David Sibbet | Systems Theory
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I sustain a keen interest in metaphors and plausible narratives about where we are headed as a society, and frankly, I am worried. I was rocked recently by a close reading of sociobiologist and futurist Rebecca Costa’s0-watchmansrattle 2012 best seller, The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. (She has a new book, also a best seller, called On the Verge, which I haven’t read.) Costa has a long history in Silicon Valley and a polymath’s appetite for large-scale thinking. My reading, in the context of seeing our country spiraling into policy chaos, is that her 2012 message is even more relevant in 2018.

Her “new theory” is that civilizations collapse when complexity outstrips human’s cognitive ability to grasp what is going on. More interestingly, she identifies the symptoms that suggest collapse is beginning. I’m not wanting to believe we are collapsing, as I am much more interested in growth and development and what our field of process consulting and visual practice can do in response. Yet her argument is persuasive.

Let me summarize what she is talking about. Drawing from both evolutionary biology and new findings in neuroscience, Costa describes in detail how the Mayans, Romans, Germans and others expanded and collapsed. Collapse begins with gridlock—simply too many conflicting forces and events compounding—and continues with the substitution of belief for facts.

In most civilizations, Costa observes, there is a balance between untethered beliefs and scientifically or experientially validated knowledge. We use beliefs to deal with the ineffable and non-objective, and we have (at least for the last many hundreds of years) looked to science for help with being objective, particularly regarding the physical world. Yet when complexity begins to overwhelm people’s cognitive abilities, beliefs take over and attention to facts disappears.

For the Mayans facing severe drought, their engineering of cisterns and other water strategies gave way to human sacrifice. For the Germans after World War I, the complexity of their post-war fractured economy gave way to fascism and blame and World War II.  Sound familiar?Read more…

'75EarlySibbetPhoto - What's the Future of the Visual Facilitation Field?Recently I was interviewed by a bright, young reporter from Communication Arts about The Grove’s work in visual facilitation. “I’m talking to a lot of different people and really wanted to talk with you, an acknowledged leader in this field,” she said. “I want to get to some of the underlying theory and structure of what is happening.”

This opening triggered an immediate cascade of memories back to the 1970s when Interaction Associates, Geoff Ball, Fred Lakin, and I were on fire about Group Graphics, the future of technology, facilitation, and organizations. After all, we were in the curl of the massive wave of rethinking that all of my generation was doing about established institutions. Why not take on knowledge work and how we know what we know?

Read more…

A third book in my Wiley & Sons trilogy on visualization is nearing completion of its first draft. Wiley agreed to print the book in full color, and I am having a terrific time loading it with examples of how leaders of all kinds can take advantage of what I’m calling the visualization revolution.

 

VisualLeadersCover8-3D - Visual Leaders is Happening

This cover image illustrates the big picture focus of the book. It’s written to help leaders and managers increase their visual IQ, learn to work with visual practitioners, and guide their organizations in become more literate visually, in both face-to-face and virtual environments. I am making sure there are lots of practice exercises and suggestions for new leaders.

As with Visual Meetings and Visual Teams, I have been able to not only write the book and do the drawings, but design it myself in InDesign. I’ve actually moved to doing the writing in InDesign, so that from the very first drafts I can see what I’m getting on each page. It’s a thrilling process to be able finally to create in both text and graphics. If you want to read the TOC, click on the images and they will expand.

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FutureTalkGraphicsRecently I met Mei Lin Fung, producer of Future Talk, a monthly TV show produced in Silicon Valley. She works visually herself and when she heard about Visual Meetings she invited me to be on her show.

We produced a half-hour session on visual facilitation and its application to complex problems in government. This was a three-camera, eight-person, all-volunteer crew, producing live and unedited from Palo Alto’s Community Media center. I talked about my work with visual meetings, showing some examples; then I demonstrated by taking notes on my IBM Thinkpad tablet when Mei Lin was talking.

Watch here – enjoy!