This is another idea

I made a contribution on my substack that might interest you.

Implications for facilitation

Go slow – research or investigate the dominant metaphor, the assumptions. Look for the condition to intervene on. Never defend your position.

Ask questions – a good question trumps good answers on poor questions. Stay as close as possible to the actual metaphor-in-use with your question. Use the same wording.

Make errors – and when you notice, correct yourself. Let others also correct you. But no need to apologize.

Actions speak louder than words – direct participants to concrete actions, preferably the next day. Have them communicate with each other their conditions for taking actions. And what if it doesn’t work out? Also: communicate results.

Assume you don’t know – and if you don’t know, say so.

Beware of the double bind – there’s always a difference in power and position. Enable participants to disagree with you. always work “on the same level”: sit when they sit, stand up, when the other is standing. Position – or project – yourself next to the other person.

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If you can follow me?

Image of communication by ChatGPT

Doubting is normal, thinking is absurd. We try to end doubt, volatility, ambiguity, complexity or uncertainty through thinking. Have some clearity. Unfortunately, it’s the thinking that is introducing these very concepts.

You’re not absurd. Thinking is inherently paradoxical. The seemingly absurdism of life emerges from thinking – or the way we’re thinking we’re thinking. Our dominant way of thinking excludes paradoxes. Please note that paradoxes and absurdity invoke each other. It’s the mother of humour.

We think we’re thinking in language – one doesn’t. I’ll explain later. We think we communicate meaning through language. One doesn’t. Because our current way of using language implicitly requests compliance with the speaker or sender. If you can follow me?

Watzlawick (Pragmatics of Human Communication, which starts to my delight with paradoxes) writes: “the relationships classify the meaning of the content“. The same sentence – “do you want a cup of tea?” – contains (excuse my metaphor) different meanings depending on the relationships: during a job interview, with your mother, in a café, … .

With every message you communicate (also) meta-communication: communicating the relationships.

We are educated to think a message contains meaning and this is meaning-as-intended-by-the-sender (the conduit metaphor of communication). At school, university and organisations, – and also with any field of science – one is supposed to comply with “definitions” by “the teacher”, “the professor”, “the boss” and “the method”. (You can see, why I’m a fan of the record,_No_Method,_No_Teacher .

Most of our teacher – including Shannon, Information Theory – exclude paradoxes, because they invoke ambiguity. So in the theory of information transfer, “meaning” is excluded. Funny enough, the very word “define” means to completely limit.

We’re supposed to follow the speaker, the leader. I like to use this quote from Life of Brian: “You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! Youve got to think for yourselves! Youre all individuals

Implications for facilitation

Always be aware about your position. In communicating strive to be at the same level with the participants. Sit when they sit, stand when they’re standing. And when sitting or standing, position yourself next to them and preferably not opposite.

As a facilitator, I never define my definitions. I just ask what they make of what I’m saying. Interestingly enough, many times, people get angry with me. Even fellow facilitators. I understand their anger, I’m requiring them to think for themselves. And also, implicitly, question their power position.

If participants ask for an explanation: let them explain themselves. If you’ve explained yourself, and they don’t understand, repeat your message with the same words. Don’t paraphrase or use another metaphor. If you do, they have to compare something they don’t understand with something they don’t understand either.

If you’re feeling stuck, participants may also be stuck. Try moving to another position.

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Narrational thinking

commenting on

Actually, the cyclical nature of nature is …. life –> death –> life –> death —> … You cannot have the one without the other AND they seem to deny each other. It’s the paradox of life: death giving meaning to life.

The structure of what’s happening (not only in the GOP and the US) has been described by Kenwyn Smith and David Berg in “Paradoxes of Group Life”. They describe three big paradoxes “living” in groups, creating and sustaining dynamics that both move and paralyse people.

When I look at the current political systems: they’re all dying. Democracy, autocracy, theocracy, monarchy, bureaucracy (think “EU”), oligarchy (multinationals, like “the seven/six/five/… sisters”) … all struggling with themselves and each other. Communism, socialism, capitalism, … all failing. All religions are suffering, except perhaps those that put suffering at their core, hearth, centre ….

Paradoxes are hard to understand in our western way of thinking: they are excluded or defined as “dilemma’s”. A paradox is not, “either way you damned”. A paradox is both the one and the other; but not at the same time. Every choice invokes the choice not made. And one cannot not choose. Distinguishing induces paradox.

The sure sign of a paradox at work is what’s called a vicious or virtuous cycle.

Paradoxes are not problems, because they cannot be “solved”. Nor are they “sticky problems”. Like energy, paradox is conserved. The one just induces another one, like heat being converted into motion and motion becoming – in the end – heat again.

Paradox is excluded from religion, as God cannot be paradoxical. I’ll make an exception for the Greek gods: they embody paradoxical behaviour. Also, the Greek play writes understood the tragedy of democracy.

Paradox is excluded from (western) science. I studied physics and recognizing paradoxes for what they are is not done. I hardly got away with it. Because with physics, in the end, a conclusion appears that this universe exists because I observe her and she observes me.

Paradoxes are excluded in

Justice – “he who’s innocent may cast the first stone” -,

Politics – “being neutral means you’re not with us”- ,

Economy – in The Netherlands we’ve got a “free markets” with “authorities” -,

even in group dynamics – “all most all literature is about conflicts between groups and not about conflicts between members of the same group”.

And, I ‘m sorry to say, in (either – or) logic.

To add insult to injury, as Vaihinger describes in his The Philosophy As-If: ALL our major concepts work because they ARE paradoxical. We act As-If our concepts are not paradoxical. So I’m the first to admit, paradox is paradoxical.

In philosophy Vaihinger isn’t popular. As is the case with Wittgenstein. Our thinking moves in circles, flying in the air, without “terra firma”. Paradox resides at the heart of mathematics.

Smith and Berg distinguish three inter-group paradoxes: scarcity, perception and power.

  1. the “other” is the source of our scare, scarcity. The other will come and take over what we’ve got. Quote: “.(attributing scarcity) ..induces individual group members to believe that heroically taking on battles with others will enable them to sort out their place in the group” (p.191). So the paradox consists of the fact that “we” need to stop enemies, invaders, asylum seekers, outsiders, … from taking over for “me” to take over a group.

Here we encounter four intergroup paradoxes: individuality, identity, involvement an boundaries. I think zum Beispiel, the gender issues emerges from here.

  1. we tend to perceive the others as inflexible and uncooperative. “… this leads some members of the group to argue that the group has no alternative (to unite) because of the external pressure” (p.195). The paradox of course consists of becoming inflexible and uncooperative.

Here we encounter paradoxes like disclosure, trusting, intimacy and regression. For instance, make us big again, family values, …

(A related paradox being, that cooperating between groups produces profits and the sharing of these profits induces … competition for the biggest share. In my time, profit was a reward for taking risks. Nowadays it’s the difference between income and expenses. Expenses at the expense of others).

  1. “When differences in values and ideologies lead to conflict over whose values are to be subordinated to whose, and under what conditions, the conflict can transform intergroup exchanges into a power struggle” (p. 196). And: “The less powerful will define their condition as absolute powerless and require the more powerful give up some of their power”.

This invokes paradoxes like authority, dependence, creativity and destruction, and courage.

We can see these three cycles feeding on each other. And how “paradox” has to be denied. Because “we’ve seen the enemy: it’s us”.

Now, these paradoxes were not a big issue until the invention of written language, then the printing press and nowadays the world wide web. And machines of mass production and destruction – see the paradox. Together with these, we invented concepts like “nations”, “freedom”, “universal human rights”, ..

We’re kind of stuck in the metaphor of the Sorcerers Apprentice: inventing tools for doing our labour – carrying water – and forgetting our work – falling asleep while the broom does the work. I make this distinction consciously. Labour is work you get paid for. Work is becoming human.

The difference with the story is: there’ll be no sorcerer to save us. We’re victims of our own success – the definition of a tragedy. Tragedies of the commons.

On the bright side: with paradox: any situation – give enough time – will itself resolve into another situation. What we’re witnessing is not only the death of the Grand Old Party, we’re witnessing the end of a rational – excluding paradox – way of thinking. It’s called a paradigm shift.

Our rational way of thinking is “not wrong”, and “not right”. Or should I say “nor left, nor right”. In facilitating decision making in groups – my day job – I’m used to working with the irrational, a-rational and unrational – also know as narrational – ways of working.

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Ontlerend*) organiseren

*) Het voorvoegsel “ont” kennen we van ontstaan, ontwikkelen, ontbijten,…. en hodt zoveel in als “beginnen te”. De klank “ohm” of “oer” heeft vaak te maken met oor(!)sprong.

Helaas – en dat heb ik zelfs indertijd – eind jaren ’90 met Peter Senge besproken -, bestaat zoiets als een “lerende organisatie” niet. Ik onderschrijf wel de visie van Chris Argyris – bij wie ik indertijd ook een training bezocht heb – over “organizational learning“. Mensen leren. (punt).

Peter Senge keerde de naam van het proces, organizational learning, om en maakte er een zelfstandig naamwoord van learning organisation. Dat heet “reïficatie”: van processen een ding maken. Doen we heel gemakkelijk: organiseren –> organisatie, communiceren –> communicatie, vertrouwen –> vertrouwen (daar valt het niet eens op), identificeren –> indentificatie, verenigen–> vereniging, …

Vervolgens doen we alsof, als-of, zo’n ding echt bestaat. En omdat iedereen dat doet, denken we dat het zo werkt.

Omdat ik pragmatisch doe – het hoeft van mij niet waar te zijn -, heb ik indertijd wel in het LO-netwerk meegewerkt en ben lid geweest van de vereniging. Ik heb altijd gezegd dat “lerende organisaties” niet echt bestaan. Een baard maakt nog geen echte Sint: plak je “lerende” aan “organisatie”, dan leert nog niemand wat. 

In deze organisaties – en dat is ook een punt van Chris – vindt “ontleren” plaats: we leren er niet te leren. In plaats van te leren – door fouten te maken -, leren mensen er fouten te vermijden.

Daardoor vertraagt de ontwikkeling van organisaties en benutten we niet het potentieel van mensen (eigenlijk omgekeerd). Het tegenovergestelde: mensen haken mentaal af, zijn alleen als lichaam aanwezig – de hypotheek, de studie van de kinderen,..  – of verlaten de organisatie. Ten onrechte “zelfstandige zonder personeel” genoemd – weer zo’n fictie.

We hebben nu te maken met “belerende organisaties”. De situatie lijkt me hopelozer dan dit – het is onbespreekbaar geworden dat “lerende organisaties” ficties van de menselijke geest zijn en niet werkelijk. Dat leidt tot ernstige resultaten “op de grond”, de situatie waarin we nu verkeren.

Ik wil overigens benadrukken dat ik geen tegenstander ben van ficties, alle menselijke concepten (inclusief concept concept) zijn ficties, waarvan we doen als-of ze werkelijk bestaan. Ik ben er op tegen, dat we doen alsof.

Onze concepten “werken” voor ons, leveren gewenste, zelfs voorspelde, resultaten. Dat doen als-of wordt in stand gehouden door te doen alsof die resultaten door de concepten komt. Causaliteit is ook een concept, waarvan we doen alsof die bestaat. De oorzaak van gevolgen kan niet worden vastgesteld. Het zijn altijd “de omstandigheden”.

Organismen – waaronder mensen – organiseerden zich nog voor er organisaties waren. Dat noemen we “organisch”. We leerden organisaties te organiseren, nog voor we organisaties, laat staan lerende organisaties, uit vonden.We noemden ze naar hun werking, functie: kerk, leger, regering, vereniging, firma, … .

Pas met de uitvinding van de “naamloze vennootschap” – let op het woord “naamloze” – vonden we “organisaties” uit. “Naamloze” heeft te maken met zeggenschap.

Organiseren gaat vanzelf, wanneer mensen van elkaar leren. Leiders kunnen beter opleiden: mensen leren denken en zich organiseren – action learing. De afgelopen decennia gedragen ze zich als afleiders: voorkomen dat mensen leren denken. Door te vertellen hoe ze moeten denken.

Al onze begrippen zijn metaforen. Ze bestaan alleen figuurlijk “bij wijze van spreken”. Niet in werkelijkheid. (Het bewijs is simpel: in andere talen gebruiken we andere woorden voor hetzelfde verschijnsel. Wat is het correcte woord? Geen van deze.).

Omdat we echter verschillen, verschillen in zeggenschap, zijn er mensen die zeggen wat we moeten zeggen. Dat is het hele idee van zeggenschap. “Wat ik drie keer zeg is waar“, The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll. Dat ze daarmee nog steeds niet weten “wat werkt”, kunnen ze niet zeggen, omdat dan de fictie duidelijk gemaakt moet worden.

We geloven in onze eigen woorden en daarmee in ons eigen gelijk. Luister naar eens om je heen.”Wat Wilders zegt is misschien niet waar, maar hij heeft wel gelijk“, hoorde ik jaren geleden al een volger op tv zeggen.

Nogmaals: ik geloof niet in “lerende organisaties” – ik heb er nooit in geloofd. Ik geloof in leren, leren organiseren. Geloven in de fictie zal geleidelijk uitdoven. Het is ook maar een paradigma. 

Implicaties voor faciliteren

Gebruik “Clean Language”, “verschonende taal” om met de deelnemers de kern begrippen van hun taal te onderzoeken. Vraag iets van “… en lerende organisatie is als ….” of “… welk leren ia dat leren…”

Loop de “Ladder of Inference“, de “ladder van gevolgtrekkingen” af: welke gegevens en daaruit volgende aanname liggen ten grondslag van overtuigingen die tot de acties hebben geleid? Onderzoek deze met elkaar.

Gebruik “linker – rechter kolom”: schrijf links de dialoog uit, en vraag de rechter kolom in te vullen met wat er gedacht werd. Vraag daarop door.

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For the full text, see:

It’s not a question about truth, but about believes. Believe it or not, we use a kind of Baysian Logic in establishing what works in behaviour. Your body learned to make “educated guesses” on what works. You realize “what works”.

Your brain continuously comes up with beliefs – fictions – about the (immediate) future, projected against perceived reality – facts. (Technically: “an expectation function”). A fact is a fiction that works for you. (Technically: one tries to reduce the deviation of the expectations, a.k.a. looking for safety).

A problem then can be defined as a difference between belief and perceived reality with a negative emotional charge, a bias to prevent harm to the body. Which makes sense in dealing with physical reality.

With language we create a mental reality as an extension of our physical reality. Thinking is merely an extension of behaviour with other means. Stories, myths and legends are just a kind of “expectation functions”, experiments.

In our use of language however, we use an either-or type of logic. Something is true EITHER-or false. It cannot be both, nor neither. This kind of logic, as Wittgenstein proved, can only solve logical problems. You cannot solve illogical problems, for instance, when both or neither are true, or you don’t know.

In language one uses: “What I say three times is true” (Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark). A fact is a fact because it’s a fact.

The only question about facts one can ask is: “could their be facts that would make you change your mind?”. (I’m not sure about the use of could and would :-)). If the answer is “no”, no use in continuing a conversation. (Note the use of “to converse” in conversation).

It’s not the facts that bother us, but our beliefs about the facts. – to paraphrase Epictetus.

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Gemene schappelijke problemen

In mijn boek over faciliteren maak ik ook duidelijk – of niet -, dat we probleemoplossen tot probleem gemaakt hebben.

Alle oplosbare problemen hebben we opgelost. (Het eigenlijk is erger, problemen oplossen is inherent paradoxaal). Door ons succes, creëren – of “realiseren”, je ziet wat je wilt zien – we nog steeds “context” van oplossingen versus problemen.

Zo lees ik bijvoorbeeld ook Harari: honger, kou, ziekte en oorlog hebben we opgelost – voor zover mogelijk; wat overblijft vormen verdelingsproblemen.

Alle huidige conflicten bestaan uit verdelingsproblemen, drie geneste “Tragedy of the Commons“:
1. ruimte: voor de schaapjes overbeweiden ( “Commons“, de gemeenschappelijke weide) door grote kuddes (= uitputting) leidt tot:
2. regels en recht: verdeling van de ruimte (in het Engels “Common Law“), waarbij geldt “might is right“, macht maakt recht
3. politiek: afspraken over recht en regels (in het Nederlands “grond(!)wet”, in het Engels spreken we van House of Commons), waarbij grote partijen (ik bedoel ook politieke) de meeste stemmen hebben.

Die derde leidt weer tot effecten op het eerste niveau, heel simpel bijvoorbeeld m.b.t. huisvesting in Nederland en de huidige oorlogen. Q.E.D.


We scheppen – onbewust – gemene gemeenschappelijk situaties, die we in stand houden door te menen dat het problemen zijn die om oplossingen vragen

Implicaties voor faciliteren

De situatie, om met Watzlawick te spreken, is hopeloos maar niet ernstig. Onze taak bestaat uit het scheppen van (vrije) keuzemogelijkheden in de situatie. Daartoe gaan we eerst de situatie erkennen als een …. situatie. Vermijd de woorden als “probleem”, “oplossing”, “hulp”, … . Geef aan, dat je de situatie niet kent, maar wel kunt voorstellen.


De cliënt blijft eigenaar van zijn of haar situatie. Onze taak bestaat uit versterken van de mensen in hun situatie.

En, wat ik noem, verstoren van de communicatie. De bestaande patronen, gebruiken, gewoontes, manieren van doen, werken niet langer en kunnen het beste verstoord worden. Wat ik weleens geef als antwoord op “wat doe je met verstoringen tijdens de sessie?”: “de verstoringen zijn de sessie”.


Het klinkt misschien gek, want zo zijn we het niet gewend: definiëren van een situatie als een op te lossen probleem, initieert macht en machteloosheid. Technisch gesproken, blokkeert een opdrachtgever – macht – daarmee zichzelf, de deelnemers en het interveniëren door middel van faciliteren – machteloosheid. Ik heb het al eerder gezegd: we dienen eerst uit te vinden waaruit de situatie bestaat. De bijeenkomst begint, zoals steeds, in de intake.

De uitzichtloosheid van de situatie wordt waarschijnlijk al in het begin van je intake op symbolische wijze genoemd, maar niet gehoord. Meestal hebben mensen niet in de gaten, dat ze een kuil voor zichzelf gegraven hebben. Zoals we zeggen: “wanneer je jezelf een kuil graaft, stop met graven”.

Let op de gebruikte metaforen om de (probleem)situatie te beschrijven. Noteer ze bij voorkeur.

Laat langzaam gaan

Laat de klant of opdrachtgever eerst “spuien”: de spanningen moeten er eerst uit. Dit geeft je inzicht in de elementen van de situatie, wat waaraan wordt toegedicht. Check of jij over mag nemen, bijvoorbeeld door te vragen “… en is er nog meer…?”

Onderzoek de eerste gebruikte metaforen over de situatie. Zoals “…. dit … is als ….”, of “… en wat verstaat u onder ….” en “…. wat gebeurde er voor/na ….” . Go Slow, ga langzaam. Sluit aan bij het woordgebruik van de klant, vermijd “vertalen”.

Onderzoek de diverse aannames en stel ook je eigen aannames open voor onderzoek.

Schep vervolgens tijd en ruimte voor de deelnemers in de toekomstige bijeenkomst om te bewegen. Maak ruimte voor onderzoek door hen naar de situatie. Je kan iets zeggen als: “… dat zou zo kunnen zijn, ik kan me voorstellen dat sommige deelnemers dat ander zien…” (gebruik ruimtelijke metaforen, dus liever “denken” of “menen” zeggen). Of: “… in sommige gevallen, willen mensen te snel naar een oplossing, …”.

Geleidelijk aan, krijg je zo de indruk van de voorliggende taak. Werp licht op de situatie en geef aan, waaraan je denkt om de situatie met de deelnemers te verlichten. Stel een voorstel voor dat teruggrijpt op de door de klant gebruikte metafoor.

Bespreek verwachtingen over je eigen positie (vermijd het woord rol, hou ruimte) in de situatie van de bijeenkomst. Bespreek je verwachtingen over de cliënt, opdrachtgever, en zijn/haar/hen deelname aan de bijeenkomst. Biedt structuur, maar geen inhoud,

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Realizing reality

What’s this thing really?

One invents reality. Inventing, in terms of McWhinney’s model, combines inducing with realizing (red –inducing –> yellow –realizing –> red).

We use an idea or concept like reality to explain “what works”. The question “does reality really exists?” while referring to an outside reality is like asking “does this terrain exist?” while referring to the map. You cannot travel from here to there on a map, only on a terrain. The same holds for reality: you can only realize her through engaging.

In the Dutch (and German) language one can use the word “werkelijkheid” (Wirklichkeit) for reality. The English “actuality” comes closest, as the word “werk” implies act-ions, working. This work consist of actively constructing “reality”. One is actually “producing reality”, realizing reality. Really. Continuously. A stream of consciousness consists of a stream of reality.

Or, as Watzlawick wrote, reality is being invented (The Invented Reality). Inventing or constructing reality cannot be done arbitrarily. Reality has to be made, realized, like a house or building (real estate!) has to be build. One has to use some architectural principles or the house will collapse on you. Through trial and error, we invented high-rise (and still make mistakes).

In adapting one’s behaviour to reality, one invents reality. A reality that works. In this way, one’s reality necessarily becomes structurally coupled with actuality, actual reality.

Reconstructing reality

So one constructs the realities one requires, the realities one uses. One “adapts” so to say, realities to one’s need and use, and works with “what works”. Only don’t confuse your model of reality (reality-in-use) with reality-in-reality.

An accurate model will have the same structure as what it represents, even if its size, appearance and material are entirely different. (Italics by the authors) Robert and Ellen Kaplan, The Art of the Infinite –  The Pleasures of Mathematics, Oxford University Press, (2003, p 264)

In the same kind of way, one constructs, or has constructed one’s reality: it works, you inhabit, live “inside”, your “house”. This is why we call it “habits”, derived from Latin habitat or “house”. I’m using the word “house” also because this belongs to the (Jungian) archetype of self. Home is where the heart is.

I always compared the word “archetype” with “architect”: an architect doesn’t build an house. The builders do. And everything a carpenter, plumper or brick layer did, one can remove from the house. What the architect did, one cannot remove, but one will recognize it immediately. (My grand father was an architect, his trade mark was adding a round window, to the annoyance of a house wife).

Inhabiting habits

Constructing a (one’s) reality is like scaffolding a building. Once the building has been realized (!), one doesn’t need the scaffolding any-more. A house is static. However, because one is, you are, dynamic, living; one is in flux, moving. In doing so, one continuously de/re-constructs “reality”. Living organisms produce “realities” continuously. That’s actually working.

These (mental, personal, ideal, … ) constructs have to be self-referent, actually meaning self-made, because your-self observes and (you) take part in observing. Observing processes of observing is not needed, and only possible in meditating.

These constructs therefore have to be of fractal dimensions, intuitively I would suggest the Golden Ratio, 1.6180… . This less than three dimensional, as building are, but more than one. In one’s mind, one reconstructs a three dimensional model of a house from a flat image.

In language we construct sentences, which are linear, one-dimensional. So one cannot (re)construct reality in language. Like the map is not the territory, so your reality is not real reality. Reality is at-work.

Connected reality

We have the word realiteit in Dutch also (I once read that in Dutch we have relatively more words than other languages) . The word consists of the Latin “res” or things, affairs and “li”. The latter is a very ancient lemma meaning something like connection, as in li-ne, a line connects. So I say, the word reality suggests something like connecting-with-things.

Reality as-a-concept is a real concept (based on Vaihinger): made-up (invented), used and proven useful. And, paradoxically, can be discarded after being used. One realizes reality.

Implications for facilitating groups of people

Reality perceptions differ. Use these difference to induce a common “reality” in this actual situation. For instance by making metaphors explicit through configurating or using images or clean language. It isn’t necessarily one reality everybody agrees on. They only require it to be workable, realizable. In working, they’ll realize “what works” and what doesn’t. In reflecting (action learning) they should figure out better working “realities”.

At the end of a meeting, ask what everybody is going to do next and what they’ll do when it doesn’t work. I call this a pre-emptive. A problem is a difference between actual (realized) situation and expected associated with a negative emotional load. By thinking about what may happen, you shift the expectations and lessen the load.

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Simply facilitating complexity

I was just this morning writing to a friend that natural structures structure themselves. Then I ran into a piece about design not using complexity theory. I think these issues are related.

Facilitating complexity comes naturally to me, because I don’t intend to control anybody while facilitating. Nature facilitates herself in the same way. She doesn’t have a choice.

Nature natures nature

In nature form structures (or follows) structure and structure forms (or follows) form. One can distinguish the form or shape of clouds. mountains, trees, …. from their structure. They model themselves. Their shape or form is what they are and how and why one recognizes them,

These follow the “Law of the Least Work” (least action, least resistance, …). The least known of the laws of Physics.

The Law of the Least Work “makes” a projectile follow parabola, and we explain why a projectile makes a parabola. It is as-if the projectile “knows” what path to follow, naturally. Nature “knows”, without explicit knowledge, how to structure herself.

Nature “designs” herself. Any sign (cloud, mountain, tree, … ) signifies it/her/him/them-selves. That’s why they’re all unique – having different shapes – and are having the same “structure”. The latter may come as a surprise, as I’m using the word structure in a slightly different way.

Structure structures structure

The structure – the ways a form has structured it-self – of a natural thing or creature accounts for its usefulness. The shape of a tree “fits” a tree. The structure of a bird’s shape, follows its use. A lark won’t chase rabbits, a vulture won’t scratch with the chicken. Use, shape or function, and structure invoke each other. They’re self-shaping shapes, self-froming forms.

(This makes me think, why we use the word information for …mmm… information. Form informs. We recognize things by their shape or form.)

Like the ways on a map show (you) the structure of the city streets. (Reversing Korzybski’s “the map is not the territory”). Structure (of a model) accounts for it’s usefulness. This is one of the reasons I use the words metaphor-in-use for what you perceive. Tacitly one recognizes uses of a form or shape.

These – in our idea of design – complex natural forms or shapes are actually also the simplest. They cannot be different, because of the Law of the Least Work (I know, it sounds like a fallacy). Any other (more complex) structure would have meant “more” work.

The interesting thing about the “laws” of nature – all these laws are human laws -, is that they maintain themselves. There’s no “least work” police, advocate, judge or even punishment. I could call it “Occam’s Reaping Machine” or better, “Occam’s Harvester” :-).

Human rules induce complexity

Human designs follow rules prescribed by humans. In our concept of design design should be “fit for function”. Things have an intended purpose. We tend to think, for instance, that the beaks of birds have a function. To eat seeds, insects, build a nest, … . Or that the function of one’s hearth is to pump blood. But birds have beaks; you’ve got a hearth. One wouldn’t live without them. They were designed by themselves.

Animals make sound to recognise each other and to signal situations to each other. Human being expanded this into language. As we’ve learned to use language to instruct (long story, no time for it now) to make constructions – called artefacts, because they’re arty-ficial and not nature-ficial – we tend to think in terms of principles, rules, laws with a purpose, with de-sign.

One can only have a theory on design, when having a language. But the structure of our language (artificial: order, rules, linear, static, ..) doesn’t accommodate for the structure of nature (nature-ficial: out of control, chaotic, dynamic, ….)

Things have become “complex”, because living lives is not simple any-more. Using language made our life complicated. Machines make it complex. Thanks to the printing press and the computer, we’re able to complicate complexity. I like to say, “we used to have language and now language has us”.

Understanding complexity

Simply put: complexity theory in design is an oxymoron. Complexity is in a way natural, practical, universal and “undesigned”. Our designs, paradoxically, are too simple, that’s what makes “complexity”. Nature abhors complexity. We introduce complexity in judging a situation we cannot decompose in elements, and put back in working order again, like our machines. We cannot analyse complexity with logic, analytical, logical analysis.

Complexity is fragile and nature is anti-fragile. We attribute complexity to a situation, when we cannot decompose into parts. We want to understand a system AND control it.

Artwork is, the words says so, artificial. We design things which have uses, functions, which mimic nature. We design intentionally. Intentions, designs, have to be realized or we’re “unsuccessful”. Nature doesn’t intend, yet realizes everything successfully.

We call something we cannot understand and control “complex”. Letting go of control, while understanding, produces complexity. Let a situation control itself. It will produce results naturally.

I want to stress, that I don’t see these issues as problems. We cannot “solve” these. They’re paradoxes and will resolve themselves. Paradoxes are “at work” (or “energetic”) and as one tends to exclude paradoxes from thinking, it will take some time. Thanks for reading this.

Implications for facilitating groups

Everybody wants both to remain in control of their own decisions and needs to be “heard”. The trick to effective facilitating participants is by letting go of control. Define a result in general terms, like the three best ways to …, or five possible actions…. or a statement about … .

Always prepare yourself thoroughly. I always have a detailed plan, with the questions I’m going to pose. I never realize the plan, but always get results. In time. Because I allow myself to “go with the flow”, knowing I’m having my plan.

The purpose of facilitating a session is facilitating participants exchange metaphors

All thinking is metaphorical. As professor Homan of the Dutch Open University wrote in one of our books on facilitation (Diverging Conversations through Facilitation). If a meeting has an objective, a purpose, it’s not facilitating. You then need a good chair person, a trainer, a consultant. Not a facilitator.

Many stories in this book, are about figuring out the different metaphors, images, meanings behind the words used to describe a situation. When the situation is complex, the metaphors will show ways and means to reach results naturally.

The practice of facilitating consist first and foremost of making sense of the meeting. So in facilitating always look for the metaphor-in-use behind the metaphor-espoused. Which image do participants have with what they’re talking about?

  • I usually ask which metaphors (usually several) participants would use to describe their situation. Because these “carry” their meaning and “make” them work .
  • Then I let them visualize a few – I call it “configuring”, making a figure-of-speach. I sometimes intervene, when asked.I usually only repeat words they’re using.
  • I invite them to exchange their metaphors to each other, what do they have in common?
  • After writing down a summary statement, I ask them what they would do differently (tomorrow,…. ) and,
  • one of my trademark questions, “what would you do if it doesn’t work?”
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The various laws of requirement

You may know, I’m a big fan of the so called “Ashby’s law“, not as a true law, an algorithm, but as “rule of thumb”, an heuristic. This law should be used to understand variety creation – as do biological “systems”, also known as “evolution” – and not to reduce variety – as do human made systems. (“systems” between ” ” because I prefer to limit the use of the word systems for human made systems only).

Human, but all too humanly

ability to run dry as a requirement for a ship

As with every law, the Law of the Requisite Variety is a human law. (That might be why we also call it “Ashby’s Law”). As are the “laws” of physics, like Newton’s Laws of Motion or the laws of thermodynamics. The laws of physics, don’t have to be maintained by human beings – they maintain themselves, so to say. There’s no “gravity police” ordering your soap to fall on the ground when showering.

These are self-referent laws, to be used in the meaning of “self made” (from the Latin “facere”, to make) and self-correcting – and have no exceptions. A ball, thrown away seems to obey the laws, because it follows the only trajectory it can follow. No referee necessary. When one throws it in the same way a second time, it will follow the same path. As-if it “knows” or even “recognizes” these laws. (Self-reference leads to paradox, but that’s a different story). Sadly, our use of mortars rely on this.

Ashby’s law is actually a theorem, like that of Shannon on communication. Because both start with making exceptions. In the quoted article, Ashby starts with:

“Given a set of elements, its variety is the number of elements that can be distinguished. Thus the set {g b c g g c } has a variety of 3 letters. (If two observers differ in the distinctions they can make, then they will differ in their estimates of the variety. Thus if the set is {b c a a C a B a } its variety in shapes is 5, but its variety in letters is 3. We shall not, however, have to treat this complication).”

The exception is between ( ): “if two observers differ in the distinctions they can make … “. This puts an observer outside the (Ashby’s) observation. As an (outside) observer, I would say that various observers should be incorporated in what one calls a law of variety. This is where variety seems to start.

If I see what I mean

The same exception uses Shannon in excluding “meaning” from a message, because different “observers” can have derive meaning from the same message. Or – even worse – one and the same message can now differ in meaning from yesterday. Never the same meaning twice. Never the same meaning twice.

“Meaning” being the interesting part of a message. The interesting thing about meaning is that human beings differ in their meanings about opinions … or is it opinions about meaning). I hope you agree with this opinion.

Life is a game with only one referee: life

Both then prove their theorems, within the domain they so defined. Also: “The proof of a theorem is a logical argument that uses the inference rules of a deductive system to establish that the theorem is a logical consequence of the axioms and previously proved theorems. ” Which is fine, except that a natural domain – an universe-of-discourse so to say – doesn’t limit itself to user defined limits. Natural processes “use” self-made, or self-referent “limits”.

“A boundary”, and this may come as a surprise, is a paradox. Human boundaries are mental of legal boundaries, but not natural boundaries. We know that a river, a swamp or an ocean can be considered “a boundary”, a “situational” boundary, but at the same time, one can cross them. What’s a limit for one creature, is domain for others. For you a river is a boundary, for fish land is and for birds, neither.

Excluse me

By excluding certain situations, one excludes certain observers AND certainly excludes these “others” from one’s community. The problem becoming, that within a community, one “must” use the meaning as commonly agreed upon. (“Community” combines “com” as in “common” with meaning, as in “mun“. And you’ll know that any community – like a village, a town or a nation – has boundaries, imposed by “inhabitants”.) So, one tends to use “situational boundaries” as “limits”.

In other contributions, I’m naming these metaphor-in-use and metaphor-espoused. One can use a river, for instance to navigate, swim, sail, transport, cool, … while using it as a boundary between people. The crossing of a river (or Mediterranean, I suddenly see the ambiguity in that word) then becomes “an-other” problem.

Shannon, Ashby and others have proved their theorems using logic. This is logically consistent, but excludes paradoxes.

As a paradox – a statement about itself – cannot be both true and not-true. At the same time, I have to say, because that’s my definition of a paradox: it’s true and not true, but not at the same time.

You might know that Gödel has proven – with no exception (!) – that any system is either consistent and incomplete – there seem to be theorems one cannot prove within the system – or complete and inconsistent – theorems exclude each other, like

This statement is false“. If it’s true, it’s false and if it’s false, it’s true.

What do you think?

Ashby and Shannon made their system “incomplete” at the expense of consistency, says I. And that’s within the law. It also made their laws having “exceptions” with cannot be proven within their system. For instance the behaviour of natural “systems” – out of control – and “meaning” – ambiguousness (I love words with a, e, i, o and u).

I prefer to use another description of Ashby’s Law (one he himself has made), which connects it with Shannons: “the development of a system is being limited by the development of it’s channels of communication”. (I paraphrased, as I don’t have the time to look it up)

Reflections for facilitating groups

  • Use language ambiguously – double meanings – to realize changes in behaviour. Consistence is nice, but change always happens to be inconsistent with the current situation.
  • A meeting is always also about “crossing borders”: act like a bridge, enabling “cross border” travelling.
  • Create choices, options, possibilities and enable participants to “come together” themselves. Use your structure (design, agenda, concrete goals, gestures, … ) to maintain safety, not their content.
  • When a participant asks a question about a concept, (I had it the other day: “what do you mean by intervision?”), DON’T answer it. I know, it’s very hard to do, because you “know” the answer. When someone doesn’t understand a concept (s)he can also not ask a question about it. So first acknowledge the relationship (“OK”, “good”, “hhmmm”, …- non-verbal – “perhaps others don’t know too” – signalling, “you’re not alone in this”. Or “good question” (this is also buying yourself some time)) and then research the question. Use Clean Language questions like:
    • … (slowing down) what do you think?
    • … what would it do for you?
    • … what would you need from something like <concept>?
    • … until what point could you understand our conversation?
    • … can you think of an example?

What would you do differently next meeting?


Ashby’s law: More by me on Ashby (opens in a new tab).

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Heinz von Foersters ethical wrote a his imperative ““Heinz, act always as to increase the number of choices”. As we usually try to reduce uncertainty, ambiguity and doubt, this seems contraproductive. In facilitating, one increases choices, as a choice made together actually improves the community, making a community of practice. It also leads to more effective resolutions as “wrong” decisions will be detected and corrected sooner.

Paradox of choice

Choosing always induces paradox. Choosing means making a distinction (left – right; good – bad; forwards – backwards, …), which cannot be avoided. And – as Spencer-Brown showed – making a distinction leads to paradox. In fact, paradox “created” us and this universe. I suspect that there exists a connection with the second law of thermodynamics: the continuous production of what we’re calling entropy. I’ll attend to this later.

I my copy ofthe book – The Invented Reality – Von Foerster writes, just before his ethical imperative: “reality = community“, the relationship between Thou and I (capitals by Von Foerster). Most people read = as “is equal to”, but I’ve learned always to specify the operation. One and one can make one (as in adding two clouds), make two, as in a pair, or make three, as in pair of female and male animals.

It took me some time to realize that although reality (=) makes community, community makes reality in another way. Because belonging to a community implies making a choice. “To belong or not to belong”. This =-relation are not equal and cannot be inverted: community is not equal to reality. The community maintains a reality of its own.

A taste of choices

I had to look it up: the word choice has been derived from “to taste, to try”: . The word avoid, has been derived from out-of (e or ex) emptiness (void). This universe a-voids a void. Like human beings seem to create meaning to avoid “emptiness”.

Reality realizes itself. It seems like she has dictated to Lewis Carroll:

Be what you would seem to be, or if you’d like it put more simply: Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise. (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).

Reality “seems to be”. She (as she “begets” herself) cannot be otherwise.

A universe of your own choice

One can (and one does) imagine reality to be “otherwise”. This is how, for every-one, reality seems to be constructed and “surreal”. Because one distinguishes one-self from other. I propose to make a distinction between universe – reality realizing reality (herself, perhaps even Universe) – and youniverse – your invented (constructed, imagined, realized, …) reality.

One can pretend one doesn’t know about one’s constructed reality (“what do you fear most? “Choices, dear chap, choices”) , but the world – to paraphrase Jung – will tell you in the end. I suppose the very idea of meaningfulness entails being held responsible for one’s choices. And as universe isn’t interested in one’s own responsibilities – she has a world to take care of – we usually postpone this final judgement indefinitely to “after life”.

Ooops, right universe

A paradox of choice consists of one’s inability to not “not choose”, because not choosing implies a choice too. And one’s seemingly inability to make choices “unchosen”. So again, this universe couldn’t be otherwise. This world is both the best and worst outcome of “choices”. (I must say, that I’ve always, as long as I can remember, thought this. Spinoza came to the same conclusion.). One can only choose to change one’s opinion about one’s choices.

Saying it

Making a distinction between ethical (“good”) and unethical (“bad”) choices can only be said using language. I suppose an animal with a brain predicting the future, will distinguish between good and bad, learned to (fore)see through acting.

Without language, one cannot explain one’s choices. Human beings produce languages from a cultural domain and – here comes the trick – one reflects good/bad choices always on being a good member of one’s community and “it’s greater good”.  So in choosing one’s language one also “chooses” ones community. When one disagrees with the choices made by ones community, one has trouble voicing these. On the penality of being excluded.

And on voicing another choice, one will say “I didn’t have another choice”, not because one didn’t have one (or perhaps, rather “saw” one) but because of one’s longing (need. requirement, ….) to belong.

Implications for facilitatting change

I facilitate change. Participants of meetings (and members of organisations) are stuck, because they avoid unknown “emptinesses” of other choices. The best choice seems to be to postpone decision, hanging on in quiet desperation (staying home to watch the rain). But only an undecidable situation requires a resolution (not a decision!). And this requires increasing the number of THEIR choices. Not because they then always make better decisions, because when they realize their own decisions, they’ll be making a community-of-practice.

As a facilitator, creating choices for communities always involves addressing “resistances” associated with their feelings (“tastes”) of being excluded, denied, ruled out, neglected, … . This generates angriness (sadness, unhappiness, …) which participants qualify as  “bad”. I deal with this by increasing my number of choices: offer choices in content, stick to your process.

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