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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Mind your body

Brains actually “add information” to reality. Brains are organs necessary for moving around: sensing and judging. One needs limbs to move, off course, and limbs required guidance. The fact that the left part of the brain is connected with the right part of the body (and the right part of the eye), is not an anomaly, but a simple solution to directed movement. Activating the left side, makes one move to the right, as any rower knows. So the right side, triggers the left side, right?

Simple “nerve cells” – for instance “light/dark sensors” – connecting the right side (left) with the left side (right) will suffice. At the same time, such a “nerve cell” (Latin for ‘cord’ or ‘connection’) “expects” triggers. This is why nerve cells are always “firing” and that the “information” is in the higher/lower activation/inhibition frequency of firing. And this enables three states coding (- 0 +) of signals, which is more efficient than our digital two states coding (- +, it should have been -1 +1).

Combining nerve cells into brains, animals can generate “future predicting patterns”. Patterns of patterns of interacting nerve cells, generating “attractor fields” – semi-stable patterns which one perceives as “thoughts”. Like: ‘I like to say: “is it lunch or am I lunch?”‘.

So not only expects a brain to be given information, it also generates information to evaluate the “data” – givens. It informs itself, uses a kind “tresholds”, limits of expected data, used to trigger “attention”. These trigger levels, off course, have to be learned.

A brain “adds” expectation values – information – to what’s being sensed by the body (motor cycles, we’ve got also sensory cells in our limbs) and senses (eye, ears, ….) . In this way, brains “model” their body, which I can call “self” or “mind”. So mind has to be “embodied” and body has to be “minded”.

While a body “models” its environment (which I prefer to call domain). Our limbs are suited for walking and grasping, but not so much for swimming.

As with the proverbial map: the structure of the model/map accounts for its usefulness. And in the case of organisms, organs organically organize themselves through using each other. The word organ has been derived from the Greek ‘erg’: or “work”. A body needs to work, to work up a mind, working up a body.

And also: “use it or loose it”: when one doesn’t use one’s “modelling body/brain”, one looses the ability to model.

So one’s brain is “operationally closed” – one cannot sense how it’s operating without destroying its working – and informational open, in the sense (!) that one expects to be informed.

Implications for facilitating groups:

  • Combine moving with thinking: invite people to work standing up. The brain is three times as productive when moving. (yes, this is why it’s exhausting).
  • Let participants do their own thinking. If something or someone is unclear, it’s an opportunity to become informed. Ask questions, probing question until one says: “I don’t know” and then have conversation.
  • The mind uses pictures, images in thinking (I call these metaphor-in-use). The structure of these images contain the information, so investigate the elements, attributes, characteristics of the images. You can invite participants to draw or to select a picture card, or an object to illustrate their thoughts.

What did trigger your attention in this post? What are you going to apply?

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What’s the purpose of the proposer

Harish writes in his blog with”POSWID or “Purpose Of a System Is What It Does” is a famous dictum in Cybernetics. This is attributed to the Management Cybernetician Stafford Beer.” He implies that a purpose of a system, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What does this mean? Here are my additions.

Any purpose is a purpose proposed by a proposer. Like “‘Everything said is said by an observer to an observer who could be him/herself‘ (Maturana and Varela, 1980; p. 8)” The proposer proposes a certain use or purpose of his proposition. A proposer proposes with a purpose . In any statement, a purpose, an intention or a meaning is being proposed.

The words “purpose” and “propose” have the same roots: to place (pose) in front (pur of pro). In seeing, perceiving, one always notices “purposes” or uses of what one perceives. And what one perceives is always “placed in front”. So everything one perceives “proposes” purposes, from which one selects a purpose one needs or requires to use. “You see what you want to see.”

Sitting on a seat on a stair

For instance, you perceive the purpose of a chair “instantly”, when you require a seat. When you need to pick up a book from the top shelve, the purpose becomes “chair-as-ladder”. Or when you need to place the book somewhere, the stool will be used as a table. Sitting makes the object into a chair.

This is what I call “metaphor-in-use”. One sees uses of the thing, object or person and uses what one sees. The figure in the figure of speech, contained in the word “metaphor”, consists of its uses. Unlike AI, human beings, don’t “see” things or objects. One perceives their (potential) uses. One appropriates, so to speak, the properties. Again, of course, the word “purpose”. One carries over relationships between one-self and uses or properties of things perceived.

The usual uses

What do you see in this picture? And what uses do you see? Tacitly, subjectively, you perceive the object while sensing attributes. You can “feel” its surface, it’s weight, consistency, temperature. You can tell, propose, how to use it. Only in actual usage of a thing perceived, it becomes an object with a purpose. One can only perceive one’s world purposefully, usually.

In using language-as-a-tool, one does the same. One communicates tacitly the “purpose” of one’s words: intended uses of the words as proposed by the proposer, also known as meaning.

Tacitly one assumes that the meaning of words conveys the meaning intended by the sender. This used to be called the Helsinki-principle. Nowadays, we’ve got another Helsinki principle, but this Helsinki principle is still implied.

One usually uses the conduit metaphor of language. Meaning, one assumes, is in the words, making up meaningful sentences. Like stuff inside a container. You only have to unpack the container and know the uses of the words used.

As you can read, with the Helsinki principle one has to accept some implicit (“prior”) set of assumed uses, a set of implicit rules, like the check box on a web page. Nobody reads those and one assumes one can agree with these. I’ve called this the metaphor-espoused. The metaphor adopted, attached to, “married”. In using words, one tactility adopts and adapts to meaning intended. However, one also implicitly accepts the terms and conditions. “Every sign is a request for compliance”.

In using a metaphor-espoused (“words, words, words”) one codes or translates the metaphor-in-use into words while referring, or decoding, back to the metaphor-in-use. In doing so, applying the Helsinki principle, one uses the existence of an accepted set of rules and of one’s acceptance by the “utterers”.

This leads to a strange-loop, or “double bind”, or the paradox of expression. In order to use words, one has to “subscribe” to the correct use of words. If you won’t so this, you don’t belong. The definition of a word, defined by a community of word users, also defines the community of word users.

With using a chair, change in purpose becomes obvious – and explicit. With using words, this requires induction. We experience words as “ambiguous”, because meaning arises from the use, the relationship with the object (Watzlawick, Pragmatics of Human Communication) and not from the object (word) itself. We can say “a rose, is a rose, is a rose”, but one’s uses determines its meaning: “I love you”, “happy birthday”, “I’m sorry”, “our house is a very fine house, …”…

I’m also using the words “in-use” and “espoused” referring to Chris Argyris’ Model I and Model II and Theory-in-use and Theory-espoused. He shows (“Strategy, Change and Defensive Routines”) how in organizations (organized groups of people) we’re used to use “defensive reasoning”. Protect the current situation, minimize loosing face, win/loose tactics, as in debates and discussions.

The status-quo needs to be maintained – or else …. . One uses a difference between theory-espoused (“we’re open and honest here”) and theory-in-use (you know, one may be punished for telling the truth about … ), while the difference between these two is covered-up (“no, honestly, you can say what you think”) and that the cover-up is covered-up ( – silence -). You can use any word you like, but you can never say “that”.

In the same way, one reduces differences between word-in-use and word-espoused. Ambiguity has to be reduced. There’s only correct way to use a word, or else… . You can be evicted because of using a “wrong” word.

With metaphor-in-use, ambiguity is always present in the presented objects through the divers uses. Like I said: a chair can be used as a seat, a stool, a ladder, as a place holder, to chair a meeting, … . A metaphor emerges from its uses (in terms of McWhinney: from sensory to mythical and back to sensory). Ambiguity is the source of innovation, necessity, the mother of invention. Evolution – a side note – uses “old” DNA in different, “wrong” applications.

In using language one also has another purpose: maintaining coherence in the group of people using the language to define themselves. Meaning of words used to induce “belonging”. When using the same definitions and rules, one reduces uncertainty, ambiguity, doubt, insecurity and produces what one may call unity. Especially, when there exists a (perceived or actual) threat, to be used as power difference. Like success to the successful, this leads to power to the powerful.

You can see this everywhere, most strongly in wars, for instance the current situation between Ukraine and the Russian federation. Meaning is not about facts versus fictions – both are, as I usually say derived from facere, to make. Just like we “make up” language.

It’s not about the words, but one’s uses in transmitting intentions. And structure (!) of the conflicts is always the same: the meaning is in the words. What needs to be done is to change this structure.

By adopting the toolmaker metaphor in communication, one always assumes meaning is being constructed through using tools: metaphor-in-use. In dealing with others, always assume one “doesn’t know” what one is saying. Also you.

We have to “figure out” what we’re meaning by what we’re saying. Using “clean language”, “figures of speech” (I’m usually using LEGO-figures, literally) or investigating the structure of the metaphor-espoused – structure follows use. The latter can be done through applying the model (or legend) proposed by Will McWhinney. Grammars of engaging.

So in proposing (using, expressing) words, one also proposes a (“one”) correct use – a purpose – of the words, which is derived from the common use of the community. We usually say that the context defines the meaning of words (purpose), however, there is no context outside the community using the words, (“il n’y a pas de hors-texte”). This also induces the third purpose: inducing coherence of the community.

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Beginners mind – stay confused

“Beginners mind”, in facilitating systemic – self-sustaining – changes you will need more than an open mind, you need “Beginners mind”. The ability to stay confused enables Eigenorganisation to emerge. We’ll talk about in this event:

Ed van Winden asked me to have a conversation about facilitating – I’d call it catalysing – systemic change. Whatever you suppose that is. You can join for free.

This is what I suggested to write.

“In systems thinking and facilitating changes we’re usually dealing with changes on the basis of “what we’re knowing”. Jan Lelie MSc MBA CPF|M choose another path. He works with the inconveniences of “not knowing”.

While studying experimental physics, he learned that dealing with the “what’s known” doesn’t reduce “the unknown”. In fact, you tend to make it bigger. Newton’s Laws of Gravity work, while introducing questions like: “what is this ‘force of gravity’?”. Einstein only compounded our not-knowing. (Spoiler alert: “we don’t know”)

Working in information system design, he noticed, that real information is about “what you don’t know”. Real information, as he formulates it confuses. “If it doesn’t confuse you, it’s not information”.

He also noticed, that we try to hide the fact that we don’t know, by using the word “system”. In situations in which we don’t know something, we still answer questions with an answer, as-if we know. “Computer says no”. When we get away with it – it works! -, they assume we know.

In dealing with change and facilitating groups – he himself calls it catalysing – we don’t know what’s going to happen. You cannot predict the future (nor the past, but that’s a different story). That’s an inconvenience for every change agent.

He has co-developed a course in facilitating change for experts and published a book about it (in Dutch), called “Facilitating as a second calling – dealing with changes”.

Jan learned to live with these inconveniences. In this session we’ll talk about the ten principles of “process consultancy” as described by Edgard Schein (back translates from Dutch):

  1. I’m always supporting the relationships between people
  2. I’ll always stay in the here-and-now
  3. I work from “not-knowing”
  4. Everything I do means intervening (even doing no-thing)
  5. The other keeps ownership of her or his problem and its solutions
  6. Go with the flow
  7. I practice in improving my timing
  8. I intervene constructively opportunistic (also known as improvising – JL)
  9. I’ll inevitably make mistakes and learn from these
  10. While in doubt, I’ll raise my ‘problem’ in supporting our relationships
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Wat is een goede definitie van causaliteit?

Wat jij wil. Causaliteit, oorzaak en gevolg, duidt een conventioneel concept aan, dat in werkelijkheid niet bestaat (wat?). Het begrip bestaat alleen als denkbeeld, in een denkbeeldig bestaan. Je kan er van alles onder verstaan wat je wilt: afhankelijkheid, noodzaak, doelstelling, resultaat, wet, bestaan, reden, ordening, patronen… allemaal goed.

Causaliteit gebruiken we als hulpmiddel in het denken – beoordelen – over onze ervaringen.

Je kan het goed zien in de rellen in Jeruzalem: afhankelijk van waar je staat, bestaat het gevolg uit de oorzaak van de ander.

Wanneer dat gebruik bruikbaar voor je is – gevolg – , kan je het “causaliteit” noemen en verklaren dat jij er de oorzaak van bent, van je succesvolle gebruik. Wanneer dat voor jou onbruikbaar blijkt, noem je iets anders de oorzaak van het gevolg, een oorzaak waar jij niets aan kan doen.

Voor het succes van anderen werkt het precies omgekeerd: hun falen veroorzaken ze zelf en hun succes komt “van buiten”.

Johan zou zeggen ” … alle gevolge heb se oorzaak…”. Uit wat we waarnemen kiezen we iets, wat we tot “oorzaak” van “gevolg” benoemen. Wiens causaliteit is dat?

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Introducing Creating Paths of Change

Where do we go from here?

The book “(Creating) Paths of Change” by Will McWhinney PhD has been labelled “the most important and original theory of social change to appear in over a generation“. And then nothing happened. Why might that be?

The most important reason might be that Will starts with YouYour attitude to change determines your actions, the conflicts  and the changes you get. The “theory” he proposes consists of “you”, your theory, your attitude determines how you perceive your situation.

Actually, his theory is not a theory at all, but a so-called Metapraxis, reflections on “practice” or theory on theories. Will developed it, while looking at all change processes, from the mythical to the practical. His theory doesn’t tell you what will happen – like the laws in a classical theory -, but what may happen, what could become – it’s also a metatheory. His model shows you which theory might apply best.

I use (t)his model as a legend to maps. With it, I can read and create maps. The same territory can be mapped differently. So the map you choose, shows you “what you see”. I use this legend to “map my path of change” and to update my bearings.

When you’re travelling, it’s not enough to read a map, to go from here to there. Then you will have to “realize” the map by actually travelling. And off course, you then have to act according to conditions. Will’s legend to maps tells you, what options you can choose from, but not how to travel.

Six leadership styles

Will’s legend shows how we have four reality perceptions – paradoxes of engaging -, six modes of change and twelve directional methods with about over 50 different tools. In fact, you can map all tools and techniques on this legend, as you can travel by all sorts of means.

In this interactive lecture, I will introduce the basics of the “Legend of the Paths of Change“. Our aim is to enable you to see what may happen. As Von Foerster prescribed, it will enable you to create choices.

In a second workshop we’ll apply this to a case. The workshop will have an interactive nature, where you’ll learn through sharing learnings.

Dan Eng and me will be hosting this fourth in a number of facilitated workshops to enable you to become more aware about your own framing of ways you experience or deal with “change and transformation”.

Please contact him ( or me, if you want to join. And we’ll send you the link. The workshop is free, but a contribution to a community project in Uganda i’m supporting will be appriciated.

If you desire to see, learn to act” – Von Foerster in “The Invented Reality”, edited by Paul Watzlawick  

(Creating) Paths to Change

Thursday April 29, 2021

1700 CET (Berlin)

90 min workshop

Click here to Save the Date

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Catwalk: survival of the fittest model

I gave a comment on Getting Out of the Dark Room – Staying Curious: The Free Energy Principle (FEP) states: “all adaptive autopoietic and self-organizing behavior work under one simple imperative; avoid surprises and you will last longer.

And: A recurrent puzzle raised by critics of these models (FEP) is that biological systems do not seem to avoid surprises. We do not simply seek a dark, unchanging chamber, and stay there. This is the “Dark-Room Problem.” 

I’ve slightly adapted the text.

Let me throw some light in the dark.

(Y)Our brain “hides” in a “dark room”, without windows, deaf, senseless. You may have learned otherwise, but your brain doesn’t see, hear, taste anything. You use your brain to “construct” models of your environment. Inside your skull, your grey matter, “gropes in the dark”. Your brain is not you: you’re out there, while your brain sits “in the dark”.

A brain – the organ with which we think we think – organizes itself through structural coupling. Without you knowing how, your brains models (verb) models (noun) of its domain (I prefer the use of “domain” over environment) – your body. A body – no surprises here – also models its domains, “through” what we explain by The Law of the Requisite Variety (off course, nor body nor brain “know” of this natural law). Your body has just enough options – eyes, hands, feet, internal organs – to maintain itself. #Just enough for the city#

Warning, paradox ahead. I use the Second Law of Thermodynamics, because there exists no such thing as “free energy”. We use it as a concept to explain behaviour, “as-if” free energy exists.

This law states: every process produces entropy (again an explanatory concept that doesn’t really exist). It states “entropy” orders order or “order out of chaos“. Nature seems to strive to disorder, but this is only disorder from our (ordered) point of view. You can easily see that an ordered system can produce more “disorder” than a disorderly or chaotic system. (If you need an example: try democracy :-)) So every process produces “more” order in order to produce more disorder. Paradox.

Referring to models

There’s also a paradox hiding here: in order to be surprised one needs a (reference) model and models are being derived from surprises – by reducing them. The tactic used consists of these models modelling themselves.

As difference between such a self-modelling model and itself (surprise!) can be distinguished when these models model themselves. They’re self-similar under transformations. The “surprise” being models that don’t fit their model while adapting to their own model remodelling themselves (“or modelling through”, if you get my pun) into models of their domain inside models modelling that domain. Then – as a consequence – they “predict” their environment to look for – surprisingly – unpredictable situations.

In fact: I keep surprising myself and you’re your own surprise (It might explain why people seem to look for “the meaning of life”). It may come as a surprise that DNA/RNA has the same structure as the I-Ching. .

It’s the structure, stupid

Coming back to “structural coupling“: a model isn’t the domain, like map is not the territory. But structure of map makes the map usefully used by the user (language can be so poor in communicating meaning).

A mapmaker maps locations through “discovering” them by using terrain (I prefer terrain or domain over territory) to map unto a map (or model).

Our body models its domains through using itself. That’s why we live in “habits”. And why we call a mannequin (small man in Dutch), “model” while modelling. (S)he has to survive the catwalk of life, so (s)he’d better “model”.

Model models (or models model) their domains (a.k.a. environment, territory,…) but it (model) isn’t it (domain). The structure – derived from using – makes a model useful. Using “structural coupling” self-modelling models can model (= structure) themselves to “fit” themselves and their “environment”. This you call “minimize surprise”, or “maximize expectations”.

Try not to confuse wholeness with completeness.

Human beings – by order of their cultural groups – want (or need?) their models to be “consistent”. Because else, how could you determine if somebody belongs (in) or doesn’t (out)? (I go into the paradoxes of belonging here). So they (the models) cannot be complete. Living creatures are complete and inconsistent. And so are their models-in-use. Only an incomplete model need to learn. But not to become complete. It (the creature and its model) need to stay “whole”.

It-self organically organizing organs organize organisms (aka complex systems) behave inconsistently – as wholes. Trying to organize organisms into “functional” organizations (aka complete systems) consistently fails.

I think, we may surprise ourselves, what you may call “curious and curiouser”.

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Provocation for Inquiry: what can you do to facilitate hierarchical systems?

I’ve been asked (as a Provocation for Inquiry): with my desire to explore paradoxes and inquiry, would appreciate your assistance in framing the following as a paradox:

Hierarchical systems are built from lower levels but do not serve them

I think we all know the problem: from a small team setting to major democracies: how to deal with the flow of power from the powerless to the powerful? And vice versa. We hear usually in democracies framed as “the gap” between public and politicians.

Listen to what Spinoza wrote, “The objective (or task) of the state (power, hierarchy) is freedom“. Use power to liberate others! However, this cannot be to liberate ourselves from the state, the liberator?

Didn’t you notice how almost every liberator becomes an oppressor? Let’s pay a visit to the paradoxes of (inter-group) expressing and (intra-group) power.

Don’t say not

You used “not”. Every sentence with a “not” in it, refers to paradoxical situation. Because you can say “not” and you can not do “not“. I used and intentionally, because it’s an inclusive “or” and with using “but” I could involuntarily induce again a “not“.

Off course you can say you did what you said, even when you didn’t. As I said, paradoxes of expressing.

So “hierarchy” will say that “they” (it’s actually a group of human beings) have been build by “lower levels” (also human beings) to serve them and use this as their argument, whenever  “lower levels” say “hierarchy” doesn’t serve them. And its true, because hierarchy cannot exist without lower levels. They “invent” each other.

The paradoxes of “expressing“, as described by Smith and Berg: Authority, Creativity, Dependence and Courage.

Using”provoking” in the subject line: this – I think – might be a solution you’re looking for: thought provoking provokes authority. That’s why they tend to suppress (freedom of) thoughts.

Who authorizes authorities?

Authority derives authority from authorizing processes (“building by lower levels”), by “members” authorizing authority. Off course, this raises an internal question: who’s  higher? Authority or the Authorizing Processing People.

Authority can “fix” this by

  • claiming that its authority has been derived from “higher powers”;
  • by saying that the voting (remember: it’s the paradox of expression) process has given them the power (“will of the people”, see Brexit or any dictatorship … );
  • voting has been rigged (depending on winning or loosing);
  • by referring to external hierarchies, which have to be defeated, before Authority can serve its “lower levels” again;
  • …. other creative (paradoxical) options …. ;
  • using power (poor solution on the long run).

Authority – by its power – can also use power to frame (paradoxes of Perceiving: Trusting, among others) a situation as “serving” the people. Usually together while indicting (!) to protect them. Offer safety – off course, always by guards. Or – very powerful – to promise progressing to a future state in the past (“Make Authority great again”, “Take back Control”, – this expresses the paradox in three words! – …)

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard those guards? The recurring regression / progression in any organized organization – vicious cycles – suggestes there are paradoxes at work.

You see: paradoxes are like the turtles all the way down. I like this paraphrase from Lewis Carroll:

Red Queen (! authority): “You cannot try to deny it, even if you do it with both hands”

Alice: “I don’t deny with my hands”

Red Queen: “I didn’t say you did, I said you couldn’t if you tried”.

How to facilitate (catalyse) this better?

Grammars of engagement

In my forth coming publications, I will give more detailed options.

You cannot beat paradoxes. You need strength dealing with the forces of power.

Let members of a group release themself – liberating – from tensions, by reclaiming power that was splitted off in managing the apparent contradictions from empowering themselves. In other words, authorize authorizing their authorisations. A more common name used to be “stewardship” of “serving leadership”.

Solving “power struggles” does not mean that we will never again (good) experience power struggles (bad). We’re slowly learning to live with the repeating exploration of these paradoxes.

Taking in slowly

Start before the beginning: with an intake with a powerful client. On visiting – hard nowadays – a client, look for clues, like a crime scene. Where are signs of power(lessness)? What’s on the bulletin board? What writings on the wall?

Then you go slow, reframe what you’ve been “ordered” to deliver (usually phrased as a question, a request, or – even worse- a tender) into a request. Ask to meet the “problem owner”, thee one who needs to improve the current situations, lacking the power from the hierarchy.

Create space to manoeuvrer. Important to enable (future) participants to authorize you to support them. This is actually the double bind of most managers and authorities: requiring voluntary actions from the people they think they’re managing.

Check your assumptions, assuming they’re wrong.

Analysing perspectives

“Analyse” the situation using the game board presented by McWhinney. What will be you main “game”?

Designing meeting

Develop a theme, a story-line with the theme. Use mythical, symbolical, metaphorical, imaginative images. Paradox of creativity.

Meeting (your) design

As a facilitator / catalyst use “space” and “attitude”. Always come in time, slightly overdressed with a twist – like an outspoken tie (I’ve got several; I own a blue-grey suit with a vest; for women it’s easier). Take in at the beginning a power position, stating what you’ve been asked to do. And ask the client to introduce you.

Move – as soon as possible – towards the anxieties and fears of the participants associated with the issue at hand. (I once just asked, while sitting down with them: “what’s on your mind?“) You can safely assume, that these are NOT the same fears as the client has expressed. And also, they will be different for different participants.

After these have been stated, look for the ones this group is able to handle. Where do we have authority?

Go into small groups (max 5) as soon as possible. Ask them to appoint a “speaker” before they start their conversations.

“Speaker” (or “secretary”) avoids discussions on leadership, induces participants to “speak up” (express), while the speaker needs to listen. Technically, you’re framing the group in the paradox of “expressing”.

Meeting the point

When your designed workshop falls short, confusion, resistance, … : welcome, you’re at the point of the meeting! Listen carefully to the emerging question(s). Use the phrasing of the participants themselves (they’re framing it like this), for instance, for money the could use: ‘budget’, ‘costs’, ‘dough’, ‘expenses’, ‘bread’, ‘pennies’, …. 

Look for their meaning behind the metaphor-in-use, the images participants use (these might differ from the metaphor-espoused, what’s being said). Use “clean questioning”, ask without least imposing your framing. You could intervene by “twisting” meaning.

Halting at the end

Let participants phrase actions they’re going to do tomorrow and what they can do if they don’t execute these.

Invite participants to reflect on their learning from the meeting.

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