Historical Figures

What does it mean to be the ‘Chief of Confusion’?
Answered by John Seely Brown
  • John Seely Brown

    John Seely Brown

  1. John Seely Brown Visiting scholar at USC, Independent Co-Chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge


    Well, If you go to my website it happens to be a title, but having been originally the chief scientist of Xerox, it seemed like after I stepped down, I could admit that maybe what I really am is the chief of confusion or at least that's a reasonable step to move into. The catch, of course, is that in going back to even some of the things we talked about in terms of imagination, it's the ability to ask the right question that actually enables you to connect to people other and actually get things to happen.

    As you move from a world of push to a world of pull, whereas your ability to connect and ask provocative questions that intrigue people, and get them to see what they're seeing isn't quite what they thought it was, and get them to think differently about something, all of sudden it is the question that matters, not the answer. In a way that's going back to kind of John Dewey in one way, when he had productive inquiries such that, hey, every answer actually is a platform for the next question.

    And so that sense of how do you ask the good question, and since I now work with many different institutions, you can just sit there and listen for an hour or two at what somebody is saying and it just becomes patently clear that they're subconsciously just walking around some other issue that they don't want to even psychologically or sociologically admit. And you can then ask a question to get them to be willing to reflect on this and confront it directly, it's much more important than actually answering the question that they brought you in to answer.

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