Systems Unravel

Human beings built many (if not all) of the systems we are surrounded by every day.

Flawed, replaceable, myopic, visionary, human beings.

Language systems.

Monetary systems.

Housing systems.

Legal systems.

Travel systems.

Resource allocation systems.

Organizational systems.

Cultural systems.

Religious systems.

There’s nothing inherent in our DNA that drives us to organize into groups, create systems, and slowly, over time, glacially chip away at an issue or concern until; it is rendered irrelevant or impotent.

And since there’s nothing inherent in our DNA about any of the design or architecting of any of these systems, it should be easy for us to replace them with something else.

After all, human beings made the systems, human beings should be able to unmake them.

But individuals often get into internal conflicts with ourselves when there is friction between the systems we serve in (and have built on) and our inner desires, drives, and motivations.

And when enough individuals experience enough internal friction, all that is required to spark the change that we need to replace these seemingly irreplaceable systems, is someone bravely asserting that:

“Human beings made these systems. Human beings can unmake them.”

Belief and hope battle with the need for security and the fear of the unknown in the dark heart of man. When our systems are viewed as sacrosanct, we are unable to ask the hard questions of them, and we are unable to instigate the hard conflicts that are necessary to make the changes that need to happen.

Systems only seem Teutonic until they are unmade by the very same human hands that built them in the first place.

The Magic Bullet Store is Out of Business

Very often, during a conversation, an email exchange, or following a workshop, the question of “Now what?” comes to the forefront.

Usually in talking about motivation, morale, or in creating the conditions that will make our workplaces better, a participant in the conversation will desire advice on how to get people to care more.

The response is that the magic bullet store is out of business.

And it has been for a while.

The real issue is that the current systems we have for education of our children (school), getting money to adults in an exchange for labor (work), and in taking care of both the Earth (capitalism) and the people on it (healthcare), grew up over the last 100, 200 or 500 years.

And no amount of hand-wringing (“It’s just terrible that this is happening?”), or desiring it to be better (“Can’t we all just ‘get along’?”) is going to change those systems in real, meaningful ways in the world we are currently living in.

The systems as designed are the problem.

Who organized the systems and what they believed is a problem.

The outcomes that benefit a few people philosophically, emotionally, and even spiritually is the problem.

The response to this is not to get mad, give up, or just ignore the problems in the systems and hope that they go away.

Or that someone else will come along and save us from ourselves and put everything “right.”

The response is to act to put your own hands to the levers of the systems in the sphere of influence that you can control (family, work, community, finances, social life, etc.), and begin to intentionally, purposefully, and deliberately push the levers of change.

And to do so with winsomeness, kindness, and grace.

But to do it tenaciously.

Persuasion, conflict management, active listening, responding to advance the conversation rather than to advance yourself, engaging without judgment to pull allies to your side—these are all skills that can be learned, taught, and passed on hand-to-heart, generation-to-generation.

Until we are thriving in the systems that we want to have, individually and corporately.

If the prospect of doing even 1% of that is too daunting for you as an individual inside of your sphere of influence, then you should be asking not “Now what?” but “What is it that I really want to accomplish in this limited life I have now?”

Fortunately for all of us, we were born at the beginning of a revolution in human affairs, human systems, and human motivations.

And all revolutions are scary and destructive before they are enlightening and hopeful.

Look for work first, and the hope will come.

[Advice] We Built This City

There are systems in place inside of corporations, nonprofits and even families to manage everything, from the finances to the logistics of getting groceries.


Human beings create systems, in response to growing external complexity, which creates conflicts, friction and disputes. Think of Dunbar’s number, or the number of people you actually interact with on Facebook.

As the Internet has exploded all around us, the demand for a digital solution to almost every problem has increased, accompanied by the promise of decreased complexity, chaos, friction and disputes.

But this promise is a misnomer at best and a lie at worst, because the solutions to most conflicts lies in gaining greater awareness of self, moving past the need to rely on a system to solve complexity, and moving toward doing the hard work of discovering something about other people inside of ourselves.

There’s no digital solution for human problems, and with complexity of systems increasing, and with human beings outsourcing more and more of that complexity to algorithms in exchange for the ease of leisure, we have no choice but to start down the road of learning about ourselves.

Or else, the interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts between and within people will only grow more pronounced as man’s search for meaning and mattering becomes more and more acute, inside of the systems we’ve built.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

[Podcast] If We Close Our Eyes… – The Earbud_U Minute

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:

Seeing Red


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:

[ICYMI] Acting “As If”

When we first started in the working world—and by extension in the adult world—one of the salient pieces of advice we were repeatedly given by other working people was, “fake it until you make it.”

Now, in most contexts of the workplace, where things happen—projects, ideas, tasks, etc.—underneath the force of organizational inertia, this is perhaps wise advice.

But in the conflict entrepreneurship game, “Fake it until you make it” is terrible advice. So too is the advice to “act as if.”

If the conflict engagement consultant fakes knowing the answer, fakes being empathetic, or under delivers the goods as promised, the client will know immediately.

By the way, bait and switch doesn’t work either, because showing up as one thing, when you’ve advertised another, is a sure way to guarantee never being called again.

Here’s some better advice for the conflict engagement consultant: Being confident in yourself, your approach and your process, comes when you embrace the fear of not being confident. Embrace cannot become paralysis, and self-fulfilling prophecies are like a dose of nerve gas against the conflict consultant.

Walk through the fear, is much better advice.

It’s the only way for the conflict consultant, and her client, to walk out whole on the other side.

Originally published on  January 29, 2015.

Download the FREE E-Book, The Savvy Peace Builder by heading to today!

[ICYMI] Does All This Stuff Really Work?


But it requires you to engage and be active, rather than passive.

How many people do you know that are passive participants in their own lives?

How many of them are in conflict with others?

Stuff doesn’t just “happen”(no matter what the bumper sticker may tell you) and active participation in choosing to be empathetic, to be a listener or to be positive is tough.

  • The family won’t save a person in conflict.
  • The workplace won’t save a person in conflict.
  • The school won’t save a person in conflict.
  • The church won’t save a person in conflict.
  • The society won’t save a person in conflict.

The only person who can save a person in conflict is themselves.

Originally published on November 24, 2014.

Download the FREE E-Book, The Savvy Peace Builder by heading to today!


[Strategy] Integrative Change

The systems undergirding our lives, our families, our communities and our organizations, governments and businesses are based on distributive mindsets, philosophies, behaviors and approaches to conflict.

Integrative Change Quote

Distribution grows from the foundation of perceived scarcity of resources, competition, a “winner-take-all” mentality, and limited outcomes around things that matter.

But sometimes, even inside of these systems, and working inside distributive rules, individuals attempt to remake the world to reflect a different reality and to attain different outcomes.

Individuals attempt to be collaborative and build relationships based on integrative bargaining strategies, collaborative teambuilding and a philosophy that the ends and the means must match.

On rare occasions, individuals scale up those relationships into organizations.  Then, the distributive systems embedded in economics, social policy and the law, co-opt their best practices, their language and their approach to develop a “brand image” while losing and abrogating the heart of those individual interactions.

The push and pull that underlies the growth of the Internet—and its future spread to other areas—is that between a distributive world view and economic system, now being forced to operate within a highly integrative system that wasn’t really built for them.

The great benefit of integrative negotiation tactics and strategies is that they serve to build the foundation to be distributive in the future, rather than having to consider proving the benefits of distributive negotiation tactics and strategies by the next quarterly stock report.

Organizations built on an integrative framework inherently will have no trouble operating distributively when its time. And they will reap the benefits long-term for a long time. We’re looking at you, Facebook.

Organizations built on distributive frameworks will perish, or have immense trouble determining when best to operate integratively when it’s most appropriate. We’re looking at you, IBM.

Individuals, however, will continue to interact both distributively and integratively no matter what the system tells them.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

[Advice] 3 Steps for Reframing Organizations

Many organizations still prefer to litigate—or lobby for legal changes—to protect their standing in the open market.


This includes not just external protections, such as market access, intellectual property protection and copyrights on branding efforts, but also, internal protections around hiring, recruiting, onboarding, and resolving internal employee disputes.

Organizations and businesses still handle conflict as a product rather than as a process. This comes with the perspective of conflict resolution—however they are resolved—as “the way we do things around here.” This leads to thinking of conflict resolution as just another method of gaining a favorable organizational outcome.

However, by focusing on the design of the architecture of their internal conflict resolution systems, organizations can evolve beyond merely protecting their place in the market and move toward innovating with people.

Here are three steps to accomplishing this:

  • Creating new design architecture requires unbundling every step in the hiring to firing funnel and reexamining all of the assumptions that are baked into your organization, particularly those around the idea of “who gets to work here.”
  • Developing new design architecture requires dissecting the culture of an organization and determining what the real purposes of the organization are, not just the purposes displayed on the masthead, or for stakeholders.
  • Embedding a new design architecture for resolving conflicts requires a transforming of organizational thinking around conflict—shifting from thinking of conflict as an unfortunate by product of another process to be resolved as quickly as possible and in the organization’s favor, to thinking of conflicts as a process to be engaged with as a a natural part of evolution, growth and innovation.

Unbundling, dissecting and transforming will take any organization toward building a conflict resolution system as a service working for employees and other stakeholders, rather than a service working against employees and other stakeholders.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

Conflict Engagement Systems Design: Will You Choose?

Organizations, just like individuals, have a particular conflict style and support a particular conflict response culture.


Since culture eats strategy for breakfast (thanks Peter Drucker), conflict is an inherent part of the cultural process of continual misalignment at many organizations.

Don’t believe me? Well, organizational misalignment between cultures and products can cause problems for people in organizations who are trying to innovate. It also causes problems for customers who experience a confusing product and poor customer service.

With all of that, one of the easiest ways to break a culture and let it grow is to reach inside the culture to the people who are part of the culture, to develop something new. But, this approach is fraught with difficulty and mixed motives, which are why most change management—and conflict development processes—tend to fail.

One easy way to overcome resistance to change and organizational misalignment is to develop a visual model, because people in organizations are more attuned with what they can visually interpret.

However, getting a person who can facilitate, storyboard, capture the visuals, and circulate the story among the gatekeepers and decision makers who often aren’t in the room, requires bringing in an outside presence; which, can be fraught with difficulty, because if the person—or organization—that you choose doesn’t work out, well, then all that investment gets no return.

Of course, you can always accept the alternative in your organization, where continual misalignments create disputes and the conflict process never gets straightened out or successfully engaged with.

[Thanks to the folks at for moving my thinking on this.]

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

Conflict Engagement Systems Design: Real Innovation for Your Organization

Innovation is the “hot” word among all the business thought leaders as we kick off 2015…

Authenticity is the new Credibility

There’s “dark-side” innovation, “game changing” innovation and even “shark jumping” innovation, as a recent search of LinkedIn thought influencer posts recently revealed.

But there’s very little talk about organizational innovation focused on the greatest—and most taken for granted resource—that and organization has: its people.

Now, as companies are emerging from the trance of Frederick Wilson Taylor, they are still continuing to treat employees and others as disposable widgets.  The current pressure on Marissa Mayer and Yahoo is just a recent high profile example of this.

But, organizations are more than short term ROI and their daily stock ticker price.

Something has to give, if innovation is the key to moving forward in a business environment that is increasingly unstable and unpredictable.

It’s time to hack at the organizational culture that underlies preconceived notions of productivity, innovation and even people.

Conflicts are part of the innovation process and disputes are the result of that process.

Conflict also brings change and can serve as a driver for innovation in even the most entrenched organizational culture.

It’s time to hack a new system. It’s time for conflict engagement systems design for the 21st century.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: