Photo by adam morse  on Unsplash

I had a note from a trademark owner the other day saying that I should not be using the term ‘Liminal’ and the term ‘Leaders’ together as a title for our blog series exploring how different innovative thinkers see the liminal space of emergence of new types of organization in response to massive changes in the contexts in which they operate.

To be honest, I was a bit unhappy with the title as it implied the people I interviewed professed to know a sure-footed way through an emergent territory whereas actually all of the interviewees (so far) see the action of engaging with the liminal as exploratory, fertile, tentative. Rather like really good scientists, curious, questioning and empirical.

That prompted us to think more about how the adjective ‘Liminal’might be combined with different action words to come up with different flavours.

First let’s have a dictionary definition. This one is from Merriam Webster:

Definition of liminal

1: of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold: barely perceptible or capable of eliciting a response. liminal visual stimuli

2: of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition: in-between, transitional

Everything about this term and its use is emergence, spaces of transition and change in progress. Probably this is why the term has been coming into increasingly common usage for some time because it seems as if we are suddenly precipitated into a massive tornado of high-velocity change during the past few decades. We’ve all seen the hockey stick graphs of the rate of change.

Language is super-useful in allowing us to frame a multitude of different lenses through which to look at things and using ‘Liminal’ as an adjective to qualify a particular type of human activity indicating that it is concerned with the ‘in between’ may offer some thought-provoking insights into different ways of approaching it.

So, here, without further digression, are a list of different types of ‘liminal doing’ with tentative descriptions. None are to my knowledge trademarked and so you should be able to use them in whatever way you like, even new, innovative and emergent ways.

Liminal thought leaders. This is what we decided to call the interview series and the folks who were kind enough to comment on the question of organizational change and development. This describes people who lead the way in thinking about and exploring liminal spaces in organizations and social structures.

Liminal wayfinding. I quite like this one because for me it brings back memories of Wade Davis’ great book by that title. This describes the activity of finding a way through an emergent puzzle or territory. No set destination is assumed but there is a sense of ‘you’ll know when you get there’

Liminal exploring. Similar to wayfinding but with a more far-reaching remit to wander off anywhere at all. Wayfinding follows some instinctive, intuitive thread.

Liminal change making. Interesting one this, consciously and deliberately setting out to induce liminal states of emergence as part of the process of change. That doesn’t mean there is any idea what will necessarily emerge after the cauldron is stirred.

Liminal visioning. To journey into the realm of the unknown and unfixed bringing back new visions of possibility. Bear in mind here the possible does not mean probable or achievable. Could be powerfully aspirational.

Liminal innovating. Is always allowing things to interact in all kinds of different ways to see what surprising or unexpected results might emerge. Do not come between liminal innovation and the emergence of bacon and egg ice cream.

Liminal game changing. Being on the edges of the established games, testing the boundaries and going beyond them to disturbing fluidity and new rule sets which may be so broad as to appear anarchic from within established games.

Liminal composing. The creation of improvised, ever-changing expressions of what is emergent. It is possible to write down the composition but never the performance. Composition provides the raw material for a gateway to the liminal.

Liminal building. See Antonio Gaudi. Taking what is emergent and just going right ahead and building it.

Liminal collaboration. The understanding that everyone on a team is working with heuristics and intuition in exploring any liminal space. The colour and taste of a C Major chord is known.

Liminal pioneering. Like exploring but with the intention of setting up completely new outposts of existence and living there.

Liminal partnering. Trusting that when certainty dissolves a commitment to journeying on to a new place remains and is pursued.

I nearly forgot to say that, obviously, people practising any of the above who were born after 1995 are known as Milliminals…

So that’s it for this small diversion into possible suggestions from different combinations. We’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts on other interpretations and completely new emergent combinations of course.