Build Communities

A sense of community is the foundation for leadership.  Key the are leadership interactions that serve to build, nurture and sustain strong and healthy communities. This involves: 1) recruiting, socializing and motivating participants, 2) clarifying, evolving and reinforcing the duties and responsibilities that go along with membership, and 3) setting, evolving, and defining boundaries between an organizing system and its ecosystem as well as the boundary crossing protocols, responsibilities, and eligibility to cross in either direction.

Family time on the Oregon coast
Family time on the Oregon coast

Internal tensions within an organizing system as the individuals within the system, and the social structures which bind people together, are pressured by events in the ecosystem. These tensions can arise when, for example, organizational boundaries are changed through a discontinuous event, for example, management’s decision to execute a corporate merger or acquisition transaction, or when departments of redundant operating units are merged, shut down or sold off.  Events like these can be internal, resulting from a strategic management decision to merge. Or they can be externally driven such as when a business unit finds that its market has evaporated in a changing regulatory or economic environment and a unit must be closed down or sold off.  As repercussions from events like these propagate through the organizing system, demands are placed on leadership to coach individuals and they build or rebuild community.

Community in Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS)

This function involves a foundational formational mechanism in social complex adaptive systems (CAS). It is through this function that fine-grain individual interactions form into stable coarse-grain structures within an organizing system. This occurs as many fine-grain interactions together form a distinct pattern that is distinct from the symmetries that had been recognizable in the unordered background population.

The formation of a community of individuals acting in concert “breaks” this disordered background symmetry by synchronizing dynamic “vibrations” that can be recognized along the tensions connecting bottom-up fine-grained social emergence with top-down social entrainment processes. These vibrations are reflective of the stresses from the external ecosystem as these operate on the constraints entraining the organizing system.

Synchronization occurs through resonances among leadership interactions that frame the organization’s purposes and catalyze efficacious damping and reinforcement of vibrations as they cross scale, vibrating from the fine-grained interaction side of the tension to the coarse-grained capabilities side and the back again to once again compete.  During each of these cycles, the system can diverge becoming unstable, or the can converge toward and settle into dynamic stability within an attractor basin.

Leadership interactions are thus necessary to build community by operating across the emergence/entrainment connections between fine-grain interactions and the coarse-grain capabilities.  These resonances, when they stabilize, create an “entity” that is distinctly recognizable and identifiable in the ecosystem.  When an organizing system within an ecosystem is in dynamic resonance, it is sustainable, as the fine-grain and coarse-grain patterns reinforce one another. This is analogous to tonality in the musical sense. When the strings of an instrument resonate with the box of the instrument, each reinforces the other so that the tone sustains its energy as noise energy is dampened. In this way, an organization that vibrates in resonance with signals in the environments sustains its’ tone in a changing ecosystem, canceling out the noise that might overcome competitors.

Attractor Dynamics as the Underlying Mechanism

StrangeAttractorAlthough an organizing system can form into a community through actions and communications occurring at the fine-grained interaction level, this only happens in the context of forces in the broader ecosystem and the dynamics that result from value potential that this presents to the system and that can only be realized through coordinated activity.  However, participation cannot be sustained unless there is an sufficient incremental benefit that accrues to each individual from participating in the organizing system – and is recognized to be sufficient by each individual – to justify accepting constraints on one’s own personal degrees-of-freedom to gain the benefits of community.

Example – Economic Security

An obvious example of this involves the value potential that one might call economic security. In a modern society, a person needs money to purchase the necessities of life. The most common way to achieve this objective is to get a job. However, taking a job invariably involves giving up some autonomy. One must show up on time, take directions for others, and presumably be civil to colleagues and customers at the work place. Thus, the presence of a local restaurant in the neighborhood offers value potential for the individual in that ecosystem. The restaurant can provide money, which is an incremental benefit that can’t be gotten through the actions of the individual alone (as a general rule).  However, to get at the money, that is, to realize this value potential, the individual must accept the constraints implied by local rules within the restaurant. He or she must show up at work on time, follow orders and be civil.  However, if the restaurant stops paying wages, the value potential evaporates. Soon the “restaurant community” disintegrates because prospective workers will no longer accept constraints on their autonomy since there are no reciprocal benefits.

2010-PacificNorthwestVacation-Seattle 049Although the local restaurant example treats economic security as value potential, anything valued by participants – health, meaning, well-being, family safety, can be the basis for recognizing that an opportunity for value potential is present in the ecosystem.  Evolutionary biologists refer to the notion of “nesting safety”, for example, as an important source of value potential within an ecosystem when “fitness” is the measure of value. In this case, fitness is measured in number of surviving offspring. Thus, the value potential of a feature in the ecosystem relates to the effect of that feature on number of surviving offspring (as a metric for evolutionary fitness).

An “attractive” physical feature in the ecosystem, a cave, a fresh water spring, a lookout perch, etc. suggests value potential because each of these structural attractors would seem to provide continuing value along some survival dimension: safety, access to water, early warning about predators, etc.  Each therefore offers potential value that would devolve to individuals who choose to remain in its proximity. This is an obvious example of how participating in a value potential opportunity reduces degrees of freedom for individuals: One cannot wander too far away from the attractor without being cut off from the benefits which flow from it, and thus in the process risking one’s own survival.

Organizing to Exploit Value Potential Opportunities

All positions on the landscape are not equal. The relative value potential levels of particular positions can be measured in terms the probability that individual will achieve a given benefit. Using Bayesian probabilities, if the probability of achieving a certain benefit is higher given membership in a community than with going alone, then it may make sense to accept certain constraints on autonomy that are required to belong. Thus, if a certain physical feature can be taken, protected and held from competitors, it might offer unique potential value. And the physical logistics are such that the structural attractor can only be taken and held by a “community” who coordinates their activities and who likewise share in the benefits that its potential offers. This notion of “nesting safety” is thus an empirical example of community emergence in the animal kingdom.  Another example is flocking behavior in birds, herding in deer and antelope, and schooling in fish. When predators are relatively few, but efficient, hanging with a lot of others reduces the probability that you will be eaten. Thus, Bayesian probability suggests flocking has value potential in the context of fitness.

Value Potential in Human Systems

In the abstract, socially constructed world of human being, however, individual participants do not so easily recognize value potential. This is because it is often embedded, not in the physical topography (although it can be) but in their own social constructions, the social, political and economic (SPE) landscape.  Certain individuals or institutions might control important financial assets on that landscape or wield significant social or political influence with respect to navigating it, for example. Associating with and perhaps holding sway with one or more such persons could be recognized by some as features that has “value potential” on this social, political and economic landscape.  It these cases, the benefit from the value potential can only be achieved by social interactions that form the basis for organizing.

In these abstract ecosystems – worlds characterized by complexity, information asymmetries and uncertainty like the sophisticated virtual realities of modern video games but on steroids – finding value potential represents a new level of challenge to the player.  But recognizing value potential is only the beginning. Individuals do not generally know what to do and how to interact with others to realize value potential on an SPE landscape. It is within this vacuum that the need for leadership arises. It is why community building leadership interactions are necessary to catalyze the formation of the community that can act as a structural attractor to surround the value potential opportunity in the SPE landscape.

Community building leadership interactions encourage unified models, shared identities, and common ethical systems that enable an emergent pattern at the coarse-grain level. Such patterns only emerge and become stable, however, if there is an attractor basin within the ecosystem such that synchronized or coordinated action which admits constrains on individual autonomy offers a better outcome than unconstrained individual autonomy across all degrees of freedom.   These constraints on local rules clarify and make predictable the local rules that others are following in their interactions and well as what is expected of each individual. This offers increased transparency and as a result, predictability.