“The path isn’t a straight line; it’s a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood and see deeper truths.” ― Barry H. Gillespie
Putting together Socially Enterprising has been no short journey.
My personal path of learning, exploration and discovery has meandered far and wide and like many others will tell you, there are points along the path where you arrive again at an almost identical point but your experience of this revisiting is radically altered due to your new knowledge or a change of perspective.
This particular post concerns one such spiral journey and allows me to get a few ideas across at the same time.
Last week I went looking for an image which I felt would help me communicate an idea.
Amazingly, or perhaps unsurprising, I found on the same website another image which was very close to what I was going to try communicating as a larger idea.
So let me introduce Movement NetLab who were very early pioneers in their space.
I’m sure my first introduction to them was when I was doing exploration and research which included networks and social movements.
Decentralized, networked social movements are transforming the global struggle for social justice. Can we understand how they work, how to build them, and how to make them more effective?
The Movement Netlab is a practice-centered ‘think-make-and-do tank’. We are comprised of activists, organizers and researchers whose goal is to help develop powerful conceptual and practical tools that help facilitate the growth and effectiveness of the most dynamic, emerging social movements of our time.
As experienced practitioners with decades of combined experience, we believe that mass, popular social movements working to create deep, system-wide transformation are our best hope of achieving a more just, equitable world.
Deeply embedded in movements ourselves, we are a project run by practitioners, for practitioners. While we do work with organizations, our top priority is always serving genuine, people-driven social movements for change.
Our core members are organizers involved in Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. We collaborate with If Not Now, Cosecha, and more.
Here is the image I was looking for.
Here is the second image which is connected to this post.
It was work like this by Movement NetLab and many others which helped me to hold certain ideas in place.
I find that I use diagrams and pictorial representations to hold groupings of otherwise separate concepts together. Doing this helps with recall and association but most importantly if the picture/metaphor is a good fit then sometimes it can ; further enquiry, provoke inspiration or lead to deeper insights.
So, referring back to the NetLab examples the first diagram illustrates that virtual and physical spaces actually operate together — they co-exist and co-create each other.
The second diagram breaks through a traditional understanding that organisations are hierarchic structures of roles and functions.
The changes of metaphor or representation being used lead us to very different understandings and possibilities than if we are presented with an academic paper or an organisational chart.
It can also help to make complexity easier to understand. We’re able to bring previous learning and experience from another domain to the new context.
I’m also reminded of how computer languages made the switch from procedural to object-oriented models. Object-oriented being deliberately associative with objects and interactions in the real world in which we live.
So, there’s a lot to be said for moving our language and thinking over to something more natural when it comes to talking about things such as; networks, the economy, community etc.
We live in the natural world. We are a part of the natural world. We are inseparable from it. We arise from it. We are natural beings.
Our regular daily experience and learning of the real world doesn’t follow from this rootedness within and as part of nature.
Instead, we as modern humanity exist within and of largely artificial constructs which operate according to (unnatural and arbitrary) rules and reasonings.
As an example, we don’t look at where we live as being a complex set of interconnected relationships existing within the natural world — a natural thing within a natural thing. Instead, we see buildings, people, organisations and activity as all being separate and unconnected.
It does have this other life and understanding to it it’s just that we don’t see it in this way. We haven’t learnt to do this.
We define it as this — A town consists of building, people and organisations within a place.
But it is also this — A town is a type of human organisation (or organism) that allows people to live together and meet their needs.
The Earth is an ecosystem. A country is an ecosystem. A bioregion is an ecosystem. A town is an ecosystem. It is ‘living’ at all these different scales. There is a ‘life’ to all of these things.
As the image by NetLab I hope gets across, organisations can also be ecosystems and have a life to them.
The Flow of Time and Space
You’ll need to keep an open imagination as we progress through this section.
I’m going to attempt to develop a different understanding of how time/space works and what development is. Not because I’m building a serious theory of space/time! But because I want a way to convey a ‘way of thinking’ or a ‘sense to things’ and I feel that this though experiment might be a way to do that.
Our understanding of time is narrow > like an arrow.
But this may not be the nature of nature.
Time/space may be growing and it is growth that enables development. For now, think of how a tree grows and this then leads to branches and this then leads to bugs and beetles and other life to form and develop upon the tree.
Our general understanding of time is that we comprehend it as a set of linear causes and effects.
Billiards on a snooker table.
Atoms bouncing around a jar.
People moving around in a city.
If we then use this understanding to think of development then we understand it as existing along a line.
The ‘ascent of man’ is development on a line.
GDP is also development on a line.
But we are looking at these processes from the side through a line of time. We are seeing it through a single perspective.
For this thought experiment I’d like us to step out of time and move above it.
Here we see time not along a single line but as an ever-expanding space.
Let’s say we plant a rose seed.
In our top-down view of time we see the seed, then the bud, then the flower.
Here’s where I want you to use your imagination.
The flower does not disappear when it dies. It keeps expanding.
The seeds which in the real world are blowing about and taking root, in this view we see the seeds not in the soil but upon the ever unfurling flower, these bud upon the flower, and then flower upon the flower.
We can keep see evolution take place like this.
We are seeing life from a different conceptual angle.
We are seeing the generations as part of a single sense of something alive.
In the real world it’s all jumbled up, spread out, alive or dead and difficult to get a feel for.
But in this altered perspective of time, it’s all intimately and eternally connected.
The flowers expands and upon those flowers the process takes place again.
An eternal flowering throughout time.
Sometimes something surprising happens.
For some reason what buds from the seed is something more suited for the time/space.
And as we see time/space continue to expand, develop and grow. We see this new rose gradually increase in size and in generations over and above all the others until another opportunity arises for life to take another direction.
Each of these evolutionary branches are like new buds and the blooming of new life.
What I’m trying to illustrate here is that;
- Life (organism) is always growing from and on life. Ever upwards and outwards. It blooms on and on.
- When something natural develops, it’s life is not entirely independent of future generations or past generations. A linear view of time doesn’t communicate this well.
- Forms (seed forms and developing forms) are types of organism, organisation, ideas and cultures. All of these things evolve and change over time and in the natural order of things there is a requirement for space to be made for future generations which occupy new space/time.
- I feel this ‘way of thinking’ could help with understanding certain aspects of regenerative design and how we design and architect future networks and organisations so that they become more natural and beneficial systems within the economy and society.
- It may help in conceiving and designing ‘learning and development’ ecosystems, organisations and networks.
I’m not trying to draw a strict correlation. I’m trying create a useful representation which allows us to consider things in different ways. To have a different sense of things.
There is something about understanding time/space, development/life in this way which evokes in me a feeling of something which since the dawn of time has been living and flowing.
It’s like a fountain which exists everywhere and in everything.
A second sense
Ok, another understanding using the same concept.
This time around we’re going to concern ourselves with culture, ideas and knowledge.
We tend to consider these things as not part of the natural world and I feel this is understandable as they are not pre-existing as such.
But you can also understand ideas, concepts and knowledge in the same way as you can understand time, development, proximity and connection.
There is a sense to it all that it is also a living thing.
It develops, grows, has generations and evolves.
It is like an intellectual organism with which we co-exist and participate.
An intellectual rose upon which our own intellectual roses are sprung and rooted.
A mistake in our modern world is that we have become disconnected from this natural order.
We have created artificial constructs which get in the way. The tree of knowledge becomes co-opted to the pursuit of profit and power.
Our natural birth right is that we are an intimate part of this flow, life and development but for it to take place we must recognise it and become part of the creative and productive process.
Every time we act automatically either as individuals or organisations or when we are forced to behave as cogs in a machine. A part of that tree which could blossom into life is prevented from doing so.
You must create the space for the flow and development to come forth and take life.
Learning and Development Ecosystems
One of the things I’m interested in is how we embed learning and development into things.
I feel that almost everything can become a learning and development environment. The task is to work with what’s there to realise the potential.
In today’s world everything is connected and this makes it far easier to conceive of ‘learning and development ecosystems’.
So, we could take a person. Work to understand their needs. Look at the wider ecosystem around them (place/network, local/global) and create something, a type of journey, which made sensible use of the abundance (experiences, knowledge, strengths, asset, resources) which we’re actually surrounded by in the modern age.
Let’s consider some of the different types of ‘learning and development ecosystems’ which could exist.
- A person
- Community Groups
- Place (for example a town which embeds life-long learning, support and public access within all of its civic institutions and civil society)
- Nation/Region (as above on different scales)
- Enterprising Ecosystems
- Networks, Communities of Practice, Communities of Interest, Peer Groups etc
I feel that all these things can be understood as living things within a living thing. If they have a life to them that is.
There can be this flow of potential pouring forth from them as well as multiple types of development occurring at the same time.
A Multi-Level Regenerative Ecosystem
Here you should see the connection with the NetLab images I started the post off with.
In this pictorial representation we see a merging of the virtual/physical, global/local worlds and we are able to grasp the idea of all of these systems acting together as part of a larger ecosystem of ecosystems.
I’ll leave for you to imagine how learning and development as well as creativity, experiment, innovation and entrepreneurialism fits into the evolving picture.
The Importance of Process (Letting the light in)
Processes which create the space to engage as human beings help us to access this life and creativity.
Participatory Arts, Design Thinking, Human Centred Design, Human Learning Systems etc
Dead Wood and New Life (cultural context)
Challenging and replacing conventional wisdom.
We build into things (organisations/institutions) the ability to reproduce their effect/action/function. But they are static in nature. They are generally mechanistic and drive towards efficiencies.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
They can be designed more naturally and develop and grow themselves internally on multiple levels as well as contributing to learning, development and wellbeing.
Time/Space work together to create the conditions for development.
Lifeforms are also future creating.
When conditions are hospitable it is like a fountain of life flowing through time and through nature.
In the real world we can see futures being created wherever there is experimentation.
Projects, organisations and businesses can all exist in this state (startup/experiment) or they can implement the principle inside of themselves (innovation, adaptation, learning and development).
Socially Enterprising plays a role here by interlinking practices/experiments and highlighting effects, results and impacts.
In the video above Alicia Juarreo mentions the requirement to loop back to inform the next context. It’s a learning and development cycle which moves forward, develops and evolves in time.
In ancient times and in many cultures still today spirits and were identified with places and things such as cities, woods, trees etc.
Theirs was a world laden and potent with energies, forces, symbolism, omens, and intelligences. These existed at every scale and in every place. The world of mankind as we understand it today was a world within this other world.
This seems unusual from a modern Western viewpoint but I mention to suggest that we could see ecosystems (or ecosystems as organisms) as perhaps having their own sense or an intelligence that is separate from the parts it contains and that this becomes another way of understanding the life, or the spirit, within the things we create or become a part of.
Expanding on the world within a world theme. The ancient Greeks understood their reality in this way too. Homer’s Odyssey being not only a work of epic fiction (or a developmental journey in allegorical form) but illustrative of the dynamic world which the Greeks occupied alongside their Gods.
It is here that I’m reminded of Eros. As the Greek God he is the personification of love and sex but I’ve also seen Eros conveyed as the desire which continually moves life forward.
A spiralling force immanent within the cosmos and physically observable in the natural world — the climbing ivy and the sprouting seed as well as solar systems and galaxies.
In an ancient text, we see the link.
In the Gnostic narrative found in On the Origin of the World, Eros, during the universe’s creation, is scattered among the creatures of Chaos, existing between the midpoint of light and darkness as well as the angels and people. Later, Psyche pours her blood upon him, causing the first rose to sprout up on the Earth, followed by every flower and herb.
It is the marriage of Eros (‘desire’) and Psyche (‘soul, spirit, breath, life or animating force’) that results in nature, evolution and bliss.
Life ever arising from divine love.
While putting this post together I’ve also been considering how a certain paradox might resolve itself through this different view of time.
The Chicken and the Egg conundrum makes sense as a question from a linear understanding of time/development but makes much less sense from this other perspective.
"Which came first the Chicken or the egg?" - Egg Blog- Egg-Truth
Most everyone is familiar with the mind teaser, "Which came first the Chicken or the egg?" While it seems contemporary…
You could almost see the looping back to inform the next context as the completion of the egg or the forming of a new seed. It’s a learning and development cycle existing in time.
I’m going to include Bohm again and although the article may not be the best introduction it does resonate with some of the thinking within this post.
The experiential learning spiral describes the ongoing recursive operation of the experiential learning cycle of experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting. The cycle is not a circle but a spiral since each trip through the cycle returns to the experience with new insight gained by reflection, thought, and action. Thus, the experiential learning spiral describes how learning from experience leads to development.
‘You and the tree in your backyard come from a common ancestor. A billion and a half years ago, the two of you parted ways. But even now, after an immense journey in separate directions, that tree and you still share a quarter of your genes.’
~ Richard Powers
The Logos is also the source of the intellectual, moral and spiritual life of man. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” He is the light as well as the life — the fountain of all the various forms of being and thought in and by whom all created things live, and from whom all obtain understanding. — http://classic.net.bible.org/dictionary.php?word=Logos
“the Greeks conceived of creation as going on everywhere all the time within the universe; and I also think that they were happier in their conception of supernatural beings impersonating . . . various forces, some good, others bad; for both sorts of forces are present, whether we assign personality to them or not. There is a general tendency in the universe to produce worth-while things, and moments come when we can work with it and it can work through us. But that tendency in the universe to produce worth-while things is by no means omnipotent. Other forces work against it.
God is in the world, or nowhere, creating continually in us and around us. This creative principle is everywhere, in animate and so-called inanimate matter, in the ether, water, earth, human hearts. But this creation is a continuing process, and ‘the process is itself the actuality’, since no sooner do you arrive than you start on a fresh journey.” — Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead