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July 2010                                                                                                                    Number 2
Welcome to the New Possibilities Associates monthly newsletter. Each month we will offer articles on sustainable solutions to tough problems in environments of rapid change.

New Possibilities Associates offers planning, training, facilitating, ongoing consulting, and coaching for leaders.

We specialize in sustainable solutions to tough problems in environments of rapid change.

We hope you will find these articles useful, interesting and thought provoking. We also hope you will share this with you friends, or unsubscribe if you prefer.

Howard Mason
New Possibilities Associates
We Live in a New World

These are unprecedented times. It has simply never been this way before. Our world has never been more interconnected and interdependent.

Leaders today grapple with seemingly insoluble problems-wicked problems-problems that, by the very nature of the world today, don't respond to traditional solutions.

Leaders need to be able to tap the potential for innovation and action in any group or team and to shift recurring group patterns that block productivity and creativity. As executives, managers, consultants and teachers, we need to facilitate rapid growth in the collaborative capacity and collective wisdom of our teams.

New Possibilities Associates knows what it take for people to successfully lead in the face of complex, diverse and rapidly changing reality.

Our commitment is to finding new solutions to wicked problems. New Possibilities Associates is dedicated to advancing the success of teams that are forming and working together in new ways to make organizations successful, address the most pressing problems, and create sustainable communities.

We support the leaders who are engaging fresh practices and approaches, shifting cultures and bringing new life to their communities and colleagues.

How New Possibilities Associates helps: Leaders today grapple with seemingly insoluble problems - wicked problems - problems that, by the very nature of our world today, don't respond to traditional solutions.

Leaders need to be able to tap the potential for innovation and action in any group or team and to shift recurring group patterns that block productivity and creativity. As executives, managers, consultants and teachers, we need to facilitate rapid growth in the collaborative capacity and collective wisdom of our teams.

The New Possibilities Imperative

"For every complex problem there is always an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." - H. L. Mencken

High complexity demands new ways of solving problems. We live in a new world.
In This Issue
From My Experience
Tips for Treading Powerfully in Chaos- Understanding Complexity
How New Possibilities Associates Helps
Clockware and Swarmware and the Gulf Oil Spill
Social Change Book Club 4.0
From My Experience:
Rewards May Not Motivate Creativity

Spiral stairOver the course of my working with individuals, groups, organizations and communities on transformational change, some things happen often enough that they demand attention.

Innovation moves much faster than the ability of most of us to adapt.

Instead we hang on to familiar frameworks and assumptions that keep us from meeting the demands of our rapidly changing environments.

A great example comes from the Social Change Book Club's June book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink.

Pink tells us that their is a huge gap between what science knows about motivation and what organizations do.

Our current business operating system-built around external, reward and punishment motivators-does not work and often does harm. In environments where people need to be creative, rewards and punishments can lead to lower levels of motivation.

Yet organizations resist learning and trying new approaches.

The new science tells us that a 21st century approach to motivation would focus on:
  1. Autonomy-the freedom of individuals to direct their own lives while maintaining high responsibility for results.
  2. Mastery-the commitment to get better and better at something that matters to the individual and the organization.
  3. Purpose-the desire to work in service to something larger than ourselves
Here's the elevator message on 21st century motivation:

Carrot and stick approaches to motivation are so 20th century. We need to upgrade to organizational cultures that support autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Tips for Treading Powerfully in Chaos
Understanding Complexity

In order to function successfully in environments of rapid change with high levels of uncertainty and disagreement, it is critically important to recognize and understand how complexity is present and being experienced.

Few people are trained to recognize and work in high levels of complexity. Our mental models are based on short-term, straight-line ideas of cause and effect. Before we can recognize high levels of complexity, we have to understand what it is. We can't see it until we believe in it and understand it.

When the levels of complexity in the issues we are working with are high, it becomes critical for us to be able to use models that offer new possibilities to:

  • succeed in new contexts,

  • make learning an integral activity, and

  • ultimately to achieve results using new solutions.

The high levels of complexity we are encountering shows themselves in three forms, each with its own challenges.

Type Of Complexity




Focus on various parts or the whole system?

Cause and effect are close together in space and time.

Solutions can be found.

by testing and fixing one part
at a time.

Cause and effect are far apart in space and time.

Solution can be found only when the situation is understood systemically, taking account of the interrelationships among the parts and the functioning of the system as whole.


Solutions are planned or emergent?

Future is familiar and predictable.

Solutions from the past.

or other places can be repeated or replicated.

Future is unfamiliar and unpredictable.

Solutions cannot be calculated in advance based on what has worked in the past. Emergent solutions have to worked out as situations unfold.


Solutions come from leaders or from participants?

People involved have common assumptions, values, rationales and objectives.

A leader or expert can propose
a solution with which everyone agrees.

People involved look at things very differently.

Solutions cannot be given by authorities; the people involved must participate in creating and implementing solutions.

High complexity demands new ways of solving problems.

When there are low levels of complexity, simple, straight-line solutions often will be enough to stay on track. Simple problems can be solved using processes that are familiar:

  • focus on the parts of a problem in isolation,

  • rely heavily on what has worked in the past or elsewhere ("best practices"), and

  • participants are open to solutions proposed by leaders or experts.

This is most true when the problems or issues have roots or solutions in technology. But beware the tendency to deny the complexity in even technological problems in the desire to find the clear, simple solution.

As we focus on lasting change in groups, organizations and the community, we are dealing with increasingly high levels of the three types of complexity where success only comes through using processes that:

  • focus on working with all the parts as a single system,

  • accept that solutions emerge as situations unfold, and

  • involve the people concerned in developing the solutions.

How New Possibilities Can Help

New Possibilities Associates offers planning, training, facilitating, ongoing consulting, and coaching for leaders.

We specialize in sustainable solutions to tough problems in environments of rapid change.

We help you learn:
  • To go from fragmentation to connection.
  • To ground actions in what is meaningful.
  • To allow all voices to be heard so the collective intelligence can surface.
  • To lead in environments of high complexity, uncertainty and disagreement.

What you will be able to do:

  • Frame powerful questions that open the possibility for wiser action and new results.
  • Create settings where the new order can emerge for chaos and disagreement.
  • Mobilize commitment, energy and intelligence of everyone involved in a problem.
  • New Possibilities Associates spiral
  • Adapt more quickly and effectively to new conditions in a rapidly changing environment.
  • Work in high levels of uncertainty and disagreement to achieve real results.
  • Achieve new solutions that are sustainable and minimize unanticipated consequences.
  • Ready work groups and resources for developing future conditions.

Contact Us

New Possibilities Associates
New Possibilities Associates Blog
1225 Bates Court
Louisville, KY  40204

Howard Mason, Principal

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Clockware and Swarmware
and the Gulf Oil Spill

Continuing disaster calls for clockware
and swarmware in tandem.

The tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico offers a vivid illustration of how we must be the master of both clockware and swarmware.

"Clockware" is a term that describes working in ways that are rational, planned, standardized, repeatable, controlled and measured. These are the conditions that characterize low complexity environments-often where issues have roots or solutions in technology.

In contrast, "swarmware" refers to working in ways that explore new possibilities through experimentation, trials, autonomy, freedom, intuition and working at the edge of knowledge and experience. The idea is to say just enough to paint a picture or describe the absolute boundaries, and then get the people in situations with high levels of complexity active in trying whatever they think might work. This is one way to work in high complexity environments.

When drilling and operating a well with over a mile of water between the platform on the surface and the well head at the bottom, things need to be thoroughly thought out, precisely planned,  installed within extremely tight tolerances, and operated with the highest levels of vigilance.

Apparently that did not happened. A cascading series of lapses-each by itself perhaps not so bad-led to a catastrophic failure. And the failure occurred in ways for which there were no quick solutions.

Now we are facing a gusher of oil and gas that can't be stanched and is threatening the ecosystem and livelihoods along vast areas in the Gulf and along the coast.

The effort to stop the flow of oil appears to be a technology problem and a low complexity issue, needing a clockware only approach. Yet there are elements of all three types of complexity:
  • Dynamic-What are the implications of this event for the safety of the world-wide deep water drilling industry? Some reports have said that 45 percent of blowout prevention systems would fail in similar circumstances.
  • Generative-Why has nothing worked so far to shut off the leak? If we are beyond the the limits of existing knowledge and solutions, emergent solutions are what is needed. Reports suggest that emergent solutions are being suggested from all over the world.
  • Social-Other than relief wells, there have been no solutions that have generated high levels of consensus and trust. What are the missed opportunities in bringing more people into the discussion?
In addressing the ongoing crisis from the continuing flow of oil, swarmware approaches are what is needed. All three types of complexity are present in dealing with the spilled oil: the interconnectedness of the the environment and economy, the need for emergent solutions to meet the evolving needs of local conditions, and the pleas by the people most directly affected to be at the table designing the solutions.

As we saw after hurricane Katrina, when there is widespread disaster encompassing a complex array of problems, clockware approaches lead to dismal failure.

The top down, command-and-control approaches move too slowly and are not effective in mobilizing the needed scope of the response. They also do not promote the innovation and application of creative and novel responses necessary in the huge number of unique situations.

What is called for is a swarmware approach. Everybody needs to be trying everything that could possibly work. On-the-ground experimentation will demonstrate what is effective in various situations.

The people closest to the situations need to be empowered, mobilized and given the resources and support they need to find and execute what works in their locations.

The command and control folks will have to fight the urge to find all kinds of reasons to not do it that way.

But when the problems are as messy as the ones in the Gulf, it takes messy strategies and messy solutions to mount an effective response.
Social Change Book Club 4.0
An independent gathering furthering learning on social change.

We meet the third Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m.

Our home is Heine Bros. Coffee, 119 Chenoweth Lane, St Matthews. We are grateful for the invitation and hospitality.
In our July book, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Leadership for the Common Good), Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey address the mystery of personal and organizational change in an original way. Their main message is that individuals, groups and organizations are not blocked by fears for change-as many claim-but more by existing, hidden mindsets.

For August, Ron Heifetz, Marty Linsky with Alexander Grashow in The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World offer a handbook for individuals, organizations, communities and countries who must continuously adapt to new realities to simply survive.  

The Social Change Book Club is open to everyone who is interested in understanding, participating, leading, or supporting social change. Each month we select a book and get together to discuss. Selections rotate among three themes: social changes, how we work with others to make change happen, and the inner qualities needed to bring change into the world.
People just show up if they are interested--no RSVP, commitment, etc. It is great when people have read the book, but that is not a requirement to come and discuss.
We got this going because there is a lot to learn about how to make social change happen and people who are interested in changing the world need opportunities to share stories and experience community with others who care.