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Mechanistic_Thinking_EA

Thesis: there is I believe a meta-societal, global shift from robustness to resilience (see this for an intuitive illustration of the difference). This is fueled by an underlying transition from a mechanistic (Industrial Revolution) to a complex-adaptive (Conceptual Economy) worldview.  We have managed to design robust systems (economy, air traffic, healthcare, energy), but not resilient. Robust systems are great for quasi-stable environments, but the price for not having resilience in highly dynamic, networked environments is staggering: $12 trillion for the 2008 financial crisis, and counting. Unless we learn how to design resilient systems, likely through the application of complexity principles, democracy itself may be at risk.

Argument: I have argued repeatedly throughout many of my blog entries that the world is still dominated by a mechanistic, cause and effect mindset with a heritage in the Industrial Revolution and Newtonian scientific philosophy. And I am not the only one (see Snowden, Pink, Hurst, Martin, Checkland, McMillan among others).

As the world is becoming more complex, the toll we pay for clinging to a mechanistic mindset is bound to increase, since cause and effect thinking is ‘color blind’ to complexity. The cost is both quantifiable, as in the price we all paid for the 2008 financial crisis (roughly 1/8 of Global World Product or $12 trillion), and less tangible, as in the unnecessary psychological toll imposed by a corporate and government focus on process and compliance as opposed to co-evolution and management by what Charles Handy calls reciprocal trust.

The risk to humanity is both real and intangible: real because of the rising cost of mechanistic thinking in complex times can undermine the systemic institutions on which human civilization depends, and intangible in terms of mental illness, depression, lack of fulfillment and alienation, all apparently on the rise.

The mechanistic mindset is great at designing robust systems – economic, technological, social – but complexity requires resilient systems, prolific in nature as astutely observed by David Hurst, but scarce in human invented and developed systems.

Perhaps the only truly resilient system we have managed to invent and design so far is a social one, namely democracy. But given that many of the underlying systems on which democracy depends are themselves robust and not resilient, the democratic construct itself may be at risk if we don’t figure out quicker how to include complexity principles in the way we organize ourselves (i.e. management), design our critical infrastructures (i.e. technology), and solve problems (i.e. think about the world).

Ecosystems

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