Adaptation and the Nature of Complex Systems

Ultimately, our conversation reaffirmed a shared belief that this moment is different. As we are trying to understand it, we should look to the adaptation cycle in living, evolving systems as a helpful framework.
(graphic by Ken Hubbell)

It is essential for organizations seeking to adapt that they develop greater resilience. The nature of change processes follows a certain path through the tension. The rules no longer apply. We’ve recently been through a complete disruptive time which is leading to new frames, new constellations, new opportunities. The reorganization is not yet clear and it is still turbulent. No one is telling us how to navigate the right side of the map. The typical institutional (and individual) response is to demand clarity! We need to imagine how the system works and fits in a different way and get the players together in innovative ways.  The backside path provides room for innovation where the old structures aren’t working. In this reorganizational mode, there is a chance that the whole system will morph into something totally unknown or it will re-gather itself into a new shape with a new set of rules.

It is the nature of complex systems—in nature, in business, and in philanthropy—to go out of balance. There’s a fight between old habits, the old order and the new. Not everything of the old order still makes sense. We must recognize there will be more disturbances. We must further recognize that we can’t fight against the disturbance; we have to live with the disturbance and figure out how to respond to it in a different way. Complex systems cannot be fully predicted, understood, or controlled. What is important at this moment is that we should be looking for the new places for opportunity. If we still need philanthropy as a creative catalyst, then this is the adaptive process we need to figure out and embrace. This is the time and the place for fertile reexamination by all of us.

The adaptive game you choose to play is reflective of your mental model about the way opportunities are triggered (as reflected in our discussion of different games played on the same boards—checkers, chess, and weigi or “go.”). If we had a different set of lenses  about the opportunity matrix, we could, perhaps, deal more effectively with the imaginative tension among these things.

(graphic by Ken Hubbell)

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