Monday, July 23, 2018

So I was talking with Beth about this adaptive cycle framework and said, “I guess you better be careful about using a framework that is an infinity symbol because it keeps unfolding like the petals on a blooming flower and makes you reflect even more.” 

She laughed. 

As I make another trip around the loop and continue researching this through organizations like Tamarack Institute and FSG, I discover more ways this is applicable to me, organizations, and collaborative partnerships working on challenging systems level issues. Another book I’ve been reading is David Hurst’s, The New Ecology of Leadership: Business Mastery in a Chaotic World. He describes the eco-cycle in detail in 30 short chapters. If I get motivated, I may go deeper, exploring a place he calls the “sweet zone” where change is made in sustainable ways. However, with this post, I want to talk about the “traps,” that can snag us and keep us stuck in a certain aspect of the eco-cycle. Each of these traps is associated with one of the quadrants of the eco-cycle.




At some point, all of us will hear language that indicates the Rigidity Trap. “We’ve always done it this way.”  It is usually in the Maturity phase of the eco-cycle (upper right quadrant), when we have become good and efficient at delivering a set of services to specific target audiences. It’s difficult to change. In fact, we often experience external pressure from stakeholders who support the core work of the organization but do not support flexibility to adapt and innovate. 

Sometimes Creative Destruction (bottom right quadrant) can spin out of control resulting in the Chronic Disaster Trap. As the organization, partnership or system begins to fall apart, trust can erode. This trust can be between individuals or between agencies within a bigger system of human services. It can be within the organization or between organizations. The lack of trust can result in low morale and make it very difficult to identify a common vision. In the Creative Destruction phase the system gets stuck when the alignment toward a vision can’t be found. Disconnecting from what has been, creates the risk of trust erosion anywhere in the organization or system.

As you move beyond the Creative Destruction stage to the Exploration stage (upper left quadrant), organizations & collaborative groups run the risk of falling into the Scarcity Trap. If you feel like you “don’t have enough” resources (resources can be money, time, or people), it becomes difficult to determine priorities for where  to invest those limited resources.  Which risk will destroy you? Which risk will move you forward? When unable to prioritize, a group may become unable to move at all. Or, when unable to prioritize, multiple ideas may take hold and the organization or system undermines its own efforts by trying too many things at once.

Finally, as we approach the Development stage (bottom left quadrant) the Charisma Trap can emerge. A system, partnership or organization with a strong leader who can leverage resources, may align the work and begin to move an initiative forward. The trap comes when  there is an over reliance on the leader (or on specific resources), leaving the group without enough buy-in from stakeholders to have capacity to scale the work you want to accomplish. The leadership driver that pulls the system forward can also squelch its growth and ability to make community-wide impact when the leadership is too centralized.

Continued movement along the cycle is essential. Traps will slow us down and may even dismantle a community initiative. However, as you will see in a future post, there are ways to move through these traps and allow for change that is sustainable.