The Ps of Regenerativity

June 29, 2011 Leave a comment

“It is time we recognized that ‘the system’ is how we work together.”

Yaneer Bar-Yam


|Image from Carlos Gershenson||

I’m writing this post from Quincy, Massachusetts where I’m attending the International Conference on Complex Systems. My head is very full and there is much to process that will no doubt spur further posts.  A question I brought with me into these proceedings is what we are learning from complexity (in fields such as systems biology, network theory, epidemiology) about developing stronger collective regenerative capacity, the ability to work with each other and our various contexts in order to both survive and thrive (co-evolve).  So here is a first take, in alliterative fashion:

  • Perspective – A theme throughout these proceedings is that we have inherited a predictive/industrial lens and are now wrongfully applying it in a world of nonlinear complexity.  One mantra I’ve heard is that “We do not live in a Gaussian world.”  A systems perspective helps us to understand that in any given situation there may be many different factors at play, some not visible.  Furthermore, from a complex living systems vantage point, we are invited to consider our own particular place and responsibility in that larger whole.
  • Positivity – I’ve blogged recently about the contributions of positive psychology in opening our awareness of and curiosity about systems.  There is evident at this conference a spirit of interest, awe, inspiration, and (perhaps uncharacteristic of many academic proceedings) appreciation and collaboration (as opposed to sniping and competition).  All of this bodes well for fueling collective learning and intelligence.  If positivity does indeed expand hearts and minds, that is going to be an important trend for holding our increasingly complex reality.
  • Play – Barbara Fredrickson, in her positivity research, has shown that playful experiences build resources that might one day save our lives, in the form of social ties, learning, and adaptive capacity.  There is also plenty of research on the connection between play and innovation.  Here in Quincy, there is much talk about the role of modeling and gaming as ways of both anticipating and responding to future scenarios.  The effort to get things right without being open to and embracing of failure may result in our downfall.  Time to get in touch with our inner child!
  • Preference, Privilege, Power – Thanks to Nancy Gabriel for sending me a fabulous paper in which she and some colleagues flesh out this idea of how, in living systems, differences can evolve into power dynamics, first through preference being given to certain dimensions of difference (ways of speaking, appearance, etc.) that then bestow privilege (advantages, opportunities, and choices) and power (influence) to certain actors more than others.  Complex systems thrive on diversity as a means of adapting to/evolving with changing circumstances.  When we gloss over the dynamics of preference, privilege and power, we risk sacrificing the well-being of both individuals and the system as a whole.  On the other hand, attending to the dynamics springing from difference might help better guide our efforts in co-developing healthy living systems.

Curious to hear your reactions, as I head back into session . . .

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