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Our “Stories” and “Structures” shape our “Patterns” which produce “Consequences” (intended and unintended.) New Consequences require new Stories and Structures.

Einstein is reputed as saying, ‘Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.’

This Sad Face/Happy Face model provides a simple (but not simplistic) way of thinking about our next great evolutionary leap — to an era where our social systems are designed and led in a way that best serves the well-being of all stakeholders affected by those systems. Let’s focus first on the “Sad Face,” our perception of the current state of our social systems as a collective.

Definitions, Reflections and Implications:

  • Stories include all our inner and outer conversations, our visions, our dreams, our fears, our metaphors, our beliefs, our values — our stories.
  • Structures include our roles, rules, principles, objectives, strategies, our built infrastructure, even our language.
  • We can think of our social systems (all kinds) as being defined by Stories and Structures.
  • Our collective Patterns/Habits of thinking, speaking, working, living, consuming, etc. are primarily shaped by our social systems—our Stories and Structures.
  • Our Unintended Consequences are a direct result of our Patterns.

Notice, that for the Sad Face, there is no feedback loop from the Unintended Consequences to the Stories and Structures. Without those feedback loops there is no awareness of why unintended consequences occur or meaningful accountability for them and their causes (NOTE: the point about awareness is an important one – currently, most people are oblivious as to why these negative consequences occur. The dominant assumption is that it’s the “leadership’s fault” – your manager, CEO, Republicans, Obama, etc. People are not aware that their patterns of thinking and their behaviours are a result of stories/structures. Without awareness and accountability, positive change will be incremental at best. Most all of our primary social systems (Government, education, health care, media, agriculture, etc.) fall into the Sad Face category.

A closer look at the current state of our local (Salinas Valley/Monterey Bay) region:

  • The Unintended Consequences of the collective social systems in our region include major gaps between “what is” and “what could be.”
  • Zooming in, you see some of the Patterns contributing to the Unintended Consequences, and the Stories and Structures that shape those Patterns.

Note that many other regions around the globe share the same Stories, Structures, Patterns and Unintended Consequences – a sign that most of our social systems, no matter where they are, share the same limitations and design flaws.

Bottom Line: If we want different consequences, it is essential that we change our social systems (the Stories and Structures) in ways that shift the Patterns to produce the results we want. “All systems are perfectly designed… to get the results they get.”

Where to start?

It depends. Sometimes tweaking the Structures, e.g., the reward system can be a highly leveraged way to shift Patterns of behavior. However, in general, Stories are the place to start. A compelling new vision/story does much to minimize the uncertainty and resistance normally associated with structural change.

Zooming in on the Happy Face model provides some potential elements of what’s needed to shift our region’s Unintended Consequences to happier results. As an exercise, try to fill in the details of the Happy Face for your region. What are the ideal Intended Consequences? What Stories, Structures and Patterns will best support them?

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” – Einstein

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