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The Complexity Matters blog features the Thursday Complexity Post as well as other complexity inspired news items.

 

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Community Health Saves Lives and Money

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, January 15, 2015

A 40 year community-wide effort to promote heart health and healthier habits in a rural low-income county in Maine has resulted in less illness, lower mortality, and millions of dollars in savings according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Authors believe the initiative can be widely adapted and that today's new data sources and technologies can make implementation even more feasible than when the program began in the 1970s.

Franklin County Court House

Franklin County Court House

In the late 1960s community groups in Franklin County, which then had a population of about 22,000, identified cardiovascular disease prevention as a priority. A Community Action Agency and Rural Health Associates (RHA), a non profit medical group practice, which were both new at the time, coordinated their efforts with the community hospital. With the hospital's sponsorship, RHA established the Franklin Cardiovascular Health Program (FCHP), which targeted hypertension, cholesterol, smoking, diet and exercise. FCHP used county health data from the past decade as a baseline and compared Franklin with other Maine counties and state averages.

Dr. Daniel Onion, a MaineGeneral Health physician and one of the researchers, told Kaitlin Schroeder of the Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel the project was powered by volunteers who worked in the community to help people quit smoking and adopt other healthy behavior. An HPLive story by Gale Scott describes other details. Federal funds were used to start an insurance plan for 3,000 indigent residents. The University of Maine developed a health education degree program and trained local people to be outreach workers. Hundreds of volunteers, including 200 nurses, did health screenings and educated residents. Schools were persuaded to serve healthier meals. A health fitness center with the area's only indoor swimming pool was built with funds raised by the community. Over the years, 150,000 people had an average of five contacts each with a program worker.

A ScienceDaily story reports that between 1994 and 2006 lower than expected hospitalizations saved an estimated $5.4 million per year in hospital charges for Franklin County residents. The program, which continued through 2010, had many successes. Among people with hypertension there was a 24.7 increase in the portion of people in control of their blood pressure. Control of cholesterol increased 28.5 percent. The quit rate for smoking improved from 48.5 percent to 69.5 percent. The overall death rate and the cardiovascular death rate dropped below state levels during most of the study period.

Darwin R. Labarthe, MD, MPH, PhD, and Jerome Stamler, MD, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago say in a JAMA editorial that the Franklin County experience deserves to be examined and copied. They say the results reinforce importance of disease prevention at the local level. They call on communities to document and publish past experiences in community health to "inform ongoing work and foster wider application of program evaluation and implementation research, exploiting new data sources and technologies to accelerate replication and scaling up of community-based prevention. Intervening developments-not least among them the Affordable Care Act-have made this task clearly more achievable today."

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  health 

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Architectural Designs for Food of the Future

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, September 25, 2014

Vertical farms are blossoming in several big cities, including Chicago, Kyoto and Singapore, with plants growing in artificial light in specially reconfigured buildings. The Brooklyn-based design firm Aprilli has expanded the idea with a proposal for a giant tree-shaped skyscraper the architects believe will maximize food production and improve local environment through water and air filtration and renewable energy output.

The Urban Skyfarm, winner of an A'Design Award, is described in a FastCompanyExist story by Adele Peters. Architects Steve Lee and See Yoon Park told Peters they envision the giant agricultural skyscraper in the heart of downtown Seoul, South Korea, a densely populated city with air pollution and other environmental problems. There's little space for on the ground farming there, and fresh fruits and vegetables at local markets are in demand but very expensive.

Urban Skyfarm by Aprilli Design Studio

The design mimics the shape of an enormous tree, with leaf-like open air decks built of strong but light weight materials that provide as much as 24 acres for growing fruit trees and plants like tomatoes. The more enclosed lower and inner portions of the structure have space for plants growing in a more controlled environment. The roots, trunk, branches and leaves have different characteristics to suit different farming conditions. The trunk houses a hydroponic farm for greens, and wind turbines and solar panels at the top provide energy to keep the whole mini ecosystem in operation. The solar panels generate energy for night time lighting and heat where needed for plant growth.

Another idea for agriculture in places where farms won't fit comes from JAPA, a design firm in Barcelona now called Forward Thinking Architecture. Architects there propose a system of looping towers that could float in harbors and provide new space for year round crops. In another FastCompany article by Peters, JAPA architect Javier Ponce explains that a network of towers called floating responsive architecture (FRA) is designed for Singapore-or any other densely populated city near water where food is expensively imported from long distances. Throughout the towers, which would surround the city, networks of sensors would monitor crops and communicate with networks in the city creating a data management system that would keep track of food supplies and purchases. Economists say as much as 30 percent of food is wasted, and Ponce says this system would aim for zero waste.

Kyoto Group - proposed network of towers around Singapore 

While creative architectural vertical design may help supply nutritious food to urban centers in the future, many creative projects are already producing food in urban areas. One example is the work of entrepreneurs in Chicago who bought an abandoned factory building and transformed it into a multi-story indoor farm that produces everything from fish to salad greens to beer. Another example is Urban Farming Guys, a nonprofit based in Kansas City, dedicated to creating sustainable urban communities, starting with local food and water security, alternative energy and economic resilience. 

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  ecology 

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Are Distrust and Incivility on the Rise?

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 29, 2014
Updated: Thursday, May 29, 2014

Trust in our fellow humans is eroding, according to polls and surveys, and nearly a third of Americans reportedly don't even completely trust their own families.

A Pew Survey on social trends found that the Millennial generation, people ranging in age from 18 to 33, have emerged into adulthood with considerably lower social trust than earlier generations. Asked the long-used social science survey question "Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?" only 19 percent of millennials say people can be trusted. By comparison, 31 percent of Gen Xers, those born 1965 to 1980, 40 percent of Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964, and 37 percent of those born in 1945 or before say people can be trusted. The poll, conducted in February, also showed millennials are less attached to religious and political institutions than older people.

An AP-GfK poll conducted in 2013 suggests most Americans are suspicious of each other in daily interactions. Fewer than one third said they trust clerks who swipe their credit cards, other drivers on the road, or strangers they meet traveling. Only a third of those responding to the AP-GfK poll said they thought most people could be trusted. In 1972, half of adults surveyed said others were trustworthy.

Only 69 percent of Americans questioned for a World Values Survey reported that they completely trust their family members. That places the U.S. near the bottom of the 55 countries surveyed on that question. Family trust was reported to be lower only in Ghana, Lebanon, Azerbaijan and the Netherlands, where just 59 percent of respondents reported complete trust in their families. Three quarters of Americans think war is sometimes needed to obtain justice-second only to Pakistan. And 16 percent of Americans surveyed say they carry a gun or other weapon for security. That sounds low, but it places the U.S. third in the world, behind only Libya and Lebanon. See the Washington Post Wonkblog charts on world values.

Social scientists and political analysis say trust is necessary for a civil society-it helps people work together for the common good, and promotes cooperation among people who have different beliefs and backgrounds. April Clark, a Purdue University political scientist, says distrust promotes rancor and incivility. Surveys appear to confirm we have an increasingly wary view of others. Theories differ on why. A USA Today story quotes Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, who says Americans have abandoned clubs and civic associations in favor of watching TV at home, thereby reducing common social experiences and the ties they create. University of Maryland Professor Eric Uslaner studies politics and trust. He writes that economic inequality drives distrust. If you believe the world is a good place and that you can help make it better, you'll be trusting, he says. If you think it's a dark place run by forces beyond your control, you won't.

Uslaner says trust has declined as the gap between rich and poor has grown because more Americans feel they no longer have a shared fate with the affluent and rich. A 2007 Pew Research Center analysis, showing minorities and low income adults had lower levels of social trust than wealthier groups, theorized that people who feel vulnerable or disadvantaged find it riskier to trust "because they are less well-fortified to deal with the consequences of misplaced trust."

Can a more trusting society emerge? Millennials, the digital natives who build their own social networks and use social media with ease, hold the key. Despite their low levels of trust, they are more optimistic than those who've gone before them. The Pew research shows nearly half think America's best years are in the future.

Trust men and they will be true to you. Treat them greatly and they will show themselves great. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  culture  research 

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Social Sharing Builds New and Different Markets

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 1, 2014

Young people who care more about social capital than market capital, and who think access is more valuable than ownership, will increasingly disrupt established businesses and transform economies, according to economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin.

Rifkin is the author of The Zero Marginal Cost Society, a new book that describes how the emerging Internet of Things is propelling us toward an era of nearly free goods and services and how a growing culture of sharing rather than owning is speeding the growth of a global Collaborative Commons. And those forces, he says, will mean the eclipse of capitalism as we know it.

In an essay posted at CommonDreams.org, Rifkin cites opinion surveys by Latitude Research reporting 75 percent of respondents believe their sharing of physical objects and spaces will increase in the next five years; 78 percent said online interactions have made them more open to sharing with strangers; and 85 percent think the web and mobile technologies will help build large scale sharing communities.

In a New York Times essay, Rifkin identifies what he calls "a paradox at the heart of capitalism." He says the "inherent dynamism of competitive markets" is bringing costs so far down that many goods and service are becoming cheap, plentiful and no longer subject to market forces. He says that began with peer to peer file sharing that let people bypass conventional sources for entertainment and information. He predicts many giant enterprises in a variety of commercial sectors won't survive the trend.

Airbnb is a six-year-old start up that has booked three million guests for 10 million nights in 33,000 cities in 192 countries. This year, Rifkin writes, Airbnb expects to fill more rooms than the Hilton InterContinental hotel chain -the world's largest hotel operation. Airbnb connects people who want to earn income by renting out their unused space and people looking for interesting, inexpensive temporary lodging. The website offers accommodations that range from rooms and apartments to boats and tree houses. Its biggest competitor, Couchsurfing.org is described on its website has a global community of 7 million people in more than 100,000 cities who "share their life, their world, their journey." Couchsurfing members provide free space to each other, and emphasize the opportunity for social interaction. Rifkin says more than 19.1 million friendships have developed from couchsurfing visits.

A multitude of websites offer sharing and renting of cars, toys, tools, and clothing for children and adults. Tie Society is a subscription service for men who can receive and exchange the high-end fashion accessories for as little as $11 a month. The Freecycle Network is a nonprofit that claims more than seven million members world wide and allows users to give away used items for free.

"It's not surprising that a younger generation that grew up recycling plastic, glass and paper would turn to recycling items they own," Rifkin writes. "The notion of optimizing the life cycle of items in order to reduce the need to produce more partially used goods has become second nature to young people for whom sustainability is the new frugality."

Rifkin thinks The Internet of Things, a recent phenomenon based on a technology platform that is beginning to connect everyone to everything, has potential to create a new economic model in which collaborative consumption outpaces owning. According to WhatIs.com, a thing, in the Internet of Things (IoT), can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low -- or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network. Rifkin writes that today, more than 11 billion sensors are attached to things and feeding data into the IoT. People can connect to the network and use available tools to access a huge range of products and services. Rifkin calls IoT a game changer that will allow a collaborative commons to flourish alongside conventional commercial markets.

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  networks  scaling 

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Big Data: Challenges, Changes, and Benefits

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 17, 2014

Big data, the combined billions of pieces of information available electronically, can be expected to change the whole realm of managerial decision making, according to Tom Davenport, a business analyst and the President's Distinguished Professor in Management and Information Technology at Babson College.

Davenport, the author of Big Data at Work: Dispelling the Myths, Uncovering the Opportunities, describes the challenges and changes he anticipates in an interview with Strategy+Business. For starters, much of the data used in big data analysis is unstructured, which means it takes considerable time and effort to get it into a format that allows for analysis, and even then it's not always easy to get shades of meaning. Another problem, he says, the sheer speed and volume of data makes it hard for businesses to use it for decision making.

Companies that can develop high speed decision making capabilities in response to the speed of big data will be taking a big step forward, he told the magazine. He notes that Peter Drucker warned 20 years ago that corporate IT's reliance on internal data created a dangerous focus on inward costs and efforts. But big data will create a healthier focus, Davenport says, because so much of it comes from external sources-from social media, data gathered from macro economics, science, politics and weather. Companies that learn how to include this external data in their models for decision making will have better ideas on how successful particular products and marketing campaigns might be.

For example, Davenport cites the company Recorded Future, which scans vast amounts of information on the Internet-news publications, government web sites, financial data bases, trade publications and blogs-and analyzes content to forecast future events.

Davenport notes intelligence agencies use Recorded Future data to assess potential for terrorism, and private companies use it to evaluate their competition, their present and potential markets, and changes among customers or suppliers that might impact their success.

Big data may produce surprising changes in healthcare. Technology experts expect that wearable devices that record and monitor people's bodily functions will increase quantity and potential uses of data in health data bases. Social media is already a rich source of new heath information. In a recent New York Times column, economist Eduardo Porter described research indicating analysis of the way a woman used the first person singular in her Twitter posts provided an uncannily accurate prediction of her odds of suffering post partum depression. Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and Microsoft analyzed two years Twitter posts from four cities in Mexico and identified numbness and other mental health issues among bystanders who had witnessed violence resulting from activities of drug cartels. They said the findings had potential to provide mental health resources and other aid to impacted groups and communities.

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  health  scaling 

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Inspiring Peace in Dangerous Spaces

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, December 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The image of Buddha is serene and lovely and visually beautiful in a garden, says sculptor Indira Johnson, but it serves a different purpose when it appears in harsh and dangerous spaces. Dozens of sculpted Buddha heads are emerging in unexpected places in troubled Chicago neighborhoods, and Johnson hopes their presence will be a catalyst for conversations about peace and nonviolence.


In a story by Mark Guarino in the Christian Science Monitor, Johnson explains that she is convinced public art can serve social issues and alter the way people think about their environment. She approached community organizations and activists and suggested using her sculpted Buddha heads in ways that could generate discussions about peace. The heads are incomplete. They appear to be growing out of the ground, out of sidewalks, near train tracks, in parks, near schools and in what she calls marginalized spaces. Johnson suggests her symbolic intent was to make the heads seem to emerge from earth, "Just like all of us ....growing in our self-realization and spirituality." Johnson isn't promoting Buddhism or any religion. Her goal is to provoke and inspire transformative thought.

The effort was started by Ten Thousand Ripples, an art and civic engagement project Johnson launched a year ago with the nonprofit organization Changing Worlds. Communities were offered ten heads each, and local people chose where to place them. Johnson wanted people in the communities to respond in their own way, and she reports that they have. The heads have been moved around and made to face in different directions. One head decorated with painted makeup was later cleansed and painted white. In Albany Park community residents said the sculptures were a call for peace and harmony, a message that fit with violence prevention, youth training and conflict resolution efforts begun in response to gang related shootings.

In an interview with Jenniffer Weigel in the Chicago Tribune, Johnson, a native of Mumbai, India, who attended the Chicago Art Institute and made the city her home decades ago, talks about her art and a universal desire for peace and a better future. She thinks individual experiences with art can help people think about huge concepts like peace and how an individual can have an impact.

"I like the metaphor of ripples," Johnson said, referring to the title of her organization. "It was based on the idea that your actions go on and live past you."

Read the Christian Science Monitor Story here, the Chicago Tribune story here, and to learn more about the Buddha project visit www.tenthousandripples.com.

Tags:  art  buscell  community  complexity matters 

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Samba School Lessons for Leaders

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, October 31, 2013

Business leaders can learn valuable lessons from the exuberant four day Carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo and other big Brazilian cities, according to a scholar who has studied how people in samba schools prepare the elaborate floats and present imaginative themes and fabulous performances in music and dance.

Carnival, with its festivals, costumes and parades coming just before Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter, has been celebrated in Brazil for centuries. Samba schools, which compete for prestigious rankings of their Carnival entries, aren't teaching institutions as the name might imply. The Rio Service Carnival Travel and Tourism website explains that samba schools are more like social clubs, community organizations, and sometimes political groups, that also spend months of every year preparing for Carnival. They got started in the 1920s, the website says, among people from the Bahia state in eastern Brazil who came to the cities bringing the music and dance of their Candomble religion. Today's samba schools are big, complex organizations, and Alfredo Behrens, a professor of Global Leadership at Faculdade FIA de Administracao e Negocios in Sao Paolo, believes big corporations should pay heed to how they operate.

Behrens, whose most recent book is Shooting Heroes and Rewarding Cowards: A Sure Path Towards Organizational Disaster, studied Mocidade Alegre, a samba school that won first place in the Sao Paolo parade in 2012 and 2013. He interviewed people throughout the organization, including dancers, who have no managerial authority, members of a 250-man percussion orchestra known as a bateria, many directors and the school's president. He writes about his findings in his Harvard Business Review blog. He explains that referees judge the samba schools wins and rankings based on 10 criteria similar to key performance indicators (KPIs) used in the corporate world.


While many samba school participants hold corporate day jobs, they put in long unpaid hours for Carnival preparation. Behrens says Mocidade members feel like family. He quotes Daniel Sena, the schools' director general of harmony, as saying winning is important, but the core of the school business is treating people nicely. "That's what makes people come back for the renewed challenges even after losing a parade," he told Behrens. Sena, who works in finance, thinks niceness is undervalued in the business world. A corporate mediator and samba coordinator told Berhens she'd seen "corporations discarding people as if they were garbage when they are past their prime" while samba schools "recycle" and respect their "oldies." Behrens says Mocidade is a closely-knit community with strong focus and great teamwork. It has more than 30 directors, who have considerable autonomy in their own projects. The president is a woman, newcomers are welcome, and the organization doesn't rely on conventional discriminatory ethnic and social hierarchies. Behrens thinks businesses in Brazil and elsewhere can be more successful if they learn how to build community and practice in ways that make people want to engage and work together. Read Behrens blog here. And see some fabulous photos in the Daily Mail.

Tags:  art  buscell  community  complexity matters  leaders  music 

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Soccer Soap Operas for Peace

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Soap operas about soccer are being broadcast on radio and TV in 17 countries around the world to promote understanding, create dialogue, and reduce conflict among people from different religious, ethnic and economic groups. Each story about "The Team," is crafted to address issues in the country where it is presented. In Kenya, the members of the team come from different tribes; in Morocco, they're both urban and rural, rich and poor. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the players on an all-girls team are all having problems related to sexual violence.

The productions are the work of Search for Common Ground, a nonprofit based in Washington, DC that was founded 30 years ago and now has offices in 30 countries, works with more than a thousand partner organizations and has a staff of 600. A story in The Christian Science Monitor by Gregory Lamb says Search for Common Ground has become the biggest conflict-resolution and peace building organization in the world. In addition to the soap opera stories, the organization uses youth mediation training, back channel diplomacy, music videos and call in radio shows, and community initiative such as shared farming projects, soccer matches and participatory theater.

John Marks, president and cofounder of the organization, explains in the story that "We’re retaining about 25 percent of the Congolese army in respecting the rights of women.” Women in the DNC still struggle for economic and social equality with men, and there are also serious threats to their well-being and safety.

Common ground has programs in several volatile regions including Pakistan, Tunisia, Yemen, and Jerusalem and is beginning operations in Libya and Myanmar.

The Monitor reports that Common ground will honor five peacemakers with awards this November, including a posthumous award to Christopher Stevens, the American diplomat and ambassador to Libya who died in an assault on the U.S. consulate.

Other recipients are Ingoma Nshya which translates as "New Era”, is Rwanda’s only female Hutu and Tutsi drumming troupe and is the subject of a new documentary film "Sweet Dreams." Marks explains drumming in Rwanda has been a "man’s thing” that women didn’t do even though it is the national music form. The group provides a place where ethnic hatred can be replaced by a culture of hope respect and reconciliation. An award will also be presented to three leaders from different faiths: Lord George Carey of Clifton, former archbishop of Canterbury; Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement; and Rabbi David Rosen, international director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee. Read the Monitor story here.

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  culture 

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Lasting Change Seeded in Temporary Space

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, June 20, 2013

Freespace, inspired by Burning Man and experimental civic hacking, is a grass roots effort designed to use empty commercial spaces temporarily for the purpose of creating lasting community change. Freespace co-founder Mike Zuckerman, the director of sustainability for the Zen Compound, which bills itself as the world’s greenest nightclub, got a $1 lease on a 14,000 square foot warehouse in San Francisco for the month of June.

  

With help from a local real estate firm and the Mayor’s Office for Economic and Workforce Development, Zuckerman, fellow Freespace organizers and several hundred volunteers turned their imagination and energies loose. A FastCoExist story by Ariel Schwartz explains everything at the warehouse property now-desks, couches, paint, art supplies, gardening tools, sound systems, refrigerator and food-has been donated or foraged.

So far, murals-some by well-known artists including Zio Ziegler and Ian Ross-have beautified internal and external walls, plants from a former agricultural education program have been transplanted into a community garden behind the warehouse and people have repaired bicycles and started a bicycle library where bikes can be signed out for as long as two days. Participants have also started a book club and yoga classes and created space where people gather for lectures, speeches, panel discussions, open mike sessions, and concerts. And they have conducted neighborhood tours and a clothing drive.

"We put a weekend hackathon into a 30 day window,” Zuckerman told FastCoExist. "It’s up to people inside to decide what happens.”

Many of the Freespace organizers are veterans of Burning Man, an annual gathering in Nevada where people experiment with shared innovations then honor the environment by leaving no trace. Many also took part in the National Day of Civic Hacking, held the weekend of June 1-2, in which 11,000 participants in 83 cities organized to help governments, computing enthusiasts and ordinary citizens collaborate in using technology to connect people and address local problems. While hacking has conventionally had negative associations, the hackforchange blog explains, "We like to think of a hacker as someone who uses what’s available to improve or enhance our homes, workplaces and lives.”

Schwartz writes that Fortune 500 companies, including Deloitte’s Center for the Edge and Orange Telecom labs in San Francisco, are looking at Freespace with an eye to bringing more creativity and innovation into their own businesses and work spaces.

Zuckerman thinks the experimental nature of Freespace appeals to business. He says it’s interesting to corporate America because it’s emergent and free and has "massively distributed creativity only because there is a container and a context,” A design firm executive tells her corporate clients about Freespace to "get them excited about the idea of experiencing design in a space as a social experiment.”

While Freespacers recognize their experiment is temporary, they are trying to extend it another month with an Indiegogo campaign to raise $25,000 to pay July’s rent. Gentrification in San Francisco and elsewhere often means high paid tech workers displace other residents, and many fear that’s a loss for the community. Freespacers hope many of the new projects will continue to improve neighborhoods and bolster the city’s arts and creative spirit. They also hope Freespace will be replicated in other cities.

image: San Francisco warehouse, before and after, from the Freespace Indiegogo campaign

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  design  emergence  engagement 

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Making “Best” Even Better

Posted By Jeff Cohn, Thursday, June 13, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 19, 2014

The dictionary defines bestas "of the highest quality, excellence, or standing.” From this comes best practices, which Wikipedia defines as "a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means.” The definition continues, "a ‘best’ practice can evolve to become better as improvements are discovered.” What happens to our drive for improvement when we hear a practice being referred to as best? I think there is a natural tendency to think only about the first part of the definition and assume that our work is done. Couple that withthe fact that many things referred to as best practices are developed elsewhere and "shared” with us for us to "adopt.” Often these decisions are made near or at the top of our organizational hierarchies, and the challenge becomes one of implementation: "do what worked for them and it should solve our problems too.”

I met a colleague this week that arrived at her current healthcare role via a pathway that brought her to Silicon Valley. She has been struck by the tendency for healthcare workers to look to their "superiors” for permission prior to trying something new. She stated that things were quite different in the IT world. People, recognizing situations in which improvements were needed, took the initiative to try to make changes and then inform their bosses about the results of those experiments. There was a culture of ongoing improvement that included and, in fact, relied on the idea that for many of our problems, we’re going to have to discover solutions that work for us.

I believe that our organizations and communities need a learning approach to improvement. We may learn that someone else’s best practice is exactly what we need, and then enthusiastically go about implementing it. We may find that we can improve that practice as "improvements are discovered” that the originators hadn’t found. Maybe those improvements are intimately intertwined in the relationships, processes, and culture of our particular organization/community. In that case the improvement works for us and won’t work for others. For this reason we may learn that what was a best practice for someone else actually isn’t useful for us, because the "superior results” were intimately intertwined with someone else’s relationships/processes/culture and are not transferable to ours. We may actually discover that there already exist superior results that work for us- our internal best practices, our positive deviants, whose practices our organization/community will embrace once they are able to discover them from their peers. And, finally, we may find that we have to create our own solutions through an iterative process of innovation, experimentation, and continuous learning.

There is a clear link with all of this and how leadership occurs. A focus on imported best practices is consistent with a traditional hierarchical leadership model, as "solutions” flow down into the organization from above, leaders providing both the vision of what needs to happen and how to do it. The learning approach requires what Plexus Institute Board member Mary Uhl-Bien, PhD calls complexity leadership. Formal leaders create the conditions for the emergent learning necessary so that those who own the work can make decisions most useful for them. They provide a general vision and acknowledge there is no clear path for getting there, enabling and supporting the multiple possible "hows” that may work in local contexts. For me, organizations embracing this approach to improvement have the potential to go beyond best practices and become truly best.

Tags:  catching butterflies  cohn  community  leadership  organizations  technology 

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