NANCY’S BLOG: It’s All Connected.

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Two weeks ago we dove into the current thinking on managing complexity.

This past week we’ve extended that conversation by stepping back to appreciate the deep interconnectivity between things—and the need this creates to move away from short lived interventions and magic bullets to instead building truly systemic, congruent solutions. As I wrote last year:

“It’s time we notice and respect that we are a vital part of increasingly interdependent systems… especially in this period of exponential complexity and unhealthy polarization. Rebuilding trust and driving real change requires we break the silos between departments, ideas and time itself.

I’ll warn you, however, that a dive into this arena brings you face to face with a collateral idea:  humility. It also reinforces the the need to develop what we call “informed intuition”.

A look at “Systems Dynamics”

While working at TBWA/Chiat Day way back when, I was introduced to the thinking of Peter Senge, an MIT lecturer who wrote about the need to understand “system dynamics” and build “learning organizations”. Peter shares his powerful thoughts on systems thinking in this essay; in particular:

“System dynamics is the study of complex systems, including such human systems as families, organizations, cities, and nations. If you look deeply into any system and analyze the relationships between members, you will find infinite complexity.

In a systems approach to a problem, you start by realizing that there is no inherent end to a system. There is no such thing as a complete theory. The quest is to look at a problem more comprehensively. The resolutions come from rethinking how we deal with complexity…

…Simply accepting the complexity is a major step toward developing that intuitive sense. But it is very difficult for business executives to accept that complexity because many of them need to see themselves as being in control. To accept it means they must recognize two things at a gut level: 1) that everything is interconnected, and 2) that they are never going to figure out that interconnectedness. One implication of that realization is very liberating, because not only are you never going to figure it out, but neither is anybody else. It creates an inherent equality.

He goes on to talk about how leaders learn to make peace with this and build organizations that thrive (not just survive) by learning to experiment:

“In the leadership course taught through Innovation Associates, there is an exercise that takes people through a process whereby they discover that they are never going to completely figure anything out in their lives. It has a remarkable impact on people. Some can’t quite handle it and try to intellectualize it. But those who can face that simple fact will often sit back in their chairs and laugh, realizing that they are dismantling two common beliefs: first, that people can control an organization from the top or at a distance; and second, that you can ever fully understand a system or figure it out. 

Dismantling these beliefs is critical to piercing through the hierarchical mentalities that dominate most organizations. Most people have grown up in an authoritarian environment where their parents, teachers, or bosses provided the answers. They are absolutely convinced, deep down, that people above them [or consultants outside the organization even] know what is going on. That mentality weakens them as individuals and weakens the organization as a whole.

When a group of people collectively recognize that nobody has the answer, it transforms the quality of that organization in a remarkable way. And so we teach executives to live with uncertainty, because no matter how smart or successful you are, a fundamental uncertainty will always be present in your life. That fact creates a philosophic communality between people in an organization, which is usually accompanied by an enthusiasm for experimentation

And here is the real kicker for business leaders, educators, parents and mentors of any kind:

If you are never going to get the answer, all you can do is experiment. When something goes wrong, it’s no longer necessary to blame someone for screwing up—mistakes are simply part of the experiment.…I have always felt that the potential of system dynamics was to empower people and to support the human capacity to create.…They don’t create by figuring things out and by controlling.”

– Peter Senge

It has taken me many years to fully appreciate all that is shared here. But as I continue to witness week after week, this is the fundamental shift big enterprise needs to make.

And now, for some “Integral Life”

For those interested in “Understanding Complexity 201”, let us visit with Ken Wilber, who’s body of work includes 25 books that have been translated into 30 languages. His “Integral Theory” explores the connection between everything, illuminating a path toward understanding the whole in a way that helps us to create congruence – in business, government, economies and our own personal meta-stories. As he puts it:

“In our current post-modern world, we possess an abundance of methodologies and practices belonging to a multitude of fields and knowledge traditions. What is utterly lacking however, is a coherent organization, and coordination, of all these various practices, as well as their respective data-sets.

What is needed is an approach that moves beyond this indiscriminate eclectic-pluralism, to an “Integral Methodological Pluralism” — driving toward a genuine “theory of everything” that helps to enrich and deepen every field through an understanding of exactly how and where each one fits in relation to all the others.

Through the Integral approach, we reveal the previously unseen possibilities for a better, more compassionate, and more sustainable future for all of us”. —Ken Wilber

Ken breaks it down more accessibly in this 22min video in which he explains how we as a society we have undergone only five or six significant cultural transformations—and that we are in the midst of three concurrently right now! Each presents a different narrative about our relationship to nature and each other – and he believes there is an emerging Consciousness that ties it all together. He packs a lot into just the first minute or two… but consider this just a taste of a much, much bigger conversation.

Cultivating “Informed Intuition” 

Once you accept that things are infinitely connected––and that it is becoming impossible to truly know and see it all––you become open to a new way of exploring information and forming points of view to fuel action and decision-making. Along with the desire to analyze gobs of information and build sound strategic frameworks, you become comfortable replacing the need to definitively “know” with instead an increasing ability to “orient” yourselves.

This begs that we look outside our near field of vision and develop a broader curiosity for how the world works. It is all connected and it takes practice to see how. Exposing ourselves to this kind of “open ended input” is not a waste of precious time; instead it allows us to start seeing patterns more clearly and begin to anticipate what might come next or be important nearby to consider.

And this is what we describe as Informed Intuition – the ability and confidence to leap beyond the immediate (and often incomplete) set of facts to form a more expansive yet sound strategic and/or creative point of view.  

So with that invite, how do these concepts of Connectivity and Systems Thinking show up right now? This past week we highlighted three ways in which this growing awareness of our interconnectedness, emerging consciousness and evolving curiosity and are changing our both our experiences and our expectations:

1. In our relationship with brands: Meet “Generation World”  

We introduce you to a new vanguard of consumers; Young + Rubicam names them Generation World,  currently representing 29% of the total global market. They are a force to be reckoned with: hyper-connected, socially aware and they love to shop, but they’re high maintenance and hold brands to a high standard, demanding that companies they buy from care about global stewardship and sustainability. For them, it’s all connected.

2. In our relationship with technology, security and privacy: can we be too connected to each other? 

The WEF (World Economic Forum) estimates that by 2020 there will be 50 billion networked devices, pretty much allowing us to connect anywhere, anytime and with anyone. Further, they go on to state that in an internet minute 204 million emails are sent, Amazon makes $83,000 in sales, and revenues for mobile network operators will top 1.2 trillion USD. As the opportunities to use technology to great advantage show no signs of slowing down the issue of security and privacy is becoming more and more paramount, creating a kind of double-edged sword around the need for more transparency vs protection of information. Is the answer more …or less…connection?

3. In our growing fascination and appreciation of quantum physics!

We leave the last word to our friend (and PYNKr) Maria Popova, Founder/Editor of Brain Pickings and MIT Future of Entertainment Fellow, who wrote a brilliant post on a book by rockstar physicist Brian Cox and University of Manchester professor Jeff Forshaw called,  The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen. In a very literal sense it explains how everything is connected to everything within a quantum framework, but because of the human factor, therein still lies enormous complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty (all of which we discussed last week under the topic Managing Complexity).

In an excerpt from Maria’s post, she describes it as…

”At the core of The Quantum Universe are a handful of grand truths that transcend the realm of science as an academic discipline and shine out into the vastest expanses of human existence: that in science, as in art, everything builds on what came before; that everything is connected to everything else; and, perhaps most importantly, that despite our greatest compulsions for control and certainty, much of the universe — to which the human heart and mind belong — remains reigned over by chance and uncertainty.” ––Maria Popova

As she points out, Cox puts it this way:

“A key feature of quantum theory [is that] it deals with probabilities rather than certainties, not because we lack absolute knowledge, but because some aspects of Nature are, at their very heart, governed by the laws of chance” ––Brian Cox

Whew! And that, honestly, is just small scoop of this emerging conversation. I have a list of links and ideas we look forward to swimming more deeply together through as the year progresses. I love the links and conversations you open with me via email and would love to share these more broadly on our site; if so compelled, please share your thoughts and questions there.

And how about we give you some time to digest all – and time to seek out some fresh new connections? See you again in two weeks.

Xo. Nancy (and Emma)


Stories we pinpointed this week:

It’s All Connected.

The Theory Of Everything.

Well, Hello Generation World!

Risk And Responsibility In A Hyper Connected World.

Everything That Can Happen Does Happen.


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