“How to catalyse the revitalisation of the political centre in Britain” The traditional two-party Westminster political system of first-past-the-post majority rule is no longer fit for purpose. The inevitable polarisation sees an exaggerated emphasis on difference in debate that tends to drown out any hope of focusing on unifying values. The system also leads to a demonization of the opposition, often approaching character assassination. Over-dramatized rhetoric becomes the order of the day. As a result, any willingness to listen and respond meaningfully in debate becomes farcical. This hinders the process of governance from finding a way forward in a complexifying world. And a growing section of the British public seems to have had enough of it.
That is why we of the ET Group responded to an invitation to facilitate a dialogue session on the revitalisation of the British political centre. We like applying facilitative processes that enable deep and meaningful participation and that are geared to harvest collective group wisdom. So facilitated an ‘open-space’ process with a group of break-away MP’s and their supporters in Manchester in July. In ‘open-space’ the group provide their own agenda - they are invited to identify topics which they host at their tables and invite others to attend their session. Folks are also invited to move around and find where they are most engaged and can make the best meaningful contribution. In this event the broad theme was ‘how to revitalise the political centre’. Manchester has a rich history of innovation. It is also where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels met in the famous library to address the issues of worker exploitation in the Industrial Revolution. Their radical idea of socialism, the antithesis of capitalism, would dominate the 20th century. We saw the opportunity to enable a core group of thought leaders to chart a strategic course forward in the transformation of British politics. We have indicated our willingness to apply the ET 6 phase ‘Complex Adaptive Intelligence’ process of managing complex challenges to the so-called ‘wicked problems’ - including how to manage Brexit. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/brexit-belated-invitation-british-politicians-claudius-van-wyk/
But finding solutions to future challenges is unlikely to be addressed by either the traditional ‘left’ or ‘right’. Both of those ideologies have passed their sell-by date. History, economic and social evolution, have moved on into a new era of shared information demanding not only new economic management, but a fundamentally transformed system of governance. If we are to avoid George Orwell’s 1984 ‘big brother’ dystopian nightmare (already apparently emerging in China with its ‘social credit system’) we need much greater civic participation and self-organisation. And that in turn requires a fundamental upgrading of civic discourse. The ET Group strives to empower individuals and organisations with bespoke approaches to better manage complex challenges. A key focus is developing capacities to self-organise. So, the invitation to facilitate the Independent Group’s event to explore how to catalyse the revitalisation of the British political centre using the ‘open-space’ approach to facilitate comprehensive participation resonated with our philosophy of community empowerment.
Participation: We were pleased with high degree of engagement as evidence by the unflagging energy, passion and excitement that emerged throughout the day. This is exactly what the flexible ‘open-space’ sessions provide. Participants ranged from those seeking a more traditional supporter relationship with a political party: “Tell us what the policy is, and we will decide if we want to support this.”, to those eager to engage directly in policy formulation. This latter group is likely to be the kernel of the new movement representing the quality of relationships the movement wishes to grow. It resonates with MP Ann Coffy’s comment on the need to change the relationship between supporters and MPs to better answer the question: “What do we really want our governance and institutions to do?” The ‘open-space’ approach helps promote such bottom-up organisation and requires, as MP Anna Soubry aptly identified, a deep listening to the people and “…build politics that can be innovative, understanding, practical and honest.”
Outcome of process: The design of the process made it possible to identify clear themes from the discussions. These included:
The need for policy formulation that is ‘fit for purpose’ rather than being ideologically- based and hence less able to respond to current complex situation and circumstances.
Policy formulation being ‘evidence-based’.
Contributing to and formulating policy on a bottom-up basis through generative conversation.
The restoration of ‘decency’ to political process.
Of course, in respect of evidence-based approaches to policy-making, not to apply the tried-and-tested would be foolhardy. But we also stress the importance that in dealing with complex adaptive systems, such as governance, that ‘evidence’ might still be based in the static and reductionist world-view. The new science of complexity and emergence requires that new evidence compliments past experience with the identification of emergent patterns. We show how to do this with complex adaptive intelligence - see: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/you-problem-phenomenological-perspective-claudius-van-wyk/
Empowering the Plymouth Octopus Project with ‘complex adaptive intelligence’. June 2019
That is why the Evolutionary Transformation Group was encouraged by the opportunity to introduce the six-phase ‘adaptive intelligence’ process to members of the Plymouth Octopus Project. The challenge was the emulate the adaptive qualities of the intelligent sea-creatures to collaborative human endeavour on land.
We were eager to share our experience with the group, abbreviated to ‘POP+’, which is an organisation committed to collaboration and shared-learning in promoting social upliftment in Plymouth. It encourages people with appropriate initiatives get in touch with them to apply for various forms of support - striving to understand why a project is important to the initiator and furthermore encouraging them to work with other people. At the end of the day the comment from CEO, Matt Bell said it all: “The day was a great opportunity for the team to come together and explore our challenge of 'punching above our weight' in the context of adaptive intelligence. The team found the day incredibly helpful, generating insight that will carry us forward. Nearly one month on and we're starting to observe the tensions, discussing how they manifest themselves and asking ourselves the questions that help us move individually and collectively from unconscious dysfunction into conscious dysfunction. The frameworks you used have been very helpful in supporting us to do this.”
POP+ introduces project initiators to its network of appropriate people who can share their experience and information to help develop their ideas and support their goals. They are encouraged to research the social issues at the heart of their project and are supported with tolls and techniques in their efforts to engage with individuals and communities. It helps to communicate the idea through its channels of communication, such as the Plymouth Octopus Project website, social media, newsletters and at POP+ Thursdays. Striving to engage with the experience of developing and delivering community projects, POP+ seeks to share stories of evaluation and reflection with others so that they might benefit from the experience and, in turn help them to achieve their goals for change. Our opportunity was to support key players in POP+ with approaches to enhance their efforts in a complex and dynamic environment.
The background to this event was that earlier in March this year the Evolutionary Transformations Group attended a generative meeting with a group of volunteer organisations in Plymouth. We found it to be a satisfying experience. Our overriding impression was the goodwill available and applied in various social upliftment endeavours in the Plymouth community. That, of course, is called 'social capital'.
However a core question that emerged then was how those various initiatives, many of which overlap, and some of which are underutilised, could become better coordinated. Clearly rejecting hierarchical structures that impose procedures and disciplines, the appealing notion then is self-organisation. The questions was how self-organisation might be facilitated so that it optimises the available resources in human effort and capital and helps flow their value to where it will have the most beneficial effect? We suggested that any organisation requires structure. An appropriate analogy would be that of the skeleton of the human body without which we would not be able to move. So it began to emerge that such structure could be the shared intention of the participants, the alignment of values, the quality of communication, and the acceptance of responsibility with some accountability. Essentially it was suggested we could be looking at a coordinating nerve centre - like the human brain in the CNS. (We further believe that multiple nerve centres could exist as nodes not only in the public and civil society sectors, but to include the private sector - but this is another topic).
The second issue to emerge at that event was the appropriate role of technology - either to enable or disenable wellbeing. How might the advance of technology, with new coordination capacities provided by blockchain etc, and the sophistication of our increasingly rich digital interconnectedness, be harnessed, in a way that does not replace human engagement, but rather facilitates and coordinates such engagement? How can technology be employed to ensure that more folks in this increasingly alienated society could experience the richly healing and meaningful power of exquisite attendance - available in the apparent goodwill of South West? Self-organisation becomes wholesome when enabled by a shared vision of human becoming. And this in turn might be less about 'solving the problem' and more about facilitating the enablement of latent human potential through deep and generative relationship.
The six-phase ‘adaptive leadership’ program is a practical methodology for engaging human subjectivity in a dynamic and increasingly complex environment to achieve socially and environmentally enhancing outcomes.
20th UK Systems Society International Conference June 2019, Bournemouth University
Accessing ‘complex adaptive intelligence’ to seed new economic behaviour
“With complex adaptive intelligence you are not an observer of the problem-space - you are central to it.”
In February 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I met him in 1992 - before he was elected President of South Africa. On that occasion he poked me and a colleague firmly in the chest with the challenge of how an economy could be developed in South Africa that worked for all people. Now, more than a quarter of a century later, South African sadly languishes in the economic backwater. It has not only crippled by corruption, but by the very limitations of the prevailing counter-arguments presented in economic dogma - namely, it’s either to be capitalism or socialism.
At the time I had no answer for Mandela - I too was trapped in that economic dichotomy - hadn’t the global collapse of socialism settled the debate for once and for all? Still Mandela’s challenge burned in my awareness and that same year, 1992 I registered the close corporation, Transformation Strategies. The answer, I concluded , lay in people’s perceptions.
Ten years later in 2002 we were privileged to work with an the organisation ‘Towards Gondwana Alive - Stemming the Sixth Extinction’ to assist with developing a presence at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. Some of the talk at that stage was that the very notion of sustainable development might be a contradiction in terms.
A little more than ten year further on we were privileged to offer a short course at Schumacher College in Devon ‘Leadership and Holism - Transforming Organisational Praxis’. A short while later I was able to offer some classes to economic students at Schumacher College on complexity science approaches to social and economic challenges. I view of economic science being determined by fixed, scientifically verifiable laws, was fundamentally wrong.
By then I had discovered that already in 1898 Thorstein Veblen had coined the term ‘evolutionary economics. This was the study of the processes that transform economy for firms, institutions, industries, employment, production, trade and growth, within and through the actions of diverse agents from experience and interactions. Supporting the holistic and organismic view I found that already some scholars considered the evolutionary approach to be the holistic theory in economics. They were prepared to share certain language from the biological evolutionary approach that considers how the innovation system evolves over time. Especially important was that Harvard Professor Joseph Schumpeter (1883 - 1950) tried to integrate sociological understanding into his economic theories. But Schumpeter’s ideas on economic development could not be captured in the mathematics of his day - they apparently needed the language of non-linear dynamical systems (complexity) to be partially formalized. And herein lay the problem. Conspiracy
Ironically Marilyn Ferguson in her ground-breaking work, ‘The Aquarian Conspiracy’ (1981), quoted Jan Smuts’ introduction of holism and offered a helpful synopsis of the features defining what she saw as an emergent and holistic world-view of economics: • The recognition of uncertainty in economics • The need for co‐operation with nature, and an organic view of work and wealth • Economic value being measured both qualitatively and quantitatively, with intangible assets, made wholesome through creativity, fulfillment and being values‐driven • The importance of being ecologically sensitive to ultimate costs ‐ with the notion of stewardship • A combination of both rational and intuitive insights, with the development of a non‐linear (holistic) sense of pattern • The recognition that long‐range efficiency must also consider a harmonious work environment, with employee health etc. • The desirability of the decentralized operations ‐ to human scale • The appropriate use of technology
So the insights and understandings were already beginning to emerge concerning the need for a transformed view of economics and its critical impact on people and planet - but somehow the economic ‘bull’ barged on in the fragile eco-systemic china shop.
Then complexity theorist Brian Arthur implicitly endorsed the evolutionary view of economics in ‘Science’ (2 April 1999):
“After two centuries of studying equilibria—static patterns that call for no further behavioral adjustments — economists are beginning to study the general emergence of structures and the unfolding of patterns in the economy….More often they are ever changing, showing perpetually novel behavior and emergent phenomena. Complexity portrays the economy not as deterministic, predictable, and mechanistic, but as process dependent, organic, and always evolving.”
Bad economic theories
Given these emerging insights Sumantra Goshal attempted to identify why business practice continued to perpetuate bad economic theory in his paper ‘Bad Management Theories are destroying Good Management Practices’ (2005). He said:
“The challenge in management sciences lies in...a 'double hermeneutic'. While bad theories in physics don't change the path of electrons, bad theories in the social sciences (of which Management is one) are absorbed by practitioners and turned into practice.”
Not long thereafter Brian Arthur’s organic perspective was further endorsed by complexity theorist, Edgar Morin in ‘On Complexity’ (2008) when he declared:
Self-organising beings...are self-eco‐organising beings, which leads to this fundamental complex idea; all autonomy constitutes itself in and through ecological dependency.
Complex Adaptive Intelligence (CAI)
It is from this background on emergent economic theory and practice that we accepted the invitation to present a paper to the UK Systems Society’s conference on circular economics. Our paper was entitled: ‘Complex Adaptive Intelligence (CAI) - catalysing an evolutionary economic transformation.’
Building on the organic principles of the circular economy we presented the case that ‘Complex Adaptive Intelligence’ (CAI), as an inherent capacity of all living systems, can assist the shift from an extractive to a sustainable economy. We suggested it could further enable systems thinking to be applied to attempts to introduce a circular economy. Autopoiesis We argued that the pressure of our technological and ecological footprint demands a transformation in consciousness. With the incremental impact on our prevailing economic assumptions, the shift must be from the mechanistic and linear, to an organismic and non-linear viewpoint. Autopoiesis, as self-organisation, characterises all living systems and ultimately defines ‘complex adaptive intelligence’. This could inform a new economic epistemology supportive of sustainable approaches such as the circular economy. Locating the problem directly with oneself, along the lines argued by Morin that we are self-eco-organising beings, we suggest that ‘CAI’ enables agile response to those subtle signals that indicate where conventional approaches have become dysfunctional. We believe it is possible that by re-accessing this inherent quality, humanity could be poised to co-evolve with the technological advances of the fourth industrial revolution. Currently this economic emergence tends to compound the effects of the Anthropocene (the era of human impact on evolution) as a function of human induced social and environmental pressures. We believe that ‘CAI’ might yet enable the reapplication of technology into an instrument of sustainable economic praxis. We stressed that ‘CAI’ requires the capacity to differentiate between ‘complicated’ and ‘complex’ situations, and especially demands recognition of our personal contribution to the problem-space. Then we need to develop the capacity to ‘map’ the multidimensional and complex dynamics informing economic activity. Ultimately, we agree with Ferguson, re-accessing ‘CAI’ includes collaborative efforts to greater creativity and the continuous integration of learnings, especially at the micro level from which the macroeconomic environment emerges. Ultimately, however, we argued that a circular economy begins at the micro-level. And that means that rather than locating the problem outside of ourselves, we position ourselves right at its centre. ‘Being with’ a wicked problem, rather than ‘solving it’ transforms the challenge into a growth opportunity.
Ashridge Business School May 2019
With 'adaptive intelligence' emotions are not the problem - they are signals that you need to engage in the on-going journey re-establish coherence - 'emotion is energy seeking purpose'. We enjoyed the opportunity to present a one-day workshop on Complex Adaptive Intelligence at Ashridge Business School. Participants were invited to pre-prepare a personal and deeply challenging issue with which to grapple. These ranged from the idealistic desire to promote reconciliation in a conflicted world; to deeply personal issues of finding new meaning; to practical challenges of how to enliven and resource organisations. The identified problem may be the ripple on the surface of deeper undercurrents We are now coming to grips with the reality that there's more to it than meets the eye. Three impactful insights emerged from participants in our time together. First, the degree to which we personally are the source of our own challenges. Second, what we identify to be the problem is often the surface evidence of much deeper dynamics. Third, was the key role of emotions. Emotions are evidence of the existence of the problem-space. Emotions are potential contributors to it. But, rather than being seen as needing to be fixed, emotions can now be recognised as a potential source of energy to address the problem-space. Problem-solving and the phenomenological stance Accessing Complex Adaptive Intelligence is a holistic approach incorporating insights from complexity theory and methodologies sourced in neuroscience - these are to be systemically applied. By focusing on deep subjective experience Adaptive Intelligence embraces the phenomenological perspective. We offer that in a complexifying and interrelated world the problem-solver can no longer be positioned external to the problem-space, with the solution finder 'over here' and the problem 'over there', typically to be addressed by the intervention of some so-called ‘evidence-based’ strategy. Now the owner of the problem-space rather needs to be positioned at its centre. Subjective experience can help unify subject and object to restore coherence We were guided in the phenomenological contribution to ‘complex adaptive intelligence’ by two luminaries: Jan Smuts’ holism showing ‘experience’ as unifying the subject/object dichotomy, and Albert Einstein’s relativity demonstrating that the real action of the universe is not constituted by ‘parts’ but by the complex and multiple interactions of energetic entities. Consequently in embracing this perspective our approach focuses in six phases on the core elements that can be positively influenced to shift a challenging situation towards a desired outcome, and of course, also to realise a unique opportunity. Some feedback: "Advertised as a day to think about 'a problem-space', this turned out to be an enlightening exploration and highlighted that the challenge is not always the problem but can often be the way we interact with the space. I have come away with a clear methodology that will allow me to approach challenges with greater confidence and competence!" Simon Shepard - https://www.linkedin.com/in/simon-shepard-a9868a16/ "It was a fantastic experience that reveals the dynamics of identifying complex challenges and the joy of exploring solutions with creative mindsets and amazing group sharing." Brian Abbott - https://www.linkedin.com/in/brian-abbott-2333131/