Follow by Email

Thursday, April 20, 2017


In the review of our 2010 Human Systems Dynamics Certification course {ref. HSD 3}, F. and I continued our discussion about tools to deal with each type of change.

For static or dynamic change, traditional methods can be used to measure outcomes; e.g. statistical methods from quality control like histograms, distribution curves, etc. However, Project Management might work for static or dynamic change but not dynamical change because for this type of change we don't know what the interactions and interchanges between the agents are, and might be, as the project progresses.

Another difficulty we recognized comes up with stereotypical management activities such as the Board of Directors asking for the forecast of profit results for the next quarter without understanding that the results are actually due to dynamical change. This situation requires management understanding of dynamical change and comfort with the uncertainty of unknown influences and with imprecise results. In other words, as F. noted: a reduction in strategic planning replaced by strategic thinking.

The golden rule F. suggested is to observe each type of change without prejudice. In other words, treat each situation with the scientific method starting with observation and description to reach a hypothesis. Instead of using methods based on intuition, use a systematic approach. That would include being careful to understand the type of change in front of us using the questions we discussed last time. {ref. HSD 6}

We then began looking more deeply at dynamical change.

With open boundaries around the system, influencers are outside the system in question and are unknown. F. pondered the possibility of attempting to determine the “openness / closeness” of a system. Could we build a rating method that categorizes systems on a scale from “closed” to “open”? My concern is that even with such a rating there would be difficulties: a closed box in a sealed room is subject to external influences some of which are known, such as gravity, temperature, etc. but this situation is still subject to unknowns.

I applied this difficulty to planning a workshop. We can get all the details available about the participants, the venue, the circumstances, etc. - in short, think about all possibilities. However, there still will be surprises, and unknowns that affect the outcome. Therefore, understanding the dynamical nature of the situation leads to an approach which can use the surprising, emergent elements successfully.

We agreed that the approach used in an “Open Space Technology” workshop {Harrison Owen} comprehends that there will be unknowable influences on the participants, and the workshop as a whole. This knowledge allows the organizers and participants to use these influences to achieve emergent and unexpected results. Accordingly, the goal is not to seek a specific result but to use an approach that allows a variety of unanticipated results.

More to come.

Friday, April 14, 2017


In the review of our 2010 Human Systems Dynamics Certification course {ref. HSD 3}, F. and I continued our discussion about uncertainty and change.

F. described a recent commercial flight which was delayed for 2 hours; however, their connecting flight was also delayed so after a lot of uncertainty everything worked out. The extra efforts that anxious people went through to find alternatives turned out to be unnecessary. His hypothesis is that in certain conditions of “wellness” the majority of humans prefer to stay in the status quo and don't like change. Alternatively, if not happy, people will look for change.

We next discussed the different kinds of change: static change, dynamic change, dynamical change. It seems that “static” change is a contradiction in words. Accordingly, “stability” in the starting and ending states is an important element. F. feels that for him the word “transformation” is closer to dynamic change; however, for me it means static change since the final state is the new stable transformation. Words, words, words!

We agreed that people should have an emotional reaction to change. Generally, people are afraid of change, particularly dynamical change where the results can't be predicted, and the timing and flow is very uncertain. Or people may be happy with a change that promises something better for them, and a list of emotions felt during change should include hope. As a pilot, I experience joy and fear in the many changes during a flight, with fear being offset by good planning, good instruction, and practice. (The Landscape Diagram tool provides good insight into someone's comfort with change.)

We talked about questions to better understand types of change such as:
For static changes:
  • what are the initial and final states of the change?
  • what energy is needed for the change?
  • risk: ignoring context leads to incorrect impact
  • F. noted that a good examples of static change are to replace a tire on a car, moving from one house to another, a theatre performance in different venues - these are predictable, we have a good idea of energy required

For dynamic change:
  • what are the initial conditions?
  • what is the predictable flow?
  • risk: identification of the border between the states
  • Examples have more energy, more change occurs - many more pieces/elements/more agents, culture, interactions more varied, energy flowing out to the environment

For dynamical change:
  • what is the energy/tension/stress in each level of the system?
  • how are the agents connected & what is the strength of these connections?
  • what interactions are occurring?
  • risk: how you view the system; human desire to predict all results to help you understand life
  • Examples have many outcomes possible depending upon the interaction of agents; e.g., political events in the middle east and in South America

We finished by exploring the idea of using some of these questions to identify each type of change before it happens.

More to come.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


In the review of our 2010 Human Systems Dynamics Certification course {ref. HSD 3}, F. and I completed (for now) our discussion of the definition of a Complex Adaptive System

F. describes our review as: Continuing our travel in the past for a better future. (Which I think is cool, and reminded me of this TV show. Anyone remember the title?)

  • F. questioned "system wide patterns being created by agents". Given that agents can create actions (or at least have the ability and freedom to act), some of these actions have strong connections or weak connections, and what are the parameters for this? As a real-life example: the VP of IT & VP of Operations debating and disagreeing about IT solutions for the business departments. Both VPs also have HR/Training managers with very different views. Their overall boss wants more synergy between them all. So we have emergent patterns that influence the agents (all 5 of them) which in turn influence the system, particularly with respect to the IT solutions chosen (in this example).
  • Additionally, there are degrees of strength between the agents: levels of power, influence, authority, frequency of interaction, etc. Further, there may be invisible agents in the system who are not readily apparent. So as we analyze this system, we may wish to separate out the interactions between the combinations of agents and note the strength (influence) of these interactions.
  • We then moved on to the question of Uncertainty. F. noted that patterns vary widely by geography and country; for example: for him, international flights leave more consistently on-time than local flights. There are differences in uncertainty according to culture, and situation.
  • Our final note for this session was that some people still see organizations as mechanical and ordered and don't realize they are complex adaptive systems. Accordingly, they think they are in control when they are not, and don't see the possibility and probability of change coming.

More to come.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


In the review of our 2010 Human Systems Dynamics Certification course {ref. last blog post}, F. and I paused at the following spots and commented or shared insights:
  • the domain of Complexity Sciences is - well - complex! Or at the very least, very busy and full to the brim. F. counted 13 different fields of study on the provided list of Complexity Sciences, and many we agreed we couldn't explain: "nK Landscapes", "Autopoiesis", "Self-Organized Criticality", etc. They aren't on my lips as I wake up each day!
  • nonetheless; now we have taken the course, we are experts on the field of Complex Adaptive Systems! 😁
  • combining Complexity Sciences and Social Sciences (more familiarity here - augmented by Twitter and FussBook - LOL) we get Human Systems Dynamics as the intersection. So if you are alive and interacting with other humans you are in the HSD game.
  • Simple Rules (example in the previous post) are important initial conditions for every productive behaviour toward a desired result. F. added the insight that to “Attend to the part, the whole and the greater whole” (4th. rule in the list for the HSD Institute) one also needs to attend to oneself. This is like the maxim I've used in our teamwork sessions: that in an in-flight emergency, one needs to secure their oxygen mask first before trying to help others. So in any situation where help is required or to be given, self-care is important (health, wellness, adequate sleep, minimal stress, etc.). Self-care is also recognized as an important virtue in the teamwork protocols - the Core - from McCarthy Technologies as described in my blogs Team Tips. And even more alignment of best practice occurs with the Personal Commitments which are the introduction to the Core. These are also the Simple Rules which govern the best in team behaviours, including my favourite: “Don't do anything dumb on purpose.” (The only discrepancy between the two bodies of knowledge is that HSD recommends six rules or less - to keep it simple. The Core has a longer list of Commitments.)
  • then we got to the definition of a Complex Adaptive System, which is a biggee! F. was struck by the words “freedom to act”: do the values of, and accepted behaviours in, an organization really allow freedom among the individual agents? For example; if one acts outside of the framework then they don't belong in that system, or can be invited to leave the system, and therefore are restrained. (F. finds more unpredictable behaviours in government than in private companies because they are not as focused on the company's goals). Groups often don't share a vision and so act randomly; however, when functioning more as team they know each other better and listen better and act more uniformly. Perhaps the possibility of “freedom to act” depends on using rules to create the environment for freedom - like a country's constitution. We concluded that rules of behaviour on teams leads to greater freedom and creativity; like agreeing in advance to allow unpredictability. My attention was on “in unpredictable ways” (like recent elections). My memory is that it is the unforeseen variety of possible outcomes that makes the system complex. Also, the difference between “complicated” (like a modern, working, internal combustion engine) and “complex” is that complicated things can be designed, built, re-assembled, whereas complex things are unknowable as a whole. We can't build democratic election results. (We do know how to complain!)
We paused at that point and agreed to continue the review at our next meeting.

More to come.

Monday, March 13, 2017

HSD 3 {HSD 1 revisited*}

A friend has been nibbling away at me over the last few years to review our HSD Certification course. (As I write the acronym it occurs to me that it sounds like a disease. 😜 )

HSD is far from a disease - it's a means to a cure. It stands for Human Systems Dynamics and provides a perspective on organizations and all the interactions and related ups and downs that occur when groups of two or more humans try to accomplish something.

You know: CHAOS. (The most recent elections in the U.S. and about Brexit might come to mind.)

Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone could provide some insight and practical suggestions to deal with this kind of mess? The mess being a complex system that has unforeseen and unintended consequences? Like... oh, LIFE in general?

Well, Glenda Eoyang and the HSD Institute can, and do!

And since my lovely and talented partner, Vickie Gray, and I have dealt with many messy organizations with complex problems throughout our consulting days, Human Systems Dynamics seemed very worth learning about. So we did, by taking the HSD Certification course from Glenda in 2010.

As well as being a rewarding, insightful, and revealing learning experience we got to work with a cohort of classmates with years of organizational experience and insight on the related problems and challenges they had tackled.

One of the kindred consultant spirits in the group was F., and it was his idea to review the course, share experiences and new learning, and discuss questions since six years has passed.

So F. has been poking at me and trying to set aside time in his busy practice for us to talk. Today was our first solid crack at opening our class binders and walking through the materials. 

I thought it would be useful to capture our thoughts and insights here as we go forward.

To set the stage I'm borrowing the Simple Rules that the Institute established for their course:
  • Teach and learn in every action
  • Search for the true and the useful
  • Give and get value for value
  • Attend to the part, the whole and the greater whole
  • Engage in joyful practice
  • Share the HSD story

Just the concept to even have Simple Rules to follow as part of the initial conditions for group behaviour was one of the first lessons. I'm sure we'll come back to this later.

Stay tuned for more!
{* My first blog post on HSD was in 2010.}