March 4, 2015
“You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it.”
– Toni Morrison
I’ve been re-reading Niels Pfleaging’s short book Organize for Complexity and appreciating how it succinctly captures the current challenges for many groups and organizations trying to navigate complexity while clinging to old tools and beliefs. This can also be the nature of social change work amidst the significant shifts we are seeing. Here’s the trick – as things shift more, and more rapidly, people’s natural inclination may be to try to exert greater control or dig in to what is familiar but does not work. The more one does so, the worse things can get. As Pfleaging writes, we see a “high price for the illusion of control.” Within organizations this takes the form of various gaps – social, functional, and temporal – that make them increasingly irrelevant and ineffective. Responding to complexity requires (to borrow a phrase from Eugene Kim) new muscles and mindsets.
If I could summarize my own reading of Pflaegings’s book, I would put it this way – the world we are living into requires more integrated ways of seeing and doing, and this is hard to do (if not impossible) if people maintain highly differentiated ways of organizing themselves. There is really a baseline call for self-awareness and mindfulness so that one is able to respond not by default or fear, but with perspective and intention, which connects to the idea of “strengthening the network within” at the individual level. And it is important to reach out and connect this self-awareness to others . . .
“Problem-solving in a life-less system is about instruction. Problem-solving in a living system is about communication.”
September 29, 2010
|Photo by Vincepal|http://www.flickr.com/photos/vincepal/2806832762|
I recently did work with an organization that had approached us with an interest in designing a retreat during which staff would consider options for embracing climate action and environmental organizing strategies as part of their efforts moving forward. In one of our early planning calls, I asked how this new direction made sense given where the organization had historically focused its resources (affordable housing, open space advocacy, community beautification), and the response was a very thoughtful, “That’s a good question.” Furthermore, I asked if there was anything they were planning on letting go of. Again, pregnant pause and . . . “That’s a good question.” And so began a very fruitful conversation, the upshot of which was an opening segment of the retreat that focused on developing a coherent frame for the organization that could more easily and sensibly integrate climate and environmental work. Read More
January 21, 2010
|Photo by jaybergesen|http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaybergesen/232023995/|
As it turns out, the practice of brainstorming has something of a bad reputation, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from its prevalence in many well meaning groups and organizations. Research has shown that bringing people together to start brainstorming ideas yields fewer ideas overall, and fewer novel ideas, than having individuals first go off and think on their own and later compile their lists. The reason is that group think and social pressure can tend to tip and narrow group brainstorms in certain directions that rule out “out of the box” thinking. Furthermore, there is a tendency for many groups to want to come to agreement about certain ideas, preferring a sense of group cohesion and victory, over pushing one another and risking conflict and hurt feelings.