Why is it that most of us want to be in control most of the time?
Why is it that most large organizations are highly controlled, and governed by strong stated and unstated rules of engagement?
I think it is fear. Fear may be the primary issue responsible for the fragility of most natural systems.
These natural systems are also known as complex systems and encompass almost every system that exists in our world - financial, medical, university, government, nature, weather, traffic, etc.
These systems follow a power law distribution (logarithmic function) instead of a Gaussian distribution (bell-shaped curve.)
The realization of the logarithmic nature of rare, but catastrophic events in these systems was coined “black swan events” by Nasim Taleb (think 9/11, bubonic plague epidemic, AIDS, Great Depression, etc).
The intensity of these events is related to their logarithmic function.
For example, lets examine earthquake intensity.
An earthquake that is two times as powerful as average quakes happens only 1/4 of the time. One that is three times as powerful happens only 1/9 of the time, while an event 10 times as strong only occurs 1/100 times.
Thus, world-changing events (positive and negative) will happen, but only rarely.
There are clues to structures and systems at risk for them. One such factor, I believe is fear.
Fear and the need for control is an organizing factor in the makeup of many organizations, leaders and countries.
As any system grows, the disorder or chaos in the system grows. This is seen as a threat to the predictability of outcomes by many leaders and in response they institute a series of rules, processes and procedures to reduce this perceived threat.
This top-down architecture makes leaders feel better about controlling the intrinsic chaos of the team or organization and they feel less vulnerable to failure.
The problem is that this structure makes the system more likely to fail. A mighty oak tree can be pulled up by the roots in a strong storm, while the flexible palm tree, that can bend to the ground, does not.
Systems that lack flexibility are prone to failure, while more adaptive systems are not.
Top-down is fragile, bottoms-up is not.
I believe the better way to direct this entropy or chaos is into a bottoms-up, learning system that is directed by shared propose and trust.
Purpose gives direction and destination to the team so they can all contribute their creativity to the end-goals of the team or organization.
What drives this type of system? I think it is safety, shared purpose and trust.
In this approach, risk is considered only failing to reach the team’s or organization’s ultimate potential.
Thus, I believe that personal and organizational frameworks of control and risk philosophy emanate from a mirrored reflection of the way the leadership see the world and their place in it.
Moving from top-down to bottoms-up is what we are trying to do.
From fear to safety. From scarcity to abundance. From control to trust. From order to creativity.
From sick to well.
From victims to empowered creators on a great adventure to change the world.
PHOTOGRAPH BY O. LOUIS MAZZATENTA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE