Loose, Messy and Chaotic

Centralised, hierarchical systems made sense in a world in which information and knowledge were relatively scarce commodities and could be tightly controlled, but the decentralisation of knowledge, brought about by the inexorable rise of the internet – combined with a collapse of trust in traditional sources of authority and expertise – legitimises the creation of flatter, decentralised operational models. Rapidly changing customer expectations powered by social media are forcing institutions to become more open, transparent and responsive and to operate in close to real time, as opposed to the painfully slow pace of institutional time.

Tight ways of thinking and working, while being superficially attractive and comforting, don't work. They have been built on the illusion of control. This illusion – propagated by legions of consultants, economists, market researchers and other purveyors of empirical snake oil – has actually made businesses less capable of embracing the complex realities of the modern world.

Agility, flexibility, a willingness to exercise judgement and an ability to improvise will become the defining characteristics of successful institutions in the next decades. This means fighting the instinct to solve every problem through rules and regulations and recognising the limitations of long-term planning and the painfully slow nature of most internal decision-making processes.

It means accepting the need to operate in real time and making the organisational and cultural changes necessary to achieve it. And most importantly, it means building a strong, self-sustaining, trusting organisational culture rather than in investing in yet more process and bureaucracy.

The future is loose, messy and chaotic: now is the time to embrace it.

Martin Thomas

Loose: the Future of Business is Letting Go

So much straw

It is said that on 6 December 1273, while he was celebrating mass, a great change came over Thomas Aquinas. At the age of 49, his Summa Theologica ("Summary of Theology" – nearly 1300 pages) unfinished, he stopped writing. To his faithful secretary and companion Reginald of Pipersno, he said, ‘Reginald, I can do no more; such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now, I await the end of my life of my works.’ Aquinas died three months later.

All our talk about God is halting, partial, hopelessly inadequate. This does not mean we should not hold firm beliefs about God or do the best job we can as philosophers and theologians. It simply means that no matter how much skill or effort we bring to the job, God always remains in part a mystery. The gap between God and our ideas about God was, we believe, salvifically narrowed by God’s revelatory initiative, but not closed.

Like Aquinas, all Christians can see that human talk about God ultimately comes to an end. It’s best efforts are like straw.

Stephen T. Davis, Logic and the Nature of God

Caught Between

It is not just the pace of change that leaves us disoriented. Many Americans have lost faith that the transitions they are going through are really getting somewhere. To feel as though everything is “up in the air,” as one so often does during times of personal transition, is endurable if it means something – if it is part of a movement toward a desired end. But if it is not related to some larger and beneficial pattern, it simply becomes distressing.

It is as if we launched out from a riverside dock to cross to a landing on the opposite shore – only to discover in midstream that the landing was no longer there. (And when we looked back at the other shore, we saw that the dock we had left from had broken loose and was heading downstream. Stuck in transition between situations, relationships, and identities that are also in transition, many Americans are caught in a semipremanent condition of transitionality.

William Bridges, Transitions

The Neutral Zone

Anyone who has ever remodeled a house knows a good deal about personal transitions because such an undertaking replicates the three-part transition process. It starts by making an ending and destroying what used to be. Then there is the time when it isn’t the old way any more, but not yet the new way, either. Some dismantling is still going on, but so is some new building. It is very confusing time, and it is a good idea to have made temporary arrangements for dealing with this interim (“neutral zone”) state of affairs--whether it is temporary housing or a time of modified activities and reduced expectations to make the old housing work. And as the contractors always warn you, remodeling always takes more time and money than new construction. Good advice in regard to transition, too.

William Bridges, Transitions

The price of avoiding uncertainty

In order to manage the avalanche of information that our senses are absorbing at all times, our brains work to find patterns, simplify information, and look for clarity. That allows us to be able to make decisions and act. But sometimes in the rush to make order of the world, our brains jump to unwarranted conclusions — taking in the myriad of information around us and deducing something that just isn't quite right.

A high need for closure isn't necessarily a bad thing. You may just be the type of person who likes to make plans and avoid surprises. However, the need for closure can lead to two major pitfalls in decision making, says Holmes.

The first is what psychologists call the "urgency effect," which is basically the tendency to jump to conclusions. The second is the "permanence effect" -- a stubborn tendency to stick with your beliefs and not change your mind, even in the face of contradictory evidence. Both of these effects result from your brain trying to avoid feelings of uncertainty.

If you have a high need for closure, research suggests you should be careful making decisions, especially in times of fatigue or stress.

Ana Swanson writing in the Washington Post

The Need for Closure

Not everyone has the same impulse when it comes to ambiguity. Some people are very uncomfortable with confusion, and their minds jump to quick decisions in the face of uncertainty. Others are content to be confused a while, and may even find it makes them more creative. Even with this article, some may have read the ambiguous headline and been intrigued -- while others may have felt annoyed or daunted.

Psychologists describe the degree to which people seek out certainty as their "need for closure." This trait varies not just from person to person, but also with environmental factors, like fatigue, time pressure and stress.

The need for closure doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence, but it can have a powerful influence on your behavior -- including your capacity to innovate, your predilection for stereotyping, and your ability to make decisions in times of crisis.

Ana Swanson writing in the Washington Post

avoiding the ditches

Make your goal a readiness to deal with new and developing circumstances--instead of simply avoiding any possibility of failure by trying to control which circumstances you are willing to deal with. Chasing the latest fade (simply because it is new) or ignoring what’s going on around us (and thus becoming irrelevant to the conversation) are two extreme temptations. We can fall into these ditches in an attempt to avoid regularly thinking hard about life and deal with the uncertainty that surrounds us. To stay on the road of maturity, we have to allow for ambiguity and endure that nagging (and sometimes frightening feeling) about what may come our way.

Stephen Goforth

Why confusion makes some people creative and other people crazy

Not everyone has the same impulse when it comes to ambiguity. Some people are very uncomfortable with confusion, and their minds jump to quick decisions in the face of uncertainty. Others are content to be confused a while, and may even find it makes them more creative. Even with this article, some may have read the ambiguous headline and been intrigued -- while others may have felt annoyed or daunted.

Psychologists describe the degree to which people seek out certainty as their "need for closure." This trait varies not just from person to person, but also with environmental factors, like fatigue, time pressure and stress.

The need for closure doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence, but it can have a powerful influence on your behavior -- including your capacity to innovate, your predilection for stereotyping, and your ability to make decisions in times of crisis.

Ana Swanson writing in the Washington Post

Renewal happens

Renewal comes neither by taking a rest nor changing the scenery, nor by adding something new to our lives, but by ending whatever is, and then entering a temporary state of chaos when everything is up for grabs and anything is possible. Then we can come out of what is really a death-and-rebirth process with a new identity, a new sense of purpose, and a new store of life energy.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition

The in-between times

Unexpected solutions to difficult problems and creative ideas in general come out of a murky state where purpose and focus are temporarily suspended. Many of the decisions that change the direction of our lives are made during in-between times, after something has ended but before our lives have taken a definite new shape.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition

Coming to terms with the unknown

A Dutch experiment gave subjects a series of 20 jolts of electricity. The group was divided between those who knew they were getting 20 strong shocks and those who were told they would receive 17 mild shocks and 3 intense jolts. The second group wasn't told which shock was coming when.

The researchers found the group that did not know what was coming had a higher level of anxiety - even though they received fewer hits than the other group. The group facing uncertainty sweated more and their hearts beat faster.

Oddly enough, the anticipation of the unknown creates more stress for us than knowing something bad is going to happen to us. We prefer knowing the bad news is a sure thing over suspecting there may be bad news to come.

It’s hard to come to terms with the unknown. When we know what we are facing, we can go ahead and grieve and move forward. But when we don’t know whether to grieve or not, or how much to grieve, we are stuck in the land of uncertainty.

Stephen Goforth

Video Game Design

Good game designers know how to draw us in by catering to some very basic emotional needs. (Researcher Jane McGonigal) notes that the best games have four elements: clear goals that allow us to feel a sense of purpose; rules that make the task harder and thereby challenge our creativity; rapid feedback to chart our progress; and an experience that is voluntary.

Wouldn't it be nice if work was more like a video game? Your boss would articulate a clear mission and set of milestones you were expected to meet. You would go into the office every day and receive ongoing feedback about your progress so you could see the impact you are having.

The truth, of course, is that reality is messy. Our goals are fuzzy, our progress unclear. Video games, the majority of which now focus on getting us to cooperate rather than compete, offer a more fulfilling existence, McGonigal argues.

"We all want to find more meaning in what we do, like we're part of something bigger," McGonigal said. "Games give us a place to feel that, to cooperate and do something that is more satisfying."

Stop and consider the astonishing amount of time that people are now spending on games. In the U.S. alone, there are 183 million active gamers out of a population just under 310 million. Each day in "World of Warcraft" alone, people spend more than 30 million hours playing. And that's just one game. If we redirected even a fraction of that time into making schools better, the result could be an epic win for all of us.

Chris O'Brien, Mercury News Columnist

Ambiguity and narrative

The discomfort with ambiguity and arbitrariness is equally powerful, or more so, in our need for a rational understanding of our lives. We strive to fit the events of our lives into a coherent story that accounts for our circumstances, the things that follow us, and the choices we make. Each of us has a different narrative that has many threads woven into it from our shared culture and experience of being human, as well as many distinct threads that explain the singular events of one's personal past. All these experiences influence what comes to mind in a current situation and the narrative through which you make sense of it: why nobody in my family attended college until me. Why my father never made a fortune in business. Why I'd never want to work in a corporation, or, maybe, why I would never want to work for myself. We gravitate to the narratives that best explain our emotions. In this way, narrative and memory become one. The memories we organize meaningfully become those that are better remembered. Narrative provides not only meaning but also a mental framework for imbuing future experiences andinformation with meaning, in effort shaping new memories to fit our establish constructs of the world and ourselves. The narrative of memory becomes central to our intuitions regarding the judgments we make and the actions we take. Because memory is a shape-shifter, reconciling the competing demands of emotions, suggestions, and narrative, it serves you well to stay open to the fallibility of your certainties: even your most cherished memories may not represent events in the exact way they occurred.

Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning