Wrestling with systems and complexity practices

When I first set out to center my work on social questions in 2009, I went to school on the various threads of systems and complexity thinking. I worry that some readers may see this post and decide that “Rettig is an academic.” Sure, I do love me a broadly potent idea and a good grounding framework. And I’ve taught grad students steadily since the late ’90s. AND I get impatient with stuff I can’t use in practice with groups of people. To do what I do I need a foot in both worlds. (I’ll save the poetic lens for another day).

What are these links?

I aspire to adapt my teaching materials into helpful bits and gifts. (A thing I’ve learned: head knowledge about complexity is fun for some, boring for others, and by itself it’s not enough for anyone. We need to notice our experience of complexity, practice new habits of mind, and add that to our head knowledge.)

For now I thought some folks might be interested to have a list of the collections and essays I made as I absorbed this stuff and began to apply it. If you’re up on this stuff some of these will seem stale. If you’re just getting started, these might save you some time and provide useful perspective.

All the following essays and compilations are available on medium.com/@mrettig.

The problem with problems

The problem-solution mindset serves us well when things are predictable, or will at least yield their secrets to analysis. But for complexity (i.e., anything mostly made of people), we need to add to our kit. This is a short rant about that.

The problem with problems on medium.com

Notes on emergence

I sometimes use this pile of links and videos as the basis for a student assignment. “Surf these links, watch at least three videos, follow your curiosity, then let’s talk about it.” (Disclaimer: I’m aware that the Cynefin references in this piece are seriously out of date.)

A note about diagramming systems, on medium.com

Notes on developmental evaluation

When you’re working with long-haul emergence, when the work involves the whole community, when the desired outcomes are new patterns of relationship, story and behavior, how do you evaluate your progress? A beautiful, bountiful community of practice is growing around these questions.

Notes on developmental evaluation, on medium.com

A note about diagramming systems

The community of systems thinking and systemic design is important. And for some folks it’s the kind of thing that really wiggles their giblets—it becomes “the hammer in their hand.” Provoked by an encounter with someone who held system diagramming as a Great Way Forward, I wrote this love/hate letter to systems diagramming.

Notes on emergence, on medium.com

Notes on relationship constellations

This is more than just a way to see an organization, community or system. It helps us plan, design, and host conversations and activities that touch their web of relationships. I haven’t updated these notes since they were first collected. Meanwhile lots of new stuff has come on the scene. So consider this a starting point for a surfing session, not a current survey. My love to the ORSC community—practitioners of “organizational relational systems consulting.”

Notes on relationship constellations, on medium.com

Notes on dialogic organizational development

Top-down design-and-implement approaches to change are a dead end. In the world of management and organizational development, that lesson has yet to completely sink in. There’s a lovely and hopeful trend and community of practice in organizational development that takes a “dialogic” approach. They start from the observation that it’s all mostly made of conversations, ask how we can learn to work intentionally with that, and go from there.

Notes on dialogic organizational development, on medium.com

Notes on the conversational view

The idea that the stuff we call “social” is largely made of conversations is very useful, but it can be difficult to internalize. The implications and deep, wide, and sometimes subtle. Here are things that might help.

Notes on the conversational view, on medium.com