How Americans view the events of September 11th, how a turkey views the events of Thanksgiving Day, and how an HR manager views a workplace harassment claim all have three things in common:
The events themselves are considered unpredictable,
The events themselves are considered out of the “normal” social boundaries,
The events themselves are typically responded to with a mixture of shock, surprise and dismay.
The people (or animals) impacted negatively by each of these events, if given a choice, would rather go back in time and avoid the individual circumstances that lead to the event occurring. Unfortunately, the events appear in hindsight to be both inevitable and linear. Ironically, on the day before the penultimate event occured (in a film, it would be called the climax) the persepctive of the impacted parties was that “everything seemed alright.”
Then, the conflict starts.
The line from difficulty to confrontation to conflict is intersected by an line from fragility to robustness to antifragility. And human beings have arranged systems and set up paradigms that allow us to believe that conflict is an aberration, peace is an inevitability and that nothing really changes at all.
Conflicts within, and shocks to, systems (from family all the way up the scale to nation-states) happen when somebody else has a different idea of how things should work—and acts on it. Keep in mind that for the turkey on Thanksgiving, what happens to it before the moment of the decapitation and defeathering, is just another day in turkey paradise.
Three suggestions for building a system (either at work, in school or in the family) that can withstand the inevitable shocks of predictable people insisting on behaving unpredictably:
- Tell yourself a more compelling, less predictable story—Many internal stories that we tell ourselves about the circumstances we are in, tend to focus too much on the benefit to us (“WIIFM” thinking) and focus less on the potential for circumstances to change. But the most compelling stories aren’t about us at all, but about change—and how we might respond to it.
- Eliminate hindsight bias in order to engage in more critical analysis of why a system failed—This is a fancy way of admitting that you were wrong and all of the events that led up to an unpredictable, “Black Swan” type event were indeed just that: unpredictable in themselves. Eliminating hindsight bias enables us to forget the past, focus on the future, and guide others towards potential outcomes that they might not like.
- Have the courage to acknowledge that the systems we’ve built are not that robust—This last one is the toughest, because it can involve guilt, recrimination and can be a blame focused realization. However, when an unanticipated conflict occurs, the first responses that many human created systems have, is to collapse immediately. However, in nature, building in safeguards and engaging in active, guilt free “what if” adaptations, allows systems to flourish. So, start with the system that matters most (for many people that will be family) and take a hard look at the system and ask the question: “Could our family survive a job loss, a major hospitalization, or another “that only happens to other people and won’t ever happen to us” type event in the future?”
Antifragility is the end goal in all of our systems, from corporations to families. Preparing to survive conflicts and shocks to the system is the only way forward to adapt to inevitabilities we cannot predict. It’s certainly a better option than closing our eyes and pretending that nothing can change at all.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org