Why Worry about the Nature of Change?

What can you do when you can’t predict or control change in a complex system? Glenda’s description and explanation make it clear—join the Adaptive Action Lab she offers with Stewart Wallis to learn what you can do!

“An unlikely event is likely to happen because there are so many unlikely events that could happen.”
― Per Bak, How Nature Works: The Science of Self-organized Criticality

About a year ago, Stewart Wallis and I started a conversation. It has ranged widely from tea pots in the English countryside to alternatives to Neoliberal economics. Among a slew of other interesting pastimes, he is currently Executive Chair of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. I’ve learned much from him, and I’m delighted that we will collaborate on the Adaptive Action Lab on July 22 and 23. He will share stories about systemic transformation, and I’ll share insights about dynamical change. Together, we will help you think through your most wicked issues. 

Wicked issues emerge in complex systems, which cannot be predicted or controlled. They can seem to be intractably stuck, like a migrant population without water in Zaire, or they can be in chaotic free-fall, like genocide in Rwanda. These wicked situations, and many others, don’t follow the rules of rational, predictable change. While they may seem random and chaotic in any moment, they have their own logic. They follow their own rules, including:

  • Produce recognizable patterns across the whole system but make each individual part unpredictable in any moment.
  • Change at every level at the same time and make any level dependent on the ones above and below.  
  • Respond to some small changes with enormous response and ignore others.
  • Shift when conditions are right but consider so many conditions that no one can know what they are or what “right” looks like.
  • Intersperse a few massive shifts with lots and lots of little ones but keep the mathematics complicated.

Sand piles, avalanches, and earthquakes are wonderful examples of this phenomenon—called dynamical change. The Twentieth Century theoretical physicist, Per Bak, called it self-organized criticality. He hypothesized, and our observations indicate, that this kind of change is caused by the accumulation and release of tension. Sometimes the tension is rock on rock. Sometimes it is ice on ice, and sometimes, it is hunger, thirst, or hatred among people. 

If you cannot predict or control dynamical change, then why should you worry about it? Because the more you know, the more conscious and conscientious you can be when you interact with systems in change. Some people, like my friend Stewart, have well-honed intuitions about the dynamics of this kind of change. The rest of us have to do our best to see, understand, and influence dynamical change when we are in the middle of it. The more we know, the wiser we can be. 

Join us for the Adaptive Action Lab, meet Stewart, and get wiser about the dynamical change that drives or traps your Wicked Issues. 

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