A Living System is a Learning System

“In biology, living and learning are synonyms, indistinguishable processes that keep life growing and moving forward. A living system is a learning system.”

 – Margaret Wheatley, “Who Do We Choose to Be?”

Living and learning are synonymous. What is so powerful, so remarkable about this statement is its utter obviousness. Of course they are synonymous! You can’t live if you can’t learn. You can’t grow, you can’t fulfill, you can’t become, you can’t materialize, you can’t evolve. You can’t be.

What is so challenging, so frustrating about this statement is that we need to be reminded that it’s true. Not at the biological level, of course, but at the rational, executive-mindset level of being. We get stuck, entranced, entrenched, enchanted, enamored, beguiled, bewitched, completely consumed by what we’ve done before. And so we do it again. Even though it doesn’t work. Even though we know better. Learning something new simply overwhelms our distracted, safety seeking selves.

I am having a very hard time preparing to teach a new course this semester. I am not seeing how the pieces fit together. I am not comforted by an organizing principle. I only see fragments, ideas and concepts floating around my head. I want it to feel – to be – a replica of what I already know how to do but it can’t be that because I’ve never done it before! What’s required then, is the slow and steady discomfiting discipline of learning.

I could say, “How frustrating!”

Or, in the words of Ben Zander I could say, “How fascinating!”

“When thinking falters, a living system is at risk. If it continues unchecked, the organism dies. Think about it. Now you know what to do.”

 – Margaret Wheatley, “Who Do We Choose to Be?”


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

It’s Not Working

“When a paradigm no longer provides reliable guidance for how to live in the world, the most common response is to grab hold of it more firmly. As it dawns on us that we don’t know how things work – that it’s not working – we become more insistent that it has to work just as we thought.”

Margaret WheatleyWho Do We Choose to Be?

It can be difficult to assess what I need to let go of. It’s tough to be objective when approaches, practices, behaviors and relationships that have worked so well for so long are past their expiration date. Few of us find this easy.

So I’m working to develop another point of reference, a way to guide me – gently and directly – to the knowledge that it is time to let go.

That point of reference is the amount of pressure I apply to make something continue as before even though it is time for it to become something else or to end altogether.

An example: my son is leaving for college next month. I’ve seen this coming for 18 years but of course that’s only cognitive awareness. My emotional awareness kicked in somewhere around February and I began exhibiting a grab-bag of behaviors that could generally be described as “emotionally charged.” I was holding on more firmly – fighting with reality – to ward off the certainty of what was to come.

Another: a client relationship was at an end. From a small, insecure place I didn’t think it had to be, that there was more to be done. So I offered up a suggestion that I didn’t believe in, that I didn’t have any interest in. Mercifully, it fell on deaf ears.

Everything ends. A good definition of wisdom is not only acknowledging that truth but accepting it as well.

“Lightly child, lightly” said Aldous Huxley. We are well advised.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Taking Responsibility

“We can’t trust ourselves to be perfect; we can’t trust ourselves to be the best at anything; we can’t trust ourselves to succeed; we can’t trust ourselves to never cause harm or hurt. What we can trust is our disciplined effort to get to know ourselves. We can learn to know our triggers, our habitual reactions, our strengths and weaknesses. All of this is possible – and essential – if we are to lead sanely in the midst of the falling-apart craziness.”

– Margaret Wheatley, “Who Do We Choose to Be

From my lower self I ask: What’s wrong with them? When are they going to figure it out? When are they finally going to change?

From my higher self I ask: What’s going on with me? What is it about me that is leading me to respond this way? What shift can I make within to see, understand, comprehend, react to or confront this situation more effectively?

I commit to giving grace and forgiveness to the inevitability of my lower self.

I commit to giving fuel, encouragement and disciplined effort to sustain my higher self.

Always aim higher.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

 

 

You Don’t Fear People Whose Story You Know

20130316-155255.jpg“Ask: ‘What’s possible?’ not ‘What’s wrong?’ Keep asking.

Notice what you care about. Assume that many others share your dreams.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.

Talk to people you know. Talk to people you don’t know. Talk to people you never talk to. Be intrigued by the differences you hear. Expect to be surprised. Treasure curiosity more than certainty. Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. Real listening always brings people closer together. Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. Rely on human goodness. Stay together.”

Turning to One Another,” Margaret Wheatley