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The Art of Organizational Coaching: In Search of Patterns and Variations

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This is the good news with regard to pattern maintenance. The bad news is that complex self-organizing systems tend to be quite “tippy.” A minor shift in one component of the system will flip all or a specific sector of the system into a new phase or pattern. This is what Taleb is writing about in The Black Swan: specific elements of a complex system, such as the US Stock Market or the Internet, can readily flip and rapidly produce remarkable variations. For instance, a specific book can suddenly go “viral” in terms of its visibility and sales with a few words and recommendations placed in the right place and at the right time on the Internet. Ironically, The Black Swan itself went viral for Taleb as a result of a few exposures and then extensive word-of-mouth endorsements via the Internet, leading to television and cable appearances by Taleb.

As I noted above, these viral events follow what the complexity analysts call the “power law” –meaning that increases and decreases in size, sales, attention, etc. tend to be exponential rather than linear or curvilinear. A small shift can lead to a big change in one part of a system, thus producing stunning variations in the basic pattern of the system—and stunning changes in organizational subsystems. These power law dynamics, however, usually do not change the basic pattern in the organization.  The Stock Market has not changed its basic mode of operation and the Internet still operates in the same dynamic manner (and is still not easily regulated by anyone). The variations do not change the basic pattern – but they are clearly evident and do not easily go away. These variations themselves tend to build their own internal maintenance, though they are usually much less stable than the basic patterns of the organization.

Taleb’s Black Swan was a best-seller and remained on the list of high-profile books for many months—but it has been replaced by other viral best-selling books on business and the Internet.  Nevertheless, the influence of this book (and other books that have gone viral on the Internet) remains in place. Like other variations, Taleb’s Black Swan is now in the vocabulary of business and organizational consultants and coaches. The themes of Black Swan echo through the writings and engagements of succeeding practitioners (including myself).  These echoes represent the maintenance of specific variations in one type of system (business consulting and coaching). Thus, maintenance is to be found in not only the patterns of the organization, but also in its many variations.

Investigation of Patterns and Variations: Energy

I come finally in the investigation of patterns and variations with our coaching and consulting clients to the source of energy. Patterns and variations are not just maintained. They do not just consume energy. They are the source of energy. When patterns are broken up and when variations are created there is often an initial loss of energy in the client or organization (part of the change curve dynamic). When variations are firmly established there is often a new burst of energy (at least among those participating in the variation). To understand the way in which patterns and variations produce and consume energy we have to examine (all too briefly) three factors.

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