Adaptive Networks for 21st Century Challenges

Today’s blog is the final in that series, pointing to how adaptive networks can help us cope with complexity and continue to move forward as we face some of today’s stickiest challenges:

  • Rapid, unpredictable change
  • Crossing bridges in our diverse communities
  • Global diffusion of information and resources

Early in the winter, we launched this series of blogs to introduce “adaptive networks” as a way of dealing with challenges of living and working in the 21st century. Together, the series of blogs offers a framework for using ongoing cycles of inquiry and action to build adaptive networks. 

  • What?  In the first blog, we introduced and defined adaptive networks as a way of seeing “beyond the org chart” to connect with others to build productive and sustainable networks. Then we provided a tool for mapping your adaptive networks as a way of leveraging the influence of those connections.  
  • So what? The next two blogs are about making meaning of what we see in our network maps. First we shared a way to understand how the deepest patterns of interactions and connections shape the power and potential in adaptive networks. Then we named foundational skills needed to leverage the power of adaptive networks.
  • Now what? Today’s blog is the final in that series, pointing to how adaptive networks can help us cope with complexity and continue to move forward as we face some of today’s stickiest challenges:
  • Rapid, unpredictable change
  • Crossing bridges in our diverse communities
  • Global diffusion of information and resources

What creates the complexity in our lives today?

Recent estimates have put the world’s population at approximately 7.5 billion people. In today’s world we are connected to each other in ways that we may or may not even be aware of. What happens in one portion of this global network can have profound impact on the whole—politically, economically, socially, and/or environmentally. It is critical that individuals and groups link to each other in networks that enable them to be adaptive and responsive to shifting (and sometimes threatening) local and world-wide conditions.

We live and work in times of rapid, significant change. Multiple, powerful forces shape our day-to-day existence. We are keenly aware of many forces that shape our world. Often, however, those forces and their influences are unknown to us. Consider how the world has changed since the turn of the century. Geopolitical, social, and commercial forces we hadn’t heard of ten years ago create conflict and terrorism, foster movement toward world peace, and allow the emergence of new political realities in our lives. Wikileaks, Brexit, targeted acts of aggression in the form of technological spying, and burgeoning programs dedicated to the public good are some of the larger-scale impacts we have seen.

We constantly negotiate differences inherent in our communities. In the course of a day, we encounter people and events that introduce us to different lifestyles, ideologies, perspectives, and experiences. Alternative facts, disagreements about open or closed borders (at many scales), questions of political correctness, and disagreements over the nature of “public good” are all indicative of the complexity that’s shaping the landscape in all parts of the globe and at all scales of operation. The challenge lies in how we negotiate those differences to build bridges of understanding and collaboration.

We exist in a world where global diffusion of ideas and resources is vital. The sheer size of the global network creates and amplifies much of the complexity we face. We deal every day with known and unknown realities around issues such as local resources, global climate change, and international infrastructures. This many people trying to survive on the planet challenges our abilities to share ideas and resources, and to make connections in ways that support life and sustainability. Without ways to connect on a larger scale, we often remain focused only on our own small circle of knowing and acting, and are unable to see new or different possibilities.

So what relief do adaptive networks offer in the face of these challenges?

Adaptive networks offer a path to some level of relief as we face the challenges sparked by rapid change, increasing diversity, and the need for global diffusion. This series was designed to describe and explain how we can use adaptive networks to build that path for ourselves as individuals, teams, groups, and communities. Today we focus on the final facet of this conversation:  How do adaptive networks pose a sustainable and plausible path for dealing with sticky challenges in the 21st century?

Challenge: Understand and Manage Rapid, Significant Change. When we connect with others inside our own local systems, we can share information and resources broadly and according to need. Change that occurs in one portion of an adaptive network is communicated quickly to other parts of the network. Meaning making is shared across the greater whole, contributing to better understanding of both similarities and differences that may emerge at nodes in the system. Needs in one portion of the network are known across the whole, informing responses. 

At the same time, larger networks emerge across the globe. Consider how social, economic, political, and spiritual patterns in one part of the world influence your life each day. We hear about and respond to tragedies that impact people thousands of miles away. We feel the impact of political changes as individual countries shift according to prevailing political patterns. Patterns of rebellion and social change move like wildfire from one country to the next as messages and images are transmitted across social media. We see conditions in a country that is half a world away and make use of our understanding of human dynamics to make decisions about how we can help with its tragedies. Adaptive networks can see and understand those patterns in ways that focus that energy to bring about lasting change. Adaptive networks are the ways we can both take advantage of and respond to the natural speed of change in today’s world.

Challenge: Navigate Increasing Diversity. Systems that are well connected bring together multiple, and sometimes powerful, differences—not just differences of race, gender, or religion, but also any differences that define individual uniqueness in the global population. Networks increase the capacity to sense these differences, make meaning about the significance of those differences, and take action based on shared meaning making. When networked individuals and institutions stand in inquiry, using Adaptive Action and Pattern Logic, they focus on differences that are significant to the greater whole, shifting system-wide conditions to leverage those differences toward optimal fitness.

Challenge: Ensure Global Diffusion of Ideas and Resources. Social media, global news agencies, and international corporations and organizations have enabled almost instantaneous connectivity in today’s complex landscape. Often however, existing connections are constrained by the network itself. Weak or limited links between and among nodes, differing expectations and perceptions, timing or mode of sharing—these are only a few of the ways connections across the whole can be limited in networks. Individuals and teams who build adaptive networks are able to move ideas and resources across the whole in the most effective and efficient ways.

Now what can YOU do to build adaptive networks in your life?

Consider the networks where you live and work. Are your challenges around change—planning, designing, managing, or implementing? Are you challenged to bridge the unpredictable diversity you face? Are you stymied in your efforts to diffuse information and resources across your network?

How can you support or strengthen the networks you see and/or create new networks to change patterns to improve your world? Use these ideas to build your own adaptive networks and let us know what you find!


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