Friday, January 11, 2008

What causes change?

Economists speak of "shocks." Ecologists speak of the unexpected. What is expected? Time is a boundary for our expectations. We expect to not be living on the planet when we are 100 years old. Many of us expect to be here when we would be 75.

Some of that is statistics. We use averages as expectations and yet we are constantly warned by stock brokers not to do so.

Planning is our brain's and culture's response to the unexpected. We predict and try to define path dependencies...that is, force a limited set of outcomes. Still, unexpected consequences are rife.

All this has been summarized as the convenient term "chaos." I'm not sure the term is helpful. It is a bit of a retreat. Where I suspect we need to go is to have a more real-time planning capacity that is informed so we can make decisions with models, past responses and SWOT type inputs rapidly--and without institutional guidelines. That is leading at its pinnacle. We go on, but we spend the bulk of our time enabling action when the stakes are high.

How would one teach a child to be "ready." An adult?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Change is the Norm

Complex adaptive systems are complex as they consist of many interacting and interconnected elements and adaptive as they change their behaviour to adapt to their environment in order to minimize dissonance.

Organizations are complex adaptive systems and consist of people who are themselves complex adaptive systems. Considering that organizations operate in an environment where they have to interact with other organizations and individuals, it is impossible to consider stability as the standard. Each organization adapts to its environment, but being part of the environment of those interacting with it, the act of adapting changes the environment for those around it. In turn, they will adapt and thereby change the environment of the original organization in a never-ending cycle of change and adaptation.

The effective leader should embrace the notion that change is the norm, refrain from attempting to impose stability and consider ways to capitalize on change.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Catalysts for change

Who can catalize change? Almost anyone, but there must be dissonance. Organizations simply don't change unless there is pressure. Incentive is a pressure of a sort, but not always the best one compared to passion, anger and dedication to service.

Dissonance softens structure through melting. As structure melts, the prospect of breakthroughs for agitators increases. This catalysis can take many forms, which I will discuss further in other postings.

The leader must look to catalyze positive change without introducing social distortions worse than those adjusted through change.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Learning versus thinking hard

Thinking hard is to be commended. I admire it. But it isn't part of learning.

Learning enables those who undertake it to be better at coping with the aspects of life that cause us to be shaken and confused. Its end is not intellect but mindfulness.

Now much of what shakes and confuses us is the circumstances of living in a global, fast-paced and confusing world. Retreating from these stimuluses is not learning even if it allows coping. Learning is a special capacity to go out in the world and still remain mindful.

Learning teaches us empathic listening, doubt about certainty, and an aethetic appreciation of our experiences. It doesn't teach us facts or methods. It reminds us about cultures but it does not impose any on us. Training does that.

Learning enables our actions to be balanced with risks, rewards, hopes and expectations. The leader uses learning to make moral decisions. These do not install policies--something that can be necessary in organizations--rather, moral decisions of a leader enable others to take moral actions. This can often be done through example but also by simply boosting those doing meaningful and mindful work.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

More math and science education?

One hears it all the time. We need more math and science education. Do we?

Well, we need to think about what we need. So I encourage the discussion where I can. The wealthy rarely choose these paths, and the poor but ambitious sometimes do. What might that tell us? Will India be rich? Perhaps. What is India? What is rich? Live in the Caribbean if you want to puzzle about wealth.

What I think we need is people willing to inquire. Scientists and mathematicians, in my experience, are capable of the same close-mindedness that others can display. Many others can inquire as well as any scientist. Scientists are often prone to disciplinary imprisonment. Moreover, math and science are not the language of God; are not the truth; are not the path to morality. They are enablers, perhaps, to these things such as they exist or not. For me, I don't know if they exist. I cannot know but I cannot accept that I cannot know.

Learning is seeking to cope. We hope to find out where we are and what we mean--just what we cannot know I fear. Call that science. Call it math. These are modes of thinking, not modes of learning.

For me, learning is deeper than science. It entails the anger of science and the hope of it. It entails the concentration of mathematics and its search for aesthetics. What we need ask what we need. What learning entails is going into dissonance and finding ease.

Dissonance is our obligation, not math and sciences. Why I love these modes of thinking is that they bring me to new opportunities for dissonance and coping. I learn why I cannot know and why I cannot answer with total confidence. That's why we need more math and science...and more theology and biology...and more sociology and art. Art mostly. Give me artists and I will...well, reflect on what they might produce...what I will try to do is to enable them just as I will enable scientists and mathematicians when they make moral and compelling cases for themselves. I will enable.

Alienation, righteous anger, learning and leadership

Righteous anger. Is it OK? That's always a personal decision, but here are some thoughts.

Enablers rarely can do their work well when they have overt enemies. Subtlety is everything. So the leader usually leads a quiet moral life. That is, the leader is discreet. But are they quiet? No.

The leader presses a point but listens to counter-views. A teacher helps the learner to find their own place. So what about agendas? No. Leadership and agenda are mutually exclusive...they must be. The loud who call themselves leaders are from an age past. Use them, avoid them, laugh at them...teach them.

Sometimes a position of disrespect that is violent, angry or outright wrong is encountered. What then? I believe the leader fights it, that is, encounters it. But the leader retires from the fight as soon as it it over. And when is it over? When the constituents can engage with transparency and respect...not when the outcome suits us. In short, do the right thing but judge minimally. Do not avoid judgment, but judge minimally.

We learn. Sometimes others have not learned as much though learning is not a single progression, nor is is a collaborative effort not a perspective. This is a great challenge. Where one has learned, learning is almost always esteemed. Where people are very structured and broken, learning will be spurned. Here the leader must be subversive, persistent and very focused on enabling the activists who expand moral actions. What is moral? That question embodies leadership. It usually entails reflection, caution, self-doubt, and humility. But there are no formulas. Where there are formulas, there is no leadership.