When Change is Needed, Conversations Are Power


We read a great post on the Systems Thinking World discussion group on LinkedIn today by Andy Walkden, entitled "Are Systems Thinkers the Cassandras of the Modern World?" I've wondered that myself, not so much because there aren't enough systems thinkers (most of us are capable of it), but more because the nuances and behaviors of complex systems are not yet woven into our language. (Kind of like how there's no direct English translation for the Japanese wabi sabi).

Our nomenclature shapes our reality, as every lyricist or magician knows. It is the lens through which we judge the world. 

The article questions how the organizations involved in a bad traffic congestion incident could not effectively anticipate and mitigate the consequences of their decisions. 

Herbert Daly commented, "Another thought is, each of the organisations that you mention are themselves fairly complex systems."

Good point. People tend to avoid thinking in terms of complexity because they think it means complicatedness. After all, how far down do you have to go when you are just looking for a cause and a solution to the problem? 

We will not think to look for systems-based solutions until we are used to talking about systems in a way that is not overly technical, and until we have tools and competencies that enable complexity awareness in everyday discourse. Complexity is a fact, uncertainty is inherent... but we still need meaning and we still need things to make sense.

To facilitate widespread understanding of how important systems thinking is, we have to use our technological muscle as a megaphone to incite a large-scale cultural shift, one that moves away from blame and singular cause-and-effect reductionism, and instead begins to tell stories about interrelationship. Relationships have greater causal agency on a system than the actions of one entity or organization. And until our media is incentivized to serve up something other than blame toward one node in the system, we're doing little better than holding trials in a gladiator arena.

So we have to ask for something different with the agency (influence) we can generate together. New attractors have to form. Conversations are power. 

Again, it's stories and relationships that have the real agency in our social (and even economic) dynamics. The activity they generate--on social media for example--is what forms attractors. So if all the Cassandras gather and have public discourse around some these topics, guess what? In complex systems-speak: Preferential attachment ---> attractor. In plain English: change.

The HumanCurrent podcast is hosted by Angie Cross & Stacy Hale. Subscribe in iTunes or listen at www.human-current.com.

Comment