oCoC: Change the blog

I found this beautiful image, when I put in the keyword chaos.
Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

Hey, Friend,

It’s been a while. Well, it’s complicated. Life is complicated. It is complex. And blogging does not make it any easier.

Have you ever wondered why there are two words – complicated and complex – that seem to be very similar? I have just described life as both complicated and complex. It is clearly complex; multiple actors, components, and factors play a role and interact with one another. In a previous post, I have sketched these as the characteristics of complexity. I am labeling something as complicated, when I perceive the inherent complexity as challenging; and I guess I am not not the only one. So, complexity is independent of the person, the subject, looking at it; it is objective (mainly determined by the object). Complication, on the other hand, is dependent on the perception by the person – do I find something complicated – and is hence subjective (mainly determined by the subject). The two go hand in hand, of course, and influence each other, but that is a topic for another post.

… and blogging does not make it any less complicated, because blogging is complex. How so? If you have observed – the scientific word for having look at or in this case read – my blogging on this site, you have noticed that it has been a nonlinear trajectory.

Let’s sketch a timeline. On October 18, 2019, I wrote the very first blog post on this site. The first post in the series On the complexity of change appeared about three months later. Over the last year or so, only 10 posts appeared.

Look how flat the curve became, what’s going on?

And these posts were surely not distributed evenly over the months and weeks of the last 12 months. So, what gives? The timeseries graph depicts a nonlinear developmental trajectory. But I added one post after the other? Sure, but the lagtime between posts varied immensely. The nonlinear order of topics of the nine posts — Intersection of change and complexity > Cynefin: simple and linear problems > Complex problems > Characteristics of complex adaptive systems > Sensitivity to initial conditions > Disproportionate change > Understanding complexity narratively > Example of a chaotic problem > Time in complex adaptive systems — also shows a nonlinear trajectory. Is this something I should be worried about? I sometimes do; and I sometimes don’t.

Let’s look at this series of blog posts through the lens of complex adaptive systems (CAS) by asking three questions: (1) What were the initial conditions? (since we know that CAS are sensitive to initial conditions) (2) What are the growth conditions? (3) Which variables have induced and are inducing change?

What were the initial conditions?

This blog and the Panta Rhei website started off as a good but pretty vague idea. We had a bunch of ideas that we wanted to try out, thought that we had a couple of meaningful things to share, a decent level of computer literacy and of familiarity with online media, but no clear concept of the goal of the whole enterprise and still a lot to learn about blogging, social media, and online presence. In addition to writing blog posts, I worked on the infrastructure of the site, learned a lot from other bloggers, joined a writing group, read up on small online consultancy businesses, took some WordPress tutorials, brushed up on my knowledge about Facebook and Twitter. So, what might not be obvious from the graph above or the ostensible hodgepodge of topics in the series, is that a lot of learning occured. That’s how educator-theoreticians put it, meaning I learned a thing or two on the process, which in one way or another was the main point of the whole endeavor. Up to this point and probably for a little while longer, the main hope I had and still have is that I learn new things and enjoy the journey. Of course, if you find the posts interesting, entertaining, worthwhile, … this is even better.

The initial conditions — a vague idea combined with openess, a lack of experience in blogging combined with a good aptitude and an eagerness to learn, and an unclear focus combined with the strong intent to sharpen it over time — kept recurring in the iterative process of blogging.

What are the growth conditions?

Most complex adaptive systems are open. This means, if you are lucky, there is a constant influx of energy, which influences the complex process. Events external to this blog change the trajectory of the blog. Their energy can induce growth or curtail such growth. The last 12 months have also been the 12 months of COVID-19. Did this divert some of my energy away from the blog? Surely. But it also stimulated my thinking and gave me examples for the discussion of exponential growth, chaotic problems, and nonlinear delopments. Not all growth conditions are external to the CAS. In our case, it have been mainly the “positive” initial conditions, which have turned out to be growth conditions. When I made progress on improving the infrastructure of the site, defined the focus more clearly by moving a couple of posts to my personal blog and transfering some from there to here, the writing got easier and things picked up again. When I learned how to better integrate the blog with its social media, more people became aware of the posts, which in turn increased my motivation.

Which variables have induced and are inducing change?

At first sight, the answer is simple: pretty much anything and everything. Other processes – many of them also complex – impact the process of blogging on the Complexity of change, whether it is the personal life, work, hobbies and exercise. Internally, very little helps and hinders. In one of my future posts, I will take a closer look at how to handle the myriad of variables in any complex adaptive system. And yes, there are a number of ways.

Until then, why don’t you have a look ’round, read or re-read some earlier posts. Let us know what you think.

oCoC: It’s time — now

Hey, Friend,

Time, doesn’t it fly … I have not been wasting any time. I had no time. There simply never was a time when I could sit down and write. Perhaps, it wasn’t the right time. A time to gather stones? A time to cast them them out?

Time!
Chris, I am always reading your comments immediately. In a timely manner, so to speak. And then I think, I should pick up on this, I should pick up on that. And then time goes by … In both my brief exploration of the word herd immunity and your comment to that post, we talked about our schedules. Yes, schedule, time management, the passing of time, the future, … have been on my mind for some time.

Time: Just now, I have learned that the word schedule is related to the German noun Zettel and the Spanish cédula, simply meaning a sheet of paper, a note sheet. How do I know, you ask. Well, I looked it up at https://www.etymonline.com/word/schedule. I learned that schedule only came to mean a sheet with a timetable in the nineteenth century. Does this mean only with the beginning industrialization schedules became more important? Are they important to you? How important is it to be on time? Is it important to you to do something in time?

Time? What is that anyway—time? Is it ambiguous?
We measure. Each hour has 60 minutes. Exactly. Each day—only 24 hours.
We plan: I will work on this blog post today. We will finish the project next week. School begins next month.
We experience: This took forever. That went by so quickly.
We remember: Has it really been five months that we have not been “at work”? That we sat in our offices, with door knocks and phone rings punctuating the day? That a mostly electronic leash propelled us from one place to the next, spending – too much? – time with different people? Waiting for a meeting to end, so that we could go somewhere and do something else?
We dream: What will happen in November? How will it be next year? When will the time come?

Time is all these. It crawls. It stands still. It passes. Time is nonlinear. What does that that even mean? I am not sure we know, even after millennia have gone by. We do know what time is not.

Time is not homogeneous. In good times and in bad. Everything changes all the time.

Time does not live in a clock nor in a calendar. Like light does not live in the kitchen fridge. The time comes and the time has gone.

Time is not periodical. There is no sinus curve, no going in circles. Not even around the clock.

Time does not have a schedule. It does not have an agenda. Time does not have to be anywhere. So, time can never be on time.

Time changes and is the same all the time.

Chris, I am sure you remember my writing on the Complexity of Change. Timely to pick it up, I thought. Don’t complex systems change over time? We often feel the times are changing. It looks like it, when watch the hands of a clock, hear the bells ringing, or turn a calendar leaf. But, hey!? The clock, the bell tones, and the calendar are changing. The time is not. The time is always now. It was now yesterday. It will be now tomorrow. What changes between yesterday and tomorrow, I believe, we can influence a little — now.

That’s all we do with a schedule: we write a little note on a, perhaps virtual, sheet for when the time comes to know a little better what to do — now. Time management sounds like one is managing time. You know, I have tried … and failed … miserably. So, I think I better do something – in my time, with my time. Now.

Time is up.

oCoC: What is happening with COVID-19?

On the complexity of change

A colleague cancelled her trip to Italy. She knows the country well and is not afraid of going there. She is afraid of being quarantined, when coming back home to the US. The conference of the American Association for Applied Linguistics with 1,400 registrants in Denver, CO, at the end of March has been cancelled “in light of developments over the last few days” (AAAL, March 9, 2020). Schools are closed in some parts of the world; universities in the US are preparing to take all their courses online until the end of the semester.

Is there a way to make sense of this change, these changes, the angst? I believe there is.

If you have read previous posts or our Team page, then you know that I am neither a medical professional nor a specialist in public health. I watch the international news, care about my own health and that of others, also in other parts of the world, like traveling and (international) get-togethers. And generally, I prefer when I can follow through on a planned course of action. I had planned to buy tickets for the two trips my wife and I want to take in the summer months last week. I didn’t.

How can we make some sense of this complex phenomenon? From what I have read thus far, COVID-19 has not yet been traced back to its initial conditions yet. Why would this be good to know? Generally speaking, because these variables – however minute – are there from the beginning and are often influential at all iterations through which the complex process goes. Unfortunately, misunderstanding initial conditions can lead some people to make decisions that at least appear to be unnecessary. I read recently that the sales of Corona beer are down because of the “namesake” Corona virus; apparently fewer people feel like going to a Chinese restaurant in the US because of the belief that the virus was spread from China.

Not only because I had intended to write about nonlinearity – as an important characteristic of a complex adaptive system – in this post, I will say that understanding the complex global spread of a nasty virus as a nonlinear process is of utmost importance.

Quickly in a nutshell, what does that mean for each one of us?

  • Small changes are likely to have a disproportionately large effect. Washing my hands, avoiding to touch my face, and in general being very careful with hygiene, can and will have the effect that I am better protected from catching the virus and that, if more and more people follow such guidelines (and other measures are taken in concert), the spread of COVID-19 can be contained.
  • Consider the context, learn about the many components, facets, and variables of this complex phenomenon. How is the virus spreading and impacting people in different places of this world? What can its many nonlinear trajectories tell us about its nature? From the little I understand COVID-19 is a relative of the SARS and the MERS viruses. In 2003, I lived in a city close to Toronto, and Toronto was one of the metropolitan centers affected by SARS at the time. SARS had a lower spread worldwide than COVID-19 has already had until now. On the other hand, it had a higher fatality rate (of almost 10%). It passed in about six months. Even with my very limited expertise in things medical this gives me a more rational perspective. It gives me hope and it gives me compassion for other people, people with different fears, people quarantined on a large cruise ship, people with responsibility for large gatherings such as a university or an international conference.
  • Accept the complexity. This acceptance mainly leads me to NOT do something. I do not expect a linear change. Just because we do A – whatever A is – just because the government implements measure A – whatever A is – just because the WHO issues guideline A – whatever A is – I do not expect a direct – linear – outcome B. No single step, measure, cancellation, … will change the course of COVID-19 singlehandedly. All the measures by many different people, bodies, and institutions, our preparedness of making considered – often small – changes, and our mindfulness that continued observation and analysis of the system – of the development of COVID-19 worldwide – are and will be necessary.

Change has the best chance of being sustainable, if it is considered and iterative.

I realize that I quickly glossed over the intricacies of nonlinearity. Well, this gives me a chance to write another post on the topic in the near future and do a better job.

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