.
Casino (1995). The Mafia’s attempts to control Las Vegas casinos in the early 1970s.
The Firm (1993). Mitch McDeere develops a unique solution to get out of a career crisis in this thriller based on John Grisham’s novel.
Inception (2010). A corporate espionage team uses dream control technology to extract information from the CEO of a rival firm.
The Mayfair Set (1999). Adam Curtis profiles a group of British entrepreneurs including Sir James Goldsmith and ‘Tiny’ Rowland who developed the hostile corporate takeover in mergers and acquisitions.
Michael Clayton (2007). ‘Fixer’ Michael Clayton deals with damage control during a $3 billion litigation case, and a takeover of his law firm.
Syriana (2005). A thriller set in the shadowy world of political think-tanks, counterterrorism operations, and oil geopolitics.
Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (New York: Penguin Books, 2012). (TS-5). Former options trader and philosopher Taleb articulates a personal philosophy of life as ‘long gamma’: “benefiting from volatility and variability” (p. 186). Provides the overarching framework to Understand his earlier books including The Black Swan and Fooled By Randomness. For two alternative views, see Aaron C. Brown’s Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012) (TS-3) and William Poundstone’s Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat The Casinos and Wall Street (New York: Hill & Wang, 2005) (TS-3).
The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Development by K. Anders Ericsson, Neil Charness, Paul J. Feltovich, and Robert R. Hoffman (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). (TS-4). One of the best scholarly resources on deliberate practice, expertise, and skills cultivation.
The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance At NASA by Diane Vaughan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). (TS-4). Vaughan is a Professor of sociology at Columbia University. She traces the decision pathways that led to the space shuttle Challenger’s explosion on 28th January 1986, and the ‘deviant’ organisational politics involved. For a contrasting view, see Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999) (TS-4).
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (New York: Avon, 1999). (TS-5). Stephenson’s story of Allied code-breakers in World War II and Southeast Asian data havens features many examples of Metis and metic intelligence.
Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History by Alastair Iain Johnston (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995). (TS-4). Johnston’s doctoral dissertation on Ming China’s strategic culture (socialisation and long-term, culturally transmitted influences on decision-makers) and its grand strategic choices.
Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society by Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant. Translated by Janet Lloyd. (University of Chicago Press, 1991). (TS-4). The influential study on Metis as cunning intelligence in Greek culture and mythology.
Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece by Lisa Raphals (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992). (TS-4). Raphals’ doctoral dissertation which extends Detienne and Vernant’s influential work on Metis to Chinese stratagems.
Alien (1979). The Nostromo crew encounters forbidden knowledge in the form of a xenomorph. This is a film about ‘normal accidents’ (Charles Perrow); multi-level games; and ‘fixes that fail’ when faced with disproportionate change.
Black Rain (1989). When two New York police investigate the Yakuza in Osaka they discover potential enemies who have a different worldview.
Blake’s 7 (1978-81). The character Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) shows metic intelligence as part of a rebel cell dealing with a corrupt Federation in a dystopian science fiction future.
Edge of Darkness (1985). The BBC’s influential mini-series on a police investigation into the deaths of environmental activists at the Northmoor nuclear facility. The 2010 film adaptation relies on action and ‘signposting’ of what remain mysteries in the original mini-series.
Murder One (1995-97). The O.J. Simpson trial deeply influenced Stephen Bochco’s television series on a Los Angeles law firm and its stratagems to win defence cases.
Red Cliff (2008). Deception and stratagem battles during China’s Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD).
The Red Riding Trilogy (2009). A series of interconnected stories about Yorkshire murders between 1974 and 1983, based on David Peace’s novels. Some characters embody Metis whilst others do not.
The Thin Blue Line (1988). Errol Morris’ background as a detective influenced this documentary which changed the outcome of a criminal investigation.