Asking Questions

We must be careful about asking old modernism questions of the new era. The answers do not compute. This includes things like “why isn’t there a static finite answer to questions about what makes us thrive?” or “why aren’t women successful in traditional male fields **using masculine terms of success**?”

Why can’t we answer with a finite static answer the question of how to thrive? Because the answer changes over time. The system is adaptive. And the answers have to evolve as the systems evolve. What we have learned from Kuhn’s Scientific Revolutions is that even when we think we have figured things out, we haven’t. We continue to evolve how we believe the universe works. So if we **know** that the answers will evolve – in fact, when that is the most stable thing we can know, then we can embrace that evolution and stop the hubris fantasy of having come up with some finite and static answer that will be true for all time. Instead, we can embrace the answer that seems best right now and continue to seek ever more refined answers. It is the questions we can get attached to, rather than the answers we get now.

This is especially true of questions like, “what does thriving look like?” or “what does it take to thrive?” We have learned that our best efforts to address problems for society in the last 100 years may have improved things on the factors we were trying to improve (think child mortality, disease rates, poverty) but there are unintended side effects. Each effort to make the system better can result in new problems that we find just as pressing as the ones we were solving (overpopulation, for example). Thus, there is no solid or static recipe at the intervention and tactic level. Instead, we need to keep pressing on in our quest to answer how humanity can thrive without killing off the ecosystems on which it depends.

Similarly, in my research on creativity and innovation, I keep seeing the outcome of civil rights and affirmative action in terms of women and other minorities performing on masculine terms of success. It looks like a form of covering to me. For example, women are seen as achieving equal levels of creativity by achieving equal levels of awards, press mentions, etc. However, this is judging women on masculine terms, obscuring what it is even is to succeed in more feminine terms. Feminine terms of success might be better found in growth of community, number of enduring relationships, quality of relationships, network support, peer appreciation and cooperation, etc. Look for where there is cooperation rather than (or in addition to) competition.

The other crucial place I see this misguided judgment of the new by terms of the old is in leadership within generations. Older generations keep bemoaning the lack of leadership from the younger generations, when in fact it is that they can’t perceive what leadership even looks like for the younger generations.They continue to look for it as command-and-control models. And forget, the younger generations saw JFK and Martin Luther King get shot. Younger generations believe in starfish leadership by catalysts rather than spider models of top down leaders. (See starfish and spider.)

*Note I see this in my own work, as my older gen nonprofit partner in philanthropy keeps wanting me to study under a nonprofit leader and points me to old model sustainability people. It was a pleasure this week to point her to my honorable mention on the EnrichList where I am placed next to some of her own heroes. It is as if my work on thrivability since 2007 seems nearly invisible to her, because it doesn’t exist in her world the way other organizations do… the network and visibility of the work doesn’t register as significant on her measures (dollars in the org, donors, placement at old model conferences, etc.). Instead, the measures of network reach, meme spread and adoption, dispersion across multiple sectors and networks, and such measures matter most to me. Success with the term thrivability has always meant, to me, “how many people are turned on by it and shift their way of seeing and being in the world because of it” and not how much money moves through the organization or wether the old guard adopts it. It is about awakening and¬†activating¬†people, then trusting them to do what will lead to more of our collective thriving.

These mismatched conversations have us talking past each other, the new world inexpressible to the old. And the old world, nonsensical to the new.

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