Saturday, January 28, 2012

Quaker Epistemology: A partial solution for complexity?

The day of the Meeting dawned bright and blue, the sun stretching herself across my bedroom window and inviting me to play. In the morning stillness, I could feel the attention of those who were going to be gathering together. And there are precious things more important than attention.

I had called upon some of the best individuals that I know. The founder of a major consulting company using complexity theory, the head of an academic department that worked with complexity and transformational learning, a close friend of some of the founders of complexity and himself a globe-trotting governance consultant, and an up-and-coming academic with a passion for the complex.

This rather extra-ordinary group of people had negotiated meetings, emergencies and various time zone challenges to be on a Skype call with me to hold my recent paper on Developing frameworks for Complexity up to the light, to see where the Light was shining through on it. In this, we were experimenting with 'Quaker Epistemology' developed at QIF.

The Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF) sponsors a summer research seminar which employs what we call “Meeting for Worship on the Conduct of Research.” We have developed a format where we listen to a presentation of someone’s current work, have a standard question and answer period and then center into a time of reflection, allowing comments to surface from the silence. In the process, powerful insights emerge from the participants and the presenter is ready to hear them.

My research into complexity sciences highlighted that in complex systems, different epistemologies are needed to deal with complex issues that go beyond pure intellectual thought. This includes bringing in our practical and experiential knowledge systems. I believe that part of the challenge with complex problems is that we can not - inherently - ever have complete knowledge. It is inherently difficult to spot the patterns of a system we are a part of. Our rational minds inherently get in the way. But so can our practical and experiential knowledge. So too can our emotional intelligence.

To solve the most pressing complex issues, we need to tap into our collective intelligence.

One flavour of collective intelligence is the spiritual intelligence that Quakers have come focus on and hone over the years. We at QIF are breaking ground in experimenting with integrating Quaker Process with substantial intellectual challenges. As a part of this community, I have heard research that ranges from bio-technology to film studies in Africa and China work with this particular process. Every time, something new is revealed, something that was not been seen before.

This was the first time it was tried online. If we are to be successful with this process, we need to be able to approach complex challenges across space and time. But since so much of Meeting for Worship for research is a physical experience, where the small motions of our neighbours make a substantial difference, I was unsure about what would occur online. We know when to speak and when to hold the silence in part through non-verbal cues that are difficult to pick up in an online space.

HoweverI have had profound online-collective conversations in the past. It requires a high level of imaginal skills and real focus. We have to enter into an imaginal, virtual space with people who may not know us particularly well. As inherently physical beings - and in my reading of it, Quakerism is a primarily physically- and action-orientated faith - the stillness that lies at the heart of our action is found in the stillness of our bodies and enhanced through other bodies. And yet it has been possible to bring that physicality into our online experiences. It just requires an extra - something.

In a situation where the participants did not know each-other - only I knew everyone else - was it possible to reach an intellectually and spiritually revealing space?

The conversation started with the technological difficulties that Skype is known for. One person was quite late to the conversation due, in part, to technical challenges. I shared who everyone was to me. We had some silence. I 'presented' what I felt was the main themes of the paper (they had all actually read it, I'm pleased to say).

And then some silence, and then questions, and then more silence, and then responses and questions and discussions, and hopefully we were all listening to some

How was it?

Somewhere between amazing and challenging. I discovered I was answering a question I didn't know I was asking - how is that that people who are engaging in what I call 'systemic self reflection' are actually engaging in that practice in a way that bridges scale and crosses systems. I had one of those moments when I understood the connection between who I am and why I do what I do, one of those moments when various pieces of my life journey suddenly overlapped with the various pieces of my intellectual arguments in such a way that not only was my perspective valuable but value created my perspective.


And yet we needed more silence, more light-holding, and more time. 60 minutes was not enough. We needed more clarity about how to hold up 'research' to the "Light" (that nebulous metaphor) that those steeped in Quaker practice were familiar with and those who were not struggled with. It was easy to loose the sense of space between speakers. Silence on Skype is hard.

And I'm at the point where I am ready to let go of Skype for these kinds of calls and instead to pay for a technological solution that is reliable and doesn't have annoying noises in it.

Nevertheless, perhaps the most profound part was recognising that a) the value and the challenge of the work that I am doing and b) that approaching this intellectual topic with an attitude of honour and gratitude opened the door for everyone to engage in it in a way they had not done so before. Every participant got something out of the process. One said to me that she felt the conversation ignited a rich collection of sparks that kept firing for the next few days and resonated in her own (somewhat related) work.

Online spaces require different protocols, rules of engagement and patterns of interaction to make them successful across time and space.

And that introductory presentation is particularly important. It is important to do as much work for it as possible - to get to the heart of what is it that we are struggling with, really? The pre-work I did was immensely helpful. Knowing it would be held to the Light, and not just to intellectual thinking, enabled me to stretch my imagination: what was really going on here? And so I ended up saying things I had not heard myself say in more 'traditional' 'intellectual' spaces, even those with a strong appreciation of emotional intelligence and experiential knowledge. Appealing to a different goal - setting my sights 'in' and 'out' at the same time - re-focused my intellectual energy on the 'flow' between the parts. Which is one of the main contributions of a holistic appreciation of complexity sciences.

A success? Yes, if we can learn from it and build from it - and if others can take experiment with it. Experiments with Light .... taken to a whole new level. The level of the meatiest, most challenging public policy and economic planning of our era: that of shifting socio-technical-economic systems to enable sustainability.

I'm not suggesting every policy needs Quaker epistemology. Variations of deliberation are insufficient to achieve the sustainability that is needed. Overarching power structures and institutional changes will impact the 'fitness landscape' as much as a thousand narratives. But there is nonetheless something invaluable in our process that can help us know what to pay attention to.

In a world with increased information, demands for attention and general anxiety, clarity about what to pay attention to is one of the primary challenges. Navigating multiple narratives with grace requires a reliance upon a practice that can bring us closer to something that resembles active wisdom.

Meanwhile, the non-Quakers where working to take the 'religious' language out of this process to make it 'secular'. I've mixed feelings about this. On the one hand: please, help me make this something that we can translate, because the problems I want to tackle are in spaces who fear the 'god language'. On the other: sigh. Somewhere inside of me remains a touch of a purist who isn't sure at what point we slide away from the essence of the thing that we are working with and embark onto just another collection of people sharing different perspectives without that hunger for more-than-ourselves that lies at the heart of our personal and societal lurching, hovering and occasionally developmental quests.

Regardless of the language, and despite the need for tweaks, I believe there is something in this process that might be scale free, and enable us to bring that beloved community of sustainability a bit closer to actualisation.

Freeing the Mystery: Valuing IWRM

This being human - the mystery never leaves us.

We know that we are at once precious and whole - and incomplete. We thirst for wholeness.

Pablo Freire noted that in our yearning to complete ourselves we can turn to either humanisation or dehumanisation. History is rife with both. But it is only humanisation which is the 'people's vocation'. Humanisation is only possible with freedom. Freedom terrifies: It requires authenticity which requires breaking away from the images of the adult when that adult is our oppressor. And who among us is neither oppressor nor oppressed? It requires maturation. As we deeply social creatures need one another during the strife of acquiring our freedom, this means we need to reach beyond our individuality towards the other without loosing ourselves in the process.

And so this becomes our task: to free one another from the bonds of our own and our society's oppression.
To do so, we use what we have always used - hands, hearts, minds - and language. We use words.

We must call one another forth.

And not just any words. We use those words that are so powerful that they call us into action. Freire called those action-words, praxis - where reflection and action intertwine, allowing a pathway towards freedom. 30 years ago, Dr Brian Hall called these words 'values'. My colleague Tone Ringstad sometimes calls them 'sparks'. They spark the engine of any organisation. The engine that enables human development. Certainly those who actively work with these values' eyes have a certain light sparkle to them. It is as if these intangible pockets of energy have their own life, and when we work with them, we touch something that is deeper than much of the superficiality of human existence and yet forms and re-forms it.

Inspired by Freire, developmental psychologists and his own work Latin America, Dr. Hall systematically found 125 Universal Human Values, named them and created a way to measure them. Their development echoes a spiral dynamics that may be familiar to some of you, but with a level of granuality and - critically - of measurement that provides proxies, insights and focus for some of the most critical aspects of human work: enabling the alignment of individuals, teams, and cultures within and between institutional structures. Have I mentioned the measurement part? We can measure them. And as any of us who have followed the debates on the importance - and pain - of GDP as an indicator of so-called 'development', what we measure is what we count and what we count, well, counts.

I've been steeped in values-data the past few days/weeks as I prepare to go to India for the first-ever evaluation of an Integrated Water Resource Management project.

It turns out that some of the early work of Values Development was done in India. Dr Hall worked closely with Fr. Anthony De Sousa of the Xavier Institute of Management, Mumbai. That collaboration led to the Manohar publication of a book on leadership and values in 1979: Developing Leadership by Stages.The book's publication was sponsored by the Department of Research and Publication of the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi.
So I stand on the shoulders of giants, embarking into one of the modern 'Tiger' economies. Yet I feel quite small, embarking into a strange culture and a strange land to talk - and to learn - about human values. It is an opportunity to live out some of my own 'higher' values: of interconnection, minessence, synergy and 'word'. There's a lot we don't know.

Here, in the world of water engineers and floods (we lost some good data due to recent flooding; less fortunate people lost their lives) and fisheries and farmers and the desire to improve service delivery and agricultural outputs and the complications of the Indian beauracracies that these questions of freedom and the values that will get us there become real. By real I mean, really messy. By really messy, I mean, complex. By complex I mean, the stuff of life. Where it is possible to detect patterns and to find the difference that will make a difference.

Irrigated Agriculture Modernisation and Water-Bodies Restoration and Management (IAMWARM)
was instigated in response to the report of an Expert Committee on “Development and Management of Water Resources”. It emphasized the critical need to increase agricultural productivity, especially in the absence of possibility for bringing additional land area into cultivation. It saw the challenge as one of
increasing the efficiency and productive use of water and strengthening and integrating institutional structures to give small and marginal farmers access to irrigation management and improved agriculture practices.This entails bringing together 8 departments, from fisheries to agriculture. This is no small task.

Integrated Water Resource Management requires a certain collection of values. Researchers continuously find water decisions and processes for service delivery require balance of diverse perspectives and the promotion of shared vision values, such as sustainability. It requires that administrations move out of the 'me centred' perspective and towards a 'we centered' perspective. This is a significant Inherently complex, water basin systems require multi-stakeholder negotiation and what some folks at MIT and Tufts are calling 'water diplomacy'. This trip, at least, is less about water diplomacy per se as it is about how much a particular change management programme that has sought to bring together the different departments been successful. We are using this cutting-edge values technology to measure this - and doing what I hope will be a large and rich array of field work, talking to a string of water engineers, departmental heads and others to discover just how much this particular programme has had the desired impact. Are they able to work together in a way that increases their shared humanity? Or are they being pulled towards continued disintegration?

It's not easy, bringing about integration for better service delivery, though it is essential for sustainability. That search for wholeness. In a state with a long history of water conflicts, this is one evaluation that might put a small drop towards making a difference. But at the moment, most of what I have is a lot of unanswered questions, and a sneaking suspicion that the real mystery is that amidst all of our differences, we connect ever, at all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Poetry, Order and Prophecy amidst Chaos

To create 'Order' from Chaos. There are few endeavours we humans strive for more deeply and continuously. Of course we continually, regularly - even orderly? - fail. Still, our mythologies, sciences, rituals and institutional structures strive - and do - order and re-order ourselves and our worlds.

When we stand amidst particularly strong chaos, she who can create a new order - an order that others can and do align their behaviour with - exercises great power and influence.

And one of our most powerful ways of doing so - especially if one is not the emperor and can thus order the world around one with relative ease - is through poetry. Metaphors become the keys to open endless doorways between the world as it is and the world as it might be

Which, Walter Brueggemann suggested, is how the prophets were as powerful as they are. The prophet, said the theologian, has the task of reframing "so that we can re-experience the social realities that are right in front of us. We exercise great freedom in whom God is now permitted to be among us."

In his interview with Krista Tippett, he quotes Isaiah 43: "Do not remember the former things nor consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"
And apparently, what he's telling his people is just forget about the Exodus. Try to imagine that. That whole, babes and mamas leaving Egypt thing - just put it to one side and pay attention to the present moment.

Sitting with this passage a bit, I think of the discussions we have at work about a) the need to get beyond 'business (er, research) as usual' and the immediate, subsequent, b) continuation of business as usual. Of course, changing narratives - and thus action - isn't exactly easy. Those deep stories - 'there is no other way to get funding than the way we've been doing it and without funding we won't survive' can be harder to change than slaying a dragon.

We are so very focused on the past, no doubt obsessing about our own tendency towards path dependency. Turning ourselves towards the present - and thus the responsibility of choice and the potential of both failure and success - has never been modern society's strongest asset. Present moment awareness is one of the simplest and most challenging insights of most faith traditions, and, so far as I can tell, of the lessons coming out of the loose family of complexity sciences.

The passage above does not tell us to look at the future. The future and the present are quickly brought together. We are asked, 'do you not perceive it' - the emerging newness is here, before us, right now.

And yet right here, right now, there is so much to see. What do we pay attention to?

No, I'm not sure I do perceive it, Isaiah. There are a lot of signals around.

Weak signals, strong signals, the mass media, the inner quiet, the telephone call - we are awash with information signals. Coming into the present moment can be overwhelming and fragmenting.

Maybe that's just fine. Brueggemann beautifully describes us as collections of fragments that do not always fit together.

Poetry can pull together and re-arrange those fragments better than almost anything else.

Perhaps this is because poetry has something that we so often lack these days - play, and silence. There's a lot of noise out there. Maybe you're luckier than I am, but sometimes my head feels like the television used to sound when I pushed too many buttons on it as a child (back when TVs had one button per channel). In poetry, and in good ministry, it is the space between the words as well as the words themselves that shape the listening. Shape the listening and you shape the understanding.

I started regularly writing poetry a year ago, when I split with my partner of 6 years. I've written over 110 poems since then. Some have been published. Some have brought meaning to other people's lives. Some have helped me re-order my relationship with myself and learn to tell myself a different story of who I am. They have brought me to other poets - from the old testament to more recent poets, such as Pablo Neruda, and have formed and informed my ministry within Quakerism. I need no convincing of the power of poetry.

I do, however, need more practice in linking my poetry with real-world change.

In my most recent feedback from a social-sciency paper I'm producing for Future Health Systems at IDS, my supervisor suggested that sometimes I had a little 'too much poetry'. Aiming for versatility in my writing, I'm heeding his advice. (Though I'm still slightly miffed. I liked my 'cute' phrases.)

The real trick, I think, is in translation. As Snowden recently reminded me, it is narratives and heuristics more than rules that will guide our behaviour. Knowing when to use what metaphor to help which fragment re-arrange itself within the overarching framework of an institution requires knowing the language and meaning within each area. Keeping our language at the 'edge' means knowing what the shapes of any given audience is. Assuming (for a moment at least) that my supervisor is right - my audience might not be able to hear my so-called 'poetry'. To be heard, we must speak as close to the language of fishermen and policy makers as we can - but remember to which we speak.

This may be yet another aspect lying behind why so many 'blue print solutions' don't work - they lack the translators who can go from the blue print and translate it into the particularities of that situation. And when they do 'work' - it is because some un-sung meza-level manager has found a way to translate the macro to the micro. Translation takes skill - and time. We lack the time and the space to sit with the original piece of work and think, how can this really be used? What meaning do we want to take from this, today?

This is not easy. Those who sit with these uncomfortable passages, where we are asked to disregard the comforts of past patterns (especially those not working), and look to the next surprising edge of a continuously changing and morphing living Spirit are tasked with finding a 'radical' (root-centered) way of living.

Perhaps the work of prophetic poetry is a conversation, not a monologue.

A conversation with at least three actors: the prophet, the listener/reader, and that Being which both listener and prophet are seeking, who is springing forth amidst us, if we can let go of the past sufficiently to see this moment's Genesis.

As we face increasing 'chaos' (or at least something that resembles it), our collective capacity to be poetic prophets and deep - even intercessorary -listeners to and for one another will grow.

Get thee to thine poetry, oh change-maker. And to thine listening. And to thine acting.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Navigating chaos through ritual: London Feasting

In complexity-sciences lexicon, Occupy London could be said to be 'at the edge of chaos'. There are some things we know about systems at the edge of chaos that we can apply to the internal and external 'chaos' that both enables and constrains this particular manifestation of a global disquiet with the inequality and non-sustainability that stains our current socio-economy.

One might bear in mind that the use of metaphors from chaos theory for human systems, which are always, on some level, complex (that is to say, humans working together are inherently connected and learn from one another) can be quite problematic and should be done with care. Metaphors are some of our most powerful tools for creating change. Still, last night I was able to make it practical and useful for a small group of change-makers within Occupy London. Hopefully by sharing it here, it can support others.

It started when I showed up at the 'Bank of Ideas' for a conversation about health systems as a form of Commons. Since I'm thinking of the potential use of a commons-framework for some work I'm doing, this seemed a good use of a Saturday afternoon. What I had not appreciated (because I can be amazingly daft) is that I was going to the 'other Occupy London' site - a former Bank, now completely cleaned of computers and tables and chairs and filled, instead, with workshop space, a loose community of people sleeping, guitar-playing, ping-ponging, samosa-making and scheming on some worn-down leather couches And cold: they don't exactly have the budget for the heating bill. Nevertheless, this international, somewhat ragged group of occupiers is sitting between Barclays and HSBC, painting flowers on walls and holding workshops on taxation in a building worth 55 million - and paying nothing for it. Such is one of the shapes of today's manifestation of globalisation.

The discussion of the Health Commons never happened.

Instead I attended a discussion on Integral Activism (that's Integral using Ken Wilbur's frameworks) which was trying to figure out how to bring some degree of 'development' (Wilbur style) to the internal chaos, lack of communication and uneasy diversity that the (rather white, rather male, rather young) and distinctly unstructured inner workings of Occupy. I suggested that they not talk too explicitly about Integral theory and instead focus on some relatively easy, concrete actions that could enable greater communication/community/'we space' and even some bridge-making, collective reflection. I subsequently bailed early and bummed my way into a discussion on the Future of Occupy, held in one of the warmer rooms of the building - what was probably once a coveted corner office and now held a (very nice) blow up mattress, something that resembled a bookshelf , some chairs and a group of 'Commoners' and others I didn't know. Including a few Full Timers. Who were having almost exactly the same conversation as the Integral folks - how to enable greater connectivity and something that resembled order amidst a very, very open system (people coming and going a great deal with minimal consistancy). This group, though, was less concerned about 'inner work' and more concerned about strategic direction. They were talking about using scenario planning as a way of working with the different options before them.

I wondered what Jonathan Porritt would do with such a disparate group of people. Like so many others, he's walked around the camps. And like so many others, the good folks at Occupy and he haven't figured out what, if anything, they can do to support one another besides sharing some metaphors, sentiments and considerations.

Towards the end of the discussion I finally saw the pattern: there was a fair amount of internal 'chaos' in a very 'open system' (ok, yes, I know, strictly speaking, chaotic systems are closed, not open) with a high level of inherent uncertainty. There was no structure to help the chaos move towards complexity - to form patterns of interaction that could stabilise into something that resembled order.

And us humans - we love order. Oh, I know, we hate it also. But collectively creating order and making patterns to which we ascribe meaning is one of our most ancient and even sacred collective tasks. It was then that the insights that Dave Snowden shared with me in our most recent conversation came resounding back to me: one of the ways that we humans - unlike 'agents' in the complex adaptive systems studied at places like the Santa Fe Institute - create order is through ritual.

So this is the story I told. It's not, strictly speaking, true. But it's a good story.

Occupy London formed out of chaos. It was never sure if this self-organised new social movement would survive more than a few hours, a few days. But, against the odds, it has survived. It continues to grow, and to form new patterns of interaction. At first, it was mostly concerned with logistics and the basic survival needs of food, warmth, shelter and safety. While these are still a concern, it is slightly less than it used to be. It is now struggling to become more complex - that is, it is struggling to learn together even as it broadens to include the rest of the '99%'. This is a natural occurance. There is nothing wrong with the experience of frustration that is so common here. In fact, we might even see it as a good sign - provided some degree of consistant people can stick with it. It is an opportunity to evolve to the next phase.

But there is nothing - nothing - inevitable about this evolutionary journey. True: the overarching arc of history bends towards justice. But this particular manifestation of an attempt towards justice depends (partially) on the active and collective actions (forming interactive patterns) of we who can be involved. So.

This is now the time when we need to come to know one another in what we Quakers call 'that which is eternal'. The natural way that happens is around the significant passages of our lives: births, deaths, marriages. The daily General Assemblies are such rituals that give structure and collective meaning to chaos, enabling the slow formation of order.

But we don't have to wait for more marriages or deaths. There is another ritual that we can use: Feast Days.

Feasting brings the community together in celebration of itself and the world around it.

So what about a Feast Day in February, in Celebration of a True Wealth. It would be a chance for all three Occupy spaces in London to come together. It would enhance communication, community and happiness. If we did it at St Pauls, it could bring in the very rich local food movements in London. The diverse local communities could come and share their food - and with it, their culture.

We would have two rules: Come in friendship, and, Bring the food yourself. In other words - No vendors allowed.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, would be bought and sold using the currency issued by the Bank of England (or the Federal Reserve, or the EU).

We are celebrating True Wealth here. The Wealth of the Commons.

Financiers, of course, are welcome at our table. We will exchange food and friendship and fellowship. But for one meal, we will exchange no british sterling.

And we could do it every month, and make it a real ritual! Someone popped in.

A monthly feast day? I thought to myself.... is that too often? Some strands of Catholicism and Orthodox traditions do that, and in this highly chaotic situation where no one knows how long they can stay here, and in a city like London - which loves, loves eating - that might not be a bad idea.

Exactly, I responded. (Sometimes the pretense of certainty is helpful.)

So there's now a small group of people keen on organising this. Stay tuned for future developments - and get in touch if you've got ideas.

I actually won't be here in February - I'll be India. Though this blog is staying put, in that dynamic, ever-changing, never-disappearing way that the internet is so good at. If it happens in March I'll be there. March - what a long time from now, in the world of Occupy, which struggles to plan anything more than a week away. Time is different on the edge of chaos. If 'we' are still around in March, if the Eurozone hasn't driven us all into some other space, if the plans for Rio haven't torn everyone away from Finance, if if if if if .....
well. We will all still be eating in March.

Of course feasts are not enough - rituals are needed for decision making processes more, perhaps, than anything else. It is the rise of structures of working decision-making that enabled 17 century Quakers, unlike many of their contemporaries with much the same message, to survive another period when the world seemed to be turned upside down. But feasting is important. And fun.

And there's nothing like breaking bread together to find the love that brought all of us into this precious little world in the first place.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Creating the fitness landscape for Lao-Tzu's City on a Hill

I'm lucky to have some brilliant and visionary friends and colleagues dedicated to creating radical global societal change towards sustainability. This leads to the following, ongoing conversation 'how the heck do I/we do that?'

Take my Synthesis colleague and friend Rhett Gayle. He's doing some cutting edge philosophy: looking at how to weave together complexity sciences and Taoism. He suggests one might view Taoism as part of the family of complexity sciences, which is concerned with discerning order and 'flow' (how change happens) in the natural world and in human systems through observing natural and human phenomenon. Of course, Chinese philosophers were not using computers or higher mathematics. But they paid a lot of attention to things that Western Scientists are not exactly well-known for. Like taking a whole-systems perspective on the human body, and building entire life-patterns around the observation that engaging in bodily practices like Tai Chi and meditation can improve one's capacity for what we might call 'rational' thought. Research shows that Eastern traditions are better at 'circular' thinking - which naturally lends itself to the systems-thinking that some organisations have been trying for years to knock into the thick-skulls of entrenched western institutions. Complexity sciences might help illuminate aspects of Taoism. Studying Taoism might change some of the questions asked by those of us interested in complex systems. And maybe, just maybe, complexity sciences and Taoism are both pointing not to one another, but to some common, higher way of thinking-living-acting in the world, a lexicon that can only be discovered through their interaction.

We're talking about the potential for serious cross-cultural engagement leading to a synthesis that has never been done because we've never been in a space to do it.

All of which I consider pretty-freakin-incrediable.

And Rhett's the guy to be doing it. Not because he's published volumes of philosophy, but because he's got an incredible gift for making the complicated and the complex simple. We've done some values work together - and he's all about constructing a new order through synergy and wisdom. He's fundamentally a teacher. It is that skill, more than the brilliant 'here is how everything is connected' - that is so critically important for these kind of cross-cultural insights that can lead us towards that promised 'city on a hill' that has for so long tugged at Western (esp American) consciousness.

And he's sitting in this really tiny little town in middle-England that has never heard of organic fruits and vegetables where - maybe - 3 other people kinda-sorta understand what he's talking about. I've been there. It's got a nice church. And some beautiful marsh-type places where he walks his sweet jack russell terrior. And a decent choir that Rhett sings in. And his wife. She is also a brilliant philosopher - and the reason he moved from his comfortable teaching position at the University of Colorado in Boulder (where to not eat organic and practice yoga is to be assigned to the Cult of the Very UnCool).

So yesterday we had a conversation that went something like this.
Rhett: So I've done all this reading and some writing and thinking and there are a lot of different places I could take this and a lot of different audiences.
Me: Yup. What do you want?
Rhett: An active team just on this work. Some funds. A publisher - or a few. But I don't know what is the right audience to go for or who are the best people to work with.
Me: Hmmmm. Sounds like you are in the dark.
Rhett: Totally.

So I suggested we use some of the metaphors from complexity sciences and apply it to his situation.

He's on a fitness landscape. There's where he's come from - his past, which is pretty important to where he is right now. Historical context matters in complex systems. But much more important is where he is right now. He kinda-sorta knows where he wants to go: actively creating a new synthesis of planetary civilisation with a cool group of people. That's part of his city on the hill. But right now, he doesn't know how to get there. Even the shape of the city is fuzzy - like the Emerald City when it is just this green hazzy light.

Managers, policy makers and others working in complex systems face these kinds of problems all the time. We want sustainable fisheries, but we're not sure what policies will get us there - and what to do about those darn tourists. We want our business product to succeed, but we don't really know what the market wants, or what exactly who or where our target audience is, or what the optimal price is.

So we need information. Feedback. To make a shape of the chaotic darkness, we've got to send out 'probes' to discover information about our environment. Who's out there? What do they want and need? What can they pay? Social scientists? Scholars? Practitioners (of .... Tai-Chi? Management consultancies with Toyota)? Other attempts to bridge Eastern-Western collaboration?

The strategy found useful in businesses and in natural resource management is an 'adaptive', experimentive one where we are learning about our landscape. Sending out a series of experimentive probes. Make a bunch of calls to some potential funders, send out a few different abstracts, send out a few blogs, and see what happens - and then reassess. What worked, what didn't work? Do we know why? What felt great? Are we closer to the city, or further, or did we just turn a corner?

Rhett digged the idea of probes. And why not - its fun. Which is what this whole life, change-the-world-even-as-we-live-in-it thing is supposed to be, anyways.

And, of course, the thing about the fitness landscape is that it is constantly changing even as we are changing, and that together we are shaping one another.

Later, after our call, I thought about one of the paradoxes of time in the Christian tradition - the notion that the beloved kingdom that we are seeking to create is already here even as it has not yet come.

Complexity pictures of a fitness landscape show an agent in one place going across various dips and valleys and mountains over time, and those mountains change a bit as she goes across them. Such maps show that developmental pathways for countries are different (in case you were stuck in the now-outdated belief that developmental pathways for anything- country or person or tree - could possibly ever look identical).

What if this process of moving across a fitness landscape is really about changing into, and revealing, the pattern and shapes that are already here? They say it's the journey that matters more than the destination. What if that's true because it actually is the journey that creates and shapes the destination - as we go towards that as-yet unrealised intellectual and practical world, we are creating it even as it is creating us - indeed, part of the process is letting ourselves be re-created by it. It's a subtle framing difference - journeying to the future versus creating the future from the present. In the latter, one doesn't 'go' anywhere so much as reveal what is already there and interact with it differently. I'm not sure how much this difference matters - either way, adaptive, iterative learning processes that reveal the shape of the landscape, one's position in it and enable one to change one's position (within certain limits) seem good processes. Both ways, the importance of amplification, which I'll write about in the near future, is clear.

But I like the idea that we are in the process of discovering a world that is already here. We just have to get out of the way.