Me and Anthony White this week. Anthony is a professional soccer player who plays for Vancouver FC and is a former player for the team I co-own, TSS Rovers. He helped us win a championship last season. On Wednesday, he came to watch his brother play against us, and we had a long conversation about his career starting to take off. We didn’t pay attention to much else for about ten minutes!
Mark McKergow is a friend and colleague in the field of both complexity and hosting (and whisky and jazz!). What I like about Mark’s work is the way he writes about Host Leadership without being enmeshed in the Art of the Hosting world. He has also written a book on hosting generative dialogic containers from the dialogic OD world, which I like a lot. His writing is rooted in theory and research and he shares his ideas in practical ways.
Today he has made available a new paper called “Lead as a Connecter, not a Constrainer,” and it triggered for me an important clarification in how I write about and talk about constraints.
In the paper, Mark advocates for choosing connection over constraining because connection generates possibilities and participation. He alludes to constraining behaviours as those that make it all about oneself and not a mutual, exchanging relationship.
It is common to think about “constraints” as a negative limitation on freedom and relationship. No one likes being constrained. This becomes tricky when teaching about complexity and constraints because in a complex system, emergence and self-organizations proceed from constraints, which include connection.
Constraints in complexity work hand in hand with affordances, like yang and yin. When one makes a connection of any kind, one immediately limits the possible states that the system can take going forward. Connection is already a constraint and it enables an affordance, that, if stabilized, I would name as a container.
If I meet you at a conference, we might greet each other and I might ask you how you are and what you are working on. in that moment, the way I connect with you and what we exchange will create certain probabilities. For example, it is more likely in that moment we will talk about you rather than me. If the conversation goes deep off the start, because I have followed Mark’s advice and asked about YOU and showed and interest in you, it is probably less likely that we will allow ourselves to be interrupted by someone we don’t know. Starting with a mutual interest in each other creates an affordance towards depth in the relationship, and for the time we are together, we might even form a powerful and stable little container. We may find ourselves locked in a deep conversation, unaware of time passing, or other factors outside our immediate awareness. Our focus narrows. We might form a tighter boundary around our little two-person system, and that will enable our friendship to deepen, but it will also prevent us from connecting easily with others. In this sense, the container that we create becomes an emergent phenomenon that arises out of the way we constrain the situation through a simple connection.
Alicia Juarrerro has just published her long-awaited latest book on constraints, and I’m starting to dive in. A lot of what I am writing about in the relationship between constraints, affordances and containers comes from her work and its influence on Snowden’s work. She has been writing about these ideas for a long time and I’m relishing the clarity and ease with which she outlines the key philosophical foundations of anthro-complexity.
And I appreciate Mark’s work too! Don’t be afraid of working with constraints. Without them, we live in a world of unhelpful chaos. All life and life-giving context proceeds from constraints.