Friday, May 28, 2010

The Mystery of Change is Not Controllable

For some reason, I missed this book. I picked up a copy about 3 years ago and never looked into it. I don't know why I didn't, because I enjoyed reading "Aqua Church" by Leonard Sweet about 10 years ago.

Being the slow and meticulous reader I am, I have read and reread pages and chapters. As I go, I take black pen and underline portions while also writing notes in the margins.

I am simply amazed at the insight of this book - especially since most of what Leonard Sweet wrote 11 years ago is happening with remarkable accuracy today.

I am inserting a rather long excerpt that I find very affirming. It is about change and transition. In particular, I resonate with the theme of "chaordics". I never knew that my own "SOP" (Standard Operation Procedure) had a name. It's such a relief to know that my own resistance to structure (in tyrannical form) actually finds purpose and can indeed lead toward progress and impact. Of all the causes within humanity, the church needs to move forward and facilitate transformation in human lives.

CHANGE HAS CHANGED ~ So far, so good. But we have not gone very far yet. This book is built on a critical distinction between change ad transition. William Bridges is known for his distinguishing the differences between change and transition. In his view, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” For Bridges the difference between the two is that “Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.”

With due regards to Bridges for his helpful contribution to seeing change as external and transition as internal, I want to make an even more critical distinction between “change” and “transition.” For the purposes of SoulTsunami, here is the difference: Change is incremental. Transition is supersonic change at the edge of chaos that phases from incremental to exponential.
Change is when you have to do better what you already know how to do.
Transition is when you have to do what you don’t know who to do.

Change has always been with us as the one “constant of history.” The society painters of the 1770s and 1780s, for example, were presented with a constant challenge: Hair fashions changed so rapidly and wildly that clients brought their portraits back and asked to have their head “updated.”

Transition is when change changes, when change is no longer incremental but exponential. One of the key features of the day in which we live is the accelerating pace of change itself. Some experts are no longer talking about “change” but “churn” and “blur.” In 1989, people bought vinyl albums; no one bought CDs. Within seven years vinyl albums had become collector’s items purchased by jazz aficionados and club DJs who still spin wax. In 1991, my favorite TV station, the Weather Channel, didn’t exist. Five years later, an estimated 200,000 homes tuned to the Weather Channel daily. Inventions used to generate profits for decades. Now many inventions, especially in electronics, have a typical life span of two months. The pace of change is so fast on the Internet that is said that cyberspace time must be reckoned in dog years: Just as one year of a dog’s life is like seven years of our lives, so one year on the Internet is like seven years in real life.

Postmoderns live on a different planet from their modern parents and grandparents. “We’re at a point of absolute, supreme discontinuity,” global consultant and futurist Watts Wacker proclaims. “Human beings were not built to process what we’re going through now. Two generations ago people didn’t move more than 50 miles away from where they were born. Today if you live in New York City, you see 8000 commercial messages a day.” A little more than a hundred years ago, people were put in prison if they couldn’t pay their debts. A little less than a hundred years ago, all of a woman’s property became her husband’s legal property when she married, and even she was considered property.

The speed of life is leaving skid marks. Scientific information doubles every 12 years. General information doubles every two-and-a-half years. We know the first law of computer programming: “And given program, when running, is obsolete.” “Moore’s Law” (named after Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel Corporation), which says that the power of computer chips doubles every 18 months, is much too conservative. Since the late 1950s, there has been a 100,000-fold rise in computer power times a thousandfold drop in cost. In fact, Intel now boasts that it is doubling the computing power of the world every year.

The half-life of education is getting shorter and shorter. The shelf-life of resources is getting narrower and narrower. Only the after-life is getting longer and longer – and that’s because our information vase is a graveyard of rotting doctrines and after-life ideas that we continually resurrect no matter how rancid they are.

What we read about in science fiction is soon fact. In fact, science fiction has become more science than fiction. More information is generated in one hour than you can take in over the course of one life. A weekday edition of the New Your Times now carries more information than the average person in the 17th century would digest in a lifetime. In some ways, in fact, the knowledge race has replaced the arms race.

Up until now, the computer revolution was more change than transition. Computers spelled not a revolution in what we do so much as a speeding up of what we have always done. We are now using computers to do what humans have never done before.

In February 1996 the most powerful chess computer (Deep Blue) took on world champion Garry Kaspoarov and won one and tied two of six games. It lost, by the way, because it was too logical – the human edge was intuition.

When the computer played the rematch with the human in April 1997, it didn’t make that mistake again. And it won. (Interestingly, the Hal 5000 was born on the date of 20 April 1997 in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.) But even more “transitional” was what happened at the Web site IBM put together to enable the world to follow each move as it happened and to play along virtually. Five million “hits” took place on the first day, bringing the IBM server to its knees. Hundreds of people from 75 countries played along with the computer and Kasparov.

Here’s the difference between change and transition. Pretend you are making and omelet. What kind of instrument do you pick out of the drawer to begin the omelet? A whisk or fork is Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Then you add equal amounts of air and fat, and stir the air and fat together: air, fat, air, fat, air, fat. For a period of time all you are doing is stirring more air and fat, air and fat together. That’s change.

There comes a time, however, when you stir one more increment of change – air, fat – and change becomes transition. Once you pass through a threshold, a whole new world is created. Liquid becomes solid. The old SOPs which worked so well in a change/liquid world mess things up in a transition/solid world. Once you cross a threshold, new Standard Operating Procedures are required. A lot of churches are doing whisk ministry in a spatula world.

Pretend you are a photographer. Adding a few frames per second only speeds up your work. Ten frames per second: photography. Fifteen frames per second: photography. Twenty frames per second: photography. By adding more frames per second, I am only changing the speed of my craft. But there comes a time – 21, 22, 23 frames per second – when I cross a threshold – 24 frames per second – into a whole new world. Change becomes transition. Photography becomes cinematography. Stills becomes cinema.

What is good cinematography is different from what is good photography. One evaluates each genre on it own terms, in terms of its meaning, it references, and how they are to be understood. To judge the art of cinematography by the standards of the art of photography is to engage in categorical imperialism. We imperialize one art form when we impose it on another art form.

There are many print-culture imperialists writing in the church today. They judge what is good ministry in postmodern, electronic culture by what is good ministry in modern, print culture.

CHOOSE RESILIENCE OVER STABILITY, CHAOS OVER ORDER ~ You can’t grow without making changes. You can’t live without making changes. Or in the words of Peter Drucker, “Every organization of today has to build into its very structure…organized abandonment of everything it does.” A world of discontinuous change elevates resilience over stability as one of it highest attributes.

When asked to explain the stability of their life and customs, the Greeks had a saying:

‘tsi ta vrikame, etsi that t’ afisoume”
“That’s how we found things, that’s how we’ll leave them.”

No longer. Even the Greeks willy-nilly are leaving things different than they found them. Arguably the most change-resistant institution in the world, the British monarchy, is finding that it has to change if it is to survive into the 2K and 21-C. The monarchy has had to change. Welfare, health care, and the workforce have had to change. The world is changing all around us, and we in the church think we don’t get our turn?

Chaos is a better strategy for survival than order. It is not just that order can be reached out of chaos, or that one can only perceive chaos in relation to some perceived order. The emerging science of complexity, the generating science of postmodernity, argues that chaos is essential to the emergence of order. Chaos and order coexist and emerge from one another.

The modern era of Newton and Locke was an era of Order: a world of natural laws, of hard facts, of well-defined structures operating with clock-work precision. The Protestant Reformation adapted the Christian faith to this highly ordered, linear universe, and those brands of Protestants, like the Puritans first and the Methodists second, who were best able to highly order and structure their disciplines of belief and behavior fared the best.

Moderns were taught that this world-machine evolved with highly set regulations and rules of the game. If we follow the regs and play by the rules, then predictable things happen in life. Go against these laws or break the rules, and predictably unbalanced things will happen. It was a cost-benefit exogenous theology where we were on the outside looking in, rather than a part of what we are looking at.

The postmodern era is dominated by metaphors of chaos and complexity, not law and order. Complexity theory is the study of systems that behave orderly even though you might expect them to be anarchic (weather, rain forests, the stock market, the job market). Advanced micro- and macro- physics has given up it love affair with logical and mathematical consistency and rational prediction and control – it now embraces chaos, uncertainty, and complexity.

What complexity theory is teaching us is that we are living “on the edge of chaos” in a world that is ill-defined, out of control, and in constant glow and flux. We live in a world that is more weird than we ever imagined – a world that is fractal, self-replicating, inflationary, unpredictable, and filled with strange attractors. We do not live in linear time and space, but in curved time and space and nonlinear iterative processes. The modern world taught that this is a causal universe. We know now that this is actually an ever-curving universe. Rather than stasis and order, the dynamics of life-systems are non-linear, where the rules of the game keep changing because the game keeps changing. One plays on the run and while everything is moving. Rather than set goalposts, processes and patterns are the name of the game.

In a state of equilibrium, nothing happens! Enduring organisms embrace a strategy toward a life of disequilibrium over stability. They expect and sustain disruption. Organisms that stagnate and die settle into equilibrium and harmony. Stability is less to be desired than resilience.

In postmodern culture, fluidity wins out over fixity. Instead of “structuring” and “ordering” and “solidifying” reality, cyberspace “bends” and “blends” and “melts.” Life is a fluid realm. But fluid does not mean “anything goes,” as any captain of a boat can tell you; fluid is a different kind of going.

Stability is the capacity of a system to return to equilibrium after it has been disturbed. Resilience is the “measure of the persistence of a system and its ability to absorb change and disturbance.” An organism’s adaptive response depends on its agility in getting outside of itself and seeing from different angle and patterns. Not to be able to get one’s way is a recipe for survival.

CHAORDIC LEADERSHIP ~ Change leaders and change teams operate on the boundary of chaos and order – or what Dee Hock, the man who created the trillion-dollar Visa credit-card empire, call the “chaordic” zone.

A “chaord” has been defined as “a self-organizing, adaptive, nonlinear complex system (whether physical, biological or social) that simultaneously exhibits characteristics of order and chaos, that exists between rigidity and flexibility.” The church is by its very definition a chaordic organism – an organic, free-form community driven by mission and responsive to it indigenous environments. The early church was almost a textbook definition of “chaordic”: fluid, flat, fast off its feet, and strong on it feet with control at the edges only.

Any network or partnership, any alliance or institution, can become “chaordic” if it in some ways fights the forces of order and planners and embraces change and chaos. Chaordic leaders see change and chaos as their friends, not enemies.

The most creative places in nature, where life is born and renewed, are “chaordic” zones. The most creative times in history are those hinge moments when chaos and order overlap. Historian Gordon Wood has argued that “the time of the greatest religious chaos” in America was also the time of the greatest “originality in American history.”

“Chaos theory” is a relatively small subset of the science of complexity. “Chaos” – or as Katherine Hayles puts it better, “chaotics” – is the study of systems that are so sensitive to minuscule influences that they appear random and capricious but aren’t. In fact, there is harmony amid the chaos, and stability can both inhere in and issue from disorderliness. “Universality” is an aspect of chaos theory that is overlooked but is perhaps its most important feature.

“Universality” means that transitions from order to chaos and vice versa are both predictable and universal. The lower the complexity, the higher the predictability. Transitions from order to chaos are the result of the increased complexity of a system.

Chaotics teaches us that if you add a little more chaos into a chaotic system you get order. In fact, physicists now believe that a little disorder can nudge organizations out of turbulence into order. This is the key theological insight of chaotics: sensitive dependence on initial conditions. The uniqueness of complex systems resides in the way in which small changes in a dynamical system can generate exponential outcomes, even divergent outcomes. Small changes in one world can create massive changes in another world.

What does all this stuff about “chaordic” and “chaotic” mean?

It means that unfathomable possibilities are at your fingertips at every moment. It means that what you do can literally change the world.

Don’t believe me? Try this thought experiment. Air molecules are colliding all the time in a room. Imaging God removing one electron from the edges of the universe. Its effect is to lessen the gravitational force on the air molecules bouncing in the room. After only 50 collisions, two molecules that would have collided if God had not removed that one single electron now miss hitting one another. After only a fraction of a second, the trajectories of two electrons are different because of God’s removing one electron at the edge of the known universe.

Still don’t believe me? Try this experiment. Set aside 15 minutes a day to read a book. Now calculate how many books that becomes in a year? Two dozen. How many books in a lifetime? On thousand – or five times what you read in college.

The church is missing the boat on what it means to be a leader. Our problem is not a need for leadership to add sanity and order to an insane, irrational system. The church is bursting at the seams with rationality, decency, order, dignity, and predictability.

What it needs is the holy intoxications of foolishness, humor, craziness, outrageousness, creative disorder and passion. T Scott Gross, whose book Positively Outrageous Service is a key look at the future, tells the story of an Italian restaurant that began its business by putting all its money onto one form of advertisement: randomly selection an evening every month when everyone ate free, without advance notice. Business is still booming.

Vinod Khosla, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, isolates the key to keeping Sun innovative: the ability to integrate and celebrate the “flakes” within the system. “You have to be willing to put up with some unusual people because some of the most creative people are very unusual.” Can your church celebrate those who are unusual, zany, “flaky”? Chaordic leaders call each of us to let the unusual in us out – to launch out into the deep, to lift anchor, to climb out on the edges, to live our passion. To forget moving mountains and try moving molecules, even at the outer edges of the known universe. Or in the words of the Bonaro Overstreet poem, “To One Who Doubts the Worth of Doing Anything If You Can’t Do Everything”:

You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where justice hangs in the balance
I don’t think
I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall fell the stubborn ounces of my weight.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Scooting to the Top

Two stories to share here.

Story # 1
When we lived in Colorado, we would periodically drive up to the top of Pike’s Peak in the summer. You obviously can’t do it in the winter as the grated road is covered under several feet of snow above the tree line.

Back then (around 2000) we would pay about $10 per carload and travel the 19 miles of windy road to the 14,155-foot summit. I don’t remember how long it took, but it seemed like an eternity for going less than 20 miles. It always felt like a feat when we would finish the climb and get out of the car into the cold, thin air.

Story # 2
About 10 years ago, my brother’s father-in-law acquired a Vespa when he was in his 70’s. If you don’t know what that is, it’s one of those little Italian scooters that became more popular when gasoline peaked at 4+ dollars a few years ago.

His family called it “Hardly a Davidson.” He even had a helmet with the HD logo on it. The Vespa got him from point A to point B, but not with the same speed and comfort of a car, truck or even the real HD. Besides the lethargic pace it provided, he also had to endure a lot of people pointing and laughing.

Combining 2 Stories
Lately at Java Journey people ask us how we are doing. They most often mean that they want to know how business is progressing. I tell them that we are indeed making progress, but it is gradual and slow. Being non-profit and depending on volunteers and donations to operate, does not provide the means of quickly creating a cash flow that will bolster our endeavor. But that does not mean that we are not experiencing an ascent in our momentum. So I communicate this to the people who ask by way of illustration.

The only way I can give them a visual of Java Journey’s progress is to inform them that our pace is sort of like climbing Pike’s Peak with a Vespa scooter. We’re moving from point A to point B and we’re gaining altitude as we progress. But it’s hard to notice when the rest of the world expects rising to the top to happen with much more speed.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Once Again "Hand to the plow, hand to the plo...."

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

This is a border line scathing parody and what I see now each time I enter into one of these venues. Every form does not take long to lose its function. So - I exercise a more critical self-examination of our own methodologies.