Category Archives: among best

Whole Culture Led not Technology Driven – getting SDG’s to really work

The UN’s idea of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), as a “unified policy framework”, and seemingly everyone else’s too, turn out to be “missing something”,

Missing the glue that fits and holds the many parts together, high aspirations lacking a real method for connecting the parts

In the UN’s “Vision of a Future Worth Choosing

“The High-level Panel on Global Sustainability argues that by making transparent both the cost of action and the cost of inaction, political processes can summon both the arguments and the political will necessary to act for a sustainable future.”

Human cultures have NEVER changed according to plan, is the problem.  That’s now how societal change works.   How people are discussing the implementation of the SDG’s, called a “unified policy framework”, is almost entirely as just a list of ideals, almost like “complaints” about how economic development didn’t fulfill our best intentions over the past century…  No, it certainly didn’t.

What isn’t mentioned, though, is how to change that.  How would the economy’s normal steering mechanism might be changed, if it didn’t go where we’d want in the first place?   How would a new steering mechanism be created that would be more responsive to rational concerns about fairness and our role on earth?   Just a list of desires for what didn’t happen is really just wishful thinking, a delaying tactic perhaps, rather than addressing the problem.

The simple framing of this problem below, what steers the economy, is followed by my brief reports to CAUN on how the “connecting the parts” problem came up in the DESA workshops on implementing SDG’s.  The Workshop Agendas offered a fairly comprehensive view of the “technology push” transfer techniques being contemplated… which helps illustrate the basic problem that human cultures don’t learn that way.

the servant became master, the served the slave
A choice between Whole Culture Led and Technology Driven change...

A. Technology Driven Change, the “tech solution” – leaves cultures shaped to serve technology values, perhaps with ignorance of culture

B. Culture Motivated Change, “the cultural solution” – leaves technology shaped to serve cultural values, perhaps with ignorance of how things work

What thrives in nature is the cultural solution, when… cultures are able to understand what technologies are physically profitable, linked together to produce more than they consume, and… their choices show long foresight in being responsive to where profit ends… Continue reading Whole Culture Led not Technology Driven – getting SDG’s to really work

Your Ontology getting lost in Epistemology??

First (V.) is Helene’s response, to (IV.) my observations on the dilemma of “defining reality”, that doing so presents “reality” is represented as decided in our brains! Natural reality is precisely the opposite, of course, everything NOT defined in our brains.  Yet… the epistemologists keep winning the dumb argument anyway… even though the true answer is so clear.

A way to extend the idea of “empathy” termed “holpathy” is used, referring to our ability to recognized thing as “wholes” to then later to be more defined, like “a dog” seen as a whole while lacking information to describe it in defined terms. Seeing environmental systems as wholes, also from the extent of their parts acting together perhaps, allows whole parts of nature to first be recognized intuitively, to THEN be defined by information gathered and made sense of later.

Having empathy for other people is very helpful that way, giving you a tangible feeling and impression for them as a whole first, without any hard information on what’s happening inside.  It’s similar for recognizing other whole systems in nature.  You draw on your ability to listen and watch intently and create an image that fits holistically, used for the appearances of other whole cultures, shifting relationships in business or personal live, for the ineffable characteristics of  “places” too.  Those holistic impressions become highly useful later for connecting or fitting in later arriving facts.

After that is our first exchange on the subject (III., II., I.) III. discusses the question Helene asks, in II., whether holistic recognition addresses what some call “humanity’s original logic error”; mistaking logical states for natural forms, and the interesting approach of Barry Kort. I. first introduces the idea of “holpathy” for helping relieve our general cultural blindness to natural systems.

My scientific method for whole systems, developed in the early 80’s, also follows this “seeing the whole helps make sense of the parts” approach (fig 2).  I commonly start with data on continuities of change, like growth curves, that convey a holistic character of the system behaving as a whole to produce it, and of its current changes of state.  It offers a “home base” in one’s reasoning and a way to refer to the same whole system in nature for others to look at, as well as a central location for putting together all the information on a subject associated with it, to unify holistic and analytic information, like a replacement for equations to use with complex natural systems.

1. God's Cookie Jar - contains all the parts in wholes!

Whole systems have character you can intuit but not define, to then use as a mental framework to help fit bits of disconnected information you collect together

V. From: Helene Finidori To: ‘JL HenshawSent: Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Subject: RE: Meeting with High Level Forum for those in NYC last Friday – a little holpathy please?


I think you put your finger on the problem. And from what you wrote and the reading of these recent articles I think the problem is double. First it seems that as soon as someone starts talking of reality or nature and what is observed, or ontology, they place themselves in the realm of rhetoric and epistemology, and that’s where hard core ‘epistemologists’ get a win… Continue reading Your Ontology getting lost in Epistemology??

Thinking a natural world Into Being

A group email on how to connect the mind’s concept language with nature’s process language, earning one “KaShu!” from Alanna.


To get things to connect it really does help to first see how they are disconnected.   People put no particular value on where their money comes from or goes to, for example.  As that is a major pathway for our own accumulative effects on our world, nature cares about that a great deal!   People also quite ignore small % changes over time, even though they naturally result in exceeding large scales, complexities and rates of change, inevitably pushing the limits of stability for whatever physical system is doing it.   People just tend to see no association between accumulative causes and their dramatic effects, though.    I indicates “something funny going on”.

So to get a reliable grasp on how different a conceptual world is from the natural world, you need personal examples of where you notice “something really missing”  to go back to it again and again to reground your own thinking on the disconnect between thought and nature.    What I go to are times and places when I could observe growth producing lasting change, making it obvious it’s not in my head but happening where I’m seeing it happen.   There are any number of different kinds of “pregnancies” where bursts of growth large and small develop in isolation. Continue reading Thinking a natural world Into Being

How mismeasures steer us wrong

10/26/12 in Shining Light on “Dark Energy”, part of my “reality math” series, I describe how standard measures of business impacts vastly under-count them, and how it has equally misled our theory and practices of sustainable design.

We’re not counting the consumption required to deliver business services at all, and that’s commonly much larger than the impacts we can trace directly.   The article is in the Sept 2012 SB “New Metrics of Sustainability” letter (& here as a PDF).  The research for it is the peer reviewed 2011 SEA assessment method published in Sustainability (MDPI).  In discussing it on Systems Thinking World I found good added ways to explain the huge problem it causes us. The graphic below shows the scale of the error, the typical four-fold under-count.

But… Why Does the Changing Information Matter ???

Loraine noted that if the same error of perception is the same for all, it might not matter, for example.  So, the problem that misinformation distorts every decision you make wasn’t getting through.  The question she asked help set up a good explanation.


10/25/12 Loraine – Thanks for inquiring.   I do recognize there is something in my work that is hard to connect with.   Maybe its best exemplified by the weird quotes I get occasionally, like my dad’s, the outstanding physics professor who taught me to be so observant I could recognize behavior not following the laws of physics.   He finally gave up in exasperation saying “Everything you say is true dear, it’s *just not physics*”.   Needless to say, I also had no idea what to say to a response like that!!

Business energy use
The scales of counted and uncounted direct energy demands for operating the model business for the SEA case study.

But that was years ago, and I do see a lot more clearly what keeps people from recognizing how I depart from the common perspective.   I am, after all, talking about systemic errors in perception.  In this case it’s for the world’s standard setting bodies for economic measures.   They’ve been thinking our data was the reality, unaware of how much of business system impacts are hidden from view.   Thinking our information is reality is a problem lots of places. Continue reading How mismeasures steer us wrong

Fresh Thinking for The Tragedy of the Commons

The long Systems Thinking World discussion, started by Helene Finidori, to respond to UN Chairman Ban ki-moon’s Call for revolutionary thinking and action to ensure an economic model for survival… How to make this happen? . produced a great many complex and well reasoned views, 7800 of them! From that extensive collection she has evolved her sense of the group’s thinking in her Systems Thinking and ‘Commons-Sense’ and other interesting products in the works and from others too.

Recently Horst G Ludwig said in effect, it’s all just impossible.  He said it in a way, from really understanding the self-conflicts within most solutions, that prompted this rather clear statement of one of the exceptions we’ve been discussing, that others commented on liking a lot.


Horst – I think you’re missing some of the options, to say “As long as UN seeks to save the monetarian-economic system nothing can be done.”   What I’d agree with you on is that “The problem is that we are living in idiocratic worlds…”.   Living by ideologies not connected to reality is clearly a failure of ideas, but it does not mean that no fresh thinking is possible.

no commons
Over-investing in the commons till it’s barren

At least one alternate way to end the destructive use of money that exploits people and the earth seems to take only fresh thinking.   For example, the tragedy of the commons is that the commons can’t remain bountiful if you over-invest in exploiting it, like using your cattle to multiply the cattle grazing on the village green, in the example Harding gave.

So, for our earth as a commons to remain profitable for investment, something needs to limit the growth of the investments for exploiting it.  It would protect both the value of the investments and the value work, by forestalling an otherwise inevitable tragedy of our ever growing ‘husbandry’ of investments grazing on “the commons” till it’s barren. Continue reading Fresh Thinking for The Tragedy of the Commons

When to give all the profits away, and let the parts find their own fit.

On Behalf Of  The MIX Fix “HACKATHON“, as “When to give all the profits away, and let the pats find their own fit”

It follows nature’s model of systems design to begin the growth of any system with a business model for multiplying one’s control of their environment.   That’s what happens when planting a seed, that grows by multiplying it’s ‘secret’ internal design, consuming its host environment ever faster, at first.   It doesn’t pay in the end, though, for either businesses or any other kind of economic system, to keep following that model, as if endlessly getting nature ever more pregnant could be the soul (or ‘sole’) purpose of self-organization.

When you get environments pregnant you also need to budget for child care, is the point.  That’s the time a growth system stops using its profits for its own self-inflation, and switches to using them instead for discovering its original purposes and nurturing them.   Study any kind of growth system that fulfills its own purposes.  That’s what is done to discover and fulfill their ultimate purposes.

events follow a path of development
Systems build on growing profits and give them away to keep thriving.

I’ve written extensively, from numerous perspectives, on both the systems science and financial implications.  What’s implied is our need to follow nature’s example, and instead of investing in self-inflation to consuming our host ever faster…, giving away our profits to find our true purposes in having begun to grow.

Getting the whole system to reorient its purposes, from growth to funding what matters to us… would indeed involve some “rethinking”.   It might be easier than it seems at first, though, as it seems to be for lots of other kinds of systems in nature that do it casually and simply, without a thought actually.   They often succeed by just giving all their products away to see what others make use of.   That’s what the cells in organisms and the organisms in ecologies largely do.  They don’t give away what is needed for them to operate, though, so there’s some sort of line between what they must give away for the whole to thrive, and must keep for themselves to thrive.

Knowing that it’s probably a physical necessity for our survival makes it easy to discard the options that obviously wouldn’t work, and send you “back to the drawing board” looking for the secret to the ones that would…


“Spooky theory” helps with wicked problems

A way to respond to experience we’re unable to articulate.

There are lots of cases when what attracts us to a theory is its sort of “spooky” truth. “Urban myths” often contain them, and science can often be the source of them, as well as cultural sayings and religion too, of course.   The value is that they give you, a way to respond to experience we’re unable to articulate.

For applying them to real world problems, however, it’s rather important to “do the work” of finding real examples you can study and articulate. What’s NOT needed is “spooky action” for real problems… ;-)  So here are a couple notes on how to find  real examples to help you apply curiously attractive metaphors and “spooky theories” to decision making about the real problems, such as our groping with finding our place on earth.    jlh

“spooky theory” then becomes a metaphor for something real you understand well enough to use as a guide.

Piercing the Veil: Markovich. Painting In Oil On Wood, 2006
    1. Spooky “biomimicry”   Sep 2012
    2. Spooky “Q.M.”               Sep 2012
    3. Spooky “chaos”            Sep 2012
    4. Steering for the organizational Lagrange Point Jul 2012
    5. Now real steering at the tipping points…! Jun 2009


1. for Greenleap 9/23/12 – “Spooky biomimicry” as “what to do”

Richard –  Ultimately “what to do” is a communal process somehow, as we’re in communal trouble.   Lots of people are seeking new directions of learning, but I can tell are often still using the blinders of the past to guide them… and not wanting to hear about it at all.    All you can offer them a more authentic way to search for new learning, hoping they’ll see it as fun.

Natural systems are the complexly organized and behaving “creatures of nature” that by definition operate without our thinking about them, or knowing anything about them, or doing anything, and are largely invisible to us.   That’s by definition “spooky nature”.   It’s also the source of all our mysterious stories about unanswered questions, and all our mysterious experiences.   What we can do with “spooky ideas” that situations suggest to us is then find an example that isn’t spooky, that we can then use as a real guide to how complex systems work and how to interact with them. – ed jlh

Continue reading “Spooky theory” helps with wicked problems

the commons, the milieu, the space of connection

Helene has a nice short inquiry into “Configuring yourself for the transformation” the nature of “the milieu itself”.   We’d been exploring ideas for how to define “the commons” as both a place and a trust, and a new paradigm for organizing people to make the world work as a whole.  I responded with what I feel is a nice concise statement of how self-organizing systems physically work.

8/27/12 Helene then also linked to this in her lovely elaboration of “the commons” approach and the systems thinking needed, as “Commons Sense for a Sustainable World”

Configuring Oneself for Transformation –

Our system of systems is made of parts that we could consider as coexisting in a milieu, an environment that is not just a container with properties greater than the sum of the parts, but that has a substance, a density, a richness. Something exists “in between” the parts, from which the parts get some “nutrients”. Many metaphors can be used, call it a field of possibilities and potentiality, a collection of intangibles that would precipitate serendipity, attraction, connection, exchange, osmosis… the Noosphere… and that would finally lead to a metamorphosis. Continue reading the commons, the milieu, the space of connection

Steering for the organizational Lagrange Point

A discussion comment from a LinkedIn conversation on Systems Thinking World to clarify what “steering” means for complex systems and in response to a question (paraphrased).

So can you describe how “small changes at a location in a system alters the direction of the whole,” discussing the theory, certainly, but also examples because this dense country boy sometimes has trouble wrapping his mind around abstractions.


Yes, it would help to think of “steering point” as referring to a potential for controlling the direction of something, unless also speaking of someone or thing using it to steer something. They might also be like Lagrange Points in space, where due to a balance of forces it’s easier to turn.

For natural systems there’s a particularly large variety of situations where “small change” has “big influence”.  It would include all the temporary positive “feedbacks”.  You might as well just start listing them at the beginning.  There was the “big bang”.  We didn’t directly observe it but from all appearances it was produced by a process that multiplied from small beginnings, and really really blew up.  That original chain of events was very small and had big results!

That ANY event in nature implicitly starts with its own “big bang” of a sort is one of the curious direct implications of the continuity principle.   The proof is that it would violate energy conservation for energy uses to start without developing, requiring an individual burst of energy uses and the development of the processes doing it for every event.

True, you often don’t notice them, but with a little experience you can find them most places, like in a keystroke.  Any keystroke begins with a brief multiplying cascade of focused energy releases to move your finger, “kaboom” is how it would sound if you stretch out the time scale and have a volume control on the energy surge moving your finger.   It’s the attack of the “ka…” sound at the beginning of that word (same use of “attack” as in music), that refers to the explosive growth period if the local self-organizing system that releases the directed energy. Continue reading Steering for the organizational Lagrange Point

“Wasteful Splendor” Astoundingly expensive arts and crafts

We keep leaving unaddressed that political will is just not enough
to overrule the power of money.

It’s in the interests of money to change course, to use profits to offer services to the commons rather than exploit it till it fails.

Even spending on astoundingly expensive arts an crafts, like “building pyramids” to ourselves, may not be an ideal service to the economy and the earth, but is a far better one than investing profits to multiply demands on it.   It would generate earned income, which would then relieve debt.   It would keep profits from being used to extract ever growing unearned income, for ever growing inequity and debt.

Political will won’t have a chance otherwise

Posted to Climate Code Red 7/20/12

Yes, there’s a very solid case to be made to “do something”.  We’ve also been fooling ourselves from the start about political will being able to overtake and control the behavior of money.  Because for the past 40 years even discussing that subject has been avoided…,  now if we don’t face the need for a more comprehensive approach our efforts are clearly doomed to fail.

There’s also a readily visible, but somehow counter-intuitive, strategy that works for lots of businesses large and small, and for self-organizing systems throughout nature.  It’s for “the bosses” to recognize the system needs them to change roles, and become “service provider in chief” rather than “exploiter  in chief” for the system to survive and thrive.   A CEO of a large corporation or the managing partner of most professional corporations,  needs to be the lead service provider to their network of resources, not an authoritarian ruler demanding ever growing profits.

How to apply that same principle to the economy as a whole is for the financial fund owners (retirees, NGO’s, governments & the super rich) to use their profits to heal the earth, managing their funds like endowments.   Some already do, and that just needs to become universal.  That reverses the traditional practice using profits to multiply your exploitation of the earth for more.

Rearming a rag tag gang with guns that shoot straight…

On the Systems Thinking World, Helene and others had been discussing the sustainability strategy now called “circular economy” aka “cradle to cradle”.  That is a name change I was unfamiliar with that threw me off guard at first.   In theory, the economy would be “decoupled” from depleting non-renewable resources if they were 100% recycled.   That vision and intent are great.  It needs to respond to the past great failures of the same purpose, though, how “sustainability” was turned back into “business as usual”(BAU), to become a strategy for maximizing growth.   Continue reading “Wasteful Splendor” Astoundingly expensive arts and crafts