April 27, 2014
The way we want to make sense of the world around us often has to do with causality. The question we ask is what caused “it” to happen. The mainstream approach is that an arrow, or arrows, can be drawn. There is a variable, the “it”, that happened, that is now to be explained. In scientific study this variable is regarded as dependent. An independent variable, or variables, that cause it are then sought. Causality means that X causes Y. If there is more X there will also be more Y. This is the if-then model of management. In organizations, a familiar explanation for success is that a particular manager or a particular culture caused it.
But there is something significant happening today. Scholars are increasingly pointing out the fact that this view of the relationship between cause and effect is much too simplistic and leads to a very limited or even faulty understanding of what is really going on.
Cybernetics recognized a much more complicated causality. In this kind of system the arrows, the links, between cause and effect can be distant in terms of time or place. The system can be highly sensitive to some changes but very insensitive to some others. For the first time, it was understood that it is a non-linear world.
The scientific perspective of cybernetics was, however, traditional in the sense that the belief was that there was a reality to be dealt with that exists before people studied it. If something unexpected took place, the response was to gather more information or analyze the information better. It was the time of the cognitivist approach to psychology: people have minds inside them, which make representations of the world around them. It was not believed that people might actively construct reality through their social interaction.
Complexity challenges the assumption of earlier systems theories that movement in time can be predictable in the sense that X causes Y, or that the movement follows some archetypes such as positive and negative feedback. The modelling of complex systems differs significantly from all previous systems models.
Complexity means a different theory of causality.
The most important insight is that it is often not possible to identify specific causes that yield specific outcomes. Almost indefinite number of variables influence what is going on. The links between cause and effect are lost because the tiniest overlooked, or unknown, variable can escalate into a major force. And afterwards you can’t trace back, you can’t find the exact butterfly that flapped its wings. There is no trail that leads you to an independent variable.
The future of a complex system is emerging through perpetual creation. Complexity is a movement in time that is both knowable and unknowable. Uncertainty is a basic feature of all complex systems. It is a dynamic in time that is called paradoxically stable instability or unstable stability. Although the specific paths are unpredictable, there is a pattern. The pattern is never exactly the same, but there is always some similarity to what has happened earlier.
In the end it is about the combination and interaction of the elements that are present and how absolutely all of them participate in co-creating what is happening. None of the elements cause the end result independently. From this standpoint a lighted match does not cause a fire. Rather, the fire took place because of a particular combination of elements of which the lighted match was just one. In the same way, a rude remark does not start a fight. The argument starts as a combination of an offensive remark and a coarse response.
The big new idea is to reconfigure agency in a way that brings complex relationships into the center. The task today is to see action within these relationships.
Complex relationships cannot be understood through spatial metaphors such as process maps or network charts. Unhelpful or wrong models and metaphors are often a big obstacle to moving our thinking forward after the technological constraints are gone.
We need to move towards temporality, to understand what is happening in time.
An organization is not a whole consisting of parts. There is no inside and outside. An organization is a continuously developing or stagnating pattern in time. Industrial management was a particular pattern based on specific assumptions about communication, causality and human psychology.
Recent developments in psychology/sociology have shown that human agency is not located or stored in an individual, contrary to what mainstream economics would have us believe. The individual mind arises continuously in communication between people.
The focus of industrial management was on the division of labor and the design of vertical/horizontal communication channels. The focus should now be on cooperation and emergent interaction based on transparency, interdependence and responsiveness. Looking at communication, not through it, what we are creating together.
Thank you Ralph Stacey, Ken Gergen, Doug Griffin, Jim Wilk, Marko Ahtisaari and Katri Saarikivi
May 20, 2012
Emotional contagion is a fact of life. It means that our moods and even physical health are created in interaction with other people. We tilt either to the positive or the negative as a result of our relations, and the further relations, the people that we relate with have. It is a chain that goes far beyond the horizon. This is why we can no longer see our minds as independent and separate but as thoroughly social. Our mental life is co-created in a larger and larger interconnected network. What we have called the individual mind is something that arises continuously in relationships between people.
Our social interactions also play a role in shaping our brain. We know now that repeated experiences sculpt the synaptic connections and rewire our brain. Accordingly, our relationships gradually frame our neural circuitry. Being chronically depressed by others or being emotionally nourished and enriched has lifelong impacts.
Mainstream thinking sees the social in social business as a platform or a community, on a different level from the individuals who form it. The social is seen as separate from the individuals.
The approach suggested here follows a different reasoning and sees individuals as social. Both the individual and the social are then about interaction, where the individual is interaction inside and the social is interaction outside. The inside and outside cannot be separated or understood separately.
Interaction starts with recognition. It is about granting attention to others and making room for them in our lives. Being recognized has tremendous significance. People in traditional companies were often stuck in narrow, repetitive patterns of communication that provided them with numbing, repressive and even neurotic experiences.
Leading and following in the traditional corporate sense have seen the leader making people follow him through motivation and rewards. The leader also decided who the followers should be.
When seen through the logic of social media, leading and following have a very different dynamic. Leading in this new social business sense is not position-based, but recognition-based. People, the followers, also decide. The leader is someone people trust to be at the forefront in an area which is temporally meaningful for them. People also recognize as the leader someone who inspires, energizes and empowers them.
Another huge difference from traditional management thinking is that because of the diversity of contexts people link to, there can never be just one “boss”. Thus, an individual always has many leaders that she follows. You might even claim that from the point of view taken here, it is highly problematic if a person only has one leader. It would mean attention blindness as a default state.
Following is at best a process of active, creative learning through observing and simulating desired practices. Leading is doing one’s work in an open, inspiring and transparent way. Leading is engaging with people and being reflective. Patterns of recognition and patterns of communication are the most predictive activities there are in forecasting viability, agility and also human well-being.
Identity is a pattern in time. The individual and the social are born, and form one another at the same time. You can’t add a social layer to what you do, or to your IT systems – you are social!
Thank you Ralph Stacey, Doug Griffin, Ken Gergen and Dian Marie Hosking