New Wine in New Skin
We often ask ourselves why we’re not moving forward, repeating the same mistakes and as a result not progressing in business and in life. One of the reasons is that we may change on the surface, but not deeply enough. As the saying goes, we put new wine into old skins. This Middle Eastern saying is based on the idea that there are moments in life when we cannot continue adding wine to the skins as they will eventually burst, as we have learned that a bubble can burst. When necessary, we’ll need to change the skin, and sometimes, there is a need to examine the container, not just what it contains. This often means dealing with real overhauls of the way we do business and the way we live. Sounds scary, but if we follow certain principles, we can change the skin as we go, as well as adding new wine.
This article, part of Relationship Capital, brings up three important aspects that if considered and followed, could expand our paradigms and the way we live and grow. You will be encouraged to look at life from an open system point of view, to value the richness of traditional ways of thinking, while also expanding into new, contemporary paradigms; to reassess how you see yourself and others as you move towards creating richer, more relational experiences.
Enjoy the following article, and feel free to comment.
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New Wine in New Skins. Organisational Overhaul.
One of Einstein’s most used quotes is: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Can we continue trying to solve the problems we face globally, in our nations or businesses, especially in the Western World, by applying the same thinking that created them; and accepting superficial touch-ups and temporary solutions in place of real solutions? We may have reached a point of awareness, knowing that we cannot continue putting new wine into old wineskins. It is now time to confront many of our core philosophical foundations and the modus operandi of our lives and in particular, the way we do business. We need a new renaissance, a total overhaul. In the religious world they call it revival, that’s a good word but inadequate: It’s no longer a matter of change; it’s a matter of transformation.
In the January 2012 Harvard Business Review article ‘Runaway Capitalism,’ Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby suggest that modern approaches to capitalism have led to many people “now declaring capitalism a failure.” But they continue, “It isn’t true. Capitalism— broadly, private ownership and resources allocated by markets—remains the most powerful, flexible, and robust system for driving society’s prosperity and enhancing quality of life.” This statement could be highly criticized by those who haven’t been part of this prosperity and feel they are not enjoying much in the way of quality of life; feeling they have been used merely as the most minor of cogs within the global machine; feeling that they are, to their great cost, the real contributors to the capitalist system. This piece is not to assess the legitimacy or authenticity of the, initially, western models that started with the Industrial age and what Max Weber called Protestant ethics. Many have prophesised a predictable extinction of the West as presented in the documentary-movie ’Decadence’ from filmmaker Pria Viswalingam. It is a no-brainer to acknowledge that principally, the GFC, current European financial fragility, the rise of Asia and the rapid technological evolution of the Digital Age, are provoking the need for serious scrutiny into the ’ways’ the West has been doing its business and their legitimacy for the future.
The Peacock’s Tail
Meyer and Kirby use the term “runaway” from evolutionary biology, using the peacock’s tail analogy to describe a major example of an evolutionary aberration. “That ornamental feature has grown ever more flamboyant across the centuries thanks to a simple fact: peahens show a preference for large-tailed peacocks.” This primary characteristic of a healthy male was, at the beginning of the species, the most attractive feature of the male, giving him a clear advantage over his lesser-tailed romantic rivals and therefore, more opportunities to mate and pass along those large-tail genes. However, this feature of beauty, health and power became, after many generations, something of a hindrance. Bigger and heavier tails required more nutrients to grow and to maintain and they also made the males slower, and therefore easier prey. “Past a certain point, the peacock population began to decline, even as the tails kept getting longer.” As detailed by Cornell economist Robert H. Frank, the same biological phenomenon also led to the extinction of a certain large-antlered elk; with the elk’s “great rack” becoming an increasingly evolutionary burden. With bigger not necessarily meaning better, evolutionists refer to this phenomenon as “biological suicide” or as we call it: growth suicide.
The runaway metaphor may be useful to apply to each area of our lives, every plan, strategy and the way we do business. We are proud as well as fearful and often guilty of pursuing rapid change, innovation and creativity, especially in the areas of technology, communications and science. Do we still need our big tails to become even bigger? Today, we can show our strength and beauty through other more practical, quick, cheap and effective means such as instant digital media, viral messages and the ability to get our message across 24/7.
We need to pause and analyse the current effectiveness of the size of our tails. But what type of analysis and parameters should leaders, scholars, bureaucrats, pragmatists or business futurists use to examine a ‘big tails’ or a ‘large antlers’ system? The efficacy of the expected result of this analysis will mostly depend on the investigation and the examination methods used. A fundamental decider will depend on at least three points of observation. Is the process conducted from within a closed or an open system of enquiry? Are we looking at the issues through complicated, Newtonian thinking; or complex Quantum thinking? How does the observer relate to others in the process of observation and transformation, is it: I and Thou, or I and I?
The Danish physicist, and winner of the Nobel Prize for physics, Niels Bohr 1, 2 says that: “nothing is real unless it is observed.” But in what environment and through what lens do we observe? If we use the same kind of thinking that was applied when a crisis started and developed; we will continue to develop larger and larger tails.
Closed and Open Systems
A view into Systems Theory, partially developed from the work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy 3 and Quantum Theory could offer us some means of analysis. In a nutshell, Systems Theory provides a theoretical and practical framework for looking at and dealing with issues, by looking at the dynamics existing between them; not just individually, as the individual is part of a whole. There are two basic systems, originating in bio-science and also used in Thermodynamics: open systems, and closed systems.
A closed system is a system that has a membrane or boundary that allows it to exchange energy (heat and work) but not matter with its surroundings; it only works with a constant amount of particles. There is no input or feedback from outside of the domain. A closed system cannot re-nurture itself; there is no new matter to feed the system and matter also cannot leave the system.
An open system can exchange energy and matter with the environment. The membrane or boundary allows matter to enter and leave the system.
1 Bohr presented what is now known as the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory: “the particle is what you measure it to be.”
2 Also see - Niels Bohr: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-copenhagen/
Using the open and closed system theory, we can deduct that if we observe a system from within a closed system, we will only have a stable amount of matter to observe, and the observer is part of that matter where a process of change is happening.
Living in a closed system, metaphorically speaking, could create the illusion, or delusion, that everything is all right; or it could lead to perceiving problems where none exist; or lead to the creation of pseudo-problems that ultimately maintain the same system, simply reproducing or reorganising what already exists, resulting in larger, more entangled systems with even greater waste. Examining from within a closed system is akin to admiring a peacock’s tail from within a zoo, a man-made, closed system where the environment has been specifically adapted for the peacock, but for the purposes of external observation.
I remember experiences that I had as a surgical intern in a gastro unit. Consultant surgeons often became concerned with patients who displayed conflicting symptoms; the surgeons became impatient, uneasy and tense. Very often during this ambiguous stage, they made conclusive diagnoses, suddenly, ‘they knew’ what the problem was, and because they were surgeons, the solution was found in the theatre. They were absolutely certain of the diagnosis, and definite about the treatment and positive of the outcome. They made their decision in consensus with other well experienced specialists, but all of them from within the same sphere of thinking. Many of those patients returned, sometimes only a few weeks later, complaining of the same symptoms, and often times, even worse, with some being rushed into emergency treatment. I sometimes wondered about others who didn’t return. I wondered if they were healed or went to another hospital. After witnessing a few of these cases, I shared it with my father, an experienced physician, and also a thinker with great regard for philosophy and the effect of psychology and spirituality on the healing process of his patients.
He simply said that we make choices within the theoretical framework we have, the narrower or closer that framework is, the more constricted we are in the solutions at hand; we become near-sighted, arrogant, simplistic and dogmatic, and unable to accept uncertainty and ‘not knowing,’ and unable to stay in the ‘I don’t know’ because we naturally feel that we need certainty to function. My father always put himself in the picture, not talking about what others do, but as a part of the larger human race. You don’t know what you don’t know, so we must be surrounded, as Papi said (his own father) with wise people who can see what we can’t see. I think he was referring to Isaac Newton: “I stand on the shoulders of giants.” This was not a surprising answer from my father, as he was humble and would always seek the counsel of wise people around him, people he highly honoured and respected, many of them thinkers from a different paradigm and learning also from his students. He was very much afraid of the consequences of a closed system, and opened my eyes to the risks associated with surgeons and professors analysing problems from within a closed system, not allowing surgeons trained at other schools, or of other specialities to have an opinion on these important matters, often threatening life itself. The scary thing was how very rarely they acknowledged when they were wrong. So many global political decisions are made within such parameters. Closed systems create arrogant and dualistic fundamentalisms that are very difficult to challenge. As somebody said, the second invasion of Iraq by G. W. Bush was a response to generalised echo responses from an original, unchecked and biased assumption; real closed-system thinking. Saying it again: closed systems develop bigger and longer tails, a scary thing to think about if we look at the consequences that could have on our individual and global wellbeing. It is hard to learn from within a closed system.
A Closed system is like analysing the components of a new car, including its body, suspension, engine etc., but done with the engine running only in a workshop. Yes, we will be able to assess the interaction between the inner (closed) parts of the car and other factors, but the real test is when the ‘rubber hits the road’ and the car is exposed to the most varied environmental possibilities and most importantly, to different drivers. Katz and Kahn, 4 connecting this example to matters of business, argue that a closed-system approach fails to take into account how organisations are reciprocally dependent on external environments. Whenever a human or open environment is at play, we move immediately from a closed, predictable system of complicated problems, to open systems of complex problems as we’ll address later.
When the method of analysis we use comes from a closed system, the results are likely to create an expected, deceptive, seemingly deep
diagnosis with impressive language and possible dramatic solutions (austerity measures, reorganisations, slashing workforce, etc.). This is to show that change is happening, that we are in control, and that we are tackling the problem, when in fact we are not, and we don’t know it. So in the end it will likely feed bureaucracy, with more complex systems and procedures and even greater duplication in organisation. The tail grows, creating bigger entanglements, delaying effectiveness, and causing sluggishness in the responses to emerging situations.
A closed-system analysis will definitely end up putting new wine into old skins.
Open systems will assess the situation, bringing input from outside the system whenever necessary. The situational analysis will include other ways of thinking, using pluralistic assessments and diversity from the surrounding environment, fresh new air, or in physics terms: the addition of new matter. The new matter would provide the elements needed for a possible real transformation.
Why is it so hard to do that? It’s because the non-conscious brain, the area that is (literally) below the cortex, the thinking, strategic brain, will assess if any new situation is safe and familiar. Safe is a way of finding approaches that avoid uncertainty, feelings of being a failure, fear of criticism, rejection, or feeling out of control. The ego is at risk of being hurt. Safe comes from the need to operate in the ‘I know’ zone, operating through automatic and non-conscious, instinctive responses; ways that are familiar, predictable, that produce a sense of certainty. The subcortical areas of the brain, especially in the reptilian brain will protect the familiar and quickly react (in 12 milliseconds) to anything that is unknown or new. It’s the basic survival instinct—to perceive everything as a possible predator.
Only new matter brought into the system could create transformation and new skins. This is the time to create new skins. It can only happen through novel methods of analysis and creativity outside of the system, where real innovation can take place. It requires an open system created from an “independent level of thinking.” 5
4 Katz, D. and Kahn, R. L., (1978), The Social Psychology of Organizations. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
5 Kegan, R. (1982), “the Evolving Self”
© Carlos A Raimundo 2015 5
To do that we will need to learn to better adapt to the unpredictable world, to real life and to learn how to face moments of disappointment, fear and hurt. This is hard to do alone, we need community, buddies, peers, and sometimes a mentor or coach to help us navigate through those situations.
Can we assume that this is what Pope Francis has been doing recently in regard to clerical sex abuse issues and Vatican finances among other issues facing the Catholic Church? Important Vatican issues (the example would also be applicable to Military matters) were previously observed, analysed and dealt with through the Vatican’s traditional approaches, a classic closed system. Pope Francis seems to be now promising open enquiries and greater transparency; I hope it will not stop there. His now-iconic comment “who am I to judge” has already become a transformational shift.
How are we analysing the issues or problems in our organisation or department? Who and what could be the ‘external matter’ we could include, that we could add to our system to have different perspectives, viewpoints or paradigms? Can we even bring a crazy idea in, such as: do we really need this? Are the people analysing the problems the same people who were there when the problems arose?
Complicated or Complex problems
Another important choice: whether to assess a situation from a linear, predictable, dualistic framework, a concentric reference; or with an open, non-linear, divergent and unpredictable frame of mind?
If we wish to analyse a jet engine, we’ll need one way of thinking. The jet engine is a complicated system, but the use of Newtonian, cause and effect physics, and mathematical analysis will be enough to understand each small part of the engine and its connectedness with the whole. We can use the same thinking to put the entire jet together, and even be able to predict how the whole will respond in specific scenarios through the use of a flight simulator. When we want to observe the real- world life of the aircraft however, from manufacture, through to matters of fuel, maintenance, and especially flying, we will need to change our way of thinking as the jet has now become a significantly more complex system.
Complicated systems or problems can be analysed following linear, physical Newtonian laws, which works more in the realms of Neo-Platonic thinking. Most of western society has been based within this paradigm, a dualistic thinking: it’s clearly seen in religion: God and the Devil, right and wrong; you’re in or you’re out as dictated by social norms; the legislature needing to clearly define the parameters with which to judge human behaviours as being inside or outside the law. This gives a great sense of clarity, predictability and certainty. Within that system of thought we can say: “we Irish are like this, and not like that.” Or, “in our family you must become a doctor or a lawyer,” as seen in the film Dead Poets Society. The behaviour of matter in this system is objective, measurable and predictable.
The presentation of Quantum Theory in 1900 by the physicist Max Planck opened a new world in physics and brought with it a new way of thinking. This new realm, enriched by Albert Einstein, Louis de Broglie, Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr among others, proposes a way of looking at matter dynamics away from the traditional Newtonian ‘cause and effect’ principle. So as they say, a butterfly flapping its wings in Australia could cause a hurricane in Mexico. Therefore, what we experience is part of a complex system and the results may not follow predictable, measurable and manageable outcomes. In Newtonian thinking, 3+2=5 as well as 2+3=5; but in Quantum thinking A+B=B but B+A=?, this unpredictability is one of the qualities of Quantum Theory, to the point that Bohr 6 was saying that objective reality does not exist. Newtonian thinking is able to analyse and resolve complicated problems. Quantum thinking opens the paradigm of predictability into the unpredictable in order to analyse complex problems. As most of the contemporary scientific world relies on dualistic, neo-Platonic and Newtonian thinking, it is difficult, almost impossible for many to even consider the existence of another way of thinking. Almost as difficult as the people of the Middle Ages attempting to comprehend the science of Galileo Galilei, before branding him a heretic and placing him under house arrest for the rest of his life. It’s not that people are resistant to change, it’s that they have not grown into a new way of thinking; therefore they cannot really ‘get it.’ This is not a lack of will, it is a lack of knowledge, so there is hope; it’s called role development, and we can learn it.
If we need to look at errors in a balance sheet, we can easily follow a Newtonian investigation and we will likely find the problem; this is a complicated problem. But if we have repetitive problems with balance sheet reports we can be almost sure that we’re facing a complex problem. It involved people, their skills and capabilities and more significantly, how people work together, how the data are shared, and how they relate. If we have a repetitive problem in our organisation it’s likely that this is a complex problem, what is also called a ‘wicked’ problem.
I and Thou
The third point I’d like to present, is how we relate to others in the process of observation.
Martin Buber, a German philosopher, in his masterwork I and Thou describes different types of relationships: I and Thou (I and You) relationship based on difference; I and I relationships based on sameness; I and It relating to an object ; and finally It and It depersonalised relationships.
The relationship: I and Thou (I and You) is a relationship where there is difference, the I is different to the Thou and in this difference they meet and create a new a relational paradigm, they both grow and they both discover new paradigms as they complement each other. They accept different ways of thinking, often without agreeing with it, this is open system thinking.
This exposure, or relationship to difference is not easy to accept as it challenges the ego, what the I thinks, cherishes and believes. The I takes different points of view as a personal affront, feeling threatened, unsafe, and needing to be protected, sometimes at any cost. So it looks better and is easier to relate to another I where there is sameness, but not complementarity, and little growth or learning is realised.
Relationships in this domain are easy, predictable and do not challenge the status quo - and there is likeness as the other I feeds the ego with feelings of validation, “I am OK,” who doesn’t like that? There is great affinity with each other but when one comes with a different point of view, a view that challenges the ‘agreed’ system and what we’re used to believing, a rift is created as well as great animosity and a breakdown of the relationship. This is mostly seen in religion, politics or social and professional groups, they are closed systems of thinking. These are I to I relationships.
But even the I and I relationship is not easy as both would have different opinions and emotions, so just dealing with another person is a challenge in itself, even in the best possible scenarios; so we turn to I and It relationships. The I starts treating the other as an It, a number, a thing, the I finds in this an easy way of relating, as the I can maintain all control and knowledge so as to regulate the relationship as it pleases. The It becomes a subordinate of the I, not an associate. And, when the person has grown used to being treated as an It, he or she would likely treat others as an It too, creating an It and It relationship. This is why the process of social discrimination and the fight of minorities is often so difficult, as they have not had the role development or have never been in relationships; at least not as I and I. What is more difficult to aspire to is I and Thou; we should be so grateful to people of the calibre of Tolstoy, who philosophically inspired Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, each of whom was able to model I and Thou relationships.
Choosing the lens to observe and transform
Looking at the few points described, we can easily assess and even predict what method of observation and transformation will fail in the process of analysing and dealing with problems. Sadly, we cannot know with certainty which methods of analysis will be successful. But, we can predict the approach that will most likely fail. We may be able to anticipate a more prosperous outcome if we firstly learn how to put our egos to one side, then learn how I can relate to other Is without turning them into Its. We can accept that we need ‘new matter’ and that may come from thous who propose different ways of thinking and may challenge us, opening the doors to complexity. We can learn that real safety is not in what I have or I know; real safety exists in the ambiguous space between me and others in the relationship. The discovery of the thou opens our system of thinking up to new great paradigms that we may not otherwise have been able to imagine. This is the place of transformation, real innovation and growth. We’re ready, let’s start now. The power is between us.