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Metis

Metis is the ability of an archetype to absorb huge amounts of data, categorise the data and when a situation calls for it, apply the relevant information to a practical end. This also involves the ability to draw connections between information pieces which may not be easily visible to an ordinary person.

You can draw an easy parallel between Metis and the modern digital ecosystem- more precisely, with the search engines that help us access relevant information from an ocean of data.

A search engine like Google would have information tagged as relevant to a particular keyword. It can then  bring up that information against a search. Similarly, a change agent with Metis could also bring up a particular information from the wealth of stored knowledge in him or her, when it is required.

The knowledge an archetype amasses is like big data. Metis enables its useful retrieval.

The word Metis is drawn from Greek mythology. Metis was the goddess of wisdom, deep thought and prudence. A Titan, she was the daughter of Tethys and Oceanus- the overlord of the River Okeanos: the font of all rivers, springs, wells and rain clouds. It’s befitting that wisdom would gush forth from Metis- the daughter of  one responsible for the font from which fresh waters gushed forth.

Leaving the goddess within the pages of mythology for now, let’s look once again at the modern digital ecosystem. For there, we see a vivid example of the dynamic of Metis. More precisely, in the person responsible for shaping many things we take for granted in the contemporary digital world- Steve Jobs.

Apple, the company is not exactly obscure. But relatively unknown to a lot of people is the new headquarters the company created. Eschewing their earlier HQ which was opened in 1993, the new HQ  was opened to employees in April, 2017. Owing to the circular design and its massive scale, the structure- spread across a whopping 71 hectares, housing over 12,000 employees- has earned the nickname ‘the spaceship.

Though Jobs didn’t live to see the structure finished, as with many Apple products, he was the visionary behind it. He envisioned the HQ more like a nature retreat than an office space. Nature- with a stress on native Californian plants- is a huge presence in the campus.

Apple’s success owes a lot to its founder’s Metis

Internally, the structure was divided into ‘pods’ in which employees sat, providing a space for ideas to freely flow from one department to another- a democratic workplace with maximum inter-department participation. Jobs envisioned this structure, with the aim of increasing productivity.

To ideate such a space requires correlating vast volumes of information- on employee psychology, environmental conservation, structural engineering and more.

Jobs’ Metis also comes through loud and clear in an account given by Stefan Behling, an architect involved in the project.

According to Behling, Steve Jobs one day came in to discuss about the kind of walls he had envisioned for the office. Apparently, he knew exactly the type of timber  needed for it. Instead of giving vague directions like it should be similar to maple or oak, he said it should be quarter-cut, and must be cut during winter, preferably in January. The reason? Because that way, the timber would have minimal sugar content and sap, helping it last longer.

This was the kind of details even architects rarely thought about. And the ability to pull out from his vast knowledge pool the necessary information to visualise the walls of the office, was pure Metis in action.

In the video below, you could see how knowing about such dynamics could lead to a greater understanding of ourselves. In it, The New York Times columnist David Brooks expands on his vision of a new humanism.  

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