The growing public experience of chaos in human affairs might reflect the limits of our current state of human consciousness.
As a coach you help people to think and act more effectively to reach their goals. But the challenges they face are increasingly complex and the disruptive events they need to deal with occur more frequently.
If we take a fresh view and recognize the world we live in as a complex interactive system, a living organism, then our challenge is to help our coachees achieve and sustain coherence as a part of their environment. Success requires more than step by step improvements, we need to support real transformational change. Quantum coaching enables us to address the whole person; engaging with physical, emotional and mental process to make sense of our complex and changing world. Utilising the latest thinking in physics, neuroscience, complexity science and human development; you are invited to join us and learn how to enable biopsychosocial coherence.
When we think about chaos in nature, it helps to consider it as an absence of effective organisation. The same might apply in human affairs. Whilst ‘chaos’ has always been a part of life, we might not have had the ability to perceive it in a way that makes sense.
Change is exponentiated in this era where an intensification of communication is enabled by dramatic advances in technology. The near instantaneous sharing of information drawing data from media networks around the globe alerts us when situations become disorganised and consequently results in events easily interpreted as chaotic. But our greater exposure to information also offers a new perspective on the experience of chaos. The coexistence of chaos and order is now legitimized by the new science and, supported by quantum science’s recognition of the ubiquity of ‘randomness’ at the subatomic level, provides new labels for interpreting what we experience as chaos.
However this shift in awareness does invite us to reduce our expectation of the results we might typically anticipate in a perspective of a continuous cyclical mechanical world based on cause-and-effect principles. Where we might have expected that if we put the right strategy in place we would be assured of a predetermined result, now we are less certain about even having to find the right answers.
Science and certainty
The naive expectation of ready solutions to all problems was largely derived from Descartes’ description of a material world limited to the physically measurable domain; the real arena of scientific study. Newton could then offer it’s operative principles in his ground-breaking thermodynamic laws of physics. The universe functioned in fixed and predictable ways and we could comprehend its principles with precise scientific measurement described with logical syllogisms and mathematical equations. The scientific method thus brought certainty.
However, after a number of truly ground shifting discoveries Thomas Kuhn presented the notion of a paradigm shift. He observed the conflict in science with one type of physics operating according to predictable Newtonian laws, and another emerging type that contradicted predictability. Certain scientific discoveries, he proposed, fundamentally challenged a wide range of assumptions about existence. Such paradigm shifting insights now include the creative nature of evolution, relativity theory, the indeterministic quantum dynamics of energy, and its peculiar principle of non-locality, or action at a distance.
Ultimately a new holistic view with its own form of emergent science is seeking to address this dichotomy of the fixed Newtonian model and the indeterminism of the quantum model. Systems and complexity theory help with a new integrative whole-systems view. This provides substance to Aristotle’s notion that‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’. Reductionism, with its cause-and effect relationships, becomes fundamentally challenged; not only for its rigid linearity, but also in respect of clinging to Descartes’ ‘scientific’ materialism which insists on looking for the hard bits that make up existence.
As such the new science now grapples with the experience of increasing complexity – and consequently this feature has implications on coaching practice. In complex situations the outcomes of activities cannot be predetermined. They emerge dependent on the complex relationships of the involved participants (variables) in any given situation. Yes, cause and effect relations do still apply in mechanical situations, but especially in human activities, outcomes are more unpredictable simply because we cannot be sure what the participants are thinking and feeling. So, when dealing with complexity we need to pay more attention to process (how things come about) and the dynamical relationships between participants. It is thus the complex dynamic relationships that constitute any living system that ultimately defines such a whole – not the individual components. That dynamic adaptive relational activity is therefore what constitutes our current world situation – described by the VUCA acronym.
Evolutionary advance through time has been a function of a series of self-perpetuating patterns where unstable disorder has emerged into ordered systems. Joseph Needham challenged Marx and Engels’ ‘dialectical materialism’ with ‘dialectical organicism’. What we tend to describe as ‘chaos’ might then very well be an accelerated process of adaptation and reorganisation in pursuit of a newer quality of emergent coherence. That is why it now becomes even more important to differentiate between simple, complicated, complex, and truly chaotic situations, and how to respond to them.
For coaches this implies that people in need of coaching might be trying to apply cause-and-effect linear thinking to complex and even near chaotic circumstances. For example there might be a situation where someone experiences the partner as causing grief. The conclusion is that the partner’s love has ended. The simplistic solution would be separation. Effective coaching would reveal far more subtle dynamics. Another example of a problem is global warming. The conclusion would be that atmospheric carbon dioxide is the culprit. The strategy would be banning fossil fuel emissions. Closer examination again will reveal this to be simplistic with many other factors involved. This is attempting to apply linear thinking in a non-linear world. Complexity science further warns that there might be even more factors involved than we would be able to immediately identify. The implications are that we need to see the whole picture as it is emerging – the holistic view – and that means learning to carefully observe process.
Emergence and curiosity
That challenges us coaches in this era is to become curious about emergence; to find the appeal in the unknown; and to become excited about new developments and potentialities. But in so doing we will need to reduce our reliance for comfort and confidence in certainties, especially the so-called scientific absolutes of ‘best practice, and rather develop a sense of wonder at what may be. For the client we might also want to instil the view:‘…life is not happening to you – you are co-creating it with your everyday choices moment by moment.’
So we want to reduce our need of trying to find rationally based right or wrong answers in response to which we can then apply best practice. We rather want to become agile in our responses to an increasingly dynamical context. And as coaches we must now reconsider how to operationalise that in our coaching processes, especially how to better observe and detect the relevant processes and relationships.
That is why the DIKW model is so useful. It offers how ‘data’ is converted into ‘information’; how information becomes retained as ‘knowledge’; and how knowledge, through experience, can generates ‘wisdom’. This of course applies as much to ourselves as coaches it does to our clients. This perspective enables us to better explore a given situation to understand the client’s worldview, to establish how they are thinking, and how they comprehend the situation. To what data are they responding? How are they interpreting that information into the story are they buying into and converting into future expectations? We can then better explore their sense of competence, namely their capacity to manage what is required, and especially the meaningfulness of it.
Ultimately it is through this process of the deeper revelation of the meaning that we will help to influence both the comprehensibility and the manageability of the clients identified need. Since meaning relates to the client’s operative values system, the alignment of understanding and strategy with what is considered ultimately important will provide a greater sense of coherence for clients in this VUCA age. The meaning-making value system provides a stronger reference point for decision-making. And that helps to better navigate the vagaries of complexity to achieve more lasting outcomes. We will explore this presently.
An insightful consideration in the long evolutionary process that has led to the current world situation is that ‘entropy’, a state of chaos or disorganisation, has been transformed through the action of integrative processes, as described in the holistic view, into ‘syntropy’. This is a new state of order, or organisation. The two states are thus co-dependent. It is from the very disorder that new order arises. That is the chaordic principle. Human thinking has followed a similar trajectory. Beliefs about the world are shaken up and new perspectives emerge, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out with the paradigm shift. We are now probably in such a process of a fundamental new paradigm shift.
The implication for coaching is that we as coaches find ourselves in the same process as our clients. We occupy this current state of disordered thinking together as we wait to catch a clearer glimpse of new emergent meaning-making patterns. The approach will then be less about the expert guiding the client, and more about facilitating a collaborative mutual exploration.
2019 was a very challenging year for most, it was a year of highs and lows – made so by the increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the current global context – now referred to as VUCA. This enormous instability has caused many to shrink into old fear driven survival patterns. Where most people are experiencing the pain of this radical change, yet not understanding the nature of it, and this is why it is more important now than ever before to lead people in understanding the nature of this change in order to re-establish hope.
Human consciousness is on the brink of a major evolution, prompted by the growing complexity of our world and the need for us to adapt not only our thinking but how we think. This is the shift from first order thinking to second order thinking, or from linear Newtonian thinking to non-linear Einsteinian thinking. It is about understanding that everything in our world, from relationships to business, economics to our environment, is all in a complex state of continual change. It is organic, these are “living systems”.
While Capitalism is crumbling due to its failure to address some significant ecological challenges such as poverty and sustainability, Socialism, partly the response to some of these failures, also has intrinsic flaws such as being an inhibitor of progress. Spiral Dynamics provides a great model for understanding the emerging synthesis of these two world views, (neither of which takes into account the growing complexity of our world), whilst incorporating nonlinear complexity thinking – this is second order thinking.
What does first order thinking look like?
First order thinking is measuring business success by focusing solely on the bottom line. It is about rewarding people for hitting their targets without understanding the impact of the often toxic behaviours we are rewarding on culture, trust and engagement. It is about manipulation in the name of getting a bigger piece of the pie, stemming from an underlying fear of lack and limitation. It is a linear pipeline mentality, the more we push in the more we get out. It is about missing the intangible value of human interaction, compassion, trust and engagement. It is about measuring productivity by how busy we are or how hard we work. It is about considering oneself a leader just because you have a leadership position, then using that position for self gain.
What does second order thinking look like?
Second order thinking is about going beyond the reductionistic and mechanistic mindset, and being present and “available” enough to tune into the subtleties of human experience. It is about holistically seeing business as living entities where engagement, trust, compassion and culture are considered some of the most vital drivers of sustainable success. It is about self reflection, understanding your natural strengths, then meaningfully collaborating with others to generate inspired and holistic solutions to real world problems. It is about realizing that leadership is dynamic and not static – sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow. And having the wisdom and sensitivity to know when, by being present enough to notice when a leadership moment opens up. It is about staying open and seeing with new eyes without overlaying past meaning on new situations. It is about tuning into our own intuitions and then acting on them. It is about holism and sustainability.
What does this all mean?
We are living through highly transformative times, the experience of which is often chaos. However from within this seeming chaos is a new emerging order, this is known as Chaordic. By understanding the nature of this current and radical change we can begin the find hope in realizing that the world is not breaking, just the world as we have known it. The good news is that as the old models and paradigms enter their final death throws, they make space for the new. And with quantum leaps in our collective thinking combined with our rapid technological advancements, I believe we will solve some of the biggest challenges facing humanity. I see a vision of the future where poverty is eradicated, access to information and education is available to everyone, and machines take over routined work allowing more time and space for meaningful human interaction, compassion and creativity.
As leaders we must embrace this shift and begin to see the emerging order through the chaos so we can lead others towards an empower future. We must prioritize the often disregarded and intangible aspects of human experience such as engagement and culture. We must prioritize the building of trust by always making the needs of others at least as important as our own, we must offer compassion where it is needed and create stability by helping people trust in their own strengths, and ultimately we must generate hope by holding an inspiring vision for ourselves and others.
Who must lead?
Each and everyone of us must lead when those leadership moments open up. Because leadership is dynamic and not static, and because we are human beings and are not perfect.