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30th November 2006 | Draft

Distinguishing Levels and Patterns of Strategic Obsolescence

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Annex 1 of Governance through Patterning Language: creative cognitive engagement contrasted with abdication of responsibility (2006)

Strategy 1: Denial and positive thinking
Strategy 2: Polarization and demonization
Strategy 3: Pre-emptive / Defensive appeals
Strategy 4: Filtering and gatekeeping -- beyond denial
Strategy 5: Project Logic
Strategy 6: Patterning capacity challenges


The intention here is to present a sequence of governance strategies, which continue to be widely used but reflect various forms of inadequacy in response to recognized challenges. The sequence is ordered from those most frequently used and understood through to subtler and more complex strategic patterns. The approach is designed to highlight the need to move beyond cognitive detachment from strategies to one requiring a higher order of cognitive engagement in strategies (as explored in Annex 2: Creative Cognitive Engagement: beyond the limitations of descriptive patterning).

Strategy 1: Denial and positive thinking

The most obvious strategy is that of denial. Many see the leadership of different institutions, from which leadership is expected, as being in denial. This takes a variety of forms:

These approaches effectively make of my world a Potemkin society (cf Globalization within a Global Potemkin Society, 2000 ). They:

Just what is it that I am denying?

Strategy 2: Polarization and demonization

The challenge of polarization and dualistic thinking has long been widely acknowledged (cf Documents relating to Polarization, Dilemmas and Duality). It has been central to the mode of operation of religions down the centuries. The recent consequence has been the incoporation of this thinking into the emerging strategies of faith-based governance (Future Challenge of Faith-based Governance, 2003). "Our" religion is always that of the "good" people (whatever the human vunerability to "sin"), whereas "their" religion is always that of the "evil" people (whether or not this is simply framed as "misguided"). Demonization readily prevails in the organizations of crusades and jihads against the unbelievers.

Such polarization acquired an acute form in the justification for the "war on terror". The dimensionality of civilized discourse has been reduced to the binary limitations of "Us-or-Them" logic -- even for the best and the brightest (Colin Powell, Hilary Clinton, etc), from whom more might have been expected (cf Being Bushed: multiple personality disorder in a globalized religious flatland, 2001). It is possible that this strategy has been deliberately adopted by them in order to simplify the challenges of controlling a complex society -- widely acknowledged to be ungovernable.

Identifying "terrorists" as demonic simplifies the governance challenge of prioritizing and mobilizing resources (cf Promoting a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism: Strategy of choice for world governance, 2002). There is no question of recognizing the much-cited wisdom of the Walt Kelly Pogo cartoon: 'We have met the enemy and he is us'.

Strategy 3: Pre-emptive / Defensive appeals

There are explicit calls for "new ideas", "new thinking" and "new paradigms". Many are on offer as proprietary models or under the patronage of their originators (perhaps to be heroically and humorously caricatured by the movie "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines") -- or even within secretive societies of elites. For some it is only a question of learning appropriately from such sources -- and overcoming misguided resistance to the dissemination of their insights.

There is a belief in the capacity of "creative intelligence", notably of the "cultural creatives" or even of the "indigo children". Networks and centres of "excellence" are estabished to facilitate their activity. However, their remedial capacity in response to the conditions of the planet would appear to be marginal at best -- however much one may hope for the multiplier and synergy effects of their initiatives as they accumulate (Meta-challenges of the Future: for Networking through Think-tanks, 2005) . On the other hand, many hope for divine intervention and welcome the deteriorating planetary conditions as more likely to evoke such intervention.

Curiously these appeals enable institutions to effectively "outsource" the creativity for which they are appealing. In particular they make those manifesting some degree of creativity responsible for proving (with their own resources) the relevance of their creativity to the mindset of the instititution making such appeals. There is no question of the institution empowering itself to detect creativity, and "out-of-the-box" solutions, irrespective of whether it is in response to some such appeal. This process builds significant lags into the institutional response to change -- and legitimates the tardy rate at which it does so. It is a design for postponement and incrementalism -- with results evident in the track record of many institutions claiming to be at the forefront of change (as with the Vatican policy on contraceptives, notably in relation to AIDS).

The challenge has been well described by John Ralston Saul (Voltaire's Bastards: the dictatorship of reason in the West, 1992; The Unconscious Civilization, 1995), but most succinctly as a form of Le Chatelier's Principle by Stafford Beer (The Cybernetic Cytoblast: management itself. Chairman's Address to the International Cybernetics Congress, September 1969) in the following terms:

Reformers, critics of institutions, consultants in innovation, people in sort who "want to get something done", often fail to see this point. They cannot understand why their strictures, advice or demands do not result in effective change. They expect either to achieve a measure of success in their own terms or to be flung off the premises. But an ultrastable system (like a social institution)... has no need to react in either of these ways. It specialises in equilibrial readjustment which is to the observer a secret form of change requiring no actual alteration in the macro-systemic characteristics that he is trying to do something about

In what secret forms of "equilibrial adjustment" do I indulge in order to ensure that I am affected by only a minimal need to change?

Strategy 4: Filtering and gatekeeping -- beyond denial

Once denial is no longer feasible, and appeals are elciting a response, a variety of techniques may be employed to control the amount of problematic information which it is necessary to consider and on which it may be necessary to act. Many of these are catalogued elsewhere as constraints on critical thinking. They include:

The consequence of the above is to create a pattern of communities "gated" by communication processes (cf Dynamically Gated Conceptual Communities, 2004 ). In the light of any concerns about a democratic deficit, or the exclusion of information on new challenges or opportunities, this raises the question of:the collective value of what gets filtered out (cf Practicalities of Participatory Democracy with International Institutions: attitudinal, quantitative and qualitative challenges, 2003 ):

How do I adjust my filters -- to what end? To what should I be "open" and to what should I be "closed" (Orrin E Klapp, Opening and Closing: strategies of information adaptation in society, 1978). By what modes of interaction am I currently overwhelmed?

Strategy 5: Project Logic

As highlighted by Stafford Beer's recognition of Le Chatelier's Principle (above), once an institution acknowledges an issue or the possibility of a programme of action, a number of processes may be deployed to minimize the effectiveness of any response:

Strategy 6: Patterning capacity challenges

Innovation and leadership is obliged to operate beyond the constraining dynamics above. This is achieved by recognition of patterns of behaviour and constraint through which strategic opportunities can be detected. There are various approaches to this:

Various conceptual initiatives can be seen as constituting a form of integrative pattern language highlighting strategic opportunities and vulnerabilities (cf Patterns of Conceptual Integration, 1984 ). Examples include:

Such patterns may be understood as more than descriptive "pigeon holes" for clusters of insight. Each pattern in a set may also be understood as a conduit for a distinct form of psycho-social energy most readily understood in terms of the type of "energy" a person brings when functioning in a particular pattern mode. This is increasingly recognized in management teams (cf Meredith Belbin, Management Teams: why they succeed or fail, 1981). Patterns can be used in exploring the interweaving energies in conferences (Energy Patterns in Conferences: weaving patterns of information as a context for higher levels of integration, 1988). Various kinds of patterns have long featured in ritual magic, especially in traditional societies, but notably as adapted to by religions and secretive cults.

One of the weaknesses of pattern detection is that, reinforced by any tendency to "group think", it encourages "profiling" -- as has been so evident in the case of "homeland security" and the "war on terror". In this sense, as a puzzle, every complex pattern has a quick and simple solution -- that is wrong.

Introduction, Conclusion and References in: Governance through Patterning Language:
creative cognitive engagement contrasted with abdication of responsibility

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