Tyson Yunkaporta, "Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World" (HarperOne, 2021)


Although it is not described as such anywhere in the book, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World (HarperOne, 2021) is indeed a systems-thinking book—one that offers a much-needed fresh perspective. Tyson Yunkaporta stands on the shoulders of who we should consider the original systems thinkers: Indigenous elders—the keepers & teachers of ancient knowledge—to show us that by “emphasizing community and connection over individualism and fragmentation—and by cultivating respect for the land—we can address the urgent challenges we face”. 

Readers of systems literature will notice familiar themes such as non-linearity, complexity, cause-and-effect and the role of the observer in a system. Each chapter of this paradigm-shifting book starts with some yarning and 'sand talk'— invoking an Aboriginal custom of drawing images on the ground to convey knowledge. The table of contents is a beautiful compilation of Yunkaporta’s sand talk carving illustrations.

Tyson Yunkaporta offers that there is much to be learned from Indigenous 'knowledge systems', but expressses worry about borrowed ideas getting "tangled and twisted in marketplace of civilization"—and suggests that "symbiotic dances" must instead occur between Indigenous and non-Indigenous systems. The result of such an "interaction of multitude of agents in a sustainable system of emergent entities" could be positive and productive. Tyson Yunkaporta is an arts critic, and researcher—and a member of the Apalech Clan in far north Queensland. He carves traditional tools and weapons and also works as a senior lecturer in Indigenous Knowledges at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. This is his first book.

Kevin Lindsay is a 25+ year Silicon Valley software product strategist and marketer, and graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Kevin is interested in complexity and paradox, and the power of systems thinking to help us understand and tackle the big messes humanity created and is now dealing with. Kevin has been an NBN host since July 2020.

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Kevin Lindsay

"What is the pattern that connects the crab to the lobster and the primrose to the orchid, and all of them to me, and me to you?" - Gregory Bateson
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