It’s always the same ol’ intransigent issues and the same ol’ answers. So if we’re really so smart, how come we’re still up against a whole set of social systems and issues that are so out of control? Einstein has often been credited with saying, “The same level of thinking that caused a problem cannot be used to solve it.” We’re not all listening to Uncle Albie, are we?
About fifteen years ago, my colleague Howard Sherman introduced the notion of Principles, Models, Rules and Behaviors. It was a simple idea and one that he presented for the first time at a major conference, and took all of about twenty-minutes to do so. Howard, for those who knew him, was never one to beat around the bush about things he believed to be essential thinking. Now, nearly a decade after his passing, I keep returning to this description of the world, and marvel at both its prescience and its perception.
The notion was simple: Principles were ideas that because of their nature rarely if ever changed. Models were what we built to emulate the principle. Rules were those things we put in place to maintain the model, and behaviors were what we did to live the principles, based the on the models we built and the rules that governed them.
Howard was always searching for a grand unifying theory of business and in many ways this perception of how the world operates was pretty damn close.
As we unpack this—Suppose, for example, we have a principle: “poor people always stay poor.” Based on that notion we create social models that don’t try and help poor people not be poor, but rather we try and find ways (and models) for applying a salve to ease the issue but not shift it. The rules we create for supporting organizations that service this issue and that also recognize the principle, however, well intended, by their design, restrict the behaviors that we as a society are willing to take to make this issue different.
The result is that no real change can ever happen. Nothing novel emerges from our inability to neither rethink a principle, nor shift the models based on that thinking.
But suppose we are capable of making a radical change in a principled position—and we can now say “Poor people don’t have to remain poor.” So we hurriedly begin reworking the models we’ve built and come up with a new set that describes our world based on the new principle we have established. However, in doing so, we forget to change the rules that govern that new model but support the old principle. The unfortunate result is that behaviors don’t change and nothing new happens. But what gets blamed—our new principle was obviously wrong, because we still got more of the same.
This fight is being borne out in our political world on a daily basis. The fact that long after women have broken through the principles of our out-dated sexual mores, we are trying to resurrect rules that will return behaviors to support a model of a principle that, by all rights, has never been valid.
It remains that if we cling to out-dated principles—no matter how clever our models—we change nothing.
If we change our principles and our models, but still cling to old rules, our behaviors don’t change, and we change nothing.
If we change our principles, models and behaviors, but keep our old rules in place, as had been the case with out-moded rules like the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, where we were throwing people out of the military for acting according to new and accepted principles and models that went against old laws that had remained intact, nothing changes.
Intransigence seems to fall out of two of these precepts—our principles and the rules we put in place to make sure the principles stay principled.
A negative example of this is when we changed the rules and principles regulating banking. We created an incredible new set of models to support the new principle of deregulation and the un-ruled greedy behavior that followed crumbled economies around the world.
However, there can be a force for good. Enter the re-evolving space of collaboration. Complexicologists will recall such things as swarming and flocking. Neither of which has anything to do with hovering or nudging, (Ma, leave me alone!) which follow under a whole other realm of principles. Nonetheless, collaboration has been proving to be an effective means for not only shifting out-dated principles, but the models, rules and behaviors that have kept them in place. Those of you with Jewish mothers, even collaboration can’t change some things.
With millions of dollars being spent on “change initiatives,” and the incredible failure rate of these efforts, it’s actually surprising that people haven’t given up on this change thing altogether. Were it not for the obvious and continual change taking place around them, they probably would. Enter the company SecondMuse. Within the ‘Muse’s co-leadership team is Todd Khozein. Todd has joined and combined his divergent and eclectic experience as a trained Medical Doctor, an investment financial wizard, and a complexity Arhat and now helped form a company dedicated to collaborative science and solving big problems through collaboration. But SecondMuse’s process isn’t just bringing groups of the best and brightest into the same space, which it does, but it’s about being able to go through the innovation and change process in a completely different way that is experiential and practical and ultimately creates successful change. It’s about using the power and diversity of a collaborative interaction to surface something completely different, a new view of the world that then requires that new models be designed, new rules constructed and shifts behaviors to build the new model into a something that really has an impact. Now in spite of this rather mechanical description of building and constructing, this is actually recognizing new combinations within the fluid space of collaboration.
SecondMuse has conducted these collaborative efforts to surface innovative solutions to global change, disaster issues and international development in the areas of Water, Energy, Health and soon Waste. With the diversity of software developers sitting next to physicists interacting with international development experts, aligned only by the common intention to further completely new ways of thinking, revolutionary innovations have emerged that can impact billions.
For example, the majority of people around the world still burn solid fuel to cook. Creating a cooker that can eliminate the carbon footprint of all those solid fuel emissions is only part of the equation. The principle is simple: the sustainability of the planet and its resources cannot withstand a growing population depleting those resources to feed itself that in turn destroy the environment. An innovative model is presented: a solar cooker that totally reduces carbon emissions. But it’s too expensive by a factor of 3. The cost puts it out of reach of all those who need it and who would change their depleting behaviors to use it.
Out of the discussion between these international development experts and product specialists, a software executive, who had invariably never developed anything but code, having listened to the interaction and trusted what he knew, recognized why the change was being stalled. There was a rule that needed to be changed that was holding up the whole process. The rule was that they must be paid for. The software exec proffered, however, what if these cookers didn’t need to be bought, but could be leased at a fraction of the overall cost. That simple rule change made implementation possible.
Collaboration is about joining the experience and knowledge of everyone in the conversation and allowing that open source processing to take place within our very human condition. Out of that condition, we can surface what resides within the collective knowledge. However, none of it sticks unless and until we recognize that the capturing of an emergent property means that the new model we hold requires us to shift and perhaps throw-out the old rules that supported the former model, so that new behaviors can be freed to initiate the change that has emerged.
By recognizing what emerges from the cloud of collaborative interactions, impactful change can take place. But that discovery will remain nothing more than an idea until the simple perception Howard Sherman had about the profound relationship between our principles, models, rules and behaviors, and its impact on the implementation of something new and novel, is fully realized. Until then, even the development of the best cooker in the world will simply go up in smoke.