Broken Paradigms?

I wonder if we have "outstretched" our traditional paradigms about how to live and work together. Technology, knowledge growth, and burgeoning population have essentially broken down barriers we’ve relied on, leaving us in a complex swirl of diversity--perspectives, experiences, answers, questions, options, challenges.

Why do we continue trying to deal with natural processes of adaptation and self-organization in ways that create most of the turbulence that plagues us? Are we, in fact, causing most of our own challenges and frustrations because of paradigms that no longer work?

  • Traditional, linear models of management--planning, tracking, and implementation, etc.--no longer work in a world of fast-paced change, high diversity, and information overload. We can neither predict nor control, although current management models imply we can do both.  What if we begin to understand planning and implementation as "influence" rather than "management?" How would our work be different? 
  • Traditional ideas of having "power over" and a belief in power as a scarce resource serve to lock us into a "given" or "right" way. We need to find ways to remain open to adaptation and emergence as we respond to environmental challenges. If we move to a definition of power as "ability to influence," and we work to share that essence of power in moving toward goals, how would that allow people to find more effective responses?
  • We live in a culture where dominance is the goal...dominate the market, dominate the enemy, dominate anything that is "other" so we can be privileged--socially, materially, politically, etc. What if we consider co-existence and co-evolution, instead? What would be gained in our collective abilities to deal with turbulence?
  • We live in a time when increased diversity prevents us from solving conflict by damping differences. As long as our institutions, neighborhoods, communities, and countries were relatively isolated and segregated, differences were small enough they could be damped.  People could get along--because the differences were not significant enough. Today differences we experience are too often the essence of who we are--religious beliefs, world views, social mores and expectations, for example--that to damp them is to ignore or discount who we are or to damp or discount the "other" in the conflict...and that is not acceptable. How can we learn to negotiate our very significant differences and learn to live with manageable conflict that helps us learn and grow?

Mary and I believe HSD offers approaches to questions like these--and generative engagements offer the promise of open conversations to help us find coherence in today's world and questions to explore tomorrow’s.


A look at culture and paradigm as a prelude to change

In an earlier post we said that as people interact over time, they generate patterns of behavior and relationship, and that the culture of a group is made up of these patterns.

Remember that in human systems dynamics, patterns are defined as similarities, differences, and relationships that have meaning across space and time.

Within any given human system, all sorts of interactions among people are taking place. The culture becomes apparent over time. You can see patterns that emerge – in the way things are done, decisions get made, people typically behave, meaning is made, people are included, etc. Culture in a system is the result of all of the human interaction. The culture that is formed in turn influences further pattern development among the individuals in the system, forming an ongoing feedback loop between the parts of the system and the whole.

Culture is emergent – it can be neither predicted nor controlled. Culture can get reinforced and influenced – policies, expectations, informal and formal reward systems are used for setting and amplifying desired patterns, and also for dampening undesired patterns. Culture is only as stable as the ongoing interactions of the people forming the patterns. Richard Seel speaks of this emergent quality in his definition:

Organisation culture is the emergent result of the continuing negotiations about values, meanings and proprieties between the members of that organisation and with its environment.

And he adds an important element – the environment. We reference this as the greater whole. The individuals in a system are parts, the system itself is the whole, and the environment it operates in is the greater whole. All influence the culture of a system – the parts interact and fit into the whole (or not – if not, they may not remain in that system). The system likewise interacts with its environment, and adapts accordingly.

Seel also references Thomas Kuhn and Fritjo Capra as he explores the concept of “paradigm at the heart of a culture”. A paradigm, according to Seel, is

A self-consistent set of ideas and beliefs which acts as a filter, influencing how we perceive and how we make sense.

This ties in nicely with how we are describing culture formation. Not only do the interactions among people form the culture, but our perceptions also come into play in what patterns are seen and amplified or dampened. The paradigm-in-use will influence what gets reinforced.

When we talk about culture change we must take patterns/culture and paradigms into account. Seel’s article goes in more depth regarding the use of this complexity perspective in looking at organizational culture and change – we’ll consider this in future posts.


Applying the Generative Engagement model

I had a meeting with a former colleague recently.  She has recently retired from a long and respected career as an educator and is looking for the next place to invest her considerable passion about helping kids, families, and school folks create powerful and productive relationships. I have known her for about five years or so and have known, somehow, that we would work together someday. 

 We talked today about our shared interest in diversity issues and how we know of school districts that are ready for their next steps toward systemic change in this area.  I shared some information about Generative Engagements, and we spent some time talking about its potential for changing how people think about schools' engagement as a part of the greater communities.  What would it mean if we focused--in every moment and every interaction--on creating the patterns of generative engagements in classrooms across the country.

This came on the heels of a conversation I had with Mary and her cousin, who works in higher education training teachers and school administrators.  He had the same reaction to our model--he sees potential for bringing about significant change in public education. What would it mean if we did, in fact, think about learning as a self-organizing process and designed our schools and relationships to support continuous adaptation?

I find these questions to be intriguing and challenging.  What do you think? 


How might this apply to diversity and inclusion?

Mary and I started developing our thinking about generative engagement as we talked about our own experiences with equity and diversity training and conversations about inclusion.  We wanted to explore what we could learn from HSD that could help us think beyond current theories and practices in this area.  We believe that there is more to learn about relationships that work across difference and allow individuals to participate fully. 

We offer this as a beginning conversation to open the next stage of diversity and inclusion training.  What we want to create in organizations and communities are patterns of interaction and behavior that honor people and celebrate their differences.  To move beyond current approaches, we believe it’s important to consider all three conditions Eoyang says will shape those patterns—containers, differences, and exchanges.

We also believe that this model goes beyond the diversity and inclusion conversation in that it speaks to individual and group responsibilities to build generative relationships, regardless of the differences present in the system.  It goes beyond “protected class” issues to speak to how we relate to each other as humans, across all the ways we are different from each other.

We continue to explore this model and its applications in organizations and communities. Feedback is welcome.


Patterns of reciprocity, authenticity, and justice

Life emerges and evolves as people come and go, as we learn more about ourselves and others, and as our environment changes.  So we could not create patterns once and expect them to continue.  Patterns emerge and exist only as long as the conditions exist to hold them in place.  They wax and wane as the conditions of the environment shift.  The generative engagement model represents one picture of a point in time.  In any given point in time, we can be generating shared patterns of reciprocity, authenticity, and justice.  Then something will shift and the patterns will begin to change. 

To sustain a pattern, we have to be constantly vigilant to continue to generate the right conditions, even as the environment changes.  All we can do is consider them in every action we take and in every decision we make.  In our organizations, communities and families, we create expectations and structures—policies and procedures, rules and laws—that support those considerations in individual and group actions.

How often, how well can we create these patterns in real life?  Can we build a world where this is how people interact?  What Mary and I believe is that it’s a choice we can make.  These are the patterns we want to work toward.  Every moment of interaction has this choice.