Travelling through northernmost Norway I am caught by the nature of scale. The grand and the delicate. The power and the finesse. In my awareness it becomes alive within me.
Every time we change our business or political structures, we provoke questions about our identity. Who really are we? What matters to us? How must we now connect? Here John Atkinson explores issues of identity and relationships in the light of the U.K. Brexit vote and the US 4th of July celebrations.
Whenever you try to reduce a complex dilemma to a binary issue you are wrong. The ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ question asked of the British people this week was therefore always incomplete. Politics in its most visible and visceral form tries to resolve issues in this way. The Brexit vote in the UK has brought to the fore tough questions of identity, relationships and information. These are Myron Roger’s dynamics of organising. He reminds us that it is by addressing issues at this level that meaning is made, trust is rebuilt and we take appropriate action. Only then will good policy, structures and protocols be formed. (By John Atkinson)
‘Take back control!’ was the slogan for the UK’s leave campaign. A palpable desire to have control over our own affairs throughout the campaigning and the vote to leave the EU. Yet the immediate aftermath of the vote is a brutal and sharp reminder that control is illusory. The harder you grasp for it the more slippery it becomes. Control does not reside in the structures we create or in winning a referendum. (By John Atkinson)
By John Atkinson. To vote Leave is not a choice to return to greatness but a confirmation of decline. It is to deny that we are intimately connected to Europe, and to pretend that we are in some way special, unique and different. God is not an Englishman and nor was St George.
When we think about operating in systems, doing systems thinking, we seek to find and understand how systems work and how we may work within them. But of course there is another question we need to ask when considering this way of thinking. And that something is why? Why do we need to think in this holistic tangled way in the first place? When for the most, our lives and the organisations, tasks, roles and people within them, function perfectly well in the very lightness of thinking that is simple and linear, A to B thinking. (By Emma Loftus)
By John Atkinson. If we genuinely believe the world to be a complex place, we need to consciously embrace that complexity, not suppress it. Once we do this, we realise we cannot resolve our activity into standardised processes without forever generating unintended consequences to our actions. Recognising the world we live in as a complex environment doesn’t allow us to control it
It’s a sad fact that autism is still viewed as a disability. A disorder. That mis-wiring that characterises the neurobiological connections (or often lack there of) in the autist’s brain is at best considered a failing. But what if we look at autism differently? The absolute chaos of normal everyday life that drop-kicks those with autism and sensory disorder into meltdown and withdrawal, is in fact a super-power. This is systems thinking at its absolute beautiful edge, where every detail of the world stands out in excruciating, wondrous detail that can’t be ignored. This response to the unfathomable, the ability to absorb obscurity and sense pattern is not rigidity at all. It’s simply gorgeously mind-blowing. (By Emma Loftus.)
A circus is a system of complex, beautiful chaos, but sometimes the chaos becomes messy. It’s easy as someone who cares deeply to want to control the monkeys and control the mess, seeking once more the simplicity of the complex chaos of a perfectly performing circus. (By Emma Loftus.)
From John Atkinson. I get repeatedly asked about the difference between working with the ecosystem (or human system) and working with formal organisations. For me this is largely a perceptual difference and yet perception is a critical and deeply influential thing.
From John Atkinson. Cause and effect analysis is quite hard. The connection between our actions and their impact can sometimes be quite obscure. Events will be explained away according to the version of history that is prevalent in the organisation, the stories we always tell. Each organisation has these and they are more than familiar, peopled with heroes who saved us and fools whose decisions nearly wrecked us.
For me, as a systems thinker, I see group function as equivalent to a collective mind, the connections and relationships between people and their environment coming together to create a unique collective consciousness that makes sense of the each situation and from it derive appropriate actions. If you cannot reproduce these connections in a single brain, can you recreate them across a community?
In The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell confronts the reader with the universal fears of what may be, what may happen. The fear we have of the unknown. The power of doubt. He reminds us that the cost of being human is an imbalance of heart and soul; humanity confronted with the flaws of civilisation and modernism. But all is not lost.
Understanding living systems can seem impossible. Working out how all the inter-dependencies and relationships work leads into a morass of aligned and conflicting theories and practices. Trying to make sense of how these could reasonably help in addressing workplace questions becomes even more confusing. Instead of making things better, looking at our worlds as living systems seems to make them ever more complicated and confusing. Where we thought we had certainty, we find ourself faced with differing perspectives and interpretations. Where we thought we had control, it seems to turn into an illusion and our influence appears therefore to fade. Having glimpsed this world we then feel caught between the more convincing reality it describes and the comfort of what we thought we knew. Navigating such a mess can be unsettling.