Adaptive Action in a Time of Uncertainty

Denise Easton "He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”   

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez , Love in the Time of Cholera

My partner Larry Solow and I have quite literally been obliged to give birth to our work over and over again.  Our story in Adaptive Action illustrates the value of using the Adaptive Action process during stages of creative engagement – but  the story stopped before the real fun began. 

It is inevitable that the conscious use of Adaptive Action (AA) sets the conditions for continual adjustments based on the ongoing inquiry of What?  So what?  Now what?   An unexpected outcome was how Adaptive Action “tied and untied” us from one birth to the next.  As our models and client work developed, we recognized that we could braid and unbraid our mix of linear and non-linear concepts and tools unconditionally and confidently   by recognizing that AA is inherently part of each and every strand of the lifeline we offer to clients – our “rope.”

I have come to regard the “AA Rope” as a powerful metaphor in my work with clients. During a “Time of Uncertainty,” the AA Rope becomes a “lifeline” for complex human systems.  The rope manifests both linear and non-linear attributes. Whether  the objective is to maintain the course or to move quickly, the AA rope provides the critical both/and approach that is foundational to our work in complex systems.   

Appropriate at all levels of the organizational system, tied taut or loose, neatly or freeform, mastering use of the rope is both immediate and infinite and not bounded by cultural or environmental factors.  The rope is valuable on its own, or becomes a highly compatible part of something more complex or complicated.  The numbers of ways one can use the rope is limited only by the creativity of the user or limitations of the circumstances.

Returning to our story in Adaptive Action, Larry and I have confronted deep uncertainty both in our product development and in our client-based work.  Our clients are pulling the rope tighter and tighter within their organizations, hoping for stability and clear pathways to necessary change and strategic initiatives. Small incremental and persistent shifts in operational and organizational patterns of behavior offer a way to loosen the grip, relieving the inevitable strain that comes from maintaining a consistent and predictable tension on the rope.

In our work, the uncertainty has come from our ongoing commitment to working in living systems and being adaptive to internal and external  information, actions and reactions. In other words, we will always have a foundational framework, but we will never have a definitive methodology. The Complexity Space has expanded and rightfully addresses our broader experiences in the management and development of organizations.  We clearly believe that “learning” is inherent in all our experiences and Adaptive learning helps us develop greater awareness. However, we can not stop learning ourselves. The more we engage in Adaptive Action, the more we recognize that our work is wider and deeper than we allowed ourselves to imagine.  We are obliged to continue the rebirth process of the Complexity Space and our Rope keeps getting longer.

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