Terms of Art
Thinking about a new human operating system requires a complete mindshift in how we think about life. Sometimes the words we use in the current operating system are inadequate to describe new and different concepts. Sometimes we need to use existing words in new and novel ways. This list of our Terms of Art—the unique way we speak about our work and community—is a gentle introduction to how we think. The list will no doubt grow over time.
Chrysalis is the name of the DesignShop events which specifically bring systemic change agents together for the purposes of birthing a new human operating system. In this sense we use the word to indicate a transitional state: when we use the word it is a reminder that we are transitioning from one way of living to an entirely new (and as yet unknown) way of living. Just as the imaginal cells, which were tucked away in the caterpillar’s skin all its life, are awakened by the crisis of overeating, fatigue and breakdown, our Chrysalis allows unique imaginal citizens to develop, join together and gradually replace our existing mechanistic governance systems with a system more closely aligned with Nature.
DesignShop is the trademarked methodology, developed in the 1980s by Matt and Gail Taylor, as a collaboration and collective problem solving practice. Chrysalis is based on the DesignShop methodology but differs in a significant manner: participants of Chrysalis are not constrained by the artificial constructs of the existing operating system.
Ecosophy is a wisdom-spirituality of the earth, making it a more inclusive term than ecology. “The new balance is not so much between man and Earth, but between matter and spirit, between spatio-temporality and consciousness. Ecosophy is not simply a ‘science of the earth’ (ecology) and even ‘wisdom on earth,’ but the ‘wisdom of the earth itself’ that occurs when a man knows how to listen with love." — Raimon Pannikar, Spanish Roman Catholic priest who was a proponent of inter-religious dialogue (1918-2010).
For more detail, see Elisabet's article Ecosophy: Nature’s Guide to a Better World.
Design Tradeoff, is an engineering process that balances the many possible specifications of a complex system to find the best combination of attributes and functions to meet the program requirements. People often confuse tradeoffs with compromise meaning “acceptance for a standard lower than desirable.” This confusion is dangerous and often provides false solutions. What is insidious about compromise, as defined in this way, is that it quickly becomes habitual. People settle too easily for less than they need, less than is possible. Tradeoffs open up possibilities and potential to see and realize differently.
Feedback is a term born out of cybernetics, derived from the Greek term meaning “oarsman.” It is the science of building mechanisms to steer automatically toward objectives. Feedback of a complex kind is ultimately feedback that helps the system learn how to learn better and to learn more effectively over time. It is recursive and operates at different levels. In complex systems, with multiple controllers, it is also necessarily collaborative. The controllers must learn to work together or effective steerage of the system will not happen.
Galumphing is the immaculately rambunctious and seemingly inexhaustible play-energy apparent in puppies, kittens, children, baby baboons—and also in young communities and civilizations. Galumphing is the seemingly useless elaboration and ornamentation of activity. It is profligate, excessive, exaggerated, uneconomical. We galumph when we hop instead of walk, when we take the scenic route instead of the efficient one, when we play a game whose rules demand a limitation of our powers, when we are interested in means rather than in ends. We voluntarily create obstacles in our path and then enjoy overcoming them. In the higher animals and in people, it is of supreme evolutionary value. Anthropologists have found “galumphing” to be one of the prime talents that characterize higher life forms. Extracted from Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch.
Grok was introduced in Robert A. Heinlein's 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. It means to understand something so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.
Example: The eternal struggle of the human race is to grok its place in the grand scheme of the universe.
Group Genius is a phrase you will hear often in the Tomorrow Makers world. In 1976 Gail stumbled on Lawrence Halprin's personal notebooks in a library. He had written the words "group genius" beside one of his journal entries. It was then that Gail recognized that her work was all about Group Genius. In 1980 the MG Taylor Corporation defined it as: "The ability of a group working iteratively and collaboratively to seek, model and put into place higher-order solutions. Time compression, consistent flow-state—the merging of action and awareness in sustained concentration and involvement to the task at hand, dynamic feedback, individual and collective creativity are core features of Group Genius." It is something which cannot adequately be defined in scientific terms, but it emerges at that magical moment in time during a semi-structured group activity when participants experience the phenomenon of flow, of simultaneous realizations. That moment opens new possibilities and different ways of seeing things, and there’s no going back for the group. A higher order of thought brings new objectives and new possibilities not seen before. Past clients have described it as follows:
"Group Genius is the power of simplicity. Simplifying complexity to enable people to better understand ourselves and each other. A better understanding of our business is the natural consequence.”
"Group Genius is the ability of a group of persons to imagine, to create together and to realize. This has made us stronger, and most importantly, it given us more ideas, energy and vision."
Human Operating System is the system of operation or procedure by which human beings live. It includes multiple complex and interconnected systems like human nature, instinctive behavior, learned behavior, culture, religion, environment, economics, politics, education and a host of others.
Leadership, Liminal: The word liminal comes from a Latin root that means threshold. A threshold is like a doorway, a portal to something new and unknown. A threshold is also a boundary that marks a point of transition between one state and another, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. Liminal mindfulness is the art of finding, creating and using thresholds to create positive change.
Leadership, Sapiential: The word sapiential comes from a Latin root that means wisdom. Sapiential leadership recognizes that every person is wise in their own unique way—everyone has something to contribute, whether they are recognized as a traditional leader or not. In an environment like this, the leadership a group needs will emerge when it is needed, and it will change over time, as the group evolves and matures. Simply stated, the person who can most clearly see the next step is responsible for communicating this step and facilitating or leading the group through it. In an age as complex as ours, it's unreasonable to imagine that any one person has all of the questions and all of the answers. To invest individuals with such responsibility creates unnecessary burdens and pressure and debilitates the creative edge of other members of the team. This kind of leadership always resides within Group Genius. It is a kind of leadership that allows space to play, iterate, design and learn the art of flow as team.
(Chimeric) Monsters, from Greek mythology, are fire-breathing female monsters with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. A second meaning refers to a thing that is hoped or wished for, but that appears illusory or impossible to achieve, for example: The economic sovereignty you believe in is a chimera. We use the word ‘monsters’ to refer to any existing system to remind us that, while these systems appear real and unchangeable, they are merely belief systems we have chosen to adopt.
Mutual Learning, as described by Nora Bateson, is only possible when all participants are willing to be wrong, willing to learn, to explore new ideas, to go off the map, out of the known, and together grope in the shadowy corners of new ideas, new plans, new territories. That cannot happen if one person is the know-it-all. Even if that person has perfect ‘leadership skills’—they still disrupt the ecology with individualism. ‘Leadership’ often creates competition, ambition, greed and, on the flip side, fosters deference, hopelessness, apathy, and blame. Being part of a system requires knowing that whatever happens is an expression of the patterns that entire system is involved in—that means, there is no fault, and everyone is responsible, there is no blame. For us, mutual learning is the reality that as we converse about an idea, what emerges between us is the information, the difference that makes a difference. Conversations are not one way, nor can they be individualized as mine or yours. They belong to the relationship and context between speakers. Each of us will listen and take in what we need/want to hear/learn. We will have differences in our shared learning and when we share this mutual learning with others, it carries with it the memories of prior learning.
For more, see Nora’s paper on Symmathesy.
Excerpt from The Cluetrain Manifesto, which speaks to how we understand mutual learning: “In the market, language grew. Became bolder, more sophisticated. Leaped and sparked from mind to mind. Incited by curiosity and rapt attention, it took astounding risks that none had ever dared to contemplate, built whole civilizations from the ground up.”
Panarchy is the structure in which systems, including those of nature (e.g., forests) and of humans (e.g., capitalism), as well as combined human-natural systems (e.g., institutions that govern natural resource use such as the Forest Service), are interlinked in continual adaptive cycles of growth, accumulation, restructuring, and renewal. The cross-scale, interdisciplinary, and dynamic nature of the theory has led to the term panarchy. Its essential focus is to rationalize the interplay between change and persistence, between the predictable and unpredictable. Such changes comprise economic, ecological, and social systems, and they are evolutionary. They concern rapidly unfolding processes and slowly changing ones; gradual change and episodic change; and they take place and interact at many scales from local to global. Our take on panarchy is closely adapted from the Resilience Alliance.
Paradigm refers to the pattern of assumptions, concepts, values and practices that constitute a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them. It is a collective mindset. A paradigm shift constitutes a transformative change in the basic patterns, assumptions, arrangements that underlay a community’s collective mindset. When we speak of “the paradigm,” we are not espousing that there is only one paradigm. Individual domains and communities can all be said to operate within multiple paradigms. Each field contains tens if not hundreds or thousands of experiments and experimenters trying to identify, understand, influence and accelerate the characteristics of a healthy, sustainable social-economic way of life for ourselves, future generations and our planet. When forces and circumstances enable or cause multiple shifts to align, this confluence can trigger a phase transition at a global level.
Resilience, as defined by The Resilience Alliance, is “the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. Resilience in social systems has the added capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for the future. Humans are part of the natural world. We depend on ecological systems for our survival and we continuously impact the ecosystems in which we live from the local to global scale. Resilience is a property of these linked social-ecological systems (SES). Resilience, as applied to ecosystems, or to integrated systems of people and the natural environment, has three defining characteristics:
The amount of change the system can undergo and still retain the same controls on function and structure
The degree to which the system is capable of self-organization
The ability to build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation.”
SEHI (pronounced SEH-hee) is a term coined by Jamais Cascio, which stands for Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals. A SEHI is someone who feels not just optimistic about the future, but also personally capable of changing the world for the better. SEHIs get their confidence from network technologies that amplify and aggregate individual ability to impact the common good. SEHIs don’t wait around for the world to save itself. They invent and spread their own humanitarian missions. More importantly, they are able to do so with smaller numbers, greater speed, and a far larger impact” than a slow-moving, risk-averse organization. Of course, in an ideal world, SEHIs would be able to band together and scale up their efforts—to avoid making redundant efforts, to learn from each other’s mistakes, to amplify each other’s abilities to make a difference. Disorganized SEHIs would have a hard time making significant strides. But organized SEHIs could change everything.
Read more about SEHIs
Scaffolding is a temporary frame or framing element used for support in the creation, repair or recreation of complex processes, structures and systems. Our use draws on the usages found in construction, chemistry, engineering, design and ecology. Scaffolding helps align things that happen fast with those that are slow so that everything could come up together, in the right sequence at the right time.
Solutionary refers to someone who finds revolutionary answers to life problems. A problem solver, an inventive activist. A type of revolutionary who makes change by providing a better way to do things. Note that we will seldom—if ever—refer to solutions, since we believe that all of us are still too dependent on the existing human operating system to be able to fully conceive of new ‘solutions.’
Warm Data, a term coined by Nora Bateson, refers to information about the interrelationships that integrate elements of a complex system, rather than information about the elements themselves (cold data).