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Ecology and the Office: Adaptive Cycle and Rare Transformation

Rarely does something spring from nothing; far more often seedlings spring from, well, from seeds.  And seeds come from trees.  And.. Well, you get the picture.

Just like forests, organizations and teams do not spring from nothing.  History and energy are embodied not only in the products teams produce, but in the workers themselves.  The adaptive cycle addresses growth, change, conservation and renewal.
Take a minute and read about the adaptive cycle:

http://www.peopleandplace.net/perspectives/2009/1/26/collapse_and_renewal

How does this fit in with the role of organizations and individuals?  How can we use it for innovation, stability and social change?

This link offers some good ideas:
http://tamarackcommunity.ca/ssi9.html

Here's the exerpt:

Panarchy: A Summary

Writing Getting to Maybe
Brenda, Michael and Frances have all been involved in change efforts and have also been teachers, hoping to build experience and competencies in their students. They found that while both prominent social innovators and large-scale changes are often lauded and profiled, there are few resources available that marry the two or accurately describe the real work and the role of the individual in the change experience.
They wrote the book for themselves (to articulate their own experiences), social innovators (to create a mirror that expressed their experience) and, those wishing to support social innovators (to understand the pressures and environment social innovators work in).
Along with Brenda and Michael, Frances asks, “What could I offer? And, what does the world need?” Getting to Maybe reflects these questions and offers a practical guide to social innovation for others in the field, as well as for anyone who wants to make a difference but are unsure where to start.
Stand still & see the larger patterns
Frances advises social innovators to take the time to reflect on the dynamics you intuitively sense so that you are able to accurately articulate the environment and the issues at play.
At the McGill-McConnell Program, the faculty recognized that they couldn't necessarily teach participants new content, but they could provide time for participants to engage in "thinking about the thinking" and to learn about how to act and how to manage in a complex environment.
In the highly innovative and creative world that social innovators work in, there's a need to respond intuitively, synthetically, but there's seldom an opportunity to share the language with each other. Often, the most powerful opportunities we can give social innovators is the opportunity to reflect in a different way about their experiences.
If we self-reflect, we're able to articulate the what and the how (e.g. How to find leverage points in the system. How do you think of tools and methodologies to understand the system you're in?)
An introduction to panarchy
Panarchy is inspired by the notion of the god Pan, the god of chaos. Systems are complex and chaotic, requiring us to look at other levels of scale in order to make change.
Much of Panarchy theory is drawn from ecology. Ecologists understand that to create ecological change at the global level you have to understand dynamics at regional and local levels. For example, if you’re looking at the needles on a pine tree, you need to consider the health of the tree, the forest, the crown, the general region, etc.
Growth and change don't happen in a step by step or linear way. There are tipping points - moments when structures collapse or ideas take off. These aren't continuities or predictable phenomena.
Change occurs because of trophic cascades, those sudden shifts that occur because conditions are ripe for change at multiple scales – this is the way to understand abrupt shifts in the environment.
These moments of alignment or tipping points are critical. They call upon different skills and competencies from social innovators. We often speak about "thinking like a movement". Thinking this way helps us to see that it takes the connection between initiatives to pull enough information into the system to see cross-scale connections happening. Each individual initiative is dependent upon connection with other innovations and initiatives.
Eco cycle IllustrationIn the panarchy framework, change unfolds through various and inter-connected stages, including ‘exploitation’, when ideas begin to take shape and focus; ‘conservation’, when ideas are put into action, key priorities are identified, programs become operational, and diversity diminishes; ‘creative destruction’ when there is an implosion or collapse as lack of diversity/inability to adapt make a system or an organization vulnerable – it can be salubrious but the more connected a system, the greater the destruction; and finally ‘renewal’ when potential begins to gather under the soil, which is an essential phase for innovation.
Tips for social innovators
  • We often say that knowledge and action are different – action is really a form of knowledge. Panarchy can create a framework that gives some shape to experiences of social innovators. Frameworks are only as useful as they illuminate. Panarchy can be a powerfully illuminating framework for understanding the work of innovation.
  • Train yourself to look at or query what’s happening at different scales. If you want your innovation to have maximum impact, monitor both the broad (e.g. economic, policy, etc.) and individual scales. Social innovators often burn out at the moment they seem most successful. Your individual sense of energy, passion, and excitement are important measures of your ability to achieve the change you want to see. The individual scale affects all scales.
  • Good social innovators move quickly when they see an opportunity (e.g. at the policy level). They’re aware of multiple scales and are able to see an opportunity to connect the dots, connecting resources to opportunity. They can feel the “now” – like an athlete knows when to swing the bat . When you’re starting out, your timing can be off, but you get better at swinging – if you don’t move, the opportunity to create deep change is minimum – so keep moving forward.

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