T. Irene Sanders on “Being President In a Complex World”

I first encountered complex adaptive systems science in 1998- literally a life-changing moment for me. One of the people whose work I found early in my complexity learning journey was T. Irene Sanders. An early student of complexity, Irene has worked particularly in applying insights and methods to the work of public policy, and military intelligence analysis. About 14 years ago, I hired Irene to be a featured speaker at a conference in D.C. that I organized on new insights for government improvement.

Over the past few months, I have been on dozens of Zooms with literally thousands of people from around the world on complexity, and leading positive change through this pandemic. The other night I revisited my bookshelf, and two books almost leapt into my hands. One was Irene Sanders’ 1998 book “Strategic Thinking and the New Science.” Re-reading the book, I found Irene’s “Futurescape” methodology to be enduring, and needed now.

A quick stop today at Irene’s website for her “Center For Complexity and Public Policy” led to me to a link for an article she wrote on “being President in a Complex World.” The article, written after the 2016 election, but before the 2017 inauguration, has interesting insights known and knowable then, and… points us to the reflection and retrospection we may make of the last four years from our perspective today.

Click to access being-president-in-a-complex-world.pdf

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Repairing The World – The Work of “Tikkun Olam”

On the seventh day, the Holy One of Being rested. They had contracted their infinity to make a tiny point from which the universe we know today began. Through dimensions of emanation, creation, and formation, to our human world of action.

And while the creator of the universe might have made us complete and perfect, they did not.

Our ancient wisdom traditions tell us that we are responsible for “tikkun olam” – to repair the world. We are, then partners in the completion of creation in this universe. We can not fully know the Infinite Source – the “Ein Sof.” We can know they are there, breathing life-energy into our expanding universe.

And we can open our hearts and minds to the capacities for curiosity, courage, compassion, and caring. . . for all.

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Complexity in Human Systems Symposium : early reflections and questions

The first (annual?) gathering ended last night. Here, my first thoughts:

Early reflections and questions from the remarkable Complexity in Human Systems Symposium. More to follow.

So…

The nature of our cognition, discernment, and actions results in the domains of order including simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic situations. The domains are a feature of our humaniverse. The pioneering work of Dave Snowden and others codified the optimal patterns of response that are also laws of the humaniverse. Centuries of Newtonian achievement wrongly applied to managing/leading organizations catalyzed and galvanized the fear of uncertainty and ambiguity. Consultants misappropriate knowledge to commoditize buzzwords.

And so… now… Dave convened many of the best and brightest complexity thinkers, teachers, and practitioners to…. what, exactly? What are we going to create? Manifestos, codes of practice, and more certification credentials? The dynamics of the humaniverse suggest criteria that are not TOO constrained as to diminish critical variation (thanks, Ross Ashby).

What is OUR story?

What do we want to do?

Why does it matter?

How will we work together?

Who needs to be involved?

When will we do this?

And then… how will we reflect, assess, adapt, evolve, and… ?

What do YOU think?

#complexity

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A Change Is Gonna Come: mission, workforce & leadership in government

There are major forces in play affecting government workforces, missions, and cultures.

Here, my reply to a post from the well-known government consultant Bill Eggers. Bill’s post suggested methods and approaches to public sector improvement.

—-

Bill, I would suggest all this, and more. We are experiencing a catalytic time of change for government work and workers. At the Federal level, and also in some states, changes are simultaneously impacting the fundamental missions, and the structure of human resource management. The challenges of recruiting and retaining competent, dedicated employees have never been greater (particularly at the Federal level).

Complex challenges require a foundation of rational cognition and discernment, the capacity to engage in generative dialogue about meaning and coordinated action, and the simultaneous qualities of curiosity and courage.

To meet the clear and agreed-upon needs and wants of citizens requires a right-sized workforce, fully funded to successfully achieve their mission, with both accountability, and commitment to continuous improvement.

All of this demands leadership that both understands the distinction between technical/complicated, and complex/adaptive situations, and which will act optimally in each domain. The knowledge, skills, and methods to succeed are here now. Whether public sector leaders have the courage to adopt them remains to be seen.

What do you and others think?

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Un-Caged: On John Cage, Art, and the FLUX of Life

On John Cage, and Art.

In response to a friend’s posting of a cartoon referencing the work of John Cage, I wrote and shared the following comments. Cage’s work purposefully introduces ambiguity, chance, and uncertainty to both performers and audience alike. The choreography of his partner and collaborator Merce Cunningham, as I was fortunate to observe one fine day, did not rely at all on the sonic or temporal cues of Cage’s soundtrack. Cunningham set his own internal order and constraints for his dancers. So too with life in organizations, as we work in complex situations.

So..

Me: I had an appointment once to do a DOL investigation at McCarter Theater, the famous venue in Princeton. When I entered the lobby, I heard unusual sounds from the theater. I went in, and it was Merce Cunningham rehearsing with his group, and John Cage sitting in the front discussing his random soundtrack. I quickly got my phone, called the theater office downstairs to say I had been “unavoidably detained” and sat in the back row alone watching these geniuses for an hour.

Them: Honestly, I consider Cage, et. al. to have participated in perpetrating a massive hoax on the public – convincing them that if you don’t understand it, it must be great art. Art, by definition, must communicate something. All too much “art” these days communicates nothing more than, “Ha, ha, ha – look how stupid you are to buy this!”

Me: I must respectfully disagree. Art communicates some variations of what the artist intended, and what the viewer/listener experiences and decides it means to them. In Cage, we see an artist who purposefully introduced elements of randomness and chance into his work. His “composition” in which the pianist comes out and sits playing nothing for around four and a half minutes, works to transform what we think of as “music.” For me, such work is powerful and important, and I greatly appreciated the work of John Cage.

Them: Bruce, & I must respectfully disagree. To me, 4 mins. however many seconds is just total bullshit.

Me: All I can say is experience it as Cage intended. See and hear all that emerges around you in that time and place. Not what you expected. Other than what you may have wanted. Yet human and unique every time.

So… what do you think?

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United, We Might Fall. Divided, We Might Adapt. on civility and disruption in the face of significant power differentials

A very interesting piece. I have been thinking this year about how to catalyze shared meaning among otherwise divided people, such that respectful, generative dialogue and coordinated action can occur. I believe there are basic capacities a person must have in some minimum quantity, such that rational sense-making and learning occur. Such that opinion, belief, and action are informed by fact and knowledge. So dialogue can and will take place.

My belief, and concern, is that too many are currently so overcome with the fear born of ignorance, and manipulated by the power-seekers, as to make learning and dialogue impossible. We have seen it this week. Facts and clear public acts be damned, they will refuse to believe what their eyes and ears take in.

So… civility and disruption. Civility would seem to be predicated on some set of shared values and intentions. Those afraid of “other” to the extent that they deny fact and knowledge, are not likely to embrace a civility that just might cause them to confront differences of opinion, belief, and intention.

Disruption is a wonderful tactic to change the patterns of behavior in a system, community, or society. It is especially useful in truly chaotic situations, where no one really knows what is going on or why things happen as they do. In the face of complexity- significant uncertainty and ambiguity – purposeful disruption is likely to have unintended consequences.

“Other” can topple the status quo. We see the consequences of that in our headlines right now. People who feel disenfranchised or wronged can certainly act to disrupt. Act without “civility” and cause. . . ?? Turbulence? Space for new meaning and possibility? Confusion? A forceful and even repressive response?

Are there other ways to make the change in the world that we want? Would the methods in “Walk Out, Walk On” be helpful? Do we necessarily need everyone at the table to have the life and world we want (perhaps not the obvious question it might seem to be)?

I don’t know just where and when we should act to be disruptive. For myself, this year, apart from socio-politics, has been a year of purposeful disruption- in the view of some. Inspired greatly by Brené Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness, I began “speaking truth to bullshit. . . with civility.”

Ahh. . . There’s that word again.

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Civility-only-serves-the-already-powerful-13083284.php

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The Deeper Q: Capacities For Rational Thought, and Generative Dialogue

On the active and thoughtful listserv of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, a friend of mine posted a link to an opinion piece on the 538 Blog. The thread of correspondence that followed on the listserv was mostly about the Blog post’s assertions regarding biases in both major American political parties.

But what struck me in the post were the implications for respectful and generative civil dialogue, and the ability of people to then negotiate shared purpose and coordinated action. That, after all, is what social groups do. This flows and follows from what I call “The Two Qs” – the things I believe each of us is trying to answer every moment of our lives.

And so, in response to the exchange on the listserv, I wrote this:

I have been thinking and writing about the dynamics of respectful civil dialogue for a few years now.  I was first noticing and inquiring about the Brexit vote.  Then the American campaign and subsequent events have held my attention (likely too much) over the past couple of years.

My first concern is with the assumption in the lead sentence of the piece that was shared:

“The defining divide in American politics is probably between Republicans and Democrats.”

Hold the response to the inference of probability for the moment.

What I ask, and think about these days, are what capacities or competencies do people need, in order to be in respectful, generative dialogue; able to negotiate consensus and coordinate action together towards a shared objective?

This, in turn, follows from what I call “The Two Qs” – what are the two questions every human is trying to answer at every moment of our lives?  My answer is “What does this mean?” and “What will I/we do about it?”

Over the past few years, my thinking about the capacities needed for being in civil dialogue has changed.  We have seen the significantly diminished ability of language, whether written or spoken, to inform and influence others.  This clearly relates to how we define “information” and “facts.”  I also used to think that shared experience could catalyze shared meaning and the opportunity for dialogue.  Maybe the collective wide eyes and applause at a fabulous performance or fireworks show.  Can that still serve as a basis for dialogue about the social, economic, and political problems challenging us today?  I think not.  Even the shared experience of catastrophic experiences like 9/11 or mass shootings are no longer able to catalyze shared meaning and generative dialogue.

So. . . What IS happening, and what can be done to cross the divide?

To be in civil and generative dialogue, I think we need courage, curiosity, caring.  The ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn.  The willingness to accept credible facts and data and science, and have these inform our beliefs and intentions.  The ability to listen deeply, and withhold judgment until we truly understand the other.

Today, critical numbers of citizens no longer have these capacities.  Margaret Wheatley foresaw this many years ago, and wrote about it in her 2012 book “So Far From Home.”  The same internet that puts the knowledge and community of the world in our hand, also equally distributes and amplifies ignorance, falsehood, and fear.  We see the consequences throughout the world today.

Those who do not know and understand, become vulnerable to fear of “other.”  The fear is easily amplified and manipulated by those who would seek power and control over them, into bias and hate.  There is an old saying about leaving a bad relationship, that I think applies to changing this pattern of behavior.  “How long do you stay in a bad relationship?  Until the pain of staying is greater than the fear of going.  And not a moment sooner.”

And so. . .

For me, the defining divide today is between those able and willing to change through inquiry, fact, learning, and understanding, and those unable and/or unwilling to do so.  There are Repubs and Dems on both sides of this divide.  A key question, I think, is about the distribution of the inability.  It would appear today that there is a significant assymetry of this distribution between the two major parties.

Is a restoration of dialogue across this divide possible?  I don’t know anymore.  Honestly, my hope of a peaceful restoration through a powerful New Narrative of shared values and intentions has diminished.  The best tactic I know at the moment is to clearly and simply state what matters to us.   To start at the simplest and most basic level.  And hope that a more complex and generative dialogue will emerge once again.

Thanks, all, for the sharing, and for the inspiration to write and share these thoughts.

Bruce

Bruce Waltuck, MA, Complexity, Chaos, and Creativity

Yes, it really says that on the diploma

No, I didn’t get it inside a matchbook cover

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The 2 Q’s and the 3 Ws

When I begin my classes for doctoral students in school psychology, and now as I prepare to begin an undergraduate class in Negotiation for Business, I ask this:

What are the two questions that every person is trying to answer at virtually every moment of our lives?

Whatever answers they have, tend to be fairly close to the answers that I have.

We next turn to what has been called “the world’s shortest framework for change” – three simple questions:

What?  So what? Now what?

What are your answers?

 

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EntreXercises:  It Was Just My ‘magination. . .Runnin’ Away With Me. . . 

EntreXercises:

1) imagiNation: you are the new Chef de Cuisine of Mr. Waltuck’s imaginary restaurant, Amber Waves. Chef-Owner Waltuck tells you that his concept for the restaurant is all about creating the new and unexpected from the familiar and overlooked. Using common and leftover foods in ways that have not been done before, is what Amber Waves is all about. Chef Waltuck shows you several dishes that he has created, that illustrate his Amber Waves concept. These include- Diced cooked beet and pineapple “carnitas” for Tacos al Pastor. Edible veggie “candlesticks” made from a base of fork-striped cucumber, a stalk of blanched white asparagus, tip dipped in a Harissa-spiced roasted red pepper puree. Blue corn chip chilaquiles cooked in leftover sweetened creamy coffee, served with an egg poached in peach salsa. Caramelized onions sauteed with blackberry balsamic vinegar and diced spicy bread and butter pickles. 

Your task is to create three new dishes that follow the creative philosophy of Amber Waves.
(See you in class…)

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Not So “Good Enough” – On the need for competitive compensation & benefits in government

Let’s assume for a moment that you are an entrepreneur. Or the CEO of an existing successful business. What are your goals going forward for the next year? Five years? Ten years?
What about the people you want to attract, and recruit to come work for you? What knowledge, skills, and abilities do you want them to have? Are “average” performers good enough?  
What kinds of things can you, or should you, try to offer prospective employees in order to both compete with other employers, and to assure you have the very best chance of success and of meeting your customers’ expectations (recalling and paraphrasing the words of Peter Drucker, that the only reason an organization exists, is to meet its customers’ expectations)?
In the private sector, firms from Costco to Google offer competitive wages and benefits. While people sometimes complain about the cost of a latte at Starbucks, it is important to note that Starbucks is a rare employer in providing health insurance to part-time employees. They also provide free four-year tuition to get a bachelors degree through a partnership with Arizona State University. Companies like 3M and Gore encourage innovation, giving employees the incentive to use some of their work time to explore innovative ideas.  
What then, should be the practice of government, with regard to compensation, career advancement, and benefits? I have heard some argue that government has no market share issues since it is a monopoly, and that there are no shareholders to please (for those who think shareholder value is the primary concern in an economic market). My response is that Congress is the driver of “market share” decisions for government. If customers- citizens- are unhappy with government service, then agency funding will be cut or even eliminated. There are, in fact, powerful incentives for government to do its best for us all.
With regard to compensation, career advancement, and benefits, government has long been at a disadvantage. Salaries for many jobs, have never been comparable to those of the private sector. Significant advantages in government recruiting have come from comparative job security, advancement based both on adequate performance and seniority, and a very good package pension and health benefits portable (not for free, it is important to note) into retirement under most circumstances.  
So if we recognize that government needs to be competitive to attract, hire, and retain great employees, why would an administration propose significant cuts in both compensation and benefits? A business short on funds might have to do “more with less” and let people go. Government has the responsibility to deliver the goods and services citizens make clear they need and want. From defense, to interstate highways, to safe food and drugs.  
Why, we must ask of our leaders, would they propose significantly damaging the government’s ability to recruit, hire, and retain competent, capable, and willing employees? The possible coherent narratives to explain this all seem to suggest an intention counter to building a highly effective and stable workforce.
http://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/2017/10/leaked-compensation-proposals-could-have-huge-repercussions-civil-service/141950/?oref=workforce_week_nl 

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