Wagon Trains and White Water

--Mike Connelly

Regular readers know that our perspective of individual, organizational, and historical reality relies heavily on the metaphor (simile? analogy?) of rafting down a river composed of all the flows of those individuals, organizations, culture, and history moving downstream together. In some periods all or most are relatively tranquil, producing a stable and predictable river that just about any idiot person or community could traverse without getting wet, much less tipping the boat over. In other periods, the flows come together in more active ways that actually require some skill to manage the boat successfully.

And in others, like now as The Perfect Storm comes together for an historically unprecedented moment, the flows of history (environment, weather, resources) interact with ourselves, organizations, and cultures in highly turbulent and unpredictable stream, aka “white water rapids,” that the old ways of getting down the river just can’t accommodate. What’s needed is constant attention to details (aka REALITY), abandoning of status quos and concrete dogmas, most of all flexibility and resilience, in both leaders and their followers and the communities, organizations, and nations trying to stay afloat. There’s no guarantee that even these attributes will get the boat down the river to the next calmer patch safely, but they do promise much greater probabilities than lunk-headed insistence on prior privilege, the status quo, and “this is how we do things here.”

Regular readers also know that sometimes we take positions “outside the silo” here (please don’t fake surprise). But just because we’re outside the Corr Sent silo (for now anyway, until we become the conventional wisdom), that doesn’t mean we’re out there alone. This useful piece demonstrates that and introduces another helpful metaphor for the “tried-and-true” that we argue cannot be maintained if we want to successfully max out public safety in the tumultuous Perfect Storm period we’re just on the front edge of. What we call now the “tired-and-untrue” adherence to old ways and privileged positions/power in dealing with our dramatically changing world is what the author of the piece calls a “wagon train,” which he contrasts with, yes, “white water rafting.”

You need, as always, to imbibe (!!) the whole thing, but here’s part of it to explain where it’s going, why we like the whole concept, and why you should click the link:

Projecting this model into the past, we can suppose that we found bodies of water and waterways and that we converted our wagons into rafts or boats, finding the water path easier. But the current in our river of history has been speeding up. I have a strong feeling that there are rapids ahead, quite likely with dangerous white water. The banks of the river now seem too high and steep, and the landing places where we could land our rafts and boats, converting them back into wagons, seem to have been left behind. We may already be committed to trying to make our way through the rapids and survive the white water.

If this is the case, then Platt's notion of an inertia period [1] is a dangerous simplification, and we must focus on a point made on slide 33 of Ian Dunlop's UN presentation [2]: "There is no alternative to an emergency war-footing approach to speed up the process." In other words, instead of scouts, pathfinders, road-builders and pioneering engineers, the necessary roles include bow-man/lookout, port paddlers, starboard paddlers, and stern oarman. Prompt and accurate warnings and instructions from the front of our craft, prompt vigorous appropriate actions by the paddlers on the left and right sides, and strong properly directed exertions at the stern might keep the longitudinal axis of our craft properly aligned to the current and the slope of the water surface to prevent capsizing (see the last minute or so of the video for a failure example). It may also be possible to shift into a part of the current that passes around destructive waterfalls.

In terms of the "emergency war-footing approach," in the very little time remaining before we hit the rapids, we need to develop, test, and practice the necessary rapid communication channels and the appropriate actions to have at least some control over the "attitude" of our carrier in the turbulent section.

See? We’re not crazy. At least by ourselves. (And, yes, we do realize that this alone does not constitute proof, thank you for reminding us.)

1 comment (Add your own)

1. Bill Everett wrote:
Thanks, Mike!

Thu, July 11, 2013 @ 10:42 AM

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