Adaptive Action: Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization

By Glenda H. Eoyang; Royce J. Holladay | Go to book overview

5
NOW WHAT?

Lois, an HSD Associate and one of our anthropologist friends, told us about the difference between description and explanation. A description focuses on what happens and what is observable as a result or an outcome. An explanation, on the other hand, tracks the underlying dynamics and gives a sense of why or how something happens. This distinction shows up in our consulting practice frequently. A client will call us in to “improve communications” or “increase innovation,” or “enhance quality.” They are describing their problems, not giving explanations. Our first job is typically to search for the underlying patterns to find a possible explanation for the source of their problems, and then we can help the client take action to shift the dynamics. Saying they want to “improve communications” is a description. In looking for an explanation, we might find a power imbalance, or lack of time; or use of jargon may be the real reason for ineffective communications. Aversion to risk or organizational constraints or lack of diversity might explain lack of innovation. Low quality might emerge from poor motivation, lack of training, or insufficient feedback mechanisms. One description may lead to many explanations, but intentional and effective action relies on evidence-based explanations that emerge from exploring and articulating patterns of behavior.

This distinction between description and explanation is particularly important in step three of Adaptive Action. Unless you know something about the mechanics that lead to an outcome, it is impossible to know how to take action to influence the next outcome. Given that Adaptive Action involves action, it requires an understanding of relationships and some inkling of dynamics that shape patterns as they emerge from self-organizing processes. In this chapter, we explore explanations for complex phenomena in human systems and share some models and methods you can use to explain complex dynamics to inform wise action, even when you cannot predict or control a situation.

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Adaptive Action: Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Part I- What Causes Uncertainty? What Can You Do about It? 1
  • Why So Uncertain? 3
  • 2- What Can You Do? 13
  • 3- What? 34
  • 4- So What? 66
  • 5- Now What? 84
  • 6- Now What? Again 103
  • Part II- So What Does Adaptive Action Look like on the Ground? 111
  • 7- Adaptive Action in Action 113
  • 8- Capacity Building 123
  • 9- Leading Change 146
  • 10- Working as a Social Act 160
  • Part III- Now What Will You Do? 183
  • 11- Gaps Revisited 185
  • 12- Lessons for What? 189
  • 13- Lessons for So What? 200
  • 14- Lessons for Now What? 209
  • 15- Adaptive Innovation 218
  • Reference Matter 239
  • Notes 241
  • Index 245
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