Listen as recent graduate in Organisational Development studies Usha Gubbala discusses the importance of systems thinking with PatternDynamics founder, Tim Winton. Usha and Tim discuss the challenges of changing complex systems, the world of organisational development from fresh perspective, and how a widespread systems literacy is necessary to improve outcomes in our communities, workplaces, and our world in general.
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Usha: My undergrad was about how a lot of the solutions to the complex social problems that we face are really intreresting systems. It’s not just people and behaviors but really, if we shift the system whether it is the process or the structure of the system, then a lot of that change happens automatically. And I wanted to learn more about that and I know that Sonoma State have an emphasis of systems thinking in their program so I joined that program. I’m just really passionate about building communities and organizations that thrive. We are people building a good life for ourselves in the way that we interact with each other and I am really passionate about bringing that forth; particularly in the context of addressing the complex social problems that we face. I am really passionate about social innovations, systems thinking, and organization developments. They have been a growing passion in having been and going to this work. Where I am at right now, is building my own muscle around change, change were and facilitating change particularly in emergent situations by working with organizations. And my hope in the next five or ten years is to start building and working with communities to bring about that same kind of transformation.
New Ways of Organisational Development.
Tim: That is really amazing, are you still at the university?
Usha: I graduated last year with a master at Sonoma State in Organizational Development.
Tim: That’s a great take on organizational development.
Usha: Thank you.
Tim: I like it a lot. I do a bit of work in organizational development these days and that’s not a usual perspective, I think it’s a great one. Because you could do so much more in organizational development rather than just helping people fight fires. (laughs)
Usha:Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Exactly.
Tim: It’s sort of dysfunction organisational life.
Tim: I like it a lot. I do a bit of work in organizational development these days and that’s not a usual perspective, I think it’s a great one. Because you could do so much more in organizational development rather than just helping people fight fires. (laughs)
Usha:Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Exactly.
Tim: It’s sort of dysfunction organisational life.
Holacracy and Teal Organisations
Usha: Especially, I feel like now with the emergence of holacacy and teal organizations and just these new ways of thinking about how we come together to do whatever the work it is that we’re doing together, could really unlock people’s potential to do good in the world. I think it’s such a great time to be in this work. I’m a relatively new practitioner. Erkki introduced me to you. Let me share you the story with him. He said: “You should meet Tim; I think you can learn a lot from him.” So, I’m really excited to be speaking with you and I’d love to just get your insights on not only PatternDynamics but also hear your insights to another fellow young practitioner who’s navigating this world and really is trying to find my way. I’m looking for where I can really come alive, share, contribute and learn, and I’m still looking for that.
Tim: That’s great because there are a lot of people that has similar questions and have similar desires and passions. We’re change-makers. We’re really interested in how we can make the world a better place but from a pragmatic point of view, it’s not hoping or talking about it. It’s actually about finding real skills and build skills and being able to pass them on and create larger systems of change. If that’s what you’re interested in, that is definitely what we are interested in.
Usha: Absolutely! Yeah.
Complex Challenges and Systems Thinking
Tim: That’s what PatternDynamics is really about; enabling a community to do those better, I think that there is this real relationship between complex challenges and systems thinking.
Tim: It took me awhile to figure out what that link was in terms of the literature, the research, what we actually know versus my own intuition about it. So that’s been quite an interesting journey for me. Perhaps we can talk a bit about that in some of your questions. You probably have a list of really great questions. I think good questions are often better than good answers, if the cliché was true. Then we have to come up with some really great ones. Why don’t we just launch in because actually the description you just gave there will be good for the listeners as well, so we’ll just keep that and let’s just dive in. Are you cool with that?
Usha:Great! That’s great.
Tim: Let me see. The first question: “How can a living system’s world do you transform the way business is done across the world? That’s your first one. (laughs)
PatternDynamics: The Basics
Usha: Maybe we should start with a basic description of PatternDynamics and use that as orienting points.
Tim: Well I guess the most pithy description of it is the social technology for creating systems that thrive. There’s lots of ways to describe it actually and this is one of the most challenges I’ve had in trying to unpack it and trying to communicate it to the world. It wasn’t just really something that I cooped up because I was that way. Most of it is the sustainability of the educator and someone who worked with natural systems through perm culture or organic farming. So, it’s strange but I’m kind of a perm culture farmer who became an organizational consultant. The pathway between those two things is not obvious, right?
It’s become a social technology but it’s also a pattern language. It’s about communicating more than anything. It’s about how we form relationships and mostly what a grievance we have about what’s good in the world. The normative force of what we agree on around our values that shape our behavior is the ‘day believer’. There are a lot of people, we’re both familiar with the integral theory in practice of space, there’s some orientation to first person change or what they call the upper left quadrant as being the real driver of personal vertical development. In the more conventional world, it’s how you change the systems and the cities where economies work or the workplace systems work. But then there is this space in the middle; I put it in the middle it’s not down in the lower left for all you people who understand integral speak. The lower left quadrant is about inter-subjective relationships. I don’t want to get too technical but that’s basically our agreements, our values and what we collectively share as intangible understandings. That’s where I think the action is. I think that’s the big driver. It’s somewhat the orientation I’ve carried in the PattenDynamics, and because it’s language based, it’s about how we have conversations that shape what we think is important in the world around us and how we change those things so it’s exactly in line in what you’re interested in. The idea that you can create a social technology out of a pattern language is interesting to me. I’ve been interested in it ever since I was on my second undergrad studying Architecture. Christopher Alexander is an Architect and Mathematician who created the first contemporary pattern language and all that means is he drew some squiggly little lines that he thought represented design solutions in architecture and urban design. Those little squiggly lines were a symbol for a particular way set of principles about how you get a successful design in a particular context but they’re holistic. They’re about the system, and they’re also which Christopher Alexander’s passion, was helping communities and people design their own environments rather than relying on an expert. That was really visionary for me because intuitively it made sense but now I know why that’s powerful. It’s because if you rely on a few experts you get this top down and you get unlimited views; this hierarchical commanding control of your light and a view from above impose on a whole bunch of people down below and then in the complex world space that just doesn’t work anymore. That is why the primary frame I bring in with PatternDynamics is that one. It’s a common language; hopefully it’s something anyone can learn. This has been part of the journey is simplifying it so we can have better conversation and so that we can agree on how the world ought to be. Once we’ve done that the change happens very readily. But if you’re in organizational development like me, you might have noticed that a lot of people come in and say like one of the big four consulting firms would come in do a strategy feast, so you need to do this and then they impose on everyone down in the hierarchy and people just reject it because they haven’t agreed that this is a good idea. Getting the agreement for me is first. And to do that you have to let people participate, we have to build and communicate, and for all to do that we have to have a language about what it is we are talking about that allows us to talk about it well. So in a nutshell, that is a good way to start with describing PatternDynamics.
The Process of Meaning Making
Tim: That’s so powerful because in my experience in my organizational development, the emphasis has been around process facilitations and process consulting, which is really about empowering people to build their own solutions. So I’m less an expert coming in and solving your problem and I’m more a process expert coming in and designing a process by which you can get to know your own system a little bit better and once you know your system more completely the solutions for your system kind of come automatically and arise through that. I am very interested to learn. It makes sense to me in PatternDynamics really gets in meaning making of a group and how in making that explicit we can begin to transform in what we’re creating.
Tim: Yes, you’ve hit it right in the head. It’s about meaning making. All of the theory I’ve written in the integral community about PatternDynamics really goes right back to the philosophical and theoretical basis for meaning making as probably the most powerful human act. How we collectively interpret; not just individual meaning but how we collectively interpret what’s meaningful — the difference that makes a difference. There’s a very rich philosophical and theoretical traditions, an overlapping set of them, that lead back to why that’s efficaciousfor creating a better world; a flourishing human condition on this planet and that’s what interest me. It’s meaning if we can establish meaning together, we have good ways of doing that and we hold the right normative commitments then we can do better rather than worse. I don’t think it’s a magic solution but to me it’s the way to hit. In many ways it’s a very post modern idea. I am kind of an honoree patent; what I would call a re-constructive post modernist, even more than I am an intrugalist. I’m not sure I’m a believer of a horizontal leap to some new way of being is going to do it for us. I’m a believer in horizontal health. It’s a very eco-systemic view rather than leaping to the next level of evolution and that can be a problematic if there’s not a good foundation in place, and a good foundation comes through really meaning making — building those networks, whether social networks or neural networks, in our own lines. That’s what lays the foundation for a natural move. In my own view, there’s a lot of work should be done in organizational life and community life around building out the richness and the health in the networks that will naturally shift. That’s another primary orientation in PatternDynamics that I think is really important to get across.
Tim: The essential skills and capacities that are necessary to deal with rapid increase in complexity in the world, do you want to start on that one?
Usha: Yeah. Seems like a natural place. Yeah.
Tim: There’s a big part of how PatternDynamics works is inquiry – collaborative inquiries is one of PatternDynamics foundation. Let me ask you what you think, complexity and why is it a challenge that is worth focusing on at this point?
Usha: I don’t know if I can define complexity at this hour. I think it’s just the interconnections that we’re chasing is so much more global now (it used to be very local) and the challenges that we are facing are so much more indited and urgent in many ways. Personally, I always love change; it’s like something in the back of my head because of the urgency about that. It is a challenge where in fact it is an opportunity because they called on us to build our own capacity to handle that complexity and to really meet it where it’s at. It is such a transformative point. I love the analogy of the caterpillar go into a butterfly. In my own research I kind of come across many homeless work merchants and how evolution really happens in this metamorphic way. It’s not always a slow thing, it’s something that you feel the pressure and you just crack open while the other side of it is far more complex than what preceded it. So, that’s how I would say the complexity we are facing is our world is rapidly changing and we are rapidly just navigating problems that we didn’t have 20, 30 or 50 years ago. Especially now in the context of the Syrian refugee crisis; that is such a complex problem if there ever was one. And there are so manylayersto how that is needed to be considered and how that is needed to be handled. So I particularly called the planets to come together and collaboratively find ways to deal with this together because there are so many different parties involved, and we need to find solutions that are inclusive of every single party. That is the complexity piece that I see and what skills and what capacities that calls on us to really cultivate and leverage as we deal with that.
The Hard Realities of ‘Being in Over Our Heads’
Tim: That was really salient the way you brought it back to a very concrete, very meaningful, very pressing example. This is a tragedy. When we look at it we see a really complex challenge that is not being met well and is leading to real suffering, real concrete, powerful, heart wrenching suffering. These are real problems these are not abstractions. When we talk about complexity; it’s really nice for me sometimes to bring it right back to where it matters because it seems very abstract sometimes, to me even. I’m not really working with this stuff but perhaps to you, I think how you framed it there is really useful and really interesting. This idea that things are happening faster, there are more interconnections, there are more different kinds of people in organizations than there’s ever been and that is one kind of theoretical definition of complexity. Complexity isn’t everything being the same and random. It’s not everything being uniformed but it’s something in between where there’s a bunch of unique systems and sub-systems and they’re connected, and there’s dynamics and it has some kind of teal so that it can go somewhere. It’s something that can adapt and change. If that’s true and I think you’re right. Our world is becoming probably exponentially more complex and we’re probably not meeting those challenges as well as we could at all. I think there’s a huge gap – it’s sometimes called the complexity gap. If you could draw that graph, complexity is on this axis and our ability to deal with that is on that axis; complexity goes up like this and our ability is just under it. The more complex it goes the bigger the gap. This is also faced by senior leaders, executives and senior community leaders and politicians and everyone, “we’re all in over our heads” as Robert Keagan says. The big challenge is: “How do we deal with that better rather than worse?” That’s the question for me. What I’ve discovered is my intuition was that systems’ thinking has something to do with it, much like you. You’ve gone and studied it. I studied it my own way and it’s true. I actually know now why there’s that relationship if we’re talking about complexity. One frame that we could put around complexity is the complex adaptive system. It has lots of power, lots of interconnections, lots of activity, and fast phase of change. It’s completely different than a more hierarchical linear world that’s slower. Forty years ago, you got a job for life; you could do strategic planning and you can say: “Look, this is year zero and in year five we’re going to have a five year plan and we’re going to achieve this goal” and the world would stay — the economy, society, politics would stay consistent and the same enough that at year five you might actually reach your goal. The plan that you had back here might actually work when you get to there. Now, you can’t even plan five months out, you have to be really agile in the changing world with lots of moving parts. If we look at the Syrian refugee crisis, it looks like there’s a bunch of linear solutions that are not connected, which are too far out ahead. That kind of decision making is not wise enough to stop people from drowning; it’s simple as that, that’s how I see it.
Grass Roots Self-Organising Problem Solving
Usha: The challenge though is one thing that hasn’t been really heartening for me around the same refugee crisis is to see how people organizing and how that served brass roots movement. The whole seems the most impactful solutions. I’m hearing all of these stories about coming out in hoards with supplies. I think it was police in unit have to turn people away because we have a lot of supplies and we don’t have enough people, like ‘can you come back later?’ and that’s the power also of systems. To go back to your point around meaning making but clearly there was this sense of collective values coming into play. People coming together in such a way that they’re moved to help and some of that place, that change and that action is so automatic. You don’t have anybody dictating this; you didn’t have anybody conceptualizing this, its people automatically changed based on meaning making. That is how we are going to deal with this complexity and I really appreciate that same manner in meaning making because its critical starting tip. I mean, I think we need to head at some of this challenges that we’re facing in every level – the systems level, the individual transformation level, the behavior level. There’s also something about like collectively meaning making that somehow has really been into theory world for a really long time. I’m really excited to sort of see or bring that back down to the ground and see the implications of that.
Tim: The conception I hold is that meaning making or interpretation, all the parts of the system interpreting what the other parts are doing not just from the top down to the hierarchal kind of sullen way in the commanding control structure, nature doesn’t do that –nature works in very complex, interconnected, holarchical levels of signaling and interpretation. I call it semi-autic approach. I’m thinking this idea of integral semi-autic realism is how the way nature works. The force of nature is actually meaning making and that’s what allows a whole bunch of district parts to communicate and self organize to achieve some goal. One of the primary frames that we use in PatternDynamics is that we have a linear thinking commanding control hierarchical world. Our whole political systems, social systems, community systems and economic systems are based on that idea and that idea is no longer suitable for a more complex base. If you want to thrive in a more complex environment, you need to mimic nature because nature has figured it all out. Natural systems do that, and so meaning making that allows for self organization is the force of nature. And there is no stopping the force of nature. We just need to harness it. That is another way I come at this. I’m an eternal optimist in regards to the power of nature and its application to human affairs; that is another deep part of how I think PatternDynamics and how the way it seems to be expressing in the world. We’ve learned to make meaning like nature and then the organization, the problem solving unwinds. We make wiser decisions and we solve more complex problems; we can actually change our world in the ways that we wanted and to create that more thriving environment.
I noticed you had a question here about that which is why is the ability to address challenges from the bottom up crucial and how can it transform the way organizations function in their internal eco-systems in a lot of eco-systems they’re a part of. If we look at organizational life, which you and I are interested and work in and most of the other members of the PatternDynamics community practice are change makers and a good portion of those were these people who work on organizational or community life as consultant source or facilitators. I think most of us have that interest. The hierarchal commanding control of linear world view is really a machine model for me. The bottom up piece is that if we shift to ecological living systems model then we get that more eco-systemic kind of ability. I think if it’s based on the meaning making then the self organization. Meaning making for me is a powerful, self organizing force. It’s clearly more powerful that even our most powerful global political institutions. Because real people on the ground self-organizing around deep meaning are solving problems that are institutions from the top down cannot and this is fascinating, this is amazing. Is that the kind of thing that excites you in the possibility in the work that you’re doing?
Top Down to Bottom Up
Usha:Absolutely, I’m just starting toget into more a sort oforganizational models like holocacy as an example that really leverage that; that really break down that certain top down management hierarchical structures to making them more agile and responsive. And my fascination was always like how do we bring that out to communities because there’s a certain way in which organizations are really perfectly set up to be like people come to work every single day and the same people, there’s almost like an incubator where you can really leverage this and its great. And communities are a little bit more complex if you’re facilitating community dialogue as an example around say youth felons. That’s something that a community is really suffering with and you’re bringing people together around that. It’s having to make sure that the young people who are actively affected by this also show up. Have you had consistency with it? So, I’m attaching it to learn more on how that kind of meaning-making can happen in a community where it’s so much more widespread. You can’t practically involve every single person within a community in these conversations, or in this dialogue or in this process. So, how does that work within a community?
Tim: I think it’s a great inquiry. Again, good questions in a complex world space are better than good answers I think because it’s like all the parts of a system need to constantly inquire about what’s going on and what other people are seeing. Because there’s a kind of collective intelligence in that and in PatternDynamics, it’s all about the way that we apply it in the first instance is wiser decision-making. Systems thinking and collaborative inquiry are the two big drivers. That’s what I’ve discovered when I’ve gone in research – why this is effective? So, the secret is see more share more and that leads to a kind of collective wisdom. As an answer to your question, it’s the low hanging through the space for me is just those two things – how do you help people see a little bit more of the system and talk about it . You can facilitate that. Even as a loan facilitator, you can be the translator about what you see in the system. You can illicit people’s perspectives and help them uncover that kind of more holistic view and then you can also encourage people to share more. So, it’s a collaborative inquiry; kind of like what we’re doing now. We’re sort of drawing each others’ perspectives out, we’re asking good questions, we’re telling each other what we see but you’re not telling me how it is, and I’m not arguing with you and telling you how it is, which is more conventional. Then we fight over which decision or perspective gets precedence. We are genuinely trying to get more information from different parts of the system; we’re trying to do that whilst looking more holistically at the system. And when that overlap happens, it’s this big lever of collective wisdom. It’s how I hold it because see more and share more are way better than us arguing over who is right and fighting over who’s decision gets precedence. If we do this see more, share more piece we can actually come up with a decision that’s creative that gives us more of what we want or everybody more of what they want.
Usha: Yeah, these two are great from all the perspectives.
Wiser Decision Making
Tim: For me that’s wiser decision making. It’s the first place that we take the theory in practice of PatternDynamics. It’s in wiser decision making and helping people learn the see more share more. We’ve hooked up with our good friends at Lectica. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Lectica and the work that they do. It’s sort of the cutting-edge of the learning sciences and how we develop skills, and one of the skills they’ve researched is decision making. Two primary things that they discovered it that if you can collaborate better, and you can see more of the system and you can coordinate those perspectives, the research says you’re going to be a much better decision maker and that you can help people learn that skill collectively and then you get an even bigger jump. From a practical point of view, that’s what we hope people to learn in PatternDynamics. And if you join the community training forum, all that information is there – how to learn those skills and how to learn PatternDynamics; which is the see more piece, and the share more piece is the collaborative inquiry. And then we see what happens, if we get a better result because in fact, I don’t think we know. I think this is a giant experiment that we’re all undertaking based on some good theories, some good philosophies, and some good research but where not going to know until we try it. We’re going to have iterated it on our own way to solutions collectively. PattternDynamics is its own first client. Right?
Usha: That’s great. So, you mentioned earlier about nature and mimicking nature’s patterns as it were. I’d love to just hear more about that, and I know that you have a few keys or aspects in PatternDynamics. So I’d love to hear if there any arguments to go about in nature’s patterns.
Tim: The basis in the natural systems view or the living systems view comes from me through my work in permaculture, organic farming, forestry; I’ve had deep long career working with natural systems and not only observing them like naturalists do but actually designing and helping, tweaking the way that their design is to see what happens. This is especially true of perm culturists – it’s really interesting design field. I think one of the greatest things about perm cultures is that I think it is one of the world’s best ways to learn equal literacy because you’re in there tweaking with gardens and agricultural systems and human habitation systems and you get to see what happens as time unfolds and you get to see the dynamics and learn about them. One of the things I learned was that natural systems solve and adapt to really complex challenges in a seamless kind of way. In my own organizations, I didn’t see that and in the organizations I worked in I didn’t see that capacity. I did notice that if I try to tease out what the principles were – these patterns in the organization. When you look at the pattern of an organization, there’s a principle behind it. And I isolated some of those and created a set so that’s the PatternDynamics framework.
Patterns and Principles:
So each of those patterns is really a principle about how nature works, and some of them seem quite sure and they are, but it’s just about taking slightly different perspectives on the systems. And it’s when we start talking about principles at the systems level that we really start being able to share more about seeing more. And again the research suggests that as people’s ability to think, not just systematically, not just as linear thinkers because it’s not a linear world out there. It’s actually very complex, systemic space. If you learn to think more like that and you learn to share more like that, then we can solve more complex challenges, or at least we know that leaders make better decisions when they do that. There’s a less substantial research that says that if we do it together we get an even bigger effect in terms of our problem solving. So it’s really learning the principles of nature, make wiser decisions, solve more complex problems, or change our world in really effective ways so that we get systems that thrive and nature is at the base of it. It’s the best model; that’s where I want it to go. I think natural systems, biological and ecological are still the best model we have for how to think about complex world space because the machine model of the past is too simple. It’s complicated. There’s a distinction between complicated and complex. And everybody knows how this work in a kind of framework. You can go and check that out by the way, or anyone listening I mean. It’s a really interesting distinction. It’s like a bowing 747 or a clock is complicated. There’s lots of moving parts but basically, turn one clog and you know what’s going to happen at the end. But a complex system, if you tweak one thing, you have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s always a non-linear dynamics. It’s not straightforward cause-and –effect. So living systems are an awesome model, in fact they’re the best model. Otherwise, they have to back to machines, artifacts that we’ve created. They’re just not as complex. They don’t adapt, they don’t have the same self-organizing force as living systems. So if we go right back to your original question, the natural system is part because it’s the best model we have for understanding a complex world and how to change it well.
Usha: Can you show us some of the principles that you have mentioned?
7 Foundational Principles
Tim: Yeah, I’ll just go through these PatternDynamics cards that I have made up. You’ve probably saw them in the Integral Theory Conference. So I got in my hand the first order patterns. There are only seven of them. When you learn these seven principles and they’re encoded in this pattern and one of them is rhythm and you can see the little arrows that go around on the outside oval? That signifies any kind of cyclic rhythm, any kind of repetition. Systems always have repetitions like a kind of a meta-principle. I’ve always said to people, “If you find me a living system or a social system that doesn’t have rhythm, that I’ll pack up PatternDynamics and start again.” because the premise is they’re universal, right? So one of the useful things about being able to reflect on a pattern like rhythm and principle behind it is that it is the rhythm of a particular part of you organizational system or your social system, is it adjusted optimally? Does it lead to health? Are you having meetings too frequently or not frequently enough? And just by tweaking that, because sometimes what we do is we go: “you know what, we’re having a lot of meetings, and it’s not working, let’s cancel the meeting and let’s go with some other thing. “ Right? “Where not going to have a meeting, we’ll just appoint an authoritarian leader.” So this is reactivity. But most of the time from a living system’s perspective, what I noticed is gardens adjusted their rhythm as the temperature change, as the season change, or the moisture change. It wasn’t like rhythm is bad because it’s not working, it’s just adjusted.
Usha: It’s constantly adaptive, right? Like how it’s adapted with every season as an example. With nature, and we just have these set of rules that we may constantly from here on forth.
Tim: Yes, and when the world is changing and you’re not, there’s this gap and it’s called pain. Right? There’s this saying that ‘ifyou don’t deal with reality, reality will deal with you’ and that’s kind of what we are faced with now where we’ve created a very complex world for ourselves, socially. And were not interfacing low with the real world which is biological and physical and our biosphere has this great complex dynamics that are changing all the time and were changing them. But we’re not using the same kind of eco-literacy. We don’t have eco-literacy built in to our political, economic, social and organizational institutions. They’re out of steps. So, they’re destroying this rich complex biosphere. But my view is, and lots of people hold this view, people like Peter and people like you, that we can take the systems thinking that we see in nature and we can apply it to organizational life. And it’ll make organizational and community life richer and better but it’ll also interface with the biosphere better. So we can have a flourishing biosphere and we can have flourishing human organizations and one of the things we could do is to be able to see more and share more from that systems perspective. So the principles, let’s go back, there’s exchange. There are always exchanges in systems and to give you a bit of a run through of the principles. There’s always dynamics; there’s always like feedback loops that affect the whole system. There’s always creative novel emergence. They’re game changers. There the things that makes huge differences to systems. There are always structures. They more or less stay the same but have a little bit of flex but they’re really useful. A lot of times we reject structure but most of the time it’s about just tweaking or changing it. That’s one of the interesting things about sociocracy or holocracy which grew out it because they’re interested in keeping structure but having a better one. And polarities; there’s always these masculine and feminine expressions of that. And then there’s source which is kind of central. It’s the meaning making piece. It’s like in PatternDynamics, it’s how do we maintain a strong awareness collectively of our origin and our evolution, what we were originally and where we’re going, of our identity and purpose. There’s this idea in Psychology that no person that will do anything that’s out of line form how they see themselves – their core identity and there’s a lot of truth behind that. And it’s the same with organizations. If they have an identity that’s a certain kind of organization, they will not identify with other way of doing things so they left. They were told to adapt. So you see how powerful identity and purpose is. That meaning of where you’re heading, the meaning behind that is enormously powerful self-organizing force and that allows a lot more desperate parts to self-organize. And you can’t do that from the top down, sort of like that evolution piece, time, and identity, which you know was parts and holes, and the purpose piece which was about intangible drivers of systems. That’s right in the middle of PatternDynamics’ systems. So it’s all about meaning making in effect about how to make the system flourish. Like I said it’s just like a giant experiment.
Usha: So can you give me an example of either a client that you’re working with or some application of this work and a concrete problem? I’d just love to see how it works in real time.
Case Study Example:
Tim: Okay, let me give you an example from an organizational development program. It was over about twelve to eighteen months. I participated in it using PatternDynamics and bringing the systems thinking framework into the senior leadership group with a number of other consultants in a firm. We were tasked in merging two billion dollar business units in a large Transnational Mining Minerals Enterprises. It’s pretty much stocks standard kind of organizational development project. So we helped this leadership group learn the PatternDynamics framework or at least the first order patterns. We mostly translated the second order patterns when they needed it to help them see their system. We gave them great collaborative inquiry tools, deconstructive instrument theory, positive public regard, social contracts, and really listening to each other more than telling to each other. And see more-share more coordinate perspectives. One of the things we came up with in the end of that initiative is that these guys were great fighters, and what I mean by that is they would have big plant meltdowns. It’s just the nature of this metal smelting process that they could meltdown plant equipments worth tens of millions of dollars in an hour, then having to spend two weeks scrambling to rebuild it because every day that they would be offline will costing millions of dollars. They became awesome at this very focused effort to rebuild it. So they had these pulses, so that was one pattern. Pulses are one of the rhythm patterns and this is it. And you can see the diagram and the expresses. There’s a random pop in intensity and a fall of at the end, we identify that as a pulse pattern. What allowed them to see was that they can do this other thing really well because that was nature of the system that they had inherited, they can have this really concentrated activity – the Concentration-Diffusion pattern. They can have they can have this really focused initiative on fighting this fire, dealing with this problem and when they come down to the downside of the pulse then it will all collapse, go away and kind of collect themselves. But they forgot one thing. They have identified themselves that they can do better that would make a big difference, this is one of the major pieces of value that was reflected back to us by the CEO and said ‘ what we are doing is actually capturing the knowledge each time we solve one of these problems ‘ they have to start it again from scratch. By knowing that the pulse is going to come along because they always do, that is the pulse at play. Knowing that this is going to be the focus effort for the Concentration-Diffusion pattern and the principle behind that; knowing that that’s what they’re going to do but knowing what they weren’t doing as well as they could was capture the information making documentation, telling stories, reinforcing the knowledge about how to do this again and that was the game changer for them, that is worth millions of dollars; That seeing more, sharing more and collective wisdom because they all agreed when they saw it, you point at this and they went ‘aha right, you’re right’ that’s exactly what is happening. Then they consciously design to make a decision to allocate some resources on the downside of the pulse to collect that knowledge information skill and the learning’s and embodies them to artifacts and stories. There’s a practical example about seeing more-sharing more gets a better decision and it also helps contribute to solving problems that are very complex base.
Usha: I really like how these different patterns and principles just surface in name in a way that a system might not otherwise be able to do, being too valuabl.
Tim: That’s the magic. Robert Keagan refers to it as the ’subject-object move. What’s embedded in your subject like your feeling something is not right, there’s a tension around something not working about these plant melt downs and this big efforts. You can’t quite name it and then you help people see more. I think this is a systems principle, there’s this pop. There’s this meaning making that happens then the light bulb goes on; now I can see it. I can act on it and that’s a really powerful thing. When I do this strategy consulting piece, I go in and I don’t do conventional business strategy, I’m not McKinsey, I’m not the lawyer,I don’t go in and look in your balance sheet, look at your profit loss, look at your business structure, look at the market opportunities, look at your competitions and say you should have this strategy. I can work with those people and I could say ‘I think what you’re talking about when you’re looking at the competitors is diffused. You have a network of competitors. You don’t just have one and it is not focus, it’s diffused—its Concentration-Diffusion pattern. There’s a network pattern and if you look at those, we might translate to this people doing this strategy and saying to themselves so they can think more clearly from a systems perspective of what was going on.
Becoming a Systems Translator
Tim: When you learn PatternDynamics, you learn to be a translator; to take what you’ve learned like people make assertions all the time like we should deal with the competitions this way — ‘X’. And you say ‘well, tell me what you’re thinking’ unless they’re systems thinkers they’ll only be able to tell you about how it works in a linear fashion. That’s not often good enough; linear thinking is not going to close the complexity gap especially at the senior leadership and senior strategy levels. You can translate how people see the system; you become really valuable in the strategy space in that particular way. I don’t see a lot of that being done in strategy anywhere frankly because there are not a lot of consistent systems thinking frameworks out there that strategy is going to apply; there are some and there’s lot of traditions but I mean one where all of the principles and patterns are consistent, there’s the framework that people can learn readily and so then people are speaking the same language because often when someone shows up with Neglitly’s literacy in systems thinking and someone else shows up Peter’s sayings literacy and this signifiers they just past each other. That’s another useful thing about PatternDynamics .
Tim: -you got it.
Usha: Thank you so much, this is just so valuable and it’s really wonderful accommodation.
Tim: That is really interesting getting your perspectives. I have my own ideas about what PaternDynamics is but I’m always fascinated because I realized that other people have other inquiries about it and other questions, other ways of thinking about it or thinking about this space. I’ve learned quite a lot, it’s been really interesting for me.
Usha: It’s actually really simple, I’m struck by the simplicity and the power of PaternDynamics and its simplicity. It’s enabling collaborative meaning making by creating common language and same words to think about what is happening and to look at what the presenting problem as it were in a systemic framework. It’s great; I’m excited for the institution of a work and the application of a work.
Tim: I really like how you put that, I never heard anyone say it quite like that and I think it’s right on. And the pattern for that is elegance.
Usha: I hope you take over McKinley or something and take this new strategy to consulting; no you don’t have to take over McKinley. There’s a lot of value with this kind of framework and way of doing this business and thinking about business that I think is very transformative.
Tim: That’s a great reflection and this is a community effort. I don’t think I’ve created it; I discovered it in a way and what I think is all of us. Especially I’m really impressed with how at a young age you’ve figured out that this is a high leverage point. You’ve dedicated your life to it, you’re passionate about it and if PatternDynamics is going to make any difference, I think it’s kind of like a proto-pattern language in the space. This will evolve and this is going to spread and these ideas are going to work because of people like you. That is why I’m excited about talking about it to you and how these conversations and other people like you can find this and work with it if it’s useful for them. So, thank you.