Entries in Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) (5)


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.


What guides our work? Part 2

Continued from the previous post...

Reinforce strengths in self and other.  As you could see in reading about the two of us, we are different in many ways.  Even though we are both passionately interested in this work, our approaches are different.  Mary is studied and reflective; I am impulsive and reactive.  Mary is patient; I am impatient.  Mary loves to explore and connect to what is; I like to push the envelope and connect with what could be.  Both approaches are critical to the work we do, and I value what Mary brings to the partnership.  We reinforce the value that each brings to our shared goals.

Search for the true and the useful.  Sometimes we encounter ideas that are true—but useless to us in the real world.  Sometimes we encounter ideas that may seem useful—but in reality they are found to be untrue when applied across time or situations.  What Mary and I aim for is to be sure that what we write about can be grounded in theory and practice.  We borrow models and metaphors from other fields, we use principles of Human Systems Dynamics, and we look for ways to make them useful in understanding human interactions.  Our goal is to be transparent about our ideas—where they come from, how we use them, and what we see as “truth.”  If that ever seems unclear – just ask us.

Engage in joyful practice.  We both believe that if we cannot have fun, there is no point in doing this work.  We seek fun in our work and in how we work together, and we seek fun in how we share our work. 

These simple rules influence each other as they create the patterns in our work.  It’s difficult to seek true and useful without understanding how an idea plays out in the part and greater whole or without being open to learning.  Giving and getting value depends on what we each bring to the work and on knowing what is useful to others.  As we make decisions about our work together, we constantly go back to these simple rules to inform those decisions to build the open patterns of learning and growth we want in our work.


What guides our work? Part 1

In 2002, as Glenda Eoyang, Ph.D., was establishing the field of Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) and launching the HSD Institute, she articulated a set of simple rules to guide the work of the field—and the Institute.  She and those with whom she worked used these simple rules in their decision making and planning to influence patterns of inquiry and interaction to be coherent between the field and the Institute.  Mary and I have adopted those simple rules for our work, and we want to be explicit about what that means to us.

Teach and learn in every interaction. – Learning is key to who we are and how we work together.  Our conversations are exchanges of insights, shared explorations, and questions.  Even the act of teaching is based in inquiry…anything we “know” is subject to further exploration.  We teach best when we are attuned to what we can learn from questions.  As we work with clients and as we write and share ideas, our underlying goal is to remain open to new insights and find our own next questions.

Give and get value for value.  In our interactions, Mary and I try to “share the load” as we build a model of thinking, as we establish this blog, or as we move toward deeper thinking in the field. The same is true of our relationships with clients, customers, and readers.  Our goal is to offer you information and insights that make it worth your investment to come here to spend your time.  And our requests for your feedback, input, and comments are not rhetorical.  We want to hear what you have to say—we want to know your reactions to the ideas we post here.

Attend to the whole, the part, and the greater whole.  We recognize and appreciate the separateness and completeness each of us brings to the work.  Mary’s experiences and learning are separate from mine, and yet when we work together, our work forms a relatively coherent whole, which, in turn, contributes to the greater whole of the field of HSD.  Our work considers those interdependent systems, and we are committed to attending to all those levels as we move our own work forward.  We consider each other’s needs and consequences as we work together—and we are mindful about the impact our work—both individually and shared—has on the field of HSD. 


Who are we?

In addition to the About Us link, here is a little introduction:

Royce Holladay – After spending almost 25 years working in public education, I jokingly refer to myself as a “recovering educator.” I am addicted to learning and engaging others in a shared dance of looking beyond where we stand. I explore complex ideas and find ways to explain them in simple, elegant ways. Talking and exploring are so much more engaging when shared with others.

Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) captures my attention because it puts words to what I have always sensed about my experience as a human—we are systems in systems in systems, growing and adjusting every moment as our world around us shifts. We change our worlds simply by being in them; our world changes us every moment.  We are semi-autonomous – we make our own choices and destinies inside a world of experiences, relationships, and responsibilities that influence us.  We are complex beings, massively entangled with each other and with our environments.  Language describes these experiences and lets me explore and expand them.

I am a writer, consultant, and artist who raised two daughters.  I have one granddaughter who is the light of my life.  After having grown up in Texas, I have lived on both US coasts in urban, suburban, and rural settings.  I work as the Director of Network for the Human Systems Dynamics Institute in Minnesota, USA.

Mary Nations – I am one who readily finds connections, and I like to build bridges where those connections are not so obvious to others. I began my career as a statistician and was very comfortable working with data. However, in the process of going through two large-scale mergers and the subsequent culture shifts, I became much more interested in how people work and interact.

What is it that binds some people together? What drives others apart, and what might shift that dynamic? These are the questions and stances that attracted me to Human Systems Dynamics. HSD helps me learn about, make sense of, and engage with the patterns of human interactions. Each choice I make in a system affects that system, and the system also has an effect on me in making my choices.  These dynamical effects exist in a constantly changing landscape of interaction with others. I like to consider what influences these shifts, and what actions I can take to have the influence I want.

Like Royce, I love learning.  In particular, I love to learn by asking questions (just ask Royce!). I am a natural researcher, and often stay consumed by looking for ways to understand a new topic. I like to jump into the confusion to figure out new ways of seeing. In this blog, I hope to share what I am learning, and invite you to do the same.

Mary and I met about 3 years ago as she joined a cohort of people who came together in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, to become certified as Human Systems Dynamics Professionals.  Having gone through the certification class in 2003, I was a teaching Associate in that session.  We recognized almost immediately that we were seeking similar insights, standing in almost identical inquiries and approaches.  Since that time we have spent time—electronically and in person—to exchange and explore ideas as we pursued this path of shared learning. 

This blog establishes a public side to our exchange and exploration. 

So that is who we are—and only such a small part of who we are.  Part of the purpose of this blog is to continue that exploration into who Mary and I are as we participate individually and together in this ongoing dance of self-organizing, emergent life. 


What are we about?


Welcome to Patterns and Possibilities, a blog where we talk about a journey into Human Systems Dynamics (HSD), an emerging field of research and practice at the intersection of social and physical sciences.  Ideas from fields like mathematics, complexity sciences, biology, and ecology are used to help us understand how human beings interact and behave as they live out their lives individually and in groups—relationships, families, communities, organizations, and institutions. 

That is just the starting point for us.  The field is new and not well defined beyond that broad boundary.  It can actually include any consideration of the complex and adaptive nature of human beings as they live and grow together and separately.  The founder of the field, Glenda Eoyang, is a curious and avid learner who stands in a place of inquiry to build the field—seeking to include rather than exclude, to question rather than quantify, and to explore and expand rather than categorize and close. 

These are our goals as well, and form the foundations of our work together.  We seek generative relationships – those that hold both promise and possibility in the ways we build meaning in our own lives.  We seek to open a world of questioning and exploration.  If you have questions, if you have observations, if you are exploring new ideas and avenues of the human condition, please join in!