Observing Complexity

To me, observing real life systems is something like this:

A real life System comprises of a meaningful set of objects, diverse in form, state and function but inter-related through multiple network of interdependencies through mutual feedbacks enclosed by variable space, operating far from its equilibrium conditions not only exchanging energy and matter with its environment but also generating internal entropy to undergo discrete transformation triggered by the Arrow of Time forcing it to behave in a dissipative but self organizing manner to either self destruct itself in a wide variety of ways or create new possibilities in performance and/or behaviour owing to presence of ‘attractors’ and ‘bifurcations’; thereby making it impossible to predict the future behaviour of the system in the long term or trace the previous states of the system with any high degree of accuracy other than express it in terms of probabilities since only the present state of the system might be observable to a certain extent and only a probabilistic understanding may be formulated as to how it has arrived at its present state and what would keep it going, thus triggering creative human responses to manage, maintain and enhance the system conditions, function and purpose and create superior systems of the future for the benefit of the society at large.

Such a representation of an observation looks quite involved. Perhaps it might be stated in a much simpler way. Most real life systems behave in a complex manner creating multitude of problems of performance and failures. But how do we get rid of complexity and uncertainty as exhibited by systems? We may do so by deeply observing the complex behaviour of the system to improve our perception to gain insights about the essence of the system; find out the underlying ‘imperfection’ that causes the apparent complexity and uncertainty and then find ways to improve the existing system or create new system and maintain them in the simplest possible manner. We do this by applying the principles of chaos, reliability and design. Surprisingly, the same process might be used to troubleshoot and solve problems we face on a daily basis. If done, we are no longer dominated or dictated by the ‘special whims’ of the system.

The crux of the matter is how we observe reality and understand it so as to make meaningful choices as responses to life and living.

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From Emotion to Wisdom to Maturity

The other day, my long term collaborator, in the development of the Nemetics discipline, Michael Josefowicz remarked on Twitter –

“It is interesting that so many serious people have a blind spot for emotions.”

But how important is emotion in shaping our consciousness?

Let us examine the process of evolution or expansion of our embodied consciousness.

The starting premise of my argument is — every human being is a product of an infinite series of interactions, which are extremely diverse in nature.

In Nemetics we term each interaction as a “neme

With every neme, a feeling is generated, which quickly takes the shape of an emotion. Emotion is very qualitative in nature since an emotion can have different shades, like for instance – love. But soon emotions give rise to objective thoughts which gradually develop. In turn, objective thoughts switch on our thinking mind.

A thinking mind will invariably generate desire. More the mind thinks, more it desires.

As soon as a desire is born it would seek actualization. Therefore all desires lead to actions.

Provided we are open and willing, we learn from every action the beneficial and detrimental results of good and bad actions to become wiser. Hence action through learning leads to wisdom.

When wisdom finally matures we become satisfied and perhaps happy with things as they are and as they happen. We deeply realize that any phenomenon would change owing to its dynamic nature that is time, space and constraint dependent. We further realize that there seems to be little point in forcing change things “our” way, finding solutions without a problem to address or invent new problems just for the sake of it or not to address the reality as it emerges.

Maturity then leads us to accept phenomenon as it happens and interact with systems and people just as needed to ensure or enhance flow, harmony and balance of life. In Nemetic terms the phrase for maturity is — “make it ezpz – The Nemetic Way.”

If we now summarize the process of enhancing our embodied consciousness; the train of our reasoning would appear something like this:

Neme -> Feelings/Emotions -> Thoughts -> Desires -> Actions -> Learning/Wisdom -> Ezpz Maturity.

The question I would leave the reader with — How do we make this process really ezpz?

Perception, Sense-making, Enlightened Action

Right Perception and RIght Sense making are the fundamental outcomes of our cognitive ability that enable effective leaders take enlightened action. 

Possibly, most problems that we create through our actions are a result of wrong perception and wrong sense-making.

To me, Perceiving, Sense-making and Enlightened Action in life is something like this:

“Any real life System about which we care to perceive, make sense and take enlightened action, comprises of a meaningful set of ever changing and self transforming objects, diverse in form, complexity, state and function, interacting in periodic and aperiodic manner with each other and inter-related through multiple network of interdependencies through mutual feedbacks and signals thereby generating variable amplitudes of energy exchanged/transferred within variable/flexible space(s), mostly operating far from its equilibrium conditions; not only exchanging energy and matter with its environment but also generating internal entropy to undergo discrete transformation triggered by the Arrow of Time forcing it to behave in a dissipative but self organizing manner to either self destruct itself in a wide variety of ways moving towards void or create new possibilities in performance and/or behaviour from the void of creative potential owing to presence of ‘attractors’ and ‘appearance of bi-furcations’; thereby making it impossible to predict the future behavior of the system in the long term or trace the previous states of the system with any high degree of accuracy other than express it in terms of probabilities or possibilities since only the present state of the system might be observable to a certain extent and only a probabilistic understanding may be formulated as to how a system has arrived at its present state and what would keep it going, change or destroyed thus triggering creative human responses through right insights (not grossly based on emotions or thinking or memory) to manage, maintain and enhance system conditions, functions and purposes with minimal intervention to create superior systems of the future through enhancement of self organized interactions within and without the system interfaced with other connected, unconnected and overlapping systems operating within larger envelopes of human activity.”

Such a representation of an Perception, Sense-making and Enlightened Action looks quite involved.

Perhaps it might be stated in a much simpler ways but I would not attempt to do so since it would make it more complex that it should be.

Perhaps more can be said about resilience, agility, etc but I would not do so since those are really superfluous.

Perhaps more can be said about Black Swans and not so ‘black swans’ and predictions but I would care less to say so since saying more would be ‘redundant’.

The whole gamut of Perception, Sense-making and Enlightened Action takes place within five envelopes of human cognition, which are as follows:

1. Physical envelope

2. Energy envelope

3. Mental envelope

4. Wisdom envelope

5. Enlightened Action envelope

 

However, the crux of the matter is

1) how we ‘see’ reality (Darshan/Notice)?

2) how do we understand what the system is telling us (Sadhana/Engage)?

3) how do we create and choose our responses (Bhavana/Mull)?

4) how do we develop the necessary intention to implement our choices to life and living (Shankalpa/Exchange)?

 

notes:

1. Darshan, Sadhana, Bhavana and Shankalpa are Sanskrit words

2. The above post is an excerpt from or notes of a forth coming book “Leadership – The Nemetics Way!”

Moving between States of Awareness for Problem Solving

Of late, the word ‘awareness‘, ranks high in the public consciousness and is being used a lot.

What does it mean?

In plain language it means ‘paying attention’ to something or ‘noticing something’ or being ‘mindful’ about something and then extending that awareness to different dimensions through understanding, reflection and action. Awareness is not something which is fixed and static but rather fluid and flowing.

All that might seem very confusing to begin with.

Actually we move through different states of Awareness. And this ‘flow’ is achieved in a particular way.

So let us begin by asking, “What are the different states of awareness and how does it move?

The First State of Awareness

1. Awareness of the Physical:

It means anything that we can physically sense through our senses. It is generally an object but it can be something more fluid like smelling something ‘burning’. Or for example, it might be a simple building or a gear or people passing on the street or the sounds one hears in a city or simply a part of one’s body or pain area in a business ….

This is called point awareness, i.e. our awareness is focused on a fixed point.

In this state of awareness we are using our usual senses or extension of our senses through some form of instrumentation.

Note: In this way we can fix our attention to many fixed points present in a given context or ecology.

The Second State of Awareness

2. Awareness of Connections and movements:

Now the awareness moves in a different direction. It starts looking for connections and movements that link the ‘fixed point’ to other points and pieces in the ecology. For example, if we are aware that we are tensed and stressed out and aware about our tiredness and not too good digestion we may be able to link the these together to form a link. Or for instance if we are looking at ‘low order volume’ of any organization and the waste they are generating in their value creation process we might be able to link the two to form a link. Similarly, if we are examining a vibration frequency spectrum and we notice high amplitude vibration of a bearing and then notice high amplitude of the fan blades then there is a clear possibility that we might link the two to form a relationship.

We can then further pay attention about how a movement in one affects the other. Or in other words we understand ‘How a change in one creates a change in the other’. While extending our awareness in this stage we also notice the function the relationship does like — a) holding something, b) releasing/eliminating something, c) producing or reproducing something, d) moving or stopping something, e) expressing or communicating or feeding back information or withholding communication …

This is called line awareness, i.e. our awareness is now moves from independence to interdependence focused on relationships and their changes (interdependence) and their functions.

Note: Like in the earlier case we can create many ‘lines’ (relationships and their interdependence through changes) in this fashion.

At this stage we are not using our usual five senses any more. We are entering into what researchers call ‘one’s own perception’. Technically it is called ‘proprioception’. Proprioception does not come from any organ of the body but from the nervous system. So we go beyond our primary sense perception and start forming a more holistic picture of what we are aware of. This stage brings into play both non-cognitive and cognitive skills at the same time. It is process through which we start extending our minds.

The Third State of Awareness

3. Awareness of Contexts, Perspectives and Feelings:

From our ‘line awareness‘ we move to ‘surface awareness’. This happens when we put many ‘lines’ together. This is quite similar to what we do in geometry. For example when we place three lines together we get a triangle. Similarly by placing four lines together we get a square or a rectangle and so on.

Likewise, when we relate different parts of our ‘line awareness’ together we form a ‘surface awareness‘ of the context. At this state of awareness we form a perspective or understanding or a point of view. With each ‘surface’ we have a different perspective. So with multiple ‘surfaces’ we create and hold together different ‘perspectives’ or view points. The idea at this stage is to increase the number of perspectives (diversity) so that we reach closer to a fuller and more holistic understanding of a phenomenon or context we started out with.

Note: Like in earlier cases we aim at developing as many surfaces as possible to get multiple views or perspectives on something. We are consciously encouraging diversity to view reality which is complex enough. This is the stage where we have gone beyond our primary ‘senses’ and ‘proprioception’ and entered the domain of feelings. This is because each perception evokes in us different feelings and emotions. So the idea is to harvest a diversity of feelings about something.

The Fourth State of Awareness

4. Awareness of Shapes:

From ‘surface awareness’ we move to what I call a ‘3 Dimensional awareness‘ of a situation, phenomenon or anything we are paying attention to. Why is it 3 dimensional? This is because when different surfaces come together we get a ‘shape‘ which is essentially 3 dimensional. That is we have captured the reality (of course depends on how much we are able to capture) into a ‘shape‘. Again geometry would help. For example, when we bring together 4 triangles we form a pyramid. Or for instance when we stitch together 6 square surfaces we get a cube and so on. Or it can take the shape of a moving spiral of say gases.

In any case we create a ‘volume‘ (an empty space) by bringing different surfaces together. This gives us a holistic understanding of ‘reality‘ to which we are paying attention to.  The emptiness of the shape is the source of the creative potential for change to happen with all the relevant information existing on the sides of the ‘shape’.

Now we can pay attention to the ‘whole’ and find possibilities of creative change, redesign or better maintenance depending on possible ’emergence’ that either unfolds or remains enfolded.

At this state of paying attention we can have insights both in the form of intuition (noncognitive skill) and reason based on our cognitive skills. However both intuition and reason must come from what we are paying attention to and not from our memory. This is a higher level of emergence of our ‘nervous system‘ as a whole, which involves both the mind and body.

Why is that?

This is because as we pay attention to the ‘whole’ shape our nervous system provides the insight and our mind provides the ‘imagination’ and the reasoning based on our scientific understanding which in turn trigger the emotions and energy trapped in our bodies inspiring us to act. So the three basic elements — ‘nervous energy’, ‘mental energy in the form of imagination followed by reason’ and ‘physical energy‘ are called into play.

However, the most important element at this stage is the ‘imagination’ part. We are not imagining the past or the future but the ‘gap’ existing between those. This imagination is directed towards ‘empathy‘. Unless we can empathize at this stage our subsequent thoughts, reasons and actions would not produce the right results (right for the context).

The Fifth State of Awareness

5. Awareness of effortless creativity and joy:

Armed by the right imagination we are now ready for the last state of awareness that is bringing creativity into play. By now we know what is the existing imperfection, what the ‘shape’ is trying to drop (generally its past) and the quantity of information that needs to be changed along with its speed. This helps us to be in the flow of things just as they are and just as they  “want to be”. Through our creative action we can bring about the required and right changes to experience happiness, joy and equanimity. How would we know about what actions would bring about joy, happiness and equanimity?  If things become better and we become or stay healthy our creative actions are right enough. If not, we need to improve upon ‘paying attention’.

However, by now it might be self-evident that awareness or the very act of paying attention is something like flow. It is not fixed or static. It simply likes to flow from one state to the other as described above. But like all flows the flow can be impeded or stopped by artificial constraints we set up through our mental filters of likes, dislikes, good, bad, ambition, desires, aspirations, concepts, preformed ideas, memory. When this happens we lose agility in our living and work.

Once we realize this and try to break down or let go of such artificial constraints we not only become agile in our engagements but also develop resilience, which incidentally is always built into our physical bodies. So our bodies either reflect or absorb the energy which might either make and keep us healthy or sick and diseased; active or inactive. So resilience can lead to both health and sickness/suffering. Sickness indicates the presence of artificial constraints that are to be overcome. Health indicates that we have identified the real constraints that help our natural flow. Such constraints are to be retained and developed.

Our minds and bodies are both useful but we perhaps now realize that without a strong nervous energy they can both be rendered useless. Incidentally, the nervous energy is also connected to our immunity system. Therefore, it has a lot to do in keeping our minds and bodies in perfect order since all the three together as a whole are fully engaged in our awareness, our normal senses, proprioception, feelings, perception, imagination, intuition, empathy, understanding, insights, creativity, reason, thoughts, actions and perhaps wisdom. One can’t be sacrificed for the other.

When practiced to a high level of perfection we live in a liberated state – a state where we love what we get and get to do what we love to enrich our lives, i.e. we enjoy being in the flow of things.

It is beyond love. It is kindness to self and others, which flows from the effortless effort we experience in the fifth and last state of awareness a state between perception and non-perception.

That in short is awareness or simply ‘paying attention’.

Notes:

1. The technique of PLS3D (Point, Line, Surface and 3Dimensional Awareness) is one of the various technique/tools used in Rapidinnovation a process developed by my firm RMCPL. This has been widely applied and taught in India with great impact.  Would be happy to be a mentor or teach it to anyone who might be interested.

2. This is used in various types of settings like – Problem solving, Whole System Design, Design, Systemic thinking,  Manufacturing Systems, Organizational Systems, Entrepreneurship and a host of other applications.. including personal improvement and transformation, which to my mind is the most important application for a better future.

Problems, Landscapes, Habits; Leadership in the 21st Century

Excerpts from forthcoming book ‘Dancing on Peaks; Resolving Wicked Problems – A Nemetical View of Life

……

Fortunately, not all problems that we face in life are wicked. For most of these, though relatively few, we can get over them with our effort and practice. And we can do that so well indeed that they don’t seem like a problem any more. Like for instance, my getting to my desk, booting up my laptop, connecting it to the net and then letting my fingers fly over the keyboard at great speed to write this book is a simple problem. Though years back it took me some time and effort to master the process today it is effortlessly simple and predictable. But I remember my first brush with the computer, which was over two decades back and those were tense moments. It took me hours and some training to figure out MS-DOS and hours of brutal typing practice with some coaching from a friend. Resolution of such problems doesn’t require much thought. These can be easily mastered through controlled and dedicated effort guided by mentors if possible. The solution to such problems are known and are easily available. These I call the “library type of problem”. The operating context is predictable. It is something similar to mastering maths. A teacher or mentor is available and the answers are at the back of the book. We can refer to such ‘library type problems’ as problems of ‘flat landscape‘ since it is akin to walking in the park. Such problems can be easily mastered through the ‘habit of memory’.

Then there are problems that are slightly different to ‘library’ problems. It might be something like this – how can I get from my house to my office (10 km) in the shortest possible time and expense without sacrificing comfort. Given the information, such type of problems are straightforward problems. The problem opens up choices and a fairly intelligent choice has to be made. However, the result is always not guaranteed. Sometimes things can go wrong and we can be thrown off our desired intention. Such straight problems are fairly easy to tackle. And with some experience these can be tackled quite well. Hence I call these ‘experience type of problems. Such problems can be framed like – how to climb Mount Everest safely. There is one particular objective to be achieved. Once that can be done the problem no longer exists. More the experience better are the choices we can make and better can be the associated planning. And with better choices, planning and action the targeted outcome is achieved easily. Adopting best practices in the field also helps a practitioner. Hence such ‘experience problems‘ are problems of ‘single peak landscape‘. Such problems can be mastered through the ‘habit of planning and making choices‘.

Then there is a third type of problem which is continuous in time. We achieve something and then prevailing situation demands that we achieve something more. It is like scaling a mountain range, like the Himalayan range, which is full of peaks. We climb one peak and then we try to climb the next peak and then figure out how to reach the next. Sometimes we can get from one peak to the other peak quite easily, if they are nearby with a reliable connection between them. At other times we might have to take a detour, climb down from a peak and then scale up another. In real life this might resemble improving productivity or opening up new markets in a closed economy. While the economic environment doesn’t change much we strive to become better and better from our existing position. These are not very easy problems to resolve. It is similar to a cricketer who excels playing at local level and then aspires to excel playing his game at regional level before trying to move up and play at the national level. This is where complex problems start to surface. It would need enhanced cognitive skills, a basic level of contextual intelligence, ability to learn from mistakes, strategizing, refining intentions, better decision-making skills, emotional balance and continuous moment to moment adaptation without losing a sense of direction over long periods of time. Such type of complex problems may be termed as problems of ‘Rugged Peaks landscape‘. Such type of problems can be mastered through the ‘habit of time and learning‘.

However there is a fourth type of problem that needs constant adaptation in a complex environment. Such systems are called Complex Adaptive Systems. And the problems in this category can be seen as ‘adaptive type of problem’. Continuing our analogy of the ‘rugged peak’ problems, let us imagine for a moment that the ground below us continuously dances and also gives away at time. So the peaks, which were rather stationary in the previous case now start having different heights at different points of time. The peak that appears small suddenly grows big and the bigger peak suddenly drawfs in relation to the peak we are presently on. Nothing remains constant in both Space and Time. These are real ‘wicked‘ problems. Everything is dynamic leaving us clueless about both position and the rate of change (velocity) at any given instant. It might be better to call them the problems of ‘Dancing Peak landscape’.

In this book we would focus specifically on such problems. Such problems need a high degree of contextual intelligence, where previous experience would hardly be of any use. Sharp cognitive skills would be needed that would call for taking various perspectives at different levels along with a high ability to reflect, ability for deep understanding, instant strategy, quick actions and strong adaptation skills. This type of problem can’t be easily tackled by the habits of ‘memory’, ‘planning’, ‘making choices’, or by habits of ‘time’ and ‘learning’. Taking on such types of problems would need the habit of ‘practice of preparedness, attention and serendipity’, that is the habit of a ‘prepared attentive mind’ moving from moment to moment in time. This in Nemetics we call as ‘attentive contextual intelligence’, which is a mix of collective intelligence, combined with feelings, intuition, rationale and intelligence of an individual.

Finding such problems is not difficult. Actually such problems occupy most of our lives; problems for which we don’t have the answers and can’t predict when such type of problems would surface. And they are dynamic in nature. Slight changes in global economy throw national economies out of gear. It affects business operations, which must quickly adapt in order to survive. Customers change. Markets go topsy-turvy. Profitability goes under tremendous squeeze and the notions and targets of productivity and performance change continuously. Job markets fluctuate. Nature of jobs are redefined. Personal lives get affected. Even Nature gets affected. Climate changes. Plants and animals get affected. It then appears that we are caught in a deep and frightening whirlpool.

Under such situations, there are no answers at the back of the book. There are hardly any choices to quickly select from. There is no question of optimization. Experience hardly helps. Dedicated hard work might prove useless. Agility and resilience might have no real meaning. There is only one answer but we are left clueless. There are no best practices to follow, no techniques to use, no process to adopt, no framework to guide our minds. We either get it or we don’t. If we get it wrong we are doomed to be sucked into the whirlpool even deeper till we suffocate to death. If we get it right we live to see another day and perhaps another new moon. However, the only wherewithal we might have to rely on is the quality of our feelings and thinking brought together through the habit of ‘practice and serendipity’ or simply having a ‘prepared attentive mind’ since the need is to adapt moment to moment. Or simply stated, our contextual intelligence can come to our rescue to maintain balance.

In order to develop and apply such contextual intelligence to wicked problems operating in a ‘dancing peak’ landscape, Nemetics is an option. Nemetics is a flexible thought model that allows us to synthesize mathematical thinking, subjective insights and feelings to re-design our lives for the better. The objective of the flexible thought model is to make sense of complex adaptive systems and to act upon them. It may be effectively applied to various fields like organizations, manufacturing systems, engineering, organizational sociology, economics, design, system design, system reliability and even to psychology and a host of others fields.

In short Nemetics can be best described as a study of origins of the various complex phenomena within which we exist. Or in other words it is the ontological inquiry in general that seeks the transcendental truths operating behind everyday phenomenon.

This practice of Nemetics stems from the fundamentals of complexity science as applied to complex adaptive systems and is based on the time-tested principles of Engineering, Chaos, Complexity Science and humanities like social and economic systems.

Since the aim of Nemetics is to gain direct knowledge of the transcendental the fundamental premise is praxis for the simple reason that the theory of such complex emergence (a term which we shall deal with later) simply might not exist. It has to be worked out. The idea is to move from practice to theory and then to practice again.

In other words we first explain the situation, then act upon it and then only predict the outcome as a way of reflecting on our thought process and our decisions. We do so through attentive reflection. It is a practice to train the eye and mind to be prepared and attentive to spot emergence, engage with its structure and behavior, mull about the drivers that drive complexity and then exchange that helps to adapt to complexity.

Life is then in perpetual beta – no hanging on to assumptions, beliefs and opinions. That points to adopting a stance of nuanced but effective adaptation based on ‘attentive contextual intelligence’. It is a tall order, which asks us to do what is needed to be done and then keep adapting and tweaking as time goes on and situations change.

That is what Leadership of the 21st Century would look like. Problem solving would grow lesser in importance. Problem solvers would be passe. Problem and paradox resolution would take prominence. And persons who can resolve complex problems and have the ability to predict in the short-term would be highly regarded and would be in high demand. That can only be done by people who can gain direct knowledge of transcendental truths through their highly developed contextual intelligence. They with their highly trained minds would be simply priceless!

Summary:

  1. Types of Problems: Library problems, Experience Problems, Complex Problems, Complex Adaptive Problems.
  2. Types of Landscapes: Flat, Single Peak, Rugged, Dancing Peaks
  3. Habits: Time, Planning & Making Choices, Time & Learning, Attentive Contextual Intelligence
  4. It is not unusual to find combinations of ‘Type of Problems’, Landscapes and Habits co-existing within the same situation.
  5. Whole of life is nothing but a series of changes and issues waiting for resolution, facilitation, modification and nurturing to leverage us to new dimensions and states.
  6. Leaders of the 21st century would posses an unusually high degree of ‘contextual intelligence’ to reach essence of complex situations in a wink and know how to deal with those.