Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On Complexity, Paradigms and Language

pensiveImage by pipiwildhead via Flickr

I read a great post of Peggy Holman on PATTERNS OF CHANGE: Invoking Emergence in a Time of Uncertainty Peggy starts with the provoking question:

What would it mean to know how to work well with the unprecedented upheaval many of us face today?
She continues:
We live in unprecedented times. With financial systems crumbling, oil prices rising and falling, educational systems failing their students, whole industries like newspaper publishing and auto manufacturing collapsing, it is clear that dramatic change is happening whether we like it or not. The pathways of the past no longer reliably guide us to understand the needs of the present, much less the future.
What follows is an emerging story that puts the old story of change in perspective, opens the way for something new, and provides some insight into how to put the ideas to work.

Sherri Black in her comment to that post, replies:

Peggy — it may be a bit more diplomatic talking about “old change” a bit more kindly — like change patterns that used to work but suddenly with the degree of turbulance in our lives do not seem to help any longer (or someting like that –not to offend all the other change or OD method masters).

I do not agree with Sherri. It is the role and responsibility of thought leaders to introduce a new language. The old language serves as justification for trying to reestablish the old ways of doing things. It is probably that we have not yet found the new language we need to describe patterns that are breaking through, and attitudes and tools that we need.

PhotonQ-Beauty on the Horizon of ComplexityImage "PhotonQ-Beauty on the Horizon of Complexity" by PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE via Flickr

During my attendance of the last Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco I saw a fascinating presentation of Soren Stamer, CEO of Coremedia about Darwinism on the Web.

We have to realize that it is impossible to predict anything substantial even about the near future. Soren states seven compounding reasons why:

1. Increasing Dynamics
2. Rising Complexity
3. Increased Transparancy
4. Global Synchronization
5. Huge Opportunities and Huge Risks
6. Abundance of Options
7. Exponential growth

So, maybe the "old" OD and Change Practitioners have to learn we are entering an era of new paradigms. Which doesn't mean that the old methods won't work any more. But there are fewer situations in which they actually do work.

When I started my professional life, we were facilitating so called Objective Oriented Project Planning Workshops in Africa, Asia and Latin America, trying to conceive detailed plans stretching over 3-5 years. What a joke!

I now have to admit that what we have used over the last years, methods such as Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search Conferences etc. are not effective in isolation. Rather, they need to be complemented by new ways of facilitating change.

Where do we get the new language from?

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1 comment:

Jeremy said...

You'll find the language in Systems Thinking / System Dynamics. Causal Loop Stock and Flow diagrams can help communicate delays, feedback and complexity.

Here is a fun example you can run in your browser now:

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