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?

(P5): Prefigurative Politics

Early Picture of Bob Dylan playing an acoustic guitar and harmonica.

  • Prefigurative Politics
  • An anarchist is someone who doesn’t need a cop to make him behave.
    Ammon Hennacy
  • I want a change and a radical change. I want a change from an acquisitive society to a functional society, from a society of go-getters to a society of go-givers.
    Peter Maurin

Prefigurative Politics is an umbrella term for trying out changes in relationship, economic, and political practice within the current complex system to build the skills necessary to mount a successful counterstroke. Below are frameworks whose values can be used for these experiments.

Personalism: Personalism is a framework that puts the individual at the center of social justice work. It is an old philosophy, largely replaced by the view of social change as work on macro-political or economic improvement of whole societies. In my own life, the clearest example of personalism was the Catholic Worker movement.

But personalism need not be religious. In my view, personalism fits the vision of building the counterstroke through the local instead of the universal. What we build needs to fit all who are or would be members of our community.

I see parallels in personalism with the idea of accommodation as a tool of community inclusion in our disability community. Inclusion is not really accomplished by law or dictate, although such law can enable it. Inclusion is always accomplished by respect for the uniqueness of each person, and direct support for choice and possibility.

Mutual Support: Mutual Support is the collaborative enabling of each by all, in a context of mutual respect.

The Recovery Framework: In communities of Severe Mental Illness (SMI) and Substance Use Disorder (SUD), there is a framework called Recovery which allows individuals and their support networks to collaborate in managing those symptoms or personal characteristics which cost the person control over their immediate life and their hopes and dreams for a larger life.

The Recovery Framework is a surprisingly versatile tool kit and can be applied to a wide range of issues in the implementation of a counterstroke, because of the focus on core empowerment of each individual and their personal support network.

P5: The Commanding Beliefs of the American People

  • Everything is Possible

  • Vast problems can be solved if broken up into pieces and addressed one by one

  • Ordinary men and women contain within themselves, individually and collectively, the constructive genius with which to craft such solutions

I would ask you to entertain some new ideas about the possibility of change. These ideas won’t work in the current system because of its unavoidable aging and decline, but they can be useful in creating our counterstroke.

I have quoted these  “Commanding Beliefs” from Roberto Unger, a surprisingly hopeful Brazilian visionary who has great admiration for the American social experiment, if not the current version.

These beliefs still resonate with all Americans, even if we have come to see them as too innocent to be useful.

Do these beliefs seem naive to you?

I think we have become trapped by our sense that the possibilities for change are either trivial or out of the question. This trap is conditioning from the oppression that has been built by the complex adaptive system within which we live.

Stop looking at the skyscrapers of power and money and politics-as-usual, and start looking at what is immediately around you.

Keep these beliefs in mind as we go through the rest of these posts.


P5: Within the Shell of the Old

A multi-colored (blue, brown, and white) spiral sea shell.
An Old Shell

One of the oldest ways of thinking about large scale change in a complex adaptive system is, “Build the new within the shell of the old”. It recognizes the need for change without requiring us to embrace either of the macro revolutionary strategies (change through total governance or breaking down governance and starting from scratch). It also requires us to genuinely struggle with how we use the current system as we move forward.

But building the new within the shell of the old is tough if we are to avoid the horrors of building from scratch or trying to force the existing governing levers to embrace radically new values. We have to balance what we are trying to create, with all it’s fits and starts, with the necessity of our continuing, if evolving, dependence on the current system for our everyday existence. Nowhere is this necessity clearer than it is for the disability community.

The current reality will undermine our ability to change largely through forcing us to repeat habits acquired over long periods of time.

To avoid these barriers, we need to have social networks committed to change, and we need to embrace a new set of assumptions about how change is possible.

(P4): Delivering the Counterstroke

Black and white picture of troops landing at Normandy moving out of a landing craft toward the beach.

In the same way that the original insurgency was a surprise, so too must the counterstroke be unexpected.

The counterstroke must be many places at once and in many forms since one of its strengths is that the insurgent is overcommitted to their plan of success and has lost flexibility, resources, and creativity as a result.

Each part of the counterstroke must be able to adjust its actions on the basis of what it finds in reality and not according to some uber-plan, like the one of the insurgent. It is the growing and unavoidable commitment of the insurgent to their preconceived plan and its evolving flaws and weaknesses that increase the possibility of the success of the counterstroke.

After a long resisted insurgency effort, the insurgent loses redundancy, becoming increasingly brittle and subject to catastrophic failure in places if hit hard enough.

The pressure of the counterstroke must be continued until all parts of the insurgent plan assumptions have been countered.

(P4): Blunting the Insurgency

A slide entitled

  • Brittle systems experience rapid performance collapses, or failures, when events challenge boundaries- David D. Woods
  • “Even if the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” –Yogi Berra
  • No plan survives contact with a disaster-in-the-making.- General Law
  • “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth”. -Mike Tyson

The first response of a community to an insurgency is to resist. This resistance has the effect of blunting the insurgency.  In this context, blunting means stuff like the following:

  • Forcing the insurgent to alter their plan in small ways.
  • Making them expend resources and energy correcting their mistakes.
  • Wearing out the people who actually conduct the insurgency.
  • Forcing them to reveal their plans prematurely.
  • Forcing large-scale changes in plans that no longer are consistent with available resources or skills.
  • Forcing them to use equipment and approaches that are generally maladaptive.

Successful resistance has the same effect as all chronic stress. As the stress continues, it provokes a chronic maladaptive response pattern from the insurgent. The longer the stress continues, the more maladaptive the response.

But this doesn’t mean much if blunting is all that happens. It is an illusion that resistance can actually restore what was before if the original insurgency was significant.

(P4): The Strategic Defense

A map of Operation Barbarossa, the German Invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941

I believe that our disability community needs to engage for the indefinite future in what is called militarily a Strategic Defense.

The Strategic Defense is usually dictated by circumstances. The specimen example is the invasion of the Soviet Union by the German Army in World War II. The Soviet Army was entirely surprised by the invasion. For the next 18 months, the Soviets could do essentially nothing but defend and try to slow down the German Army, make the Germans use up their war materials, soldiers and equipment, and slowly prepare a counter-offensive. This counter-offensive was successful and began the long retreat of the German Army to its eventual defeat. A similar pattern had occurred when Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 and is chronicled in fascinating detail in “War and Peace”. There is no better tribute to ruling class delusion than this novel.

There are other more complex examples. In the American Civil War, the Confederacy deliberately chose a Strategic Defense (basically because they had no culturally acceptable alternative). In the American War in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese chose an especially complex, drawn-out, costly, and dangerous version of the Strategic Defense, ultimately successful, but at a very heavy price.