“Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found…. Local life may be as much endangered by those who would ‘save the planet’ as by those who would ‘conquer the world.’ For ‘saving the planet’ calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know and thus will destroy the integrity of local nature and local community…”
I’m grateful to the mentors I’ve had who have introduced me to regenerative thinking, an approach that aligns with a living systems view of life and a network way of working, as opposed to one that is more mechanical in orientation. To be clear, mechanical thinking has its place, but less so it seems in the unpredictable and complex world of social change and working with social systems, including networks. Yet there still seems to be a fair amount of it out there, underlying various change tactics and wholesale approaches that may be otherwise well-intended. The problem is that few seem willing to slow down to examine the roots of their chosen efforts, to lift up for closer inspection how their thinking may or may not be in alignment with what they are really after.
With a big tip of the hat to Carol Sanford, Joel Glanzberg, and Bill Reed, here are a few offerings in the form of questions that may help to locate where our minds are and if this is where we want them to be:
- Are we looking at parts and pieces OR are we working from wholes? In mechanical systems you can swap and replace parts/pieces in more generic ways. Not so much in living systems. Wholes are much more than the sum of their component elements and demand an understanding of and respect for their unique essence.
- Are we trying to arrest disorder OR are we trying to enliven/support evolution? Mechanical systems tend to run down over time. Living systems evolve as long as energy continues to cycle through them. Only trying to stop entropy or perceived chaos, can be a fruitless and damaging approach with living systems when we close them to inputs and flows.
- Are we leading with generics and abstraction OR are we trying to ground in what is? Living systems are complex and unique, and not prone to responding to “best practices” or prescriptions. Abstraction quickly leads to an inability to intelligently respond to and work with living systems.
- Are we trying to eliminate or minimize difference OR are we embracing it? Difference and diversity is the life blood of living systems, facilitating exchange and adaptation. Mechanical systems prefer predictability and therefore strive to reduce difference. Reducing difference and diversity in living systems robs them of their vitality. Difference is often seen as unhelpful restraint in mechanical systems. In living systems, this is what leads to emergence.
- Are we trying to control the system OR are we trying to support self-organization? Command and control is the essence of mechanical systems, an effort to fight entropy and keep things humming along predictably. Living systems thrive on the impulse to self-organize. This requires a different kind of “change management,” one that supports people and groups to “do what they do best and connect to the rest.”
Welcoming your thinking on any of this and how it connects to what you are trying to make happen . . .