Leading as if we're great

I'm in the midst of reading two books about leadership. They've already tied together in my mind with the leadership college courses I've taught and my latest exploration of our tribal mindsets. First there is a question of size. How big is the leader's constituency of followers and/or contributors? If the size is under the Dunbar number of 148, it's possible, but not inevitable, it will feel like belonging to a tribe with wonderful solidarity. It's small enough for everyone to be on a first name basis and familiar with each others uniqueness. If the following exceeds the Dunbar number, questions of authority will enter into the mix to handle the overwhelming number of people. When the gathering is smaller than 148, the leader can act as if "we're great". When it's bigger, the leader is inclined to act as if "I'm great". Any question of authority explores "how am I great?, not "what are the effects of acting as if I'm great"?

Tribal Leadership points out a telltale sign of the "we're great" approach: meeting in triads. The leader gets two others together to familiarize each other with their value. The attention is on the others, much like the practice of servant leadership. The leader already honors both with recognition of what they bring to the table. There is a metaphorical table to bring value to and meet others at. Those at the table feel honored to be recognized for their value. They get a clear concept of their personal value proposition from how they get recognized, how they compare with others and how they appreciate the value they see in others. Everyone at the table is capable of telling another how she or he is valuable. The mutual honoring of each other fires up the contributions, collaborations and cooperation among the tribal members.

When a leader is acting as if "I'm great", there is no recognition of how others bring value to the table. There is no table to be seated at, eye to eye, with the leader and tribe members. The conversations are dyadic: pulled aside, one on one. They bring authority to situations that the leader presumes is lacking in contributions, collaborations and cooperation. The leader makes no connection between what's missing and his/her "I'm great" approach.

Cyberchiefs seems to deal with situations that have gotten too big to feel like a tribe. Mathieu O"Neil uses the term "tribe" to signify the absence of an authoritarian, governing state. Questions of authority arise in this "stateless" cyberspace as the interactions take on the characteristics of legacy constrained institutions or competitively entrepreneurial markets. There are those who adopt an anti-authoritarian stance, like an actively disengaged tribe among themselves. O'Neil observes three resolutions to the authority question that leaders of online tribes fall into:
  • Charismatic authority from awe inspiring abilities to handle the challenges, solve the problems, and/or diagnose the malfunctions
  • Index authority from being the best connected, highest ranked by peers, or most trusted like Malcolm Gladwell's characterization of Paul Revere in The Tipping Point.
  • Sovereign authority from being in control of access, edits, filtering, or other "final say" over process and outcomes.

Each of these approaches legitimize why a leader is great and deserves to have his/her authority respected. None of these approaches engender the honoring of followers or the sense of "we're great". They seem ripe to undermine the desirable contributions, collaborations and cooperation among members. They seem like the kinds of leadership styles that would deal with followers one-on-one, rather than triads of introducing two to each other on the basis of their perceived value by the leader. I suspect at charismatic, index and sovereign authority would experience a brief honeymoon of a tribal feeling, but the thrill would be gone once the "I'm great" dynamics became apparent to everyone.


Honoring four kinds of perceived value

Our tribal instincts honor the value we perceive in other people, their personal conduct and goods we exchange. We feel honored by those who provide whatever we perceive as valuable. For others to successfully provide what we perceive as valuable, they must first get a read on where we're coming from. Otherwise what they deliver will be a hit or miss affair that could even appear insulting, punitive or dishonorable. We're fully equipped with tribal instincts to handle a slap in the face as effectively as getting honored with what we perceive as valuable.

As I've mentored entrepreneurs to get on their customers' wavelengths, I developed a taxonomy of different value constructs. This amounts to a prediction language that anticipates what will sell and why customers will buy it. It helps the entrepreneurs to stay on course, to stop getting upset and to avoid setting themselves up for failure. The more successful they become at providing what others want, the more they can value themselves and honor how they perceive themselves as valuable. This in turn makes them perceived as more valuable by the sales prospects and customers.
  1. Some customers are looking to keep their experience to a minimum. They are wary of getting ripped off. They perceive value in bargains, discounts, cost savings and freebies. They are not situated to appreciate higher quality, better services or what else they could get by paying more. They get ripped off often because they lack the sophistication to see through offers that are too good to be true. They relate to providers of goods and services as enemies to guard against. The providers who play at this level circle their wagons too. The customers appear as disheartening enemies who fail to appreciate an added touch, extra effort or better quality. Both sides perpetuate a stalemate like a long standing feud by honoring the perceived value in distance, hostilities and mutual contempt.
  2. Some customers are looking for added value, higher quality and better services. They are wary of getting cheap replacements, shoddy workmanship or the runaround when demanding answers. They perceive value in getting the expectations met, demands satisfied and standards complied with. They get disappointed often because they come across as "customers from hell", tyrants who are impossible to please, and bullies who take pleasure in intimidating others. They relate to providers of goods and services as subservient misfits who lack the power, position and resources to get their own demands met. The providers who play at this level raise their own standards to meet the challenge of these demanding customers. The customers appear as worthy opponents in continual contests to win their respect, loyalty and trust. Both sides perpetuate a power game by honoring the perceived value in quality efforts, added services and quick responses.
  3. Some other customers are looking for solutions to their particular problems in the context of their current situations. They are wary of getting bombarded by useless services, features and complications that do nothing for them. They perceive value in whatever makes a difference in their experience, on their own terms and according to their unique context. They get disappointed often because they need to get individual attention, really understood and engaged in authentic dialogue with customer service personnel who have gotten burned out by such attentiveness. They relate to providers of goods and services as advisers, colleagues and consultants who can bring their own understanding, perspective and experience to bear on their problem. The providers who play at this level continually discover how to be of service to each customer's set of problems, situational constraints and contextual influences. The customers appear as valuable explorers looking for solutions in ways that make others seem like valuable helpers. Both sides perpetuate a conversation by honoring the perceived value in each other's understanding, experience and perceptions.
  4. The remaining customers are looking to collaborate and contribute to the success of their collaborators. They are wary of getting over-served where they cannot repay the kindness, keep things even and join in the producing the outcomes. They perceive value in getting valuable people knowing each other, thinking together and combining their resourcefulness into innovative outcomes. They get disappointed often because the world socializes, educates and employs people to serve those who pay for getting served by unilateral transactions. They relate to providers of goods and services as platforms for contributing and co-creating value. The providers who play at this level continually experience win/win solutions, mutually beneficial arrangements and unexpected outcomes from the complex interrelationships. The customers appear as providers of goods and services, no different from the providers in essence. Both sides perpetuate a collaboration by honoring the perceived value in each others contributions.

Perhaps obviously, this taxonomy aligns with the kinds of market providers and the kinds of tribes I've recently explored. I doubt this framework scales to the enormous scale of entire economies or phases of history. Rather, I suspect that every kind of customer and perceived value exists in every economy and phase of history. Back when wandering tribes encountered the first agriculturalists with surplus food to sell, there probably were bargain hunters and the rest. Likewise when fur trappers traded with tribes on the North American continent, it's likely that the trappers encountered every kind of customer also. As economies have become more complex, the opportunities for every kind of customer and perceived value would increase.


Amazing institutions

For the past few days, I've been psyching out the underlying psychological dynamics of tribal mindsets, value positions and patterns of conduct. I first concluded: "people in these mental states would be stuck living in tribes". There first appeared to be no alternative to tribal existences that they could cope with, find attractive or settle into comfortably. Later I realized that I was wrong to jump to that conclusion. The nature of institutions, hierarchies, monarchies, empires and bureaucracies all welcome the tribal mindset as their workforce. There are remarkable synergies between the ways institutions organize people and the needs of the tribal mindset. Institutions provide an exit from tribal existences without requiring a change in the underlying psychological dynamics of the mindset. Institutions have said "come as you are" and "welcome inside" to people throughout the ages that have been living with their heads in a tribal consciousness. Here are a few of those synergies:
  • Tribes provide a shared identity to those with no identity as a talented, unique individual. They provide a sense of belonging and acceptance to people who feel like "nobody" when called upon to speak for themselves, disagree with authorities or take responsibility for the effects of collective actions. Institutions accommodate and reward this same mindset when they promote and pay for length of service rather than competence or value created. They also provide safe havens for "lifers", "joiners" and "functionaries" who know better than to step out of line, call attention to oneself or disrupt the cohesion of the enclave.
  • Tribes provide surrogate father figures for "boys with their toys" who missed out on legitimization by their own fathers. Tribes provide a cover of legitimacy for those who remain dependent on authority figures to figure out what to do, which direction to head in and when to take action. Institutions also provide authoritarian, top-down supervision to a workforce plagued by unresolved issues from childhood. They expect the rank and file to be dependent on "the big brain at the top in control of the entire pyramid scheme".
  • Tribes compensate for having no concept of outsiders' feelings, intentions or shared interests -- by making a big show of internal efforts. Tribes go to a lot of trouble to maintain their rituals, honor, norms and solidarity which keeps them much too busy to consider what they don't understand. Likewise institutions sponsor phenomenal amounts of busywork that preempts diplomacy or dialogue with "actual customers". Both support a condition of "arrested development", legacy practices and policy conformity.
  • Tribes validate acting out frustrations, making enemies and "bad boy antics" which results from emotional baggage. Tribes make it seem normal to be at war, in conflict and under siege as if they are doing nothing to provoke and perpetuate the animosities. Institutions harbor these same dynamics internally as office politics, turf battles and sabotage of change efforts. There are no expectations to acquire emotional intelligence, resolve one's own issues or outgrown patterns of hostility.
  • Tribes are effectively self serving and self preserving because they are incapable of serving common causes with outsiders . They look after their own kind at the expense of non-members and those they have outcast from within their ranks. Institutions provide this same opportunity to dismiss dissenters, demonize market mechanisms, and disrupt cooperative networks.
What I realized from all these synergies is how amazing institutions really are. They accommodate the tribal mindset that otherwise appears untamed, uncivilized and unmanageable. Institutions have accomplished amazing feats of societal advancement, infrastructure development and economic stabilization. All this has been done with a rank and file workforce in no better psychological condition than members of warring tribes. When we look at how problematic institutions appear to be from so many different perspectives, we're missing out on the solutions it provides and processes it effectively serves.


Are institutions really problematic?

Institutions get perceived by most frames of reference as problematic. The only exceptions are those who have climbed to the top of their hierarchies, hold power over most of the underlings and benefit from the perpetuation of their positions in an institution. For the rest of us, institutions wreak havoc and do harm. Here's some of the familiar ways we denigrate institutions which inadvertently play into their persistence:
  1. If we're concerned with personal freedoms to dissent and vote democratically, institutions appear as autocratic regimes that violate human rights without hesitation.
  2. If we appreciate the cooperative interactions in open networks, institutions appear to be groups with toxic norms, politicized obligations and protected boundaries.
  3. if we're passionate about life long learning and workplace literacy, institutions give off the impression of arrested development and widespread incompetence.
  4. If we favor disruptive innovations, institutions contaminate multiple business models with inefficient cross subsidies that do a disservice to the customers
  5. If we're promoting value creation in a 21st century economy, institutions show up on our radar as a zombie economy devoted to value destruction.
  6. If we see the good in so called "piracy, hackers and remixes", institutions are protection rackets for legalistic property rights and the criminalization of creativity.
  7. If we're excited about the possibilities of crowdsourcing, institutions show up as antiquated business models for the push delivery of authoritarian expertise
  8. If we're contributing to the long tail of culture creatives, institutions dictate consumer taste by the mass production of mediocre, derivative drivel.
  9. If we value emotional intelligence and feeling-based decision making, institutions appear hyper-rational, disorienting and oppressive.
  10. If we care about equal rights, pay and opportunities, institutions function as "systems of domination which practice patriarchal premises to promote injustices".
  11. If we value the advances of quantum physics, institutions embody a Newtonian rip in the living fabric of our recursive interconnectedness.
  12. If we're fascinated by living systems, complexity and emergent outcomes, institutions appear rigid, simplistic, mechanistic and controlling.

When we see institutions any of these ways, we are making ourselves right about the wrongs we see. We're convinced the opposite perception cannot be true (where we could be wrong about how right institutions are). We've justified in our own minds how institutions are really problematic, offensive and unacceptable. There's no way we are looking at a "false positive", a misleading indicator, planted evidence or a biased diagnosis. It appears to us we are being objective about the impacts of institutions. We rely on our confidence about being factual and detached from the subject of our observations. As far as we can tell, we are not being self righteous when we're right about this. It makes no sense that we are describing ourselves through our objections, projecting our unresolved issues onto institutions or being what we're seeing in a mirror. There's no way to reference ourselves in our description of institutions that could add any significance or dimension to the description.

That last paragraph was written to feel reassuring. It invites you into a disengaged tribal feeling of collusion and commiseration. It supports your thinking in dichotomous terms (either/or) about institutions. It conveniently dismisses the alternative considerations that could result in an emergent transformation. The last paragraph keeps situations and reactions the same, just like institutions do for themselves. We also keep institutions the same by the ways we perceive, describe, evaluate and think about changing institutions. We inadvertently play into the perpetuation of "problematic institutions" by the ways we value, favor, contribute, care, get fascinated, and show concern.

to be continued in the next post: Amazing Institutions ...


The trouble with disengaged tribes

The trouble with disengaged tribes is not how ineffective they are at relating to other tribes or governmental institutions in the nation-states where they reside. The trouble is not the injustices they fuel by their honor codes or self justifying stances against outsiders. The trouble is not the trouble they make for themselves by failing to communicate and make themselves understood effectively. The trouble is what's missing.

When the trouble with anything is what's missing, it goes widely unrecognized. How can "what's not showing up" appear on anyone's radar? How can the lack of evidence provide objective measurement of a condition? How can "no sign" be a sign of something? How can we already know what we don't yet comprehend?

What's missing becomes obvious when we can perceive patterns and processes in the obvious evidence. We understand more than what happens and what is connected on the surface. We get the bigger picture of how things drop out of the mix, get overlooked in a frenzy, appear inconceivable to "business as usual" or go into denial to protect addictions. We comprehend how minds go to extremes to maintain their current patterns, predictions and processes. We expect problems to result from what's missing, from errors of omission and from "too little - too late".

When a problem is created by what's missing, it changes everything to provide what's missing. The self perpetuating system cannot come up with it on its own or even recognize what's missing. Yet the slight addition of what's missing yields more than a slight change for the better. It gets off the merry-go round of chronic oscillations. It introduces a second order change. It transforms how things appear, what they mean and what now seems possible.

Here's four patterns I'm seeing that reveal what may be actually missing:
  • When we simply speak of tribes in general, we're missing the complications discerned by recognizing four kinds of tribes. We make tribes seem different from other forms of governance, but not differentiated among the single form they share in common.
  • When we form abstract opinions about tribes, we're missing how they are right in their own minds and on their own terms. We make ourselves right, but not include all four ways of being right.
  • When we predict the trouble that tribes will cause others, we're missing what they are predicting for themselves. We validate our own predictions without extending permission for them to persist with their own predictions for a time.
  • When we do battle with tribes who oppose us, we're missing out on vanish their adversity. We're reacting to their reactions to our reactions inside a vicious cycle, instead of inducing their self restraint by indulging their over-zealousness.

Of course this is an example of a larger pattern than the trouble with tribes. This is also the trouble with bureaucratic stagnation and failed initiatives to improve the service from public servants. It's the trouble with the chronic opposition to health care revisions, educational reforms and peer 2 peer governance, production and property. In every instance, what's missing is making the trouble that appears to be with whatever is obviously happening.


Predictable effects of being right

Years ago I embraced the concept that "being right is not effective". At the time, I disregarded how the concept was dichotomous (either/or). I also overlooked the paradoxical (both/and) dimensions of being right and effective. The concept seemed very useful as a clear distinction to become more personally effective. The distinction suggests that when we're being ineffective at communicating with, relating to, or caring for others, we're being right instead. It frames the challenge as a departure from self justifications, defensive rationalizations, inflated idealism and intolerance of differences. It reverses the endeavor from getting understood to being understanding or from being interesting to being interested. When we're effective we can acknowledge others' outlooks, concerns, ambitions and struggles. We seem considerate and open minded. We effect others in a good way that engenders trust, mutual respect and cooperation.

Nowadays the concept of being right is more complicated for me. There are four ways to be right. When we're being interested in others and understanding where they are coming from, we discover they are being right in their own ways also. Everyone is being right in one way or another. Each way has effects on the person's state of mind, relationships and circumstances. The challenge is no longer to stop being right. Rather it's to be right about the four ways to everyone is being right and the predictable consequences of each way. When we embrace all four ways of being right, we can take responsibility for our effects on others, even when they cannot do the same in return. We can make others right in ways that transform their situations, as I proposed in the fourth kind of tribe.

  1. We can be right about getting wronged, disgraced, shamed or dishonored. We agree with those who will commiserate with our plight. We bond with those can relate to psychological wounds, misfortunes and tales of woe. Our minds harbor grudges that justify revenge. We aim to restore our honor by committing injustices. There is no justice to be served, only perpetual injustice to mitigate.
  2. We can be right about what worked in the past. We agree with those who act like winners, solve the obvious problems and perpetuate the success. We bond with those who can value traditions, embrace legacy practices and stay in line. Our minds harbor fixations that justify superiority, condescension and contempt toward those who fail to stay the course. We aim to set things right by ostracizing the traitors, saboteurs and misfits. There is an illusion of justice getting serviced by being right about who's wrong and by making things right according to proven successes.
  3. We can be right about what is in the process of changing, what innovations are called for and what needs to be seen differently from before. We agree with those who utilize multiple frames of reference, redefine obvious problems and learn from their mistakes. We bond with those who can get creative, try out different interpretations and use metaphors playfully. Our minds harbor imaginative possibilities, what-if questions and different experiments to explore. We aim to change things for the better by providing the structure and space for others to find their own way when their time is right. Justice is served by serving others with compassion, consideration and understanding.
  4. We can be right about these four ways of being right. We can agree on their terms with anyone who is being right in their own way. We can bond with those who are vastly allowing, non-judgmental and immersed in innocence. Our minds harbor gratitude for what we have, awareness of our interdependence and fascination with what is unfolding. We aim to transform situations by envisioning the emergence of "game changer" developments from the complexity of these four ways of being right. Justice is served by forgiving all that has occurred up until now and from now on.

Having said all that, what I meant to say is "you're so right" about how you read this, what it means to you and where you go with this.


Four kinds of tribes

All tribes are not the same. Belonging to the best kinds of tribes feels especially right. Yet any tribe will do when we're craving that tribal feeling. I've come to the conclusion that we are hard wired for tribal experiences, just as we are for storytelling and predictions. They way we feel about belonging, solidarity, and bonding with others runs deeper than the feeling that we enjoyed some entertainment or distraction from drudgery. I suspect we will settle for the worst kinds of tribes because the feelings run so deep and so strongly. It's like an experience I had as a teen. When was staying at a farm in Kansas one summer, I discovered that well water tasted so bad it was undrinkable when I wasn't thirsty, but could be gulped down without hesitation when I was parched from hours in the hot sun. Any tribe will do when we're thirsty for tribal feelings.

I've been playing around with different ways to tell the difference between tribes after David Ronfeldt pointed me in the direction of some wonderful online resources. Steven Pressfield has created five videos in an inspiring series he's titled "It's the Tribes, Stupid". He's also launched a blog to explore the tribal mindset where he's quoted an op-ed piece Ronfeldt submitted to the LA Times "21st Century tribes" as well as linked to a paper Ronfeldt wrote: Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

The first satisfactory split that occurred to me divided tribes by their kinds of geographies:
  1. Some tribes have adapted to desert terrains, mountainous regions or urban decay. It goes with their territory to be patriarchal, war-mongering, doctrinaire and intolerant of weakness. The adversity in their physical environments and constant threat posed by like minded tribes would maintain a paranoid state of mind that easily justifies betrayals, beatings and beheadings. They pose threats to neighboring countries and internal governments by acting out their unmet needs, inescapable survival issues and chronic anxiety from so much desperation in their lives. They maintain order by a consensual honor code that requires insults, grudges, and retaliation for dishonor.
  2. Other tribes that have adapted to edible landscapes: jungles, forests, and river basins. It goes with their territory to be neighborly, nature loving and creative. Their consensual frame of mind yields handicraft traditions, healing arts, and nurturing approaches to individual differences. These tribes are equally timeless, disinterested in progress and insular as warrior tribes. Yet these tribes realize solidarity, identity and other psychological benefits of membership by sharing their surplus, communal child rearing, and other cooperative endeavors. They are harmlessly acting out their satisfied needs, freedom from survival issues and continual gratitude from so much abundance in their lives. They maintain order by fearing the metaphysical consequences from ancestor, evil and nature spirits who are imagined to be omnipresent, easily offended and keenly observant.
The other parsing of differences between kinds of tribes followed research into employee engagement that the Gallup organization has done for the past decade. This longitudinal study is mentioned in a book I'm reading: Primal Management. The Gallup research studies categorize employees as either engaged, disengaged or actively disengaged. I got to thinking there must be a fourth category: actively engaged. It was omitted in their research for the same reasons we cannot taste our own tongue or raise up a step stool when we're standing on it. The fourth category is what the Gallup research, publications and consulting are doing to the levels of employee engagement it's measuring. It would require measuring their measuring to convey that impact. When I applied these differences to tribes, here's the four kinds I've defined:
  1. Actively disengaged tribes are destroying order, stability and the lifestyles of others. They are battling against oppressors, abusers and injustice. They are devoted to seeing others as enemies, demons and inhuman who need to be stopped, destroyed and eliminated. They are right in their own minds to make non-members out to be entirely wrong to avoid taking any responsibility for their effects on others. Their imaginations as paranoid. They are expecting the worst and accumulating confirming evidence relentlessly.
  2. Disengaged tribes are maintaining order, stability and value for themselves. They are keeping to themselves, keeping out of trouble, and keeping things from changing. They are devoted to seeing themselves as special, destined and enduring. They are right in their own minds to make non-members out to be ordinary, directionless and non-essential so as to avoid taking any responsibility for their effects on others. Their imaginations are magical. They are expecting metaphysical interventions and accumulating confirming evidence relentlessly.
  3. Engaged tribes are innovating new working arrangements and value that benefits themselves and others. They are contributing to collaborations, stimulating each others' creativity and bringing out the best in tribal members. They realize the solidarity that is characteristic of tribes without sacrificing their intellectual prowess, technological sophistication, innovativeness or responsiveness to outsiders/customers. They are right in their own minds to make non-members out to be boring, uncreative and inflexible so as to avoid taking any responsibility for their effects on those others. Their imaginations are innovative. They are expecting inspirations or breakthrough syntheses and accumulating confirming evidence relentlessly.
  4. Actively engaged tribes are transforming the context which has perpetuated the confirming evidence for each of the other kinds of tribes. They are making it safe for the other kinds of tribes to no longer be right in their own minds as they make non-members out to be dissimilar. They provide living examples of creating developmental experiences for others which open up new possibilities, revise the definitions of obvious problems and free people from their long history of self-confirming evidence. They are right in their own minds to make non-members right in their own minds as if there are four ways to be right. Their imaginations are visionary. They are expecting situations to be transformed by coming from a better place, seeing them differently and acting accordingly. They also accumulate confirming evidence relentlessly.
This framework for four kinds of tribes provides a map for transforming the forms that provide a tribal feeling a great cost or to the exclusion of others.


Getting off the merry-go-round

There's no end in sight when we're going round and round inside a pattern. It's easy to predict what happens next because it's part of the endless cycle. We've seen it all before. It appears that things are changing but there's no difference in how they are changing or what they are changing into. This is what's called first order change. It's a pattern of oscillation that results from delayed feedback. It takes awhile to discover the problems with the latest solution. When the problems get realized, it launches a flip-flop into the opposite solution which eventually reveal the problems with it.

Here are some examples of classic merry-go-round rides:
  • A young artist (musician, painter, sculptor, filmmaker, choreographer, poet, playwright, etc) launches off into a new, inspired direction of self-expression which then seems too exuberant and lacking in discipline which then inspires some deliberate practice for honing techniques and acquiring more discipline which then seems depressing and unimaginative which then launches off into a new inspired direction of self-expression -- ad infinitum
  • A project team benefits from lots of individual talent capable of impressive initiative and solo efforts that results in a lack of coordination and inter-communication that results in team building to increase collaborative efforts and reliance on team members that results in a loss of initiative and personalized contributions that results in encouraging lots of individual talent -- ad infinitum
  • The new season brings a breakout hit (stage production, film, TV show, best selling book, computer game, etc.) that attracts a large audience which results in sequels, copy cat versions and derivative knock offs that kills off the large audience in constant search of fresh, new entertainment which brings along a new season with a breakout hit -- ad infinitum
  • The citizens in a democracy elect a new government that enhances social programs, public infrastructure and regulatory protections of consumer rights which results in massive debt, bigger taxes and governmental interference in the free market which results in the citizens electing a new government with promotes fiscal accountability, cuts back on government spending and de-regulates the market functions, which results in a diminishing middle class accompanied by soaring inflation and unemployment, which results in electing a new government that enhances social programs -- ad infinitum

Getting off any merry-go-round takes "non-dual awareness". The exit is paradoxical. It becomes apparent how to "have it both ways" without sacrificing the advantages of either. This winning combination cannot be found at the same level as the "dual awareness" of obvious dichotomies, opposite extremes and polarized alternatives.

When the two poles of the oscillation come to together, a second order change results. There's a change in how the change comes about and what happens next. It's a game changer that disrupts the incumbent pattern of endlessly going round and round. The trouble with either solution is no longer regarded as an isolated problem. The solutions look like the real problems because they disregard the systemic nature of the merry-go-round. When the two sides come together, the question of finally getting it right becomes a question of balance continually.

There's no recipe to follow to come up with a winning combination like this. The change defies predictions and leaves options open "like never before". It's anybody's guess what happens next because the dynamics are complex, self organizing and far from a state of equilibrium.


Predicting the predictable

Once our minds have outgrown mechanistic functioning, we can recognize patterns of predictability in those minds that remain mechanistic. We can successfully predict how they will over-react, take things too personally, and get invaded by their negative emotions. It then follows that they will predictably over-compensate for their toxicity with sweetness. A mechanistic mind is routinely oscillating between extremes on the assumption that it's unpredictable.

When we can see how predictable someone's mind has become, we are in a position to transform their predictability. Rather than be threatened or bored by their predictability, we can prescribe their perpetual pattern. When we share our prediction of their predictability, we have introduced a game-changer in their minds. We have broken their pattern by adding the element of appearing predictable to others. We have changed how change will happen in their minds. We have called them on their false assumption of appearing unpredictable without speculating, going out on a limb or trying to control them. We simply predict what we know from experience is predictable about them and let that take effect.

We give give others permission to persist and prescriptions to do what they're doing, we need to state the pattern specifically. As we deal with the details, we're implying an organic, evolving process like one of these:
  • Keep it up until you get a better idea to try out on your situation
  • Do what you have to do until you have the urge to do something differently
  • Go for it until it appears you've gone too far and need a change of direction
  • Run with it until you run out of your conviction that you're right about this

The introduction of a "living system" into the mechanistic mind breaks up certainties, convictions and conclusive predictions. The possibility of becoming unpredictable gradually appears real. The invitation has been extended to get into exploring, experimenting, changing, learning, and growing. The obvious need to escape boredom by thrill seeking no longer seems valid. The organic ability to "predict the predictable" and explore the unpredictable appears within reach. Inconclusive predictions appear preferable, functional and congruent with these recognized patterns.


Appearing predictable to others

When our minds are functioning mechanistically, we are highly predictable to others, though not to ourselves. The telltale sign of our predictability is our negative emotions that we try to keep hidden and occasionally display. We reveal to others how our own predictions work against our best interests by how dark we're feeling. We're entertaining a variety of flawed predictions about how we will succeed with other people. We predict that:
  • we can manipulate others' impression of a situation to turn it around in our favor
  • we can control other people with their own neediness and insecurities
  • we can dominate others who appear tentative and directionless
  • we can put down others in order to get them to rely on our evaluations instead of theirs
  • we can find fault with others to make them feel guilty, apologetic or desperate for approval
  • we can intimidate others who appear uppity and out of control by reminding them who's more powerful
  • we can correct others who appear wrong, bad, stupid or sadly mistaken
We predict we will succeed at any of this. We fantasize the outcome where we win at their expense. We compensate for how dark we're feeling with these flawed predictions. We assume the situation will play out mechanistically, like the ways our minds are functioning. We don't allow for complexity, emergent innovations, evolving understandings or growing capabilities. We assume everything is the same as it ever was because our minds are stuck in a predictable pattern. When we find out our predictions are flawed, we experience a crisis. The negative emotions we're sought to escape with our imaginary successes return with a vengeance.

When we can see how others are predictable and recognize these toxic patterns, our minds are functioning organically. Our ability to formulate accurate predictions about others in mechanistic mindsets makes us unpredictable to them and ourselves. Our minds are living systems that are continually evolving. We are always in the process of changing our own predictions of what will work for us and what will make a difference to others in our lives. It's anybody's guess what we'll be exploring or how we'll be changing next.


After the thrill is gone

In our new space of social networking platforms, there are large inventories of inactive accounts. In the space of technological innovations, there's an initial hype cycle with a disproportionate amount of buzz for the small number of early adopters. In the space of new venues for socializing and entertainment,, there's the line around the block during the grand opening that fizzles out to a bunch of regulars and occasional newbies. In the space of volunteer projects and community activism, there's usually a burst of enthusiastic involvement that fades quickly and leaves a few hard core members to carry the heavy load.

This is a recognizable and predictable pattern. The form of the opportunity only functions for a short while -- for most of the people who initially found it useful, beneficial and worth their time. It quickly follows that there is a disconnect between the form and function. It no longer works for them. The process of losing interest, commitment and engagement involves the kinds of predictions in use by the people who are "losing it". These conclusive predictions yield minds that are functioning as "mental mechanisms".

This process has no beginning or end. It's cyclical and self perpetuating. A mind experiences boredom from situations that are highly predictable and routine. Familiarity with the situation breeds contempt for the contributors and self loathing for one's personal involvement. An escape is sought from this condition in a space that defies predictions, expectations and familiarity. The escape is thrilling and successful. The form of the escape is functional. However, one's ability to estimate value, assess character and make decisions is highly skewed. The desire to escalate the thrill results in over-estimating, over-spending and over-committing to the escape. Something then happens that bursts the bubble of delusional predictions:
  • The over-estimates get proven wrong and spawns a crisis of self confidence
  • The over-spending gets shown to be wasted, reckless and naive which lets loose a tide of self remorse.
  • The over-commitment gets repaid with over-taxing expectations and over-burdensome obligations
The thrill is gone. The honeymoon is over. The boredom returns. The escape episode appears to have been as predictable and boring as the situation that inspired the thrill seeking. The need of an escape takes shape again. The attraction of unpredictable, unexpected and unfamiliar distractions becomes more alluring. The cycle is poised to repeat once more.


Revising mental mechanisms

As I explored in Prelude to a prediction language, our minds constantly rely on predictions. Without them, we would be bewildered, disoriented and unresponsive to others. Most formulate and utilize predictions in way where minds function as "mental mechanisms", not as living, growing organisms. The predictions in use are conclusive. People cling to these predictions out of desperation fueled by idealism, perfectionism and avoiding previous embarrassments. It feels like a crisis when a prediction gets proven wrong. These predictions spawn countless excuses, justifications and defensive rationalizations.

Some minds formulate and utilize predictions to function as "complex adaptive systems". The predictions in use are tentative and exploratory. They predict what may prove a fruitful avenue to explore, a valuable interpretation to apply or a useful experiment to conduct. These minds can let go of predictions easily as they remain a "work in progress". The system is not merely complicated or mechanistic. The complexity of the mind yields emergent outcomes that cannot be forced, contrived or derived exclusively from previous outcomes. The system in not already "adapted". It's continually adaptive and evolving from contradictions like living organisims. The complex adaptive system is actively incorporating whatever is disproving its tentative predictions.

When minds function as "mental mechanisms", they cannot support collaboration with others. They do not generate a concept of what others are intending and trying to accomplish. They do not relate to other outlooks besides their own. They do not resolve functional disconnects or discover what works better than what's been tried before. These minds cannot come up with new solutions, insights or revised diagnoses that others would characterize as creative, innovative or inspired. Their use of conclusive predictions necessitates foregone conclusions, previous assumptions and routines that worked before. They value quantity instead of quality, novelty over nuance and thrills instead of depth of significance.

This poses as significant obstacle to every transformation I've previously explored like personal learning environments, disrupting higher ed, mentoring others, reflective practice or the next economy. However, minds that function as "mental mechanisms" are extremely beneficial for industrialized mass production and consumption. People relying on conclusive predictions have very little going for them. What little works for them is highly repetitive and boring. They cannot fix what is not working in their relationships or own minds. They do not experience variety from really learning, creating, changing themselves or relating to others. They seem reliable and compliant as employees, customers or audience members. They are eager to fill seats in huge arenas, consume the same broadcasts as sixteen million others and follow trusted news sources. They keep the industrialized, materialistic, meaningless economy going great guns.

Of course this obstacle calls for disruptive innovations that better serve the job the dis-served customer is already getting done. Mental mechanisms are inherently "people pleasing" and "approval seeking". A transition process designed for replacing mental mechanisms can give approval to these patterns in use. The transformation can emerge from the complexity of speaking a living language of inconclusive predictions.

[Note: I have revised the term: "complicated adapted system" to "mental mechanism" 6/17/09]


Prelude to a prediction language

Before I explain the approach I'm developing of a "prediction language", there are four facets of predictions that lay the groundwork for my explanation.

In his book: On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins reveals his extensive research into the neocortex. He's found that the brain cells are the same throughout the entire surface, even though regions appear to specialize in particular capabilities. Experiments have shown that portions ordinarily used for one function like vision, can be used for another like hearing without complications. This uniform sheet of cells is comprised of several layers which organize processing into levels. This neural structure dismissed understanding regions of the brain as dedicated processors hard wired to particular inputs. Our intelligence appears to use the same processing pattern for every kind of input. Jeff Hawkins has concluded that pattern makes predictions, checks for accuracy and revises those predictions as required. The Wikipedia article on his Memory Prediction Framework goes into great detail about the functioning of our neocortex regions.

In their book Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath suggest making things memorable for people by "breaking their guessing machine". Relying on the research of Robert Cialdini, they suggest that it really gets our attention when the thing we were expecting to be said or shown to us does not happen. The Polynesian winters are usually fragrant with blossoms. We instantly wonder "where did that come from?" and "what will happen next?". The fact that we are constantly making predictions and expecting what's familiar, continuous and coherent creates opportunities for getting others' attention. We can either defy those expectations, lure people into making false predictions or give them a tease of what's essential to make an accurate prediction. This is the art of creating hooks, captivation and suspense in storytelling.

In his book: How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer shares lots of research findings in a very readable prose style. Our continual use of predictions makes more sense in light of cognitive patterns like these five:
  1. Our domamine neurons develop recognizable patterns which then trigger a "funny feeling" when something is off that we're not consciously aware of
  2. We learn by getting familiar enough with something to form an expectation of how it works, (relates, makes sense, etc.) and then revise those expectations if they get proven wrong.
  3. We can get a feeling faster than thinking about a situation in flux that accurately predicts how to respond (throw the pass to a receiver not yet in the clear, look for an engine fire, etc.)
  4. The anterior cingulate cortex prevents erratic and ineffective behavior by detecting prediction errors and keeping these predictions up to date as things change
  5. When we're faced with erratic returns (gambling, news watching, gaming, shopping, social networking, etc) that defy forming reliable predictions, we get thrilled by it, misjudge the evidence and likely get addicted to it.

In the book I reviewed earlier this week: Management Rewired - Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science, Charles Jacobs explores how we desperately cling to some of our predictions. When we're getting pressured or rewarded for changing our mind, we will likely balk at the opportunity if it generates cognitive dissonance. We predict that we will lose face, respect, confidence, justifications, or even deeply held beliefs -- if we go along with changing our mind. We will resort to subtle maneuvers to sidestep the confrontation by giving it lip service, sabotaging it later or lying about it. This dysfunctional drama gets played out in reaction to most conventional management methods that are designed to control, intimidate or manipulate employees. It won't stop until we respond to what others are perceiving, processing and insisting on with their predictions.

From all this reading in cognitive neuroscience I've done, I've come to the following conclusions:
  • Just as our minds seem hard wired to comprehend stories, they also seem equally predisposed to get oriented by predictions.
  • Since we're constantly making, verifying and updating predictions, a framework that supported making better predictions would be perceived as inherently useful and understandable.
  • A framework for making quality predictions could keep us out of the trouble we get into when we cannot make reliable predictions on our own.
  • Our brains already speak a language of predictions in the process of handling sensory input, recalling memories, making decisions and responding to situations.
  • Speaking that language could quickly enhance decisions and responses that are essential to working more cooperatively and collaboratively in the next economy.


Adding process and pattern into the mix

Conventional pattern languages resolve the tensions between form and function in a particular context. The uses of a form gives rise to the design of a form which makes it easy and more likely to use the form. Patterns get applied to locating entrances, parking lots and walkways on a building site with limited space. Patterns improve GUI's (graphical user interfaces) by considering how users function when faced with too many pull down menus, buttons, pop-up windows and scroll bars to orient themselves among. Patterns also simplify the design of modularized software programs by incorporating best practices into the structure and coding when the complexity of the software exceeds anyone's ability to comprehend. In each of these applications, form and function combine into a closed cycle.

On the surface there appears to be nothing wrong with form and function serving each other. It creates lots of useful forms, functional structures and effective designs. Yet patterns for resolving tensions between form, function and context are like an automobile with no transmission and with no place to go that's better than where it's at. The auto fits into the garage with room to open the doors, starts easily, idles smoothly and seats the passengers comfortably. The auto has a form that is functioning superbly in the context of a garage with limited space. That's good enough for things like buildings, tools, appliances, user interfaces and every kind of infrastructure. It's not good enough for people who are relating to colleagues, learning new skills, changing their minds, collaborating with others, providing leadership, generating content or anything else that's distinctly human. Those situations call for adding process and pattern into the mix. An example makes this point better than an explanation.
A college student has an answer to the question: "What's the use of going to college?". That student is using college to get a diploma and an entrance ticket into the world of bigger paychecks, less unemployment and increased access to credit. The form of the college experience functions as a support system for getting a diploma. The system routinely produces the result and proves its functional fit with the student's use of it. Both the college and the student congratulate themselves on "mission accomplished". No questions asked. No alternatives considered. Never mind that the student failed to get an education, destroyed any future love of learning, and developed a chronic dependency on authority figures for instructions, deadlines and evaluations.

By adding process and pattern into the mix, all this changes. A distinct pattern get recognized among a wide variety of college students. It detects that some students only want a diploma while others want exceptional grades for scholarships, grad school or research positions. Some others want to learn how to think critically, explore new knowledge domains, formulate better questions and otherwise get a real education. A final cohort seeks added self-confidence through learning by teaching others, expressing themselves, and reflecting on what happens to them each day.

A process then gets added for migrating inside this pattern from one functionality to another. The college invites, orients, facilitates and encourages the change from or to getting diplomas, exceptional grades, a valuable education or a set-up for life long learning . If the system regressed to only supporting those seeking diplomas, red flags would go up. The loss of functionality would launch remedial action to restore the full pattern and process for moving between components of the pattern.
Whenever process and pattern get added into the mix, the outcomes are emergent from the complexity. Nobody is making users move between pattern components, but lots of movement occurs. The process for changing is not imposed on the users. The relative proportion of those in any one cohort depends on the combined effect of every relationship experienced by the users. The functionality is fallout from the synergy between the form of the system and the idiosyncratic uses made of it by its users. It's as if the car changes gears all the time and gets down the road to someplace better routinely.


Resolving disconnects between form and function

Form and function often get disconnected with the result of ineffective, useless or non-existent outcomes. We speak of the disconnect between form and function as:
  • It was intended to solve a problem but it created a bigger one instead.
  • It worked pretty well in a different situation, but not at all in this kind of a mess.
  • It looked good on paper but it played out much differently than expected.
  • It was a great sales pitch but nobody bought into it like they should have.
  • It was the accurate thing to say, but it backfired when it came across as a putdown.
  • It's only giving them what's required while depriving them of what they really want.
  • It looks good on the surface, but it's loaded with costly consequences.

We get into disconnecting function from its form in lots of different ways that we all have experience with:
  • Making something out to be an ideal solution that polarizes the issue into extreme alternatives.
  • Making added trouble for ourselves by inadvertently feeding the problem and fueling our opposition.
  • Making ourselves right in ways that make others wronged by our self-righteousness
  • Making unwanted conditions persist by resisting the lesson or shooting the messenger.
  • Making a thing of something in isolation that is really an ongoing process for balancing several things in combination.
  • Making it impossible for the natural order to emerge by imposing a contrived order in its place.
  • Making the collaboration into a vicious cycle that drains the energy of everyone involved.

Connecting form and function occurs naturally when we open ourselves to innovating:
  • Finding the middle ground between polarized extremes that emerges as the "best of both" or "two sides of the same coin".
  • Starving the problem and our opposition's vengeance by going along with it, joining the flow in it or giving into what's it's becoming.
  • Making others right in ways that make us seem wise, insightful and inclusive of many viewpoints.
  • Turning the adversity into a lesson to be learned or coded message to get understood before proceeding any further.
  • Making a thing of the process of growing things from seed, keeping things in balance or combining more things together.
  • Discovering what it wants to be, what it becomes when it's free to explore itself and what its meant to contribute to the greater whole.
  • Forming virtuous cycles where further collaboration feels energizing, inspiring, validating and nurturing.

With the two new frameworks I'm developing, I am resolving several complex disconnects between form and function:
  1. I'm addressing the micro scale of societal evolution. This sets up changing one mind at a time by giving people the feeling of getting understood by a narrative of relational grammars; where the macro scale inadvertently gives people the feeling of getting misunderstood by the imposed narrative inherent in a societal evolution of forms.
  2. I'm addressing quadri-functional relating between people. This invites fluidity between many practices, roles, contributions and interactions; where quadri-form societies can have the unintended effect of inviting personal role fixity, organizational rigidity and toxic stereotypes.
  3. I'm addressing the combination of form & function with process and pattern in a given situation. This supports making better predictions about what will work and prove to be beneficial; where the combination of situated practices unintentionally plays into analysis paralysis, avoidance of chaos and failures to innovate.
  4. I'm addressing the use of a prediction language. This sets up emergent outcomes from the inherent complexity in the situation and from the transformational potential at the level of adopted narratives; where the use of a pattern language burdens designers with taking heroic action to solve every apparent problem.


Two new frameworks

As I've worked with David Ronfeldt's TIMN framework for societal evolution, I've realized how well it fits macro scale patterns throughout history. His framework also captures lots of the features of a quadriform society that is currently emerging on our planet. As I've sought to apply this framework at the micro scale, where relational grammars make the most sense, I've gotten into problems with words, labeling, over-generalizations, and anthromorphizing inert structures. These problems have proven to create a perfect context for innovation. The new framework that has emerged explores micro scale patterns of evolution that appear to scale up and be "writ large" on the global stage. These patterns deal with the functions, value, effects and other differences made by ways of relating, rather than societal forms. This framework will be easily spoken of with verbs which escape the problematic nature of nouns.

As I played around with Dave Snowden's Cynefin framework for differentiating situated practices, I've realized how it can approach problems with better strategies. I've seen the parallels between best practices defined by this framework and pattern languages I first utilized as an undergraduate architecture major. As I've sought to apply this framework to micro scale evolution, I've run into another set of problems. This framework does not fit with all I've learned recently about cognitive neuroscience and emotional baggage. It does not answer the questions I have about inter-relating for resilience and sustainability. It falls short of addressing the two kinds of change and self-referential dynamics that can induce transformation. It does not incorporate processes like those in the title of this blog; growing, changing, learning, creating. It became clear to me this morning that pattern languages can be used to resolve the tensions between form, function and context. However, it takes what I'll call a "prediction language" to resolve those concerns along with processes, patterns and the ways our brains work.

Both of these new frameworks call for lots of exploration and explanation in the coming weeks. Stay Tuned!


Where to begin?

Brett Miller has been pondering the use of the Cynefin framework in approaches to deliberate practice. Where I have begun my charts with Chaotic situations and ended up in the Complex domain, he begins in Simple and ends up in Chaotic. I've included his chart here. In response to a comment I left on his blog, Brett said:

When I look at something like chess or t'ai chi, for instance, I have a systems engineering kind of approach looking back to the beginning of the game. By the time someone today starts playing, all of the rules are well known and straightforward, and this is where all beginners start out - simple. Through training, experience, and deliberate practice the player becomes better equipped to handle complicated, complex, and ultimately chaotic situations.
This got me thinking about these two different starting/ending quadrants, different meanings to the concept of "Novel Practice" in the Chaotic quadrant, and different contexts where the Cynefin framework might be applied. To end up at "Novel Practice" reminds me of the Zen concept of a "beginner's mind" that I characterized as "keeping the train of thought on the line of reasoning" in my post: Derailed by emotional baggage. Amidst turbulent unknowns, we are very vulnerable to being too smart for our own good, too captivated by our own thinking and too experienced to let go of our familiarity. We are better equipped to take whatever comes along when we are innocent, aware and receptive.

To end up in the Complex quadrant with "Emergent Practice" for me evokes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of the deeply satisfying "Flow State". Time stands still while a sense of what to do comes to mind. We remain sharp minded while no longer striving to make things happen. This correlates with the Zen concept of "wu wei" (non-doing or effortless action). Both end points are indications of mastery like the outcomes of 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell explored in Outliers - The Story of Success.

I also realized it may make a huge difference whether the process can get started right away. When we can jump right in, I see the pattern of beginning in Chaos and ending up in Complexity. When a lot of advance preparation gets involved to qualify for a first start, I see the opposite pattern of beginning in Simple and ending up in Chaos. Here's some examples of the two kinds of situations:
  • When we're thinking of writing our first blog, the number of possible, enjoyable, and familiar topics to write about seems overwhelmingly Chaotic. There is no good or best way to choose the right topic to focus a blog on. It's better to simply begin, acting without a plan and see what direction evolves. When we're preparing to develop a new blogging platform to compete with Blogger, WordPress and the rest, we cannot jump right in. We have to start out on Simple programming tasks like exploring the use of particular library patterns for social networking software.
  • When we're getting our first cell phone, most think there's no need to start out with an extra-simple phone. New consumer technologies offer an opportunity to dive right in and figure out the feature sets by experimentation. We can mess around to see what works without a plan, even though the number and complexity of the features can seem Chaotic. When we're getting our first suite of software products for making professional videos, interactive tutorials or print publications, it's imperative to start with simple tasks. The possibility of getting overwhelmed and defeated looms large.
  • When we're learning in simulation, we can start out crashing airplanes or tampering with urban planning without hesitation. What it takes to keep the plane in flight or the city out of decay appears so Chaotic we can only take action and see what happens. That how immersive scenarios expect us to learn. When we're practicing the flight of real aircraft or urban planning for a real city, we've got to start with Simple tasks to stay out of serious trouble.

It then follows that the societal evolution in the TIMN model gets started without preparation. Tribes form without advance certification training. Institutional forms of governance start to oversee the tribes and provide some infrastructure without a prior history of starting governments. In those contexts, starting with the "Novel Practice" in the Chaotic quadrant fits.


Exploring ubiquitous complexity

I spent part of yesterday online learning how the Cynefin model has been talked about and utilized since the Cynefin Centre separated from IBM in July 2004. It's been widely used to analyze and categorize situations, as if the Cynefin model is a "good practice" that applies in complicated situations. In simple situations where consultants have formulated some proprietary "best practice" model of their own, the Cynefin framework gets a bad rap for imposes unnecessary complications, impossible requirements or excessive analysis. The Cynefin model has also been used as a map to keep track of potential movements from one quadrant to another, resolving conflicts between positional stances, and for experimenting with different practices that attempt to resolve a situation. These approaches set up an "emergent practice" in response to complex situations.

I reflected further on David Ronfeldt's use of the Cynefin framework to see Tribes as relatively simple, Institutions as complicated, Markets as Complex and Networks as chaotic. I realized that the inner workings of a tribe are complex. The inter-relationships between tribes are complex. The context which supports the tribes continuing without disbanding or dying off is also complex. The only dimensions that are simple about tribes are the form they take and the challenges they face. Tribes within nations do not have airport runways to keep open, filters to change in water treatment plants, or public services to fund with tax collections. Tribes in the form of college fraternities simply share none of the complicated concerns of the administration, legislature or accreditation boards. The complexities about tribes are subtle, intangible and easily ignored by studying the objective evidence of tribal forms and challenges.

The predominance of complexity is also true for the internal workings, inter-relationships and contexts of Institutions, Markets and Networks. This suggests that every practice characterized by the Cynefin model is an emergent practice. Best practices emerge from the complexity when some simple parameters feature prominently. Good practices emerge from the complexity when there are conceptual frameworks that apply. Novel practices emerge from the complexity when the complexity appears chaotic and defiant of orderly dynamics.

This "complexity based" outlook on the Cynefin model suggested a change in the four quadrants. If every quadrant yields an emergent practice from ubiquitous complexity, it's redundant to have a quadrant for "complexity" and "emergent practices". I've pondered the possibility of moving disorder from the no-man's land between the quadrants to the fourth quadrant. As you can see, I'm conceiving of a quadrant labeled "disorder" with "no conceivable orderly practice". This breach of Cynefin doctrine is itself a case of my "disorderly conduct" :-)


Emergent forms of TIMN

The natural world is a living system where every part is highly interdependent with others. What comes about is emergent from the complexity. No one life form is making it happen all by itself. With an understanding of this complexity in principle, we can wonder about questions like:
  • How did that expanse of wildflowers manage to flourish on this barren rock outcropping?
  • Where did that meadow come from next to so much marsh land?
  • How did that hardwood forest appear when there is not another tree anywhere near here?
To answer questions like these, we have to take our attention off the thing in question and study the interrelationships. When we've got a sense of the underlying interdependencies, we can realize how the thing in question emerged from the ambient complexity. The thing came about from many contributing factors that combined into an opportune situation, ripe condition or fertile breeding ground.

I've been pondering very similar questions about the conditions defined by the Cynefin model (chaotic, simple, complicated, complex). I've been wondering:
  • How each condition shows up in the first place?
  • What previous dynamics (practices, interaction patterns, infrastructures, etc.) contribute to each condition's emergence?
  • What contributes to the ripeness or fitness of the emergent condition for the related societal form to take hold (tribal, institutional, market, network)?
In a recent comment on Michel Bauwen's summation of my exploration to date, David Ronfeldt introduced some very useful thoughts about the relationships between the tribal, institutional, market and network societal forms:
To the extent that the TIMN and Cynefin frameworks can be given a mash-up — and it’s an interesting, even fun idea — perhaps it would work better if the associations were rotated. Show that Tribes associate not with “chaotic” but with “simple” approaches to problem-solving — as indeed they really do in comparison to the other forms. Then, Institutions go with “complicated,” and Markets with “complex.” That fits with historical and current realities.
Where I've been saying tribal forms respond TO chaotic conditions, David is saying the tribal responses ARE simple compared to institutional form and responses. Likewise, I'm seeing institutional forms respond TO simple conditions while David sees institutional forms ARE complicated compared to simple tribal forms This suggests to me that institutional forms are highly dependent on the simple forms and novel practices of tribes. The tribal responses increase the simplicity, stability, knowability of situations that allow institutions and their best practices to emerge.

We can imagine that it takes a critical mass of tribes to generate enough situational simplicity for institutions to not fall prey to lingering chaos, instability, disruption and unpredictability. Without a critical mass of simplicity, the societal scale institutions would disintegrate as failed states, fallen dictators, or constant civil wars. The market scale institutions would go out of business, get bought out by a bigger rival or liquidate some of their holdings to sustain a faltering core operation. Tribal responses successfully put the chaotic situations into remission. Local scale institutions would cut back on police protection, social services, educational offerings, road repairs and other affordances.

It then follows that when tribes are entangled in their dark side (-T), they merely contribute to their chaotic situations. When they realize their bright side (+T), they generate simple solutions, practices, rituals and relationships. Those successes set the stage for subsequent institutional forms. The simplicity that tribes can provide to overall situations gets realized as a spill over effect of their being successful, cohesive, productive and energizing.

A similar argument can be made for institutional forms providing critical mass of the prerequisite complications for complex market forms to emerge. Likewise, market forms introduce the needed complexity that enables the emergence of chaotic networking forms and responses. It then may come back around full circle, where networks provide the ripe chaotic conditions for simple tribes to reemerge -- perhaps as hyper-localized nodes in a resilient, sustainable network.


Speaking of frameworks

I'm currently exploring how to relate the use of pattern languages to this evolving combination of Cynefin & TIMN frameworks. While most writing about pattern languages dwells on a catalog of patterns, I'm equally concerned with the use of a language for speaking with and of patterns. It makes a big difference to the people and situations to change how we speak of and with patterns. Different wording changes how we will selectively perceive, think about and respond to varied situations. We can even get a sense of this from the differences between a "pattern language", a "patterning language" and "using a patterning language". These are the differences between using nouns, adjectives and verbs.

These differences also relate to the four sets of practices and situations in the Cynefin framework. When we speak of any framework cell with nouns (i.e. "Tribe" of TIMN, "Chaos" or "Novel practice" of Cynefin), we have simplified the situation. We have organized some chaos and brought unknowns into the realm of knowns. We know what it is and get to the right about it. While limiting ourselves to using nouns, we create the illusion there could be a best practice to apply repeatedly in these situations. We wonder if we have enough organization, reliability, and consistency which are the familiar challenges of an institutional response. We conform to a pattern defined by the use of nouns.

This pattern has a pronounced effect on those described by this use of nouns. They feel wrongly labeled, subjected to misunderstanding, and possibly put down by power trippers being exclusively right. They even notice that the language has switched from "us/our/we" to "them/their/they" like I've done in this paragraph. The use of nouns creates upper and lower classes of insiders. This feeds the chaos on the outside which in turn creates a self-serving need for more ordering, organizing and use of nouns. Those under the thumb of this noun usage try to make nothing of it and keep it from becoming a thing. They wonder if they bring enough experimentation, novel practice and craziness to their chaotic situation which fit a pattern of tribal responses.

When we speak of any framework cell with adjectives (i.e. Tribal Response of TIMN, Chaotic situations of Cynefin), we have complicated what we're speaking about. We have differentiated between varied situations, perceived contexts and constituents. We switch from labeling to making a lens with our understanding. We realize how it's an unfolding process, evolving sequence or changing dynamic. We perceive what is happening in relation, in combination, or in keeping balanced -- beyond what it simply is. We've set ourselves up to wonder if we are being responsive, varied, diverse enough for the complicated situation handled by market responses. We conform to a pattern defined by the use of adjectives.

When we speak of any framework cell with verbs or adverbs (i.e. Responding tribally of TIMN or Practicing emergently of Cynefin), we have grasped the complexity of the living system. We relate to all the inter-relatedness that includes our ways of seeing and using language. We switch from using a lens with our understanding to representing our understanding, walking our talk or acting accordingly. Our conduct gives the same impression to others as our explanations. We are being what we say we are and congruently doing what the situation calls for us to practice. We immersed in wondering if we are sufficiently paradoxical, self referential and changing to sidestep the effects of nouns and adjectives. We demonstrate a pattern defined by our use of verbs and adverbs.

Complex adaptive or living systems are always using patterning languages. When we can catch ourselves falling for the trap of using nouns and adjectives, we open up ourselves to join into any living systems in our vicinity and through our connections. We realize the synergies from combining the TIMN and Cynefin frameworks.


Changing the minds of others

You may have run into a situation this week where some people did not change their minds in spite of what you said and did. You may have given them all the information they might need to see things differently. You may have appealed to their emotions as well as their ability to reason. You may have gotten upset and tried to force them to change. You may have even gotten desperate and resorted to begging, bribing or cajoling them. Whatever you tried, it didn't work like you expected.

At this point, it's easy to conclude that the others are either stubborn, closed minded, creatures of habit or prisoners of their comfort zones. Cognitive neuroscience offers many better explanations for why we don't change our minds when others expect us to and do what they can to get it to happen. The new book by Charles Jacobs , Management Rewired - Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science -- gives us lots of scientific insights into minds that don't change. Here's my way of describing four of them for you to consider.
  • We get hold of some big ideas that everything else we think has to agree with in principle. When someone gives us an idea that contradicts one little thing we think, it upsets our entire system of ideas from the big idea on down.
  • Before we have a thought come to mind about some new input, our mind goes through a Darwinian "survival of the fittest" to select one thought among a bunch of different possibilities we could think. When someone tells us what to think to get us to change our minds, that idea gets thrown in with all the others competing to win out and be the thought we think. It's chances are as slim as the many other lesser thoughts we've already got that do not show up as thinkable thoughts.
  • Before we receive anything from others, we've formulated realistic expectations based on our past experiences. If we get less or worse than we were expecting, we're uncontrollably upset in spite of how reasonable the thing we got might have been. If we get more or different than what we expected, we're thrilled for the moment. It doesn't depend on what we get nearly as much as what we're expecting to get.
  • Some of what we get from people mess with who we think we are, what reputation we're maintaining, and what's consistent with our past conduct. Our minds go onto autopilot to get rid of that awful feeling we get even if it takes lying, kidding ourselves or going along with something we disagree with entirely. We're usually content to simply discredit, blame or vilify those people who messed with our minds.
Using patterns of cognitive dynamics like these, it's possible to see that it's as upsetting for the person trying to change someone's mind as the person who's mind is not changing. Both are getting what they were thinking contradicted that then upsets everything from their big idea on down Both may be having familiar thoughts come to mind rather than any new idea thrown into the competition with a bunch of other possibilities. Both are failing to get their expectations met. Both are taking a hit to their pride, reputation and consistency.

Charles Jacobs has worked as a management consultant for many years. Management Rewired is filled with many episodes where managers resorted to desperate tactics when they failed to get others' minds to change. They dealt with people as if applying pressure, putting them down, intimidating them or withholding trust would get them to change their minds. Of course it backfires, but that outcome does not get managers to become more strategic, effective, empathetic or insightful. A desirable upgrade like those would involve a change of their own minds. Instead they continue to strut like alpha male gorillas, trap others in a classic "Prisoner's dilemma" or treat others like billiard balls to poke at and knock around.

The book offers lots of approaches that work with the facts that people have minds of their own, see things their own ways and respond according to what's going on inside them at the moment. The book is written to help managers and leaders become more effective. It obviously applies to mentors, coaches, counselors, teachers, trainers, writers and other professionals.

As Jacob's considered how conventional management methods yield unintended consequences due to the ways our brains function, he sees the wisdom in those breakthrough management methods of the 80's and 90's (self directed teams, empowerment, personal coaching, open book management, quality circles, communities of practice, etc.) His familiarity with the two kinds of change has convinced him of the power of storytelling to change people's minds. He explores how to come up with the right kind of dissonance that disturbs people's familiar story and gets them to take the leap into a breakthrough outlook. He contrasts transactional and transformational leadership conduct. He considers how to get enough sense of what others are thinking to formulate a counter intuitive move to defy others' expectations for more of the same old treatment, balancing acts or struggles.

I share the author's conviction that the world will be a better place once we see each other as dealing with internally active minds. Management Rewired can help you get the picture of what going on in others' heads that deserves our respect and consideration. The way we treat others and get them to change their minds shows vast room for improvement.

Related posts:
Switching brain strategies
Framing our constituencies
Empowering conversations
Revising unstoried possibilities
Fallout from a system
Questioning the feasibility of change
Using feedback to change identities
Third and fourth order change
Revising underlying structure
Winning without a battle