Tag Archives: grand challenges

What if…?

  1. What if people came together to explore different facets of their talents, develop their creative interests, and obtain advice and support for realizing their dreams?
  2. What if people learned together through conversation, study groups, and online groups?
  3. What if people conducted projects for no other reason than the sheer joy of self-discovery and creative expression?
  4. What if there were ways for individuals to contribute their skills and ideas to help worthwhile projects in schools, nonprofits, and communities?
  5. What if the next ten years were to be a period of great transformation in our common life and could be traced to the synergy of everyday people wholeheartedly pursuing their dreams?
  6. What if one person’s quest for self-actualization was amplified across the world?
  7. What if small groups of people started a process that reclaimed and restored the innovative spirit that built our world?
  8. What if someone reversed and supplanted the contentious, toxic social media environment of today by engineering and promoting a platform for edification, self-actualization, collaboration, and affirmation of goodness and altruism?
  9. What if artistry, science, and citizen activism synergized to heighten people’s resolve for a sustainable world and reverse the negative spiral of environmental exploitation and destruction?
  10. What if a series of disruptive innovations—seemingly unconnected—led to an economic revolution that placed human rights before markets and caring and justice before profits?
  11. What if introverts, idealists, and iconoclasts took the reins?

The Value of Non-Equilibrium

I’ve been thinking about the ideas of the chemist Ilya Prigogine. Many may remember him as a one of the three main threads in Margaret J. Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science: Learning About Organization from an Orderly Universe (1992, Berrett-Koehler). Wheatley learned from Prigogine that while it makes sense to stabilize machines and structures as a way to prevent deterioration, living systems (organizations) need non-equilibrium to change and grow because they exchange energy with their environments. Prigogine said living systems are “dissipative structures.” As Wheatley,  explains it, they “dissipate their energy in order to recreate themselves into new forms of organizations” (88).

In ecosystems, for example, external fluctuations in the environment exert great pressure on the system and the system uses its energy very inefficiently, but “as the ecosystem matures, it develops an internal stability, a resiliency to the environment that, in turn, creates conditions that support more efficient use of energy and protection from environmental demands”(92).

Wheatley applies these ideas to organizations. In the factory model, she says, “managers watched for departures from the norm so they could “make corrections and preserve the system at its current levels of activity”(78). Systems that are organized around core competencies but open to information from outside are less vulnerable to environmental disturbances. Their more fluid structure ultimately leads to an internal stability. As expressed by one scientist she quotes (Jantsch), “the more freedom in self-organization, the more order.”

On other words, there is much more happening  than a change in tools. Trying to impose the old factory model using new tools will not work. We need new structures that encourage openness, creativity and freedom to innovate.