Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Do We Do When We Have This Much Contention At The Highest Levels Of System Governance? ALLEVIATE IT!

Last Friday, I was just at a contentious seminar that turned out to be a model for nearly every systemic policy process underway today.

The forum discussed MICC decision-making & how well it aligns vs ignores critical service demands for CAS (close air support) decision-making.

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The whole event was literally riveting, from start to finish!

Why? Ultimately, for what it revealed about our systemic governance processes, beyond even what it meant for those working with the topic at hand.

There is far, far too much to relate about the content of this forum, but here are two key points that cut through all the other details.

1) A retired AF pilot and officer, Chuck Myers, said the whole concept of CAS had been off-track from it's inception (>85 years ago), and should be re-named as MAS (maneuver-air-support) - to direct all discussion of it to the key concept of net, team agility (i.e., Adaptive Rate). Chuck seemed to be the oldest person present, yet seemed to have the most - and an astounding - grasp of system development, or appreciation for a "system," from tactics all the way up to politics. Yet, his story was one of lifelong frustration. Learning much, and passing on cogent warnings about tragic, unsolved systemic issues. Made me think of a drill-down of Eisenhower's MICC speech.

2) Chuck Myers also related a story from post-WWII, involving a legendary AF Gen he once worked with, Elwood Quesada. Quesada had suggested to the highest levels of DoD command, that AF/Army/Navy/USMC coordinate weapons platform development ... and was told by senior generals that they couldn't do that, since the competing service leaders "are the enemy."
    You can't make this stuff up!

As I understood it, that observation of deep, organizational toxicity occurred before even the Korean War! Worse, it has never been remedied, and persists, magnified, in the highest levels of our cultural policy governance, even today.
(At this point my mind was already silently screaming to myself: "What about our Goddamn 2-party system - that makes an ongoing art out of having whole swaths of citizens name each other, and each other's representatives, as enemies? And all our isolated, narrow-thinking lobbyist processes? What have we descended into? And what are we going to DO about THAT?)
More direct ruminations triggered by the meeting.

The meeting agenda revolved around the immediate furor over the AF removing the A-10 CAS/MAS airplane from service, and leaving a significant needs-gap with only vague promises that it would or could be filled by alternate means. There were deeply moving testimonies from multiple service veterans documenting that morale suffered from such decision processes, starting with a sense of betrayal, progressing to organizational fatigue, and culminating in performance degradation.

Amazingly, the resulting discussion REPEATEDLY drove home the hierarchy - for systemic success - of people(affinity)/practice/equipment - in that order ... YET, the whole meeting concluded with a question rather than a conclusion: "We've nailed the problem, now what do we do about it?"

That conclusion - or lack of it - was astounding, (for an outsider) since they'd all just finished re-documenting and re-agreeing on the classic solution ... at least at THEIR level. Yet, they COULD NOT, for the life of them, see that the systemic solution was simply a process of extending the "people(affinity)" grouping to the larger set of people that every task-team has to coordinate with every year (in every evolving culture) - as both populations and their layers of organization governance expand!

Restate it this way, as a question. What did pre-homo-sapien species do, as their cell-count and physiological complexity kept evolving (from, say, 1/2 Trillion cells in some small mammal, to the 10X Trillion cells, different cell types, and different organs in the current human physiology)?

Answer: First off, all the human cell numbers in our body maintain their total group affinity, above all else, as they grow from one egg cell to the 10X Trillion cells in an adult.

System growth simply cannot outgrow it's methods for maintaining affinity and hence it's motivation for "inter-service coordination" among ALL system components.

It's either a system ... or it's a mob in some grade of civil war.
With system expansion, every (seemingly) intractable system-organization task has a solution, and that solution involves adding yet another layer of indirection - to maintain first affinity, and then coordination? Ya think?
In other words, systems evolve by coordinating on a larger scale. Success is DEFINED as reaping the astounding return-on-coordination.

That dynamic at the meeting was, for a systems scientist, simply astounding to see, and experience, and to see ignored and missed once again!

To me, it seemed to be a system not hearing feedback from it's own new trees, simply because of the increased size of today's forest. They were missing their own, self-evident solution once again, and snatching defeat from their own, migrating, jaws of victory. The bigger problem - overall - seemed to be the task of expanding our electorate's perception - situational awareness - as fast as our own, bureaucratic situations expand.

The pace of the meeting was so quick that I never could get a comment in. There were always too many people with uniforms or urgent testimony to give - all dotting more "i's" and crossing more "t's" in the sympony which the chorus was preaching to itself. That's exactly what made the meeting so riveting, and yet we simply ran out of time to discuss what to do next. But I did get to talk with a few people afterwards, and think I have a follow-up path to try to help this critical effort along.

After all, if this group - who are SO close to perfecting continuously developing methods - can't be helped to take another step, then what hope is there for all our other sectors, who haven't accumulated anywhere near as much experience at actually having to make complex social-systems work? Those would be our other congressional/industry/agency/professional complexes.

That question stuck in my mind all weekend, and I woke up Sunday morning with an epiphany ... that surviving, agile systems are those that select for feedback loops operating with at 3, parallel, time constants (an old observation in biology; that there are always AT LEAST immediate, medium and long-term response mechanisms at work, EVERYWHERE you look, involved in every process).

My epiphany was that, in human-team terms, one can say it this way:
"Leaders" save the butts of adult groups in critical situations - immediate term.
"Teachers" train adolescent groups to handle newly discovered, critical situations - medium term.
"Parents" are always adding subtle new wrinkles, preparing developing groups to avoid getting deep into whole new patterns of critical situations (prevention through early intervention, as an improved form of "steering"). Long term adaptation.
Amazingly, military science has long recognized a parallel observation (but failed to adequately apply it to their own, personnel systems?). Their counterpart of this same observation is called the "3ɪˈs" of contingency management.

That is, deal with impact/interception/instigators[causality]. Military teaching also states that if you don't manage all 3 processes in parallel, that you can't win. Right?

So, an obvious question arises. Can we continuously adapt if we don't apply the same logic to our own, system development processes?

Isn't that how we avoid developing views which lead us to disastrously label our own team members as our enemies? For Kilroy's sake! Why is that NOT our #1 priority?

The "3ɪˈs" of managing the parallel contingency of our own, changing, internal systems ... are:
total team performance (self-leadership), 
total team training,  
total team gestation (cultural development).

What's that old saying?
If war is too important to leave to the generals, then surely EVERY process is too important to be left to the presumed process owners?
That lesson quite obviously holds for owners/managers of whole systems too.

It's fatally erroneous to presume that processes AND WHOLE SYSTEMS (including ourselves and our institutions) are permanent, and not transient.


ps: Someone also just sent me a reminder of a similar issue, currently in the news.
"The United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was established in 1976 to investigate the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Committee investigated until 1978 and issued its final report, and concluded that Kennedy was very likely assassinated as a result of a conspiracy."
Tactically, it no longer matters whether JFK's death was or wasn't conspiracy by whichever particular people who saw him as "the enemy." It DOES matter that we have no systemic method for dealing with this taboo subject - in a timely manner - at ALL levels of our current culture. The perennial questions are - where can we get to from HERE, where we currently are, and how soon?

The claim is that some of our own people in high-level governance positions came to view Pres. JF Kennedy and Senator RF Kennedy as "the enemy?"

Again. For Kilroy's sake! If we can't quit targeting ourselves, then how can we focus, as a team, on external challenges and explore our own, emerging options? If the return-on-coordination is always the highest return, by far, then how do we keep our eyes on that, instead of lesser, goals?

If the lesser goals are below us, then we really have seen the enemy, and it really is true that "he is us." Therefore, our chief task is selection, and eliminating those process attributes that hinder team coordination. Those friction-generating sub-processes are our biggest enemy. We just have to train ourselves to recognize "them" as we keep spawning their child-processes, in every new thing we add.

It's a process of selectively pruning the high-friction parts of all the new activities which we constantly sow amongst ourselves?  Ya think?

There's no reason why we can't be better "parents" for our evolving culture - as well as leaders and teachers - of our existing electorate. We just have to teach appreciation for our own systems ... and their evolution ... to every student by, say, 5th grade. (Or, make that age 10, if we're already going back to self-directed, Open Source, education.)

That doesn't sound like a difficult task at all. These are simple concepts. We just need to apply them more systemically.