(P2): A Weak Constraint as a Potential Insurgency

A painting of a medieval revolt. Many people and soldiers fighting one another.

Mostly, CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems) view both internally generated and externally driven encounters as disturbances or perturbations. For purposes of understanding how you can advocate for change in a CAS, I prefer to think of these triggers as insurgencies.

An adjacent possible is something you can do readily from where you are right now. Some insurgencies keep resurfacing, an indication of an adjacent possible.

There are always more adjacent possibles than you know. They are often weak constraints, and we tend to pick one, stick with it as our preferred novel change target, and fail to see the other possibilities lurking close by. Our ability to survey the possibilities of the uncertain world around us is encumbered by our automatic focus on the easiest possibility to perceive.

Insurgencies subvert by their mere existence. In fact, a traditional way to turn a weak constraint into an insurgency is to trigger a response from the Target CAS. This is part of the reason why they are so hard to eliminate. Failed insurgencies are typically replaced by changes that will also trigger a new set of possibilities and a new insurgency.

Subversion is always possible. There is no way to build a fortress that is impervious to an insurgency. In fact, I think it is reasonable to describe the ongoing human conflicts in every State in the last 7,000 years as an insurgent struggle for change and freedom against a status quo struggling to increase and preserve control.

So, an insurgency is a kind of constraint, and it can move from a “weak” constraint to a powerful force for change just because the target reacts to its disturbance.

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(P2): Weak Signals as Weak Constraints

Drawn picture of black slaves fighting off white slavers trying to recapture them.

  • I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.
    -Jeff Bezos
  • The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.
    -Igor Stravinsky 
  • Problems are hidden opportunities, and constraints can actually boost creativity.
    Martin Villeneuve

So, how do we use weak signals as a basis for changing Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS)? We must look carefully at the weak signal to understand how or if this signal represents a weak constraint, and what the constraint means to the Target CAS.

Earlier I pointed out that weak links buffer the wildness of CAS. This buffering is a form of constraint, and that’s why buffering works. The buffer acts a bit like the banks on a river, constraining the flow of the river without dictating the movement of individual water molecules.

Our usual understanding of system constraints mimics the beliefs of the homeless community and uber-rich communities. Constraints are barriers to the safety or freedom of these communities, and so they are eliminated. Successful elimination of such weak constraints makes those social communities brittle and hyper-responsive to small disturbances.

The image above is a drawing of the effect of the Underground Railroad during and around the Civil War. The Underground Railroad functioned as a weak constraint on the Southern Slave System It was largely ignored when it was small but was attacked (ineffectively) when it expanded and began to operate as a sign of the weakness of that Southern Slave System.

The Underground Railroad was more than a simple barrier. It actively forced the Southern Slave System to respond to it. In the same way, weak constraints do more than provide simple barriers to the system of which they are a part.

Target systems for our advocacy have many weak constraints that are a normal expected part of their day-to-day experience. They are usually ignored or tolerated because the behavior of the weak constraint is a small local cycle that doesn’t threaten the larger system’s normal behaviors. If the weak constraint begins to expand its impact on the larger system, it will trigger a response of some kind from the larger CAS.

In Part Three, I’ll talk more clearly about how we use weak constraints (and sometimes strong constraints) to produce advocated change in CAS.

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Tools of FutureStrategy

A variety of Swiss Army Knives and other Multi-tools

Building Our Lives Together

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.

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(P6): We Are On The Edge of the Future

A Path in the woods branching into two paths in the distance. Text says, Thank You!!, and Choose your path carefully

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.

(P6): The Deepest Truth of Our Lives

Black and white photo of a line of ADAPT activists in wheelchairs charging up and over a hill. They bear a flag, roughly like the American flag, but with the stars in the form of a wheelchair symbol.

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.

(P6): Closing Thoughts

Wanderer, there is no road; the road is made by walking-Antonio Machado; We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community-Dorothy Day; A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess-A. Philip Randolph;  Diversity: the art of thinking independently together-Malcolm Forbes

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.

 

Part 6: Onward!!

A large lego structure built to travel and containing ongoing construction on its various levels
Our Future: Mortal Engines
  • “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”
    Sun Tzu
  • How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world
    Anne Frank
  • Why always, “not yet”? Do flowers in spring say, “not yet”?
    – Norman Douglas
  • The hour is ripe, and yonder lies the way.
    – Virgil

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.

(P5): Cynefin: A Better Way to Think about Change

Updated Cynefin Model Diagram: 4 quadrants of kinds of systems: OBVIOUS-Tightly constrained; no degrees of freedom; sense-categorize-respond; Use Best Practice. COMPLICATED-Governing Constraints; tightly coupled; sense-analyze-respond; Good Practice. COMPLEX-enabling constraints; loosely coupled; probe-sense-respond; emergent practice. CHAOTIC-lacking constraint; decoupled; act-sense-respond; novel practice.
Updated Cynefin Model

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.

(P5): A Guide to Disruption

Hand drawn outline of levels in disruption. Iteration: Doing the same things better; Innovation: Doing New Things; Disruption: Doing new things that make the old things obsolete.
Stairway to Disruption

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.

(P5): Disruptive Innovation

Large ADAPT protest at the National Capitol with many participants with disabilities

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?