Liberating Structures

I had the opportunity to learn about 9 liberating structures at a PD workshop at Royal Roads University last week. As a facilitator and educator, I am always looking for what is new in the field and for new ways to engage participants. These liberating structures, although not necessarily new (Fishbowl, What So What? Now What?), are conceived and reinvented with the intention of including every participant in the process. They are also ‘packaged’ and explained in a way that is understandable. This is how the creators state their purpose:

We want to create opportunities for everyone (including ourselves) to become what they are capable of becoming. Plus, we want to inspire more kindness and reduce suffering in the world.

All the information can be found on the Liberating Structures website, my favourite part is the menu where all the liberating structures are described.

 

Frances Westley on Social Innovation

Yes. It’s been a while… but now I am in thesis-writing mode (well, that’s the idea) and the only way to become better at writing, is writing. So, I’m back! (And yes, I expect some positive reinforcement in the form of comments from my 2 readers).

On Tuesday September 18, Frances Westley gave a presentation at the University of Victoria. Her talk was based on what she learned after the publishing of the book Getting to Maybe. In her presentation, she focused on four areas:

1. Social innovation is about system transformation

In order to effect change we need to work across scales, the different levels within the system. She talked about the management up-down model. For example, middle management are in a key position because of their access to decision-makers and, say, clients. I think about the potential of being a ‘connector’, not to pass information along or to “sell” the top management ideas, but to be critical thinkers and doers and bring together the different interests among scales.

I sometimes get trapped in the idea that social innovation is about creating something new that will completely change the world, but Frances reminded us that social innovation is about system transformation, not novelty. We should ask ourselves if what we are doing is having a ‘disturbance’ in the system that created the problem. For instance, she talked about how Transition Towns build resilience and they intentionally are doing so ‘outside’ of the system. My understanding is that Transition is creating a new economic and community model that might will be already in place whenever our current economic system collapses. Well in any case, they are doing awesome work, but I’m digressing. Frances point is that Transition is not disturbing the system, the movement has not scaled up.  So the idea of top-down and bottom-up change is essential; she suggested to even experiment with policy making, always ensuring that there is follow up. She finalized this first point with an invitation “don’t let a crisis go to waste”.

2. Releasing the self-healing properties of systems

I loved this part, because it is basically what I would like to explore through my research. Basically she aks the question: How we can move away from the US Vs. THEM mental model? Fellow activists: If we think that the enemy is out there or if we feel anger, then, we can’t do the work.  So, we need to change the rules of how we relate to each other for things to change. For example, how does this video make us feel?

Wait, who is the enemy?  Check 1:05 and 1:07

Green Peace I love you but let’s not encourage linear thinking or the Us Vs. Them model. As Frances says, let’s recognize that the ‘enemy’ is inside us. Let’s move away from blame and emphasize learning!

3. Resilience

This is such an interesting term that does not have a translation in Spanish. So I didn’t know what the word meant for a long time but I’m starting to grasp this very interesting concept. It’s how living systems assimilate shock and bounce back or adapt.  Frances talked about general resilience, personal resilience and organizational resilience. The way you can build resilience in organizations is through consultations, social justice (I suppose values and actions), and decentralization. She also highlighted the need to avoid blame and how a flat hierarchy is conducive to equity and innovation. I love non-hierarchical structures!

4. Hearing the whole symphony all at once

Nice metaphor, eh? Well apparently that’s what happened in Mozart’s head, according to a letter he wrote to his father. Well really the conversation here is about complexity systems and, I believe, systems awareness. Frances briefly mentioned the potential of change labs, a space designed to encourage cooperation and creative experimentation to solve complex problems, as ways to learn more about complexity, the hopeful science.

She also mentioned that systems can not be controlled, but supported; and at some point said “How can we give access to policy makers to learn about complexity systems?

What I ask myself is “What can educators do to give access to students to learn about systems?

Ok, back to look for the answers to that question…

A new leadership mindset

Another wonderful post from the Leadership Learning Community!

Most leadership educators are aware of the new leadership paradigm: the focus on process rather than on the individual or “the leader”. Although we understand this concept and happily talk about it, I wonder if we really understand what the implications of this approach are.

Deborah Meehan, poses three questions we believe we should be exploring:

  1. If we are trying to foster leadership as a collaborative process is it counter- productive to select and focus on building the skills of individuals?
  2. If leadership is enacted by many people who bring different skills to a collective endeavor, why would we try to cultivate all of the leadership skills in one person?
  3. Should we be recruiting and supporting people who want to work on a shared purpose or in a common context to support collective leadership and accelerate action learning?

A little bit more about the post…

Most leadership programs focus on building the skill sets of individuals, often to prepare them to lead in organizations. As we embrace leadership as a process, what might be the limitations of selecting and developing individuals? Are we inadvertently reinforcing the individualism that has infused our leadership thinking by lifting up and recognizing a few individuals for achievements that are often the work of many collaborators?  Our current leadership lens may be preventing us from seeing the interactions of many who were engaged in change as we zero in on the most visible, outspoken or charismatic individuals.  Some have gone so far as to express the concern that the process of inadvertently ‘anointing’ some as “leaders” may undermine effective team efforts by undervaluing the contributions of others who were engaged in the leadership process that is producing results.

The post mentions various ideas that have been implemented by different organizations (read the post). It’s exciting to know that other leadership educators are pushing the envelope regarding leadership development delivery strategies.

Abstract art and systems thinking

Thanks to Andy Parkinson for his comment on my previous post, it opened the door to a new way of understanding and exploring systems and connectedness: through abstract art. You can take a look at his work and  blog. He says:

The paintings are systems, exploring themes of identity and similarity, repetition and the impossibility of repetition and the impossibility of repetition.

I wish I had learned about Andy’s work a couple of months ago, while I was taking the Cultural Leadership and Social Learning through the Arts course. We discussed art in a broad way, but we didn’t have time to explore the various methods in detail. Interestingly, as part of the course, my friends and I facilitated the workshop “Circle Painting: Exploring our relationship with each other and the environment” with the purpose of experiencing a connection with each other and the environment, through basically painting circles. The workshop was based on the work that Circle Painting does in the U.S. and although the participants enjoyed themselves and there was some discussion around connections and such, I wonder how an exploration of, for instance, Andy’s work would have been a good alternative to the arts-based learning within the workshop. Whether that is having participants creating and connecting patterns, or analyzing a painting.

Panels created at the Circle Painting Workshop at UVic

I still need to learn more about Andy’s work and take a better look at his paintings. In the mean time, I wanted to highlight art as a conduit for understanding of systems. There is so much potential there!

Resources for Cultivating Systems Thinking

I want to share this post from the Leadership Learning Community blog. If you haven’t heard of it and are interested in leadership resources and learning, you must check it out.

Original post can be found here.

Submitted by Deborah Meehanon Wed, 05/18/2011 – 17:19

Process.jpg

Listening to Professor john powell’s webinar yesterday on Systems Thinking and Racial Justice completely reinforced everything we at LLC have come to believe about systems thinking as an essential 21st leadership competency. (BTW, it’s not too late to check out this amazing webinar that has already generated appreciative comments, “thanks for a GREAT GREAT call” and “I find most webinars boring, but I’ve already been able to apply part of what Professor Powell said to my own work last night. More, please”). Someone on the webinar asked, how can systems thinking be developed? This will be a longer blog than usual because it’s such an important question and because there are lots of great resources I want to share with you. My first introduction to systems thinking was a somewhat academic lecture with negative and positive feedback loops that left me bleary, if not loopy. Luckily, I had the opportunity to attend a Peter Senge seminar. It was a mostly corporate crowd. I was quite surprised (okay, maybe smug) about how profound the idea of aligning personal vision and values was to other participants, and then we played the Beer Game. Suddenly, I was the fish out of water, wishing I had paid more attention to that earlier lecture.
The Beer Game developed at MIT is a production/distribution simulation that compresses time and space so that players can experience the longer term consequence of their actions over a half a day. In the Beer Game each player has information about their part of the job, like retailer demand or wholesaler inventory, but none of them have the entire picture or access to information in other parts of the beer production and distribution system. This makes it difficult to understand fluctuations in the system (and what is causing them) in order to avoid costly backlogs and win the game. Universally, teams perform poorly because they do not understand the impact of their own decisions on others in the system, e.g. a retailer who does not understand they do not have stock because of a shipping delay, places another order depleting the wholesalers stock who then produces more beer because they think demand is up. Players think that they are responding to wild fluctuations in consumer demand without seeing that their reactions actually are contributing to and perpetuating the fluctuations within the system as a whole. You can download a free online Beer Game simulation from MIT. I confess to loving games but sadly this simulation gets played out regularly for many of us in the non profit sector who find that our solution has created a problem in some other part of the system.
Donella Meadows, a renowned environmentalist and brilliant systems thinker, understood this well and offers many examples including the world food system when she describes the problems of hunger and glut that are caused by efforts to solve these problems separately instead of together. As she explains, “The United States, Japan, and Europe spent $100 billion to protect their farmers against low prices caused by agricultural over-production. Half that amount went to farmers; the rest went to bureaucracy and storage of unsold grain, butter and milk. The surplus grain stock of the European Community in 1984 was enough to feed fifty times the combined populations of Ethiopia and the Sudan last year. The world distributes food through markets. People who have no money are simply bypassed by markets.” She goes on to describe negative outcomes of a number of interventions that seem to make sense before she offers a more comprehensive strategy, much of which focuses on generating income in the countries where hunger is greatest. Unfortunately most of us focus on problems in isolation, organizations are more likely to focus on trade or hunger with little communication between them (yes, like the beer game). A distillation of Donnella Meadow’s work has been compiled in a great book, Thinking in Systems.
Domestically we also focus too narrowly on problems, it might be an organization focused on low performing schools not understanding the multiple factors and long-term patterns that are having an impact on the performance of a neighborhood school. Professor powell explained the failure of school integration in his webinar as the system adjusted to maintain segregation and the loop that perpetuates it. For example, there may have been low outcomes in this same neighborhood school that precipitated white flight and resulted in a lower tax base for the school that increased segregation and the concentration of poverty in the school’s neighborhood further depleting resources for this school and contributing to poor outcomes…and on and on it goes. The student who attends this school is less likely to get a good education, advance to college and secure a well paid job that would enable him/her to move his family to a neighborhood with better schools, health services, transportation, recreation and safety. The solution can’t come from focusing on one school or one part of the problem, e.g. teacher training, student retention.
In the case of education, Professor Powell offered an example of a solution in NC that dramatically increased the performance of African American and Latino students while maintaining the performance levels of white students…and 95% of the parents in the city were happy with their schools! They redistributed students among the schools so that no school had more than 40% of its students eligible for free or subsidized lunches, or 25% who were failing grade level equivalency. The Kirwan Institute founded by Professor Powell has produced a very helpful primer that is a fabulous resource for helping to develop our understanding of structural racism with a systems perspective.
So what does this have to do with leadership, and leadership development? Most leadership efforts are tackling problems embedded within complex systems…and without a systems perspective. I first encountered systems thinking as core leadership competency while participating in an Environmental Leadership Collaborative where a number of programs including the Sustainability Leadership Institute and LEAD international shared experiential exercises for cultivating systems thinking among their program participants. It’s doable, fun, illuminating and most important of all, essential if we are to effectively address the root causes of problems with interventions that can transform systems. Of course it’s not surprising that environmentalist would have the jump on this with a focus on studying the environment as a highly interdependent system where a change in what part of the ecosystem has an enormous impact throughout the system. The Sustainability Institute shares lessons from their experience cultivating systems thinking in their leadership program and have posted many short systems stories that can be used to help understand and cultivate systems thinking.
Those who are engaged in leadership dealing with intractable social problems can bring a systems perspective to understanding how the problem they are concerned with is affected by multiple factors over time, and to understand where to intervene in ways that disrupt this system. System thinkers refer to these as the “leverage points.” As Professor powell explained in are earlier webinar, “It’s not all bad news; when we understand the system a seemingly small change can have a big impact.” This goes to the heart of leadership as what could be more important? Donella Meadows produced a great resource on understanding leverage points, a core leadership competency for success in our complex environment.
Those who have devoted their leadership efforts to improving the health status of everyone are adopting a systems analysis. They understand that a number of social determinants and the built environment in which people live have a significant impact on one’s health outcomes. A number of racial equity tools have been developed and are in use in cities like Seattle and Santa Cruz to help those in leadership understand and address a comprehensive set of factors that determine health outcomes. To support a systems analysis of potential interventions in the global health system the CDC has developed its version of the Beer Game that can be downloaded for free.
So, if I had been trained in systems thinking would my performance in the Beer Game have improved the lot of my team? Probably not. I would still have been one individual without good information about what was happening in other parts of the system, whether it’s shipping beer; or supporting a parcel tax to improve schools that is a regressive tax likely to hurt some neighborhood schools. What we need is to bring a systems perspective while we connect multiple people throughout the system together to observe the system, try interventions, learn together and keep trying until we collectively discover the effective intervention points. It would have taken all of the parts of the beer shipping and distribution system connected and working together with a systems perspective to solve the problem.
As Otto Scharmer in an address to the World Economic Forum explains in his paper, “Moving from Egosystem to Ecosytem,” “For the past 15 years I have worked on numerous initiatives seeking profound innovation and change in business, health, and education, and on sustainability issues. In all of these large systems, I have found that the biggest roadblock to moving from institutional paralysis to profound systemic renewal is the same: it’s the missing collective leadership capacity to draw together all key stakeholders and involve them in a process that begins with uncovering common intention and ends with collectively creating profound innovation on the scale of the whole system.” Our leadership programs can provide the container that connects people throughout a system to deepen their analysis of the system from multiple perspectives and to collectively learn from multiple interventions to produce innovations that change systems. There are lots of tools available for leadership programs interested in cultivating systems thinking competency, and you may have some to share. Send them along and we will create a systems thinking resource directory at www.leadershipforanewera.org. We have an opportunity and responsibility to cultivate leadership competencies that will support transformational change. At Donella Meadows points out we need people with these skills and the heart to do the right thing with these skills, “Systems thinking can lead us to the edge of what analysis can do and then point beyond – to what can and must be done by the human spirit.” -Donella (Dana) Meadows

Never give up

San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico

Never give up

No matter what is going on

Develop the heart

Too much energy in your country

Is spent on developing the mind

Instead of the heart

Develop the heart

Be compassionate

Not just to your friends

But to everyone

Be compassionate

Work for peace

In your heart and in the world

And I say again

Never give up

No matter what is happening

No matter what is going on around you

Never give up

~ Tenzin Gyatso, XIV Dalai Lama

(Thanks to C. E. for sharing this beautiful poem)

Art is all around us

I feel it in my fingers… I feel it in my toes…

All of a sudden I’m surrounded by art-based projects, conversations, research and learning. Here are some of the things that are opening the doors of the arts world in academia and beyond:

Courses at UVic

The Cultural Leadership and Social Learning through the Arts course that I’m taking at UVic. It is increasing my awareness of arts-based research and projects all over the world, and it is showing me a new way of thinking and doing, sometimes challenging my preconceptions about some art forms. I didn’t understand how, for instance, quilting is a vehicle for social change;  although I understand how fabric artists can build community and become adult educators (more about this topic is described on chapter six of the book The arts and social justice. Re-crafting Adult Education and Community Cultural Leadership). Here is an example of a New Zealand quilt from My Place, a traveling exhibition of contemporary art quilts.

A couple of weeks ago, during class, we looked at a quilt that was created during a conference. We talked about our ability to “read” the quilt and to extract hidden meanings by looking at the way it was stitched; in this particular case, the quilt showed that many different hands had put it together. I’ve never been exposed to quilts as a way of expression, cultural learning or art and it was very interesting to learn about quilts, activism, and the marginalization of fabric in relation to fine arts.

Last week, four of our classmates facilitated a workshop that focused on expression and learning though music. We danced to different rhythms, created music in small groups and sang together. I absolutely loved it! But I am biased, I love music and singing but I realized that I don’t sing in a community as much as I used to. When I was in junior high school I was part of La Estudiantina del Colegio Guadalupe; my sister was, too, and my brother played at La Trova de la Ciudad de México. Almost every weekend we had a performance and we rehearsed daily. Now that I think of it, we were singing all the time, even when my siblings’ friends came home, we sang and played music.  I love that time of my life and I’m sure that singing has a lot to do with it! Unfortunately, now there are very few times when I sing with others. I do like the “om” and “shanti” mantras at the end of yoga class but it is not the same…

Last week, during the Research Methods in Leadership class we explored photo-elicitation as a method for gathering data. We had a mock research question and through images we explored the topic. The process provided information for the researchers, and it was a learning experience in itself, maybe a transformational one for some folks.

Besides the courses, I think that the University of Victoria values art-based learning and research much more than other universities. I can definitely feel it within the Faculty of Education but it spreads beyond it. Various events organized centrally feature art methods or have an arts-based format.

Work

Last week I facilitated a four-day theatre workshop. This experience deserves its own blog post (and I’ll write it, I promise). It was such a good learning experience! It made me think about aesthetics and good theatre, about the effective implementation of Theatre of the Oppressed, and about the initial resistance to theatre or to anything that it is not “conventional”. I also had an opportunity to experience the power of process: the process of participants opening up, little by little, to new ways of learning and being. I agree with Boal, there is no doubt that thinking with our bodies short-circuits the censorship of the brain

Leisure

Somehow I ended up at the Royal Conservatory of Music trying out a pre-natal music class. Unfortunately I was the only participant but the facilitators were not discouraged and we sang children’s songs and improvised music by playing the xylophones. It was what I call “a moment”. Yes, we had “a moment”.

The Victoria Film Festival is on and it adds up to my arts awareness. Also, Puente Theatre is presenting WordPlay, featuring plays from around the world. Plus, I ended up in a Knitting group of retired ladies…

I’m excited about everything that is going on and it is my intention to continue to engage in art and to find ways to express myself through multiple media!

2010 in a nutshell

2010 was a year of changes and challenges: I quit my job at the University of Toronto, got pregnant, moved from Toronto to Victoria, and became a full-time student. Although these last months were tough, the year was awesome, and it’s worth highlighting the best of it:

  • Planning and facilitating the workshops for the Leadership Educators and Resources Network. Working with such talented and cool colleagues was a real gift!
  • The Environmental Justice and Sustainability Unconference where students, professors, administrators, and community members got together to talk about food justice, environmental justice, and sustainability on campus.
  • Eating at the Hot Yam! on a sunny Thursday, sharing a delicious meal and a good conversation with friends and colleagues (Oh, I love the Hot Yam!).
  • Fully enjoying my office space at the Sussex Clubhouse. One of the best spaces at the University of Toronto (I had a balcony…).
  • Zumba with the girls.
  • Riding my bike while singing “she rides on her bicycle…”
  • The drumming circle on the lawn of the Centre for International Experience.
  • Running 10K and beating last year’s record.
  • The G20 (don’t get me wrong, the sense of community after all what happened and meeting USWA miners were very meaningful experiences. Plus, I learned a lot about activism!).
  • Chilling at Prospect Park with my nephew.
  • Playing Rockband.
  • Breakfast with the girls.
  • Working on the SASA Leadership Development Knowledge Community (more to come in 2011!).
  • Using my female superpower: creating life.
  • Food: Roti, Dosas and Sticky Toffee Pudding.
  • Traveling with Mushi (the cat) on the plane.
  • Becoming a pseudo-expert on Freire, learning about bell hooks, discourse and intersectionality.
  • Feeling so proud of my partner, who finished his PhD.
  • Learning about Complex Adaptive Systems. We can’t control change!
  • Unleashing my creative spirit through the Power of Hope.
  • Yoga at the Mothering Touch.
  • Adopting the east side of the Springridge Commons Permaculture Garden in Fernwood (how did this happen?).
  • The snow on my birthday (my class was canceled!).
  • Mexico, Guanajuato, the food, the hugs and the kisses.
  • Feeling life inside my womb.

And overall, the best of life is to share it with loving friends and family, regardless of the distance. We love you!  Happy 2011!

Steps for Change and my two cents

Proehl (2001) proposes an Eight-step Change Management Model can be applied to both small and large-scale change, I summarize it below and then write about whether I find these steps effective :

Step 1- Create a sense of urgency: “Leaders must convince organization members that there is a need, an urgency to change”. (Apparently this rarely happens and leaders fail to communicate their intentions and the backing up information to the rest of the organization). This step also involves identifying internal drivers, or forces,  that propel the organization towards change.

Step 2- Build a coalition for change: “Individuals by themselves do not bring about change, no matter how charismatic they may be”. A team is needed to champion the cause; however, when dealing with discontinuous, drastic change a weak committee is not adequate. Once a team is created, it has to extend the support for the change beyond themselves.

Step 3- Clarify the change imperative: Often teams embark on the change project without having clarity about the problem or without identifying their vision or objectives. To help in this task a written contract should be prepared and shared with relevant decision-makers

Step 4- Assess the present: Through exploring the following:

  • Organizational culture and values
  • Organizational policies and procedures
  • Managerial practices
  • Technology
  • Organizational structure
  • Organizational systems (rewards, control, evaluation)
  • Skill level of members

Step 5- Develop a plan for change: “Once the coalition team members have identified the change imperative and assessed the current strengths and areas for improvement, the next step is to develop a plan of action to achieve the vision and outcomes” (p. 93). The plan identifies strategies and critical steps (when things will happen).

Step 6- Deal with the human factors: “It is ironic that human service leaders often fail to address the emotional needs of the organization members” (p. 94). Proehl proposes some questions (based on emotions, communication strategies, involvement of members) to be asked to address the complex human needs of organizations.

Step 7- Acting quickly and revising frequently: There are many tools that can be of help to implement the change, such as project management tools. It’s best to use existing tools so that the coalition teams  does not have to spend a great deal of time creating new systems for tracking the progress of the project.

Step 8- Evaluate and celebrate the change: Bringing closure, identifying if the vision was achieved and celebrate own and others accomplishments.

From: Prohel, R. (2001). Organizational Change in the Human Services. SAGE Publications:USA

My two cents:

Before talking about the linearity of the model I have to state that the author does address this issue and she does acknowledge the overlapping of steps and the flexibility of the model. However, there are some other issues that I want to highlight:

1-The model is based on a structural paradigm where people appear to be circumscribed to a system or structure. Although I agree that structures need to change in order to change systems, I don’t think that a paradigm that is mostly influenced by a structural approach will be effective. Even the language reflects a structuralist view in step six: “deal with the human factors” or “create a sense of urgency” (step one)  which sounds to me as a power-over way where someone is manufacturing reality and trying to convince others. Of course this can also translate into “generating buy-in”.

2-If step two is followed without having “dealt” with the human factors (because that comes later), or if a clear and transparent process for selecting the team members/coalition is lacking, this initiative will be the first of many human-related concerns, as people will not know why someone is on a group and others (themselves?) aren’t. Another scenario could be the creation of advisory groups formed by people who have nothing to do with the operation of the unit that is undergoing change. Although an external assessment is always valuable, the lack of understanding of cultural values and the perception of those external to the groups, might pose a challenge.

3-I believe that steps three (clarifying the change imperative) and four (assessing the present) should come first. Before starting any change, exploring the different variables suggested on step four would be best. Doing so might provide a better understanding of what do to do next and to lay out a plan from the very beginning, including human factors as one of the priorities. For instance, when implementing transitional change (a decision has been made to change) it’s better to invite people to give feedback and propose ideas than organizing a meeting with the purpose of informing of the upcoming changes. The latter approach to change would lead to uncertainty, gossip and fear.

4-Regarding step six (dealing with human factors), there seems to be an assumption that the managers or those leading the change know better, that they are the ones who have to deal with the rest. However, I found in many occasions that some managers have very little social skills and emotional intelligence, their levels of comfort addressing human issues is so low that they simply avoid them. So it would be important that human service leaders “deal” not only with external human factors, but also internal ones.

5-Lastly, the word “leaders” used interchangeably to refer to “managers”. I know it happens everywhere but there is a distinction between leaders and managers, between leadership and management. Because managers usually comply to an authoritarian, hierarchical framework there is a rejection from those who does not have or align with such traits to become “leaders”. This type of discourse affects the work that many of us are doing around developing agency and leadership.

I also found very interesting that on a previous chapter Proehl quotes Hackman (1999) on the role of top managers when dealing with change :

Contrary to traditional wisdom about participative management, to set authoritatively a clear, engaging direction for a team is to empower, not disempower them” (p. 341)

I didn’t find a critique or an alternative to the authoritarian way, which surprised me. Certainly, a manager can’t be wishy-washy or lack vision or direction, but these managerial behaviours are rooted on traditional paradigms of leadership in which a person has to “act a certain way” and is not consistent with my values of authenticity and participation.

 

On change and control

I’m taking a course from the Master’s in Community Development at UVic: Practices and Perspectives on Forging Change. Although it is an online course I’m finding it very interesting. Last week we had an opportunity to share our perspectives on change and the skills we had to develop in order to be more effective at managing change in our professional life. Some people wrote about the difficulties that changes pose; sometimes we have to deal with changes we don’t want to accept, therefore we wish we had better skills at controlling change.

What inspired me to write this post was the professor’s response to this matter. He provided a systems perspective on the subject of control when he asked “how do you control chaos?” after describing the interconnections of our social systems. His comment reminded me of the presentation that Frances Westley did at the University of Toronto and of a simulation participants did to show how systems are in constant change and how when a little piece  changes, it has a ripple effect on the whole.

The professor’s point basically is that we don’t control chaos, so control is not a skill we should develop; what we need is to learn how to observe patterns in the complexity and think about how those patterns can support or hinder our vision for change. In other words, learn how to shape patterns in ways that are productive.

Now, I think it is easier said than done. To think in systems, to observe patters and to shape them must require years of practice. I could say that is the beauty of life-long learning! But at the same time I feel that time is ticking regards many global and environmental issues that need to be resolved. So how do we develop the skills needed to shape complexity in a timely manner?