The organizational theorist Ralph Stacey speaks about ‚bounded instability‘ – a very useful notion, I find. We need certain scaffoldings, holding structures – and a certain level of flexibility and freedom to move within those structures. Every once in a while, also the structures need adjustment.
Now, if there is too much structure, holding us too rigidly, then we are speaking of an ‘overstructured system’– and that eventually needs some deconstruction.
In turn, when there is too little structure and too much instability, we speak of an ‘understructured system’ – and sometimes it is helpful to re-introduce a little structure to avoid chaos.
In the ‘good old days’ of around the 1950s, there were more rigid structures in place than nowadays – and many of us rebelled. Nowadays, there are a lot of freedoms – too many for some of us, who feel as if, with so many of the old ‘certainties’ lacking, we’re getting lost …
The tricky thing is that not all humans are the same – evolution has created us so that we have different traits and preferences, competencies and skills, so that we can help each other out, and the whole range needed is covered. That makes for some people thriving on change, loving it when things are shaken up, enjoying the freedom to have many choices. It makes just as well for people who prefer caution, steadiness, and a sense of safety and security provided by tradition, experience and routine.
So, we all need some of all of the above – only, some of us lean more towards the ‘instability’ part of ‘bounded instability’ – others more towards the ‘bounded’ part.
The reason: If we love change, we happen to be, by nature, very open to outside stimuli – so we need a lot of them. Too much ‘bounded stability’ is boring for us, for lack of stimuli.
If we prefer tradition, experience, holding structures and routine, we are, by nature, less open to outside stimuli – so if we get a lot of them, that is rather stressful and unsettling. We prefer setting clear boundaries to let less stimuli in, so we can still have our internal structure and order and feel safe and secure.
So – two different ways of thriving and flourishing. Each one necessary, so we can all be complementary.
The challenge now is that we currently happen to be living in unsettling times, where there are very few certainties, where old structures are increasingly abolished, where new structures, especially of work, often appear precarious. All that change feels threatening to some … they miss the apparent order and ‘safety’ of the ‘good old days’.
Plus there is this notion of ‘post-modern relativism’ – promoting that there is no absolute truth, only differences in perception. That does *not* extend to saying ‘the sun is shining’ when it’s actually raining. It does not extend either to saying ‘you can cross the road now’ when a car is approaching at full speed. It does extend to political opinions or to personal preferences, though. In that area, there is not necessarily an ‘either … or’, but an ‘and’. As explained, for example, change itself can be both stimulating *and* threatening – depending from which perspective you look at it. Even temperature can be perceived differently: To Finnish people, 25 C is really warm – to people from the Philippines, 25 C might feel rather cool … It is like looking at this well-known drawing: Can you see both the old *and* the young woman? (I have added this as a YouTube video, so you can indeed see both and don’t need to feel frustrated.)
However, as all that is confusing, some people might be tempted to say ‘If everything is up for grabs in terms of interpretation, why can’t I then say that MY little world is exactly the way that I see it and that I want it to be? And I’m just going to MAKE it be that way!’
Some people feel absolutely over-extended with all the change going on, with all the uncertainties encroaching, with all the cultural interpretations suddenly possible … So now they have taken to saying very determinedly: ‘This is it. The buck stops here. I set my boundaries very clearly, and I want everything to go back to the old ways that felt safe for ME because I knew my way around them’. It is a kind of helpless protest …
Think about it: How long can you yourself ‘sit with uncertainty’? For an hour? A day? A week? A month? A year? Uncertainty about the state of your health, your income, your employment, your children’s future? Think about how much stress it causes you to not know about the state of your health for a month, about the future of your employment for 6 months. Does that cause you sleepless nights? What if you’re forced to ‘sit with uncertainty’ for … years? What will your helpless, stressed-out fear eventually turn into? Depression? Or rage?
Nevertheless – ‘alternative facts’ as a form of defiance might provide a temporary sense of relief against uncertainty, insecurity, all those relativist perspectives out there, and no one apparently knowing the ‘exact right way’ into the future. In the long run, though, that kind of defiance is not going to work …
Increasingly, we are all asked to co-create the future, in collaborative stewardship. Some might not like giving up the control to which they feel entitled by class, income or sense of ‘natural leadership’. Some others might not like assuming personal responsibility, as they would rather like to just ‘follow’ and have some kind of ‘leader’ do the thinking for them and ‘show them the way’ (and that better be THE ‘right’ way!).
Responsibly co-creating our future, though, in collaborative stewardship, while allowing lots of perspective changes as we map out our collective way forward, with the greatest level of freedom, safety and prosperity for *everyone* – it’s the only way ahead.
Questions that remain are: How can we best train ourselves for that?
And: How can those of us who thrive on change and lots of choices help ‘ease the pain’ of those of us who prefer the tradition and routine of our old known ways, who would like to follow a given path rather than engage in co-creation, and who experience stress and ‘social pain’ from all that change, uncertainty, and manifold ways of looking at things?
*The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a Bob Dylan song. You can find the lyrics here: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/bobdylan/thetimestheyareachangin.html