Systems Thinking — A Few Key Shifts in Emphasis, Part 2

OK, so after posting yesterday on Systems Thinking, encouraging shift in emphasis from parts to the whole, I laughed out loud, realizing I’d just divided a post intended as complete to Parts 1 and 2. So be it. It was a time boundary in place yesterday. Laughing at one self, or with one self, is good, right.

Here’s to continuation…

3. From Measuring to Mapping — We are living in an era that has quite obsessed over the ability to measure micro things. We have science that gives us tremendous detail. It’s pretty amazing. And, measurement through dissection doesn’t give us all of the presumed information we seek, nor fulfill a presumed ability to command and control through more precise measuring. Mapping on the other hand, gives us more of the landscape of the whole, which is what we are more likely to be missing. “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count.” — This is a pretty widely held maxim, and does have tremendous value. But the hope for many of us reclaiming an inherent mystery is to be in relation with the whole.

4. From Contents to Patterns — There are so many new approaches that have come from the study of complexity that offer a truth telling about the non-linearity of life, about the dynamic that is more than cause and effect. I continue to enjoy reading and learning about such things. These things point us to seeing patterns that won’t be replicated exactly in other circumstances, that aren’t portable as snapshot or as content. It means that many of us need to learn to develop an ability to see the patterns, the forest, not just the trees.

5. From Quantity to Quality — I come from a social science background. I studied organizational behavior and psychology. I was very interested in sociology and ethnography. Most of the research that I was involved used qualitative approaches. It was / is collecting piles of information and stories to begin to notice patterns. Or, even more commonly, to engage people in a conversation that asks them to speak some of what they know to a subjective question — so that we can all listen and learn from the words spoken and work with what is arrising. It’s less math, though seductive that remains. It’s more art gallery, though messy that remains.

Well, there’s a bit. It feels fruitful to continue to invoke and invite this awareness together. It’s part of remembering a better way of humaning and community together. And that — better ways of humaning — is the work behind the work that I would suggest we are really up to.


The Call To Be Alive

A few of my key teachers over the last 30 years have had a noticeable commonality in them — they’ve inherently recognized an intricate connection and flow with life itself. They’ve celebrated through joy and pain, a call to be alive, to be deepened in spirit.

I’m thinking of Tom Hurley of The World Cafe and the time when he was on the board for The Berkana Institute in the 90s (I think) — he spoke of the “irrepressible spirit of life that rises up through the work that we are engaged in.”

I’m thinking of Meg Wheatley, dear friend and colleague, that has since the early 90s articulated the qualities and practices of life-affirming leaders.

I’m thinking of Toke Moeller, another dear friend and colleague, that has dared to be as simple as a hobbit in doing complex work, that has dared to encourage being with the flow of life itself.

And more recently, because after all, it has become a truism to me that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears,” I’m thinking of a newish friend and colleague in Salt Lake City, Guliana, who shares from Clarissa Pinkola Estes another call to life. “Don’t be a fool. Go back and stand under that one red flower and walk straight ahead for that last hard mile. Go up and knock on the weathered door. Climb up to the cave. Crawl through the window of a dream. Sift the desert and see what you find.”

I bow to my teachers. Old and new. And to life itself, irrepressible in it’s bloom.





Books are tools, right?

For me they are. Some, of course, contain descriptions of tools. For me, however, most of my books provide ideas that help me to create tools.

Sometimes the tool is a story. Sometimes, an important phrase that I can link to personal experience and story. Sometimes, the tool is a framing, a simple set of premises that change how I / we look at our experience and make sense of it.

We humans are indeed sense-making creatures. We can’t help it any more than we can help breathing. And just like our breath is sometimes shallow barely reaching our lungs, so to can our sense-making be shallow. Or restricted. Or calcified.

We humans need to relearn and expand our sense-making. We need to reclaim our breath.

We do this together. It’s just different, and more, that what we do when we are alone. And, some of us humans need to do some of this alone. It’s what helps us be in the group with good contribution.

I continue to learn this.

The stack of books above is what I carried with me in recent travel and work. I know, it was a bit crazy. However, there were passages and phrases that I wanted to have with me. I wanted the energy of them with me. Some of them I even used.

From left to right, here’s a headline from the books above, some of the tools helping me and others to see and to be awake.

Participatory Leadership Journal (Kathleen Masters, Tenneson Woolf) — I love sharing this expression of Art of Hosting with faith community leaders.

Teaching With Fire (Sam Integrator, Megan Scribner, Parker Palmer and a bunch more) — Great poems and stories of the people that selected the poems that point back to an inner and outer fire.

The Invitation (Oriah Mountain Dreamer) — Expands on an invitation, often used, to get real. “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for…”

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change (Pema Chodron) — Invites us to lean in to the fundamental reality of a changing world within us and in the external.

The Seven Whispers (Christina Baldwin) — Christina has such a gift to distill complex life down to simple, yet profound practices.

The Exquisite Risk (Mark Nepo) — Ah, I love the depth that are in these essays that invite and challenge radical authenticity and honesty.

Walk Out Walk On (Margaret Wheatley, Deborah Frieze) — This book includes rich stories of real communities daring to step out of the paradigms and craft the future together from a different set of beliefs and practices.

The Circle Way (Christina Baldwin, Ann Linnea) — Circle is the most fundamental practice and skill to be able to go together. It takes us beyond tricks and manipulation to honest and humble listening together for wise action.

To Bless The Space Between Us (John O’Donohue) — Pick a poem, any poem. Pick a blessing, any blessing. He had a gift to invoke the real and the inspiring in all of us.

Improv Wisdom (Patricia Ryan Madson) — Improv may invite a lot of play. However, it also invites a deep quality of presence together and some alternative practices to get there.

A Hidden Wholeness (Parker Palmer) — I love how this book calls out more of the relationship between our inner worlds, and our outer worlds.

7 Paths to God (Jane Borysenko) — Points to the invisible and an inherent holism.

A Simpler Way (Margaret Wheatley, Myron Rogers) — This delicious book offers a new story to carry us into a more compelling and satisfying future together.



On Identity in Self Organization

I’ve just returned from a few days with family. My adult son. My 11 year-old son. His sixth grade friend. My parents. My aunt and uncle that were so key in my pre-teens, teens, and early adult life. These few days were a lot of fun. Playing cards and games. Enjoying food together. Lots of laughter. Lots of sunshine through the palms of Palm Springs, California.

Family is a key point of identity for me. For many of us. It has defined who I am. Where I belong. There is something in me that relaxes when I enter the space of family. That feels at ease. That feels a joy of what I’ve come to know as inherent belonging. Yes to all of the values and stories and shared experience. There is deep psychology and spirituality at play here. But, mostly, it’s good to feel part of a pack.

Family, as such key identity, also creates a baseline for differentiation and departure. I’m not a carbon copy of my parents, nor should I be. They wouldn’t advise this. A little “chip off the old block” maybe — a grounding in identity — but difference is healthy. Curiosity in that difference and being able to engage it is really healthy — health spa and organic food healthy.

In my early learnings with self-organization in the 1990s, Margaret Wheatley and Myron Rogers taught about three domains of self-organization. Identity was one of them. There must be a “self” around which attraction occurs and boundaries are created. Self-organization is an alternative story to how life organizes and how people in them organize. It’s an essential contrast to a still hanging on mechanistic paradigm that often portrays merely linear connection and cogs in wheels.

In humans and human systems, identity can get really interesting. The self, the identity, can have many appearances. A quality (tenacious, kind, funny). A role (a dad, an accountant, a baker). A commitment (curiosity, edge-pushing, enduring). A collective (team, community, ecosystem). All of these are good. My point today isn’t to challenge the merits of a particular role or identity. But rather, to call attention to some of these key aspects of identity. I suppose some parts of our identity stay the same — I will always be that boy that grew up in Edmonton. But some parts of our identity change, and should — I’m a dad with kids on the move whose “home” most likely won’t be a fixed place in the way it was for my parents, aunts and uncles.

Life can’t help but organize itself. Similarities. Essential differences and diversity. In the book I’m reading, Spontaneous Evolution, there is great description about the evolution from “no life” to “single cells” to “multi-cellular life” to “communities.” Self-organization, irrepressible self-organization, is biology.

When I apply this irrepressible organizing to the self that is the “cell of an ideology” or the “multiple cells that are a quality like curiosity,” I’m filled with wow. It’s a bit hard to articulate, but, with some level of consciousness, we humans can choose identity — and set in motion irrepressible organizing around that choice of identity.

For me, this doesn’t point to a grand, scaled plan for old stories of command and control. It is an awe, and wonder about the paramount attention and importance of being aware of identity, the self. It is an awe and appreciation of being with my boys and feeling myself sandwiched in three generations of family that bring out both a comfort and difference, and awareness of how identity shapes me — shapes what I long for and what I long to change as part of being alive.