Generally True Patterns: A New Natural History of Recognizing Ourselves as a Part of Nature
Part 16 of 22
Chapter 6 Part III Organization, Leadership and Imprecision (the change process)
Statements about patterns of the generally true often include either the words energy or information or both. These qualities can be interpreted as signals. The deep pattern of all energy and all information can be summarized:
Structures of organization are systems of signals expressed in the form of energy, matter, and information in physical and cognitive systems.
Consideration of generally true patterns provide a means of processing signals that evolve over time as more or new information is known, gathered, or accumulated. When the intake or generation of new energy slows enough or even stops, the system will wind down under the weight on its own entropy and eventually cease to function. The unpredictability of generative signals is problematic for bureaucratic or authoritarian organizations. A historical correlation can be demonstrated between a civilization’s failure and its running out of information just as natural resources support physical structures and psychic or moral energy support cognitive structures. The long line of failed authoritarian organizations is illustrative of energy non-replenishment, which the leaders of the Soviet Union didn’t understand. The input of signals forces change. Open systems tend to develop a more complex web of interrelationships. The emphasis on open systems has a political overtone valuing democratic over authoritarian. Acceptance of a democratic political model might lead us to perceive such patterns in nature. The quality of openness could allow us to recognize and employ this generally true pattern:
Organizational structures adapt to fit needs (or events or situations) as need arises.
An ideal philosophy for an organization’s leader to understand is accepting change as a given, and moving into rather than fighting it. In the Japanese martial art of Aikido, by stepping into the path of an attacker (change) the adept accepts the onrush of new energy (information) allowing the situation to move to a new stage while at the same time maintaining a sense of identity and purpose. Disequilibrium (signals in apparent chaos) leads to creativity (evolution) as the aspects of a complex system re-emerge to take on new form and new life, and then more energy leads to a period of new self-organization. These forms of conversion repeat endlessly through time.
Generally true patterns are refinements of one another, interconnected in such a way within the entirety that we should not try to entirely separate one from the next. They read with a certain likeness of character; each is a way into the larger system of patterns, but no one of them is the right way in. In social systems, the task of a leader is to understand the subtlety among them and choose the most appropriate to apply to a particular problem.
The leader as systemist learns to use patterns of the generally true as a means of traveling through various perceptions of time and multiple layers of problems faced by an organization. The role of leadership (as opposed to management) in an organization is to call for change and begin to implement the processes that make for change. Sometimes this process fails. Among the possible reasons for this failure is the fear or unwillingness of the leaders themselves to accept the concept of change so deeply that they are willing to change their personal attitudes. (Again, this equally applies to the way we organize our own lives and pursuits.) It is not enough for leaders to call for change. They must understand the structural dynamics of change in order to internalize acceptance of the concept and then act upon that recognition. Pattern recognition provides a way into this process. Here are three brief comparisons of pattern recognition and leadership practices.
Pattern: An alteration or change in an agent or process can send permutations through a system.
Leadership practice: Making a deep change in oneself can cause changes in the surrounding organizational environment. Internally driven leadership intent can make nearly anyone in an organization an agent of change.
Pattern: Systems evolve where movement of energy pushes the system to the edge of chaos, the place where creativity and adaptation to changing conditions takes place.
Leadership practice: Understanding organizations from an ecological perspective of seeing a relationship among all players in an environment. Systems must live on the edge of random disorder to generate the chaotic patterned disorder necessary to the evolution of the system.
Pattern: Diminishment of energy into a system leads the organizational structure to resemble a closed system.
Leadership practice: Recognition that the dynamic change process has been replaced by a gradual stasis, failure to adapt, and ultimate collapse that leads toward extinction of the system. Incremental or slow change in oneself or in an organization keeps open the possibility of reversing the process of change into a new form, but it also keeps open the option of returning to the old ways. Deep (authentic) change is not accepted. The attempt by a leader to retain control over all the processes in the system is a way of limiting the process of change itself and thus the inflow of energy. Energy starved systems act contrary to the surrounding environment. Failure by a living system (organization, individual, species) to adapt assures systemic failure. Taking actions based on an illusion of control over the environment is similarly dangerous to an organization over the long run. Surrendering control is difficult to achieve since the concept of organization itself implies some degree of predictability. A leader’s willingness to accept guidance within pattern processes rather than attempting control and absolute prediction of specific outcomes is what I mean by giving up the illusion of control.
There is in these two approaches a dichotomy between a content orientation favoring control and equilibrium and a process orientation allowing dynamism and emergence (spontaneous self-organization). If we accept the second model as the more accurate reflection of reality, then a system (internalized in our perceptions) of constant change creates a particularly active kind of universe. When an organization becomes more open to change, it risks increasing disorder, especially in the short run, but stands to gain an importation of ideas, unexpected resources, and a possible evolutionary advantage.
This advantage is a head start on the change process which is in any event inevitable, whatever our resistance to it. Since we cannot foretell the future, what is not gained is an exact image of what will happen next. Since pattern recognition does give us a general if imprecise idea of what could happen, the risk in letting go of the illusion of control is less risky than holding onto it. It is not enough to say that we embrace the idea that we live in an environment of change. By itself, such a statement is largely without meaning. Acceptance of change as the actual model of reality calls for a reordering of how we organize knowledge, away from a concept of separate but connected events toward a concept of interconnection of all things, events, and processes into networks of systems.
Next essay: Chapter 6 Part IV Organization, Leadership and Imprecision