CAS, Radical Constructivism and Solution Focus

I don't want to prove anything here - because there is no right or wrong as I explain below - but I will try to answer, why I think CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems) and radical constructivism are of a practical relevance to my current solution focused approach to coaching and consulting.

First of all CAS helps to clarify the mindset and mental model behind the 5th discipline and Learning Organizations. This has been called the machine thinking of organizational change vs organizational change as change/growth of a living systems thinking or

classical vs CAS model of organizational change

as Eoyang calls it.

Here are some interesting differences from Eoyangs (classical vs CAS) list which seem to be relevant to coaching and consulting:

- Few vs innumeral variables determine outcome
- Direction is determined by design & the power of a few leaders
vs by emergence & the participation of many people
- system behaviour is knowable, predictable & controllable
vs unknowable, unpredictable & uncontrollable
- all systems are essentially the same vs unique
- decisions are based on facts and data vs tensions and patterns
- success is defined as closing the gap with a preferred future
vs fit with environment (emergent goals & structures)

For me it seems, that while Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) and System Dynamics lean towards the right CAS side, it is still routed in thinking from the classical left side. This is just an impression and a hypothesis, which I can't and don't want to proof, because awareness and the implications are what counts. The interesting question for me is:

if you lean towards to one of the sides and not to another, what difference might that make for coaching, consulting, training, mentoring etc.? Is it really relevant, a difference that makes a difference? I think yes, it changes your complete perception of the organization! It's not dysfunctional anymore, because there is a good reason, why this organization has become the way it is, and therefore there is a good reason to preserve and remain in the (historically meaningful) status quo.

This above list also fits well with some principle of solution focused approach to coaching and change, like:

- don't fix what isn't broken (from the coachees point of view)
- change is happening all the time
- no problem happens all the time (helpful positive exceptions can be found)
- if something works, try to do more of it (like in XP :-)
- every case (org) is different
- the action is in the interaction

Radical constructivism even goes further in the direction of evolutionary fit and claims that we should abandon our concept of truth as correspondence of our mental models with the "real" world outside and replace it by the concepts of viability or fit for purpose. If a mental model fulfills its purpose it is - in an agile way of saying - good enough. There is no one "real" and "right" map of the world. A tube map of London is as good as a street map of London, although they are quite different, and can't possibly both be the real map. But they both fulfill their purpose very well - just make sure not to use the tube map, if you go by car!

So what? What happens if you try to navigate organizational change with a LeSS like organizational map and change vision?
You will naturally find a lot of gaps, dysfunctional behavior and call it

"fake lean, fake agile, fake Scrum"

like Craig Larman did, when he visited one of my larger customers.

This LeSS map enables you as a coach to "see" things, gaps etc. that other people within the organization don't see - you have a more or less privileged view point. But this LeSS map of the organization makes you a stranger, alienates you from the organization you are supposed to coach, and you start discussing or even fighting about the right way to look at and do things. What's the right map and which one is wrong!? But when you go to London, would you use a map of Paris? Or if you travel Paris by car - a real challenge by the way - would it help to use a tube map?

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that this LeSS - or other methodology maps - can not be useful. But its just a map, not the reality, and there are various other well proven maps of the organisation within the organization already! So please don't take it for granted, that you are the only one, who has the "right" map! Your map can only be made useful, if it fits the purpose (and topology) of the organization, like becoming more agile or flexibel, reducing cycle time, improving quality etc.

That's the first thing a coach should answer: Why do you want to do that Agile, Scrum or LeSS stuff? And how can adopting this approach help you to achieve your goals? (hopefully with less pain - because significant learning and growth seems to be coupled with some sort of pain)

For Heinz von Förster radical constructivism even has some moral dimensions. Using words like "true", "right", "real", "fake", ... separate people into two categories, those, who are right, and those, who are plain wrong. And then defensive reasoning kicks in: we start a win-loose game, we discuss, debate, fight ... The game will sooner or later become a loose-loose game, a war starts, on who has the "right" map, the holy grail.

Holy shit! Why can't they be both "right", right for different purposes or different parts of the organization? So please: if you ask, whether A or B is the best, ask also for what and whom - they could both be viable in some sense or neither of them. Move from dilemma to tetralemma!

So Heinz von Förster stopped using words like "true", "real" and the like, because they divide people instead of uniting them, and he consider the last to be the essence of systems thinking. He also says, if we construct the world in some sense, we can be held responsible for it - no more excuses, because of bad genes, education and so on!

Radical constructivism is also to a certain degree a pillar of solution focused coaching, because they are both rooted in Wittgensteins language philosophy and are influenced by the work of Bateson and Watzlawick. Constructivists like principles in solution focus are:

- problem talk creates problems
- solution talk creates solution

Focusing coachees on solutions - instead of problems - work like a self-fulfilling prophecy (which is a well proven hypothesis in psychology, by the way)

I guess my thinking of systems and the like is still shallow, but I hope I've clarified the question, why I care about other approaches to Systems Thinking other than System Dynamics and how that fits with a practical solution focused approach to coaching which I embrace and try to make reality every day.