Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good. -Plato
Even if we remember the past, odds are good we’ll still repeat it.
–Guy Gavriel Kay
Reminiscence and self-parody are part of remaining true to oneself. -John Updike
After a half-century of progress in the advocacy by our community for the support we need to live lives of choice and freedom, our work is stalled. Many forces (together called the #reaction) in the larger society are contributing to this struggle. Changing any one of them will not alter the momentum of this steadily expanding global backlash. Recently, the effort to stop and reverse the progress the disability community has achieved has become increasingly public and has spread to every part of the political and support systems upon which we depend for the quality of our lives and the freedom to make our own choices about how we will live those lives.
The disability community has gradually become a part of the general response of many communities to the current reality, popularly know as the #resistance.
The resistance seeks to restore the momentum of change in the direction it had previously. However, the trouble with resistance is that the past can’t be restored to what it was so that progress can continue as it would have if the forces of reaction hadn’t fought against progress. As necessary as resistance is, it is not enough. Resistance can’t “correct” the complex adaptive system that is our society. Resistance can undermine the momentum of the reaction, but it can’t create a new basis for progress by itself.
While resistance can slow and disrupt the reaction, resistance is meaningless unless we have a strategy which we can use for a counterstroke when the reaction is sufficiently weak. Without that strategy, the result of resistance will be less capable (if less damaging) society, at least as far as our freedom and choice are concerned.
The counterstroke of the disability community must have two phases:
We must support the resistance to weaken the reaction because doing so is a tactical necessity for keeping us living our lives.
We must begin to build our counterstroke, a response that will reduce our dependence on the social system for those supports we need to survive.
This double-sided approach is FutureStrategy. If we embrace it, we will need to simultaneously try to extract as much support as we can from the society through the resistance, and we will begin to build our own supports, separate from the system and emerging from our local community, based on the system realities we face in each moment of this rapidly, and complexly evolving society.
The image in the slide is the original attractor model that Lorenz used in his discovery of the volatility of weather. I suggest you view it as a metaphor for the two-pronged strategy described here.
If our disability community is to build and implement a sustainable strategy that preserves our lives and our freedom, we will need to build our skills to support the implementation of that FutureStrategy. These posts will outline some tools we could use to accomplish that.
The big picture is emphasized below because there is no simple relationship between a tool and the problem you are trying to solve when you are trying to change a complex adaptive system.
First, I’ll recapitulate a summary of FutureStrategy described in the previous blog posts. Then, I’ll provide a crash course on how changing Complex Adaptive Systems is different from our standard ways of changing complicated and mechanical systems. Finally, I’ll pass on things I and other people have learned about the larger world of effective advocacy.
The resistance tools below will be drawn from three large scale categories:
Advocacy as an arena of the system change effort.
Organizing for change in and through the disability community.
Managing the Ecosystem of Targets in which our community will work for change. It is this ecosystem in which we must focus our strategy.
The Community of People with Disabilities faces the same enduring uncertainty that permeates our entire society, as well as the historical effects of stigma and the devaluing of our worth as persons. While the uncertainty may have reached levels our society hasn’t seen in the past, the position of our community in that society, while improving, travels along the same arc it has for millennia. Our future challenges remain the same ones we have fought before.
Even though the way we fight for our personal autonomy and freedom of choice will change to meet these new barriers, our values won’t change. Those values build our passion for change and point out effective directions for change even when the world around us is chaotic.
Our values are the fulcrum we will use to expand our lives. We deserve a larger world of possibilities and we will fight for that.
This ends my posts for Future Strategy. I have been working on a series of posts about Tools for Future Strategy, and I will start posting them in a couple of weeks. Thanks for your attention to these ideas. I hope they prove useful to you and yours.
We exceed immeasurably the social and cultural worlds that we build and inhabit. There is always more in us, in each of us individually as well as in all of us collectively, than there is or ever can be in them. There is always more that we have reason to value and power to produce than any of these orders of life, or all of them together, can contain. –Robert Mangabeira Unger, The Religion of the Future
I think about this notion every day.
This quote is a statement from the recent past. But the idea that the broadest context of what we should do next is how it affects the possibilities of individual lives is an old value framework and strategy in the development of human beings (ignored in our present time). In social justice, the idea is called personalism.
Personalism has been tied to theistic social justice philosophies for most of history. But it doesn’t have to be. Unger wrote “The Religion of the Future” to frame personalism as a strategy that didn’t need traditional religious justification, as well as for many other reasons.
I have longed believed that personalism is clearly reflected in the actual ongoing development of our individual central nervous systems over the course of our lives. At every step (second, instant), we are using an interface conditioned by all of our previous neurodevelopment to engage with the context in which we live, to reach out as best we can for something more. That developmental context is never the constraints that the larger society says are our limits.
Instead, it is the immediately available possibilities in that larger context, expanded by our chosen strategy of living. That context of our lives will never completely control the possibilities of our common future if only we can remember this truth.
A few quotes to make our sense of community and diversity more obvious.
Our disability community is the most diverse on the globe. Every other community that exists has members with significant disabilities and we all face the same stigma, devaluing discrimination, and deliberate and thoughtless constraints on the possibilities of our lives.
As a community, we don’t have the ability to opt-out of the various systems that claim to support us. Going off the grid is meaningless when your life depends on the capabilities of those systems. And while we can continue to resist the devaluing and marginalization of our community, and we can continue to fight and advocate for reasonable support from those systems, we also need to scale the ongoing local support that we already provide to each other as an expression of our common community.
There needs to be a place where we can use our community advantages (our diversity, the deep knowledge we have gained of our supports needs and how to make support effective, and the mutuality and trust that our relationships within our community give to that support).
We have to build that parallel community so that it can more quickly and thoroughly embrace our support needs regardless of the success of our advocacy or the growing failure of systems of support in our current environment.
And we have to do this while preventing the supports systems from absorbing our work to support each other, subjecting our work to the internal logic of these systems, and undermining the value of supports in preserving and expanding our right to live lives of choice and freedom.
Our community is the key to our common future, not support systems.
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”
How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world
Why always, “not yet”? Do flowers in spring say, “not yet”?
– Norman Douglas
The hour is ripe, and yonder lies the way.
Though the content of these posts has not been joyfully optimistic, I hope you have found a sense in your heart that we can make a world for ourselves that works hard to maintain and expand our possibilities and choices in our common future.
So we need to get on with it, starting today and continuing with a valued strategy of building community and supports.
Even in the relentless face of our declining value as a community in our larger society.
These are not procedures or any form of “7 steps to success”. They are guiding notions that can open up possibilities for the situation that you and your personal network face.
What to do when you can’t reduce the uncertainty effectively:
The Indirect Approach: Liddell Hart was the person who developed the idea of the “Indirect Approach” in the West, through the use of the idea has always been reflected in effective strategies. Sun Tzu is the best-known example of Eastern Thought on the same issue, and Hart read Sun Tzu as he developed his own framework. The idea is that as you implement your plan, you hide the actual target of that plan. Geographically, you might choose an approach path that is between a number of potentially useful targets, moving toward your choice only at the last minute. Conceptually, you might advocate for small pieces of your advocacy strategy, without revealing how you would use a victory in the small pieces. The purpose of using this approach is to force your opponent to commit scarce resources to the defense of targets that won’t actually turn out to be targets, and to increase uncertainty in your opponent’s planning.
Avoid Irreversible Commitments: In the Cynefin model, this is called “fail-safe experiments”. You try out ideas on a small scale to learn more about how they work in the current reality. Then, you ask yourself what you can do to make the successful ones more common.
Build Reserves: Reserves are a kind of redundancy that you build to make it easier for you to turn on a dime when your view of the future turns out to be inaccurate. Reserves are not just cash. They include trust, cross-skills training, mutual support, and a host of other things described in various posts. Reserves mean a bunch of different resources that partially overlap. It doesn’t mean a big pile of the same stuff.
Weak and Strong Links in Your Network: In network theory, it is useful to distinguish between strong and weak links in a network when thinking about change. The Strong Links are the ones that drive whatever it is that the network is doing. The Weak Links buffer the volatility and unpredictability of the interactions between those strong links so that they don’t cause the network to run away uncontrollably. People who are deeply focused on their own personal power think that weak links are preventing them from increasing their personal power (however they define that) and seek to eliminate them. Interestingly, the two communities that deliberately and successfully eliminate weak links, thus exposing themselves to volatility, are homeless and destitute people, and the 1%.
The graphic above is an updated draft of the new formulation of the Cynefin framework. This is a prelude to Dave Snowden’s new book (not yet published) about the entire framework.
Cynefin is the best multi-purpose framework for thinking about systems change I have found. It was created and continues to evolve under Dave Snowden, a Welsh OD person who has never let the necessities of making a living interfere with seeing the truth of what he and his community are creating. If you take nothing else away from this slide, immerse yourself in Dave’s thinking as an antidote to all the useless ways of thinking I have listed over my posts.
Cynefin is a framework for reimagining the interaction between us and the systems around us. The categories of Cynefin are ways of thinking about those interactions. This is not an abstract notion of interacting with a system. It is a way of dealing with the demands that the interaction requires of you. Our interaction with these systems can be framed as :
1.Obvious: These system interactions are simple enough that you can use an automatic practice. Think of an autogenerated monitoring form report that must be submitted every quarter, and only requires a current signature from the person filling the appropriate role.
2.Complicated: A 777 airplane is complicated because it has a lot of parts and interactions, but the parts don’t change very much because of the interactions. The parts might wear a little or gradually become obsolete, but they don’t change fast just because they interact with one another.
3.Complex: These systems interactions are like the ones referred to in many other parts of my posts in our change work for complex adaptive systems. In these systems, parts do change all the time because of their interactions with one another. This means that the future of these systems can’t be clearly predicted, and our interactions with them must be viewed as experimental (called fail-safe experiments in Cynefin). We need to learn lessons from these experiments in order to manage our interactions with the system. Over time, it is possible, if “complicated”, to move some complexity to the complicated arena.
4.Chaotic: When unpredictable events occur outside the system, the system with which we are interacting can enter a phase of chaos, when its behavior is entirely unpredictable. We have to try interactions and immediately learn from them to manage chaos. Fortunately, real chaos doesn’t last long.
The deepest lesson of Cynefin for managing change is that those complex systems are very dependent on the evolving context within which we interact with them. If we don’t respect that reality, we will always get unanticipated and generally unpleasant consequences.
Disruption, as a way to change systems, requires real reflection and analysis of the target. A deep understanding of what is actually occurring is necessary before you can use disruption effectively.
Typically, we focus on what is wrong with the target system, how it doesn’t do what it claims to do. We tend to chuck the parts of the system that keep it going more or less as it is into a wastebasket of general evil. So, people with disabilities aren’t supported well and the reason is extreme profit as the primary outcome of the power of corporatist social, political, and financial elites. We use very abstract, and often contemptuous, models for why people who are obviously being hurt by this system still continue to support it.
A disruptive strategy does not try to change the entire system, and it accepts that people will continue to support the current system until an effective alternative is easily available. Disruption focuses on the part or parts of the system that the system values the least, and also the audience that values those parts. The system as a whole will continue to adjust itself to meet the claims of its most powerful components, even if it is degrading the complex system as a whole. It is the degraded parts, the ones that the system can’t value through its own dynamic, that represent the best opportunity for change through disruption.
When I say that disruption focuses on parts of the system, I really mean that it focuses on how the system currently works, and what processes it plays out in those “parts”. Disruption aims to provide much higher process value and much more easily useful outcomes for those unvalued processes. Disruption chooses this strategy because it knows that the whole system:
Will be unwilling to invest resources (of all kinds) in these devalued processes.
Will pay an unacceptable political and social cost for diverting resources from highly valued processes in order to effectively compete for control over those devalued processes.
Often, the system believes that having these devalued processes addressed by some outsider is a good thing because it means they will be able to focus resources more effectively on the system’s highly valued outcomes.
This is the way disruption gets a fairly free arena for developing highly effective, cheap, and readily available processes that, for example, can replace the currently available, expensive, and bureaucratically defended system processes. By choosing a place where the incumbents in the larger system don’t want to compete, you allow yourself the luxury of focusing all your resources to build something better for your community.
Disruptive Innovation is a framework for replacing an existing part of a complex adaptive system with one that is:
Much less expensive or resource demanding
Easier to access and use
Easier to support, repair, and replace
Flexible in opening up adjacent possibilities for change
Imagine an MRI machine that only cost $50,000, instead of millions, and that could do a scan for $10.
Such disruption is not limited to products or technologies. It is a very useful concept for reimagining community living, social support, collaboration, mutual support, and other social “technologies” that are important to our disability community.
But disruptive innovation is not easy to do. You will need an understanding of where disruptive innovation starts and how it evolves. Evolution is the right framework for thinking about successful disruption.
As an example of both the possibilities and difficulties of disruption, imagine the ways that real trust between people makes everything they do more effective and less expensive in both time and resources. Then imagine how easy it is to lose trust in our current context. What kind of context would support trust and make its continuation and expansion more resilient?