This post is to answer a question that several people have asked me over the past couple of years… albeit in very informal surroundings, either as a postscript to a friendly email, or after a couple of beers together. I’m really not averse to answering the question, so it’s been curious to me that it’s only asked after the querent (in my opinion) feels as if they’ve achieved some sort of intellectual and professional intimacy with me.

“I’ve seen your email signature. Why do you call yourself Chief Sorceress of the Burning Mind Project? Why not ‘Chief Creative Officer’ or ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ or whatever?”

Before I begin, let me just say that my image of a Chief Sorceress is kind of like Maleficent, but wearing glittery silver robes and decorated with butterflies. And maybe a couple genius crows. Swans follow her around because they know she’s loyal and dedicated. She’s not troubled, but she can get a good sense for the troubles and pains of society (and in particular, businesses, organizations, and institutions). She enjoys wielding powerful tools, and is a master strategist, probably well versed in technology (she may even enjoy coding too, and she’s not afraid of big data). She also enjoys swordfighting — but armed with strategies, and the sword is sharp, so make sure she uses it for something of practical value. Every thought and action is cast with emotion and intuition, because she wants to promote finding meaning, and she’s not afraid to look into the dark spots to find it. Well, no, actually she is afraid but that’s all part of the game.

Sorcery is a word imbued with danger, with the unfettered investigation into what is hidden, and with taking risks. Sorcery is a word almost always historically attributed to women, for whom the practice of hidden and intuitive talents has often been viewed as heretical or hysterical. Just a little unpredictable, and that’s always been, well… frightening, in a world we work to control. I want to explore all of that. I enjoy exploring all of that. I am scared to loudly explore all of that. Sorcery is also a tradition, that in history, really wasn’t very subversive… just transformational. And not-quite-yet-understood… associated with hidden powers that were only hidden because the underlying meanings and scientific foundations had not yet been illuminated. We’re in the same intellectual, social, and interactional regime right now — in the era of big data and complex social networks.

Sorcery means you are willing to work with understanding that’s on the edge of what’s accepted. Every time I mine a large dataset, without a hypothesis, to uncover meaning and predictive value – I am practicing modern sorcery. Maybe next year, or next decade, someone will perform the controlled experiments that confirm why what I am doing works. Michelet’s (1939) antiquarian text, aptly titled The Sorceress, characterized some of these forces well:

“Nature makes them Sorceresses,”—the genius peculiar to woman and her temperament. She is born a creature of Enchantment. In virtue of regularly recurring periods of exaltation, she is a Sibyl; in virtue of love, a Magician. By the fineness of her intuitions, the cunning of her wiles—often fantastic, often beneficent—she is a Witch, and casts spells, at least and lowest lulls pain to sleep and softens the blow of calamity. … SPRENGER said, before 1500: “We should speak of the Heresy of the Sorceresses, not of the Sorcerers; the latter are of small account.” So another writer under Louis XIII.: “For one Sorcerer, ten thousand Sorceresses.” The Sibyl foretold the future; but the Sorceress makes it. Here is the great, the vital distinction. She evokes, conjures, guides Destiny. She is not like Cassandra of old, who foresaw the coming doom so clearly, and deplored it and awaited its approach; she creates the future. Greater than Circé, greater than Medea, she holds in her hand the magic wand of natural miracle, she has Nature to aid and abet her like a sister. Foreshadowings of the modern Prometheus are to be seen in her,—a beginning of industry, above all of the sovereign industry that heals and revivifies men.

Here is a draft of my Manifesto of the Chief Sorceress (guaranteed to morph and expand over time):

  • I manifest. (Rather appropriate for a manifesto, no?)
  • I explore what is hidden and unpopular and counterintuitive.
  • I embrace my vacillating temperament and fleeting intuitions to inform others, to help them connect with the nonlinear ways in which they might make their marks upon the world.
  • I create the spaces where others can feel comfortable enough to explore their gifts, their talents, the unique aspects of themselves.
  • I am open and forward-looking, always seeking the and above the but. I am strong and decisive when I need to be. I choose a path but only connect the dots going backward.
  • I create just this very moment right in front of me.

(People have asked me whether I’m evil, or a witch. Depends on your perspective I guess, but, no. However, I may be tempted to try Aleister Crowley’s Curried Rice Recipe. I’m just multidimensional and often misunderstood and proud of it. Heretical only in sense that sometimes I like adopting perspectives that are shunned, or that violate social norms. Ten years from now you will call me “visionary”.)

Any woman can be the Chief Sorceress of an organization, if she’s willing to take risks — to embrace what is hidden, and not-yet-understood, and misunderstood — and to honor intuition at the same level as data. And also to step into scary places. (What about men? Well, men, you’ll have to map this template to yourselves. I’m sure it can be done, but you’ll have to embrace that yin-executive-witchiness to make it happen, and I would love to hear how it’s done. Send me an email and let’s chat.)

The role of the Sorceress is more about being than doing. You may get nothing tangible accomplished yourself, and that’s OK. Honoring your intuitive nature can be costly emotionally. But, guaranteed, you will catalyze others into their power and give them the courage to confront danger and reveal hidden insights.

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