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Posts Tagged ‘David Lane’

“Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change” second chapter written by Dwight Read, David Lane and Sander van der Leeuw charts the history of human tool making as a fundamental innovation.  Noting the span of some 200,000 years, the authors expediently detail the challenge of human beings had to conceptually manage their material world.  Many of us know of paleolithic tool making but the chapter provides an appreciation for its “grinding” emergence.  The ability to create the tools and “… the ‘invention explosion’ of the Neolithic is related to their conceptual abilities to conceive of space in four nested dimensions across a wide range of spatial scales (from the individual fiber or grain to the landscape), to separate a surface from the volume it encloses, to use different topologies, to distinguish and relate time and space, to distinguish between different cause and effect, and to plan, etc.” (97)  In essence human beings gained a bootstrapping process that allowed them to gain an edge over other species.

Bootstrapping is defined in five steps

  1. a trial and error process that summarizes observations and experiences in an efficient manner.
  2. as more dimensions are available there is the ability to ask more questions
  3. a capacity of abstraction  allows for greater connections between different circumstances and domains of knowledge
  4. individuals who are exercised in this way have an increased “problem space” when compared to others and the increase “problem space” and the curiosity within it gives these individuals an advantage over other individuals and non-humans.
  5. “….each solution brings its own unexpected challenge, requires more problem-solving, and a more costly conceptual and material infrastructure in which to survive” (98)

The authors then follow the evolution from toolmaking to the more sociological development of urban environments and towns.   It is here that they distinguish themselves from the establishment on what drives the urban development.  Typically urban development is understood as dependent upon “a food surplus so that those ‘in power’ would not have to provide for their own subsistence and could harness some of the population at least part of the time to invest in collective works” (100)   To the contrary, the authors argue that urban societies coagulate because of “the problem-solving control loop” that conserves energy.  Such a control loop is described in the bootstrapping steps above.    (In order to substantiate this, they note that matter and energy are subject to the law of conservation but the flow of information is not subject to this and therefore is a more likely driver of urban development.  Energy and matter are more likely constraints for sociological organization).  While it too 200,000 years to master matter….human beings conceptual work related to information only took 8,000 years to conserve energy.

At this point, I would like to recognize the church as a facet of urban development.  And rest upon the work of the authors that asserts matter and energy as constraints but the flow of information as a driver in our development.  Very often in the church, we are trying to reproduce our population through an accumulation of members who are enculturated by tradition, denomination, context.   Our best intentions are masked by our own collusion with the Darwinian model wherein we equate reproduction and imitation of behavior as adequate enculturation and then we hope for vitality.

If we trust what our author’s excruciating work regarding matter, energy and bootstrapping, what we must conclude is that organized life does not derive vitality from imitation and reproduction, we derive vitality from the emergence of problems and the conceptual exercise to approach those problems with both life experience and openness to novelty.  If congregations are looking for vitality programs and ministry would not be efforts to repeat and reproduce (how guilty I am of this!).  Rather we might be looking for our most tenacious problems of politics, sociology, psychology and be a junction box for the flow of information (members and nonmembers alike), conserving energy while contributing to innovation.  Although it would not be enough, I might just be a  bootstrap that Jesus could endorse.

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Church does not often like to compare itself to other societal organizations.  We declare theologically that we are the Body of Christ drawn together by Christ‘s call upon our life and the striving of our shared ministry.    While the Body of Christ is a  this is surely what we hope to be, I contend that we must also acknowledge that we are an organized group of people by virtue of culture, denomination (or lack of it) and our context.  For this reason, the rigor of Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change is worth the church’s time and review.

A challenging work, the book provides a look at organizational life from some of the keenest scientific minds.  These authors are actively bridging the gap between biology and sociology.  The importance of this bridge is that historically, sociology has rested upon the research and assumptions of Darwin’s biological research.   Lauding Darwin they note that his work allowed  scientists to “parallel evolutionary research:  laboratory scientists explored the genetic basis of variation mechanisms, while field researchers investigated the past history and present operational changes through selection.” (18)     Most exciting to me is that authors of Complexity Perspectives are also critiquing Darwin’s work which has now become orthodoxy for so many.

Their critique is a splicing of variation at the molecular level from selection at the sociological level.  They splice variation and selection as they detail the rise of dog breeding.  Breeding on the one hand is a manipulation of the genetic of dogs.  On the other hand, there is a culture and a context that rises up in the “dog fancying” culture that has nothing to do with genetics but everything to do with interpretation and information sharing.   That is, dog breeders began to make decisions about what was preferred among genetic variations.   “They were less interested in producing dogs well-adapted to hunting than in satisfying the growing demand for household pets, and so they selected for features that appealed to the non-sporting dog-loving public: “cute”, human-like facial features and a glamorous full coat.”

Leaving many important details out of their first chapter, suffice it to say that I believe that Complexity Perspectives.  Has great relevance for the church will may also rest upon assumptions of organizational development theory that in turn rest on Darwinian orthodoxy that has collapsed the biological and sociological.  The most powerful example may be found in copious Google images charting a congregation’s (or another organization’s) “life cycle” beginning with birth moving through a prime toward an ultimate death.    Such biological assessment of the church has contributed to a bias toward new church development or revitalization as resuscitation.    Both these models are becoming increasingly difficult for the church.  New Church development is difficult because of economy and increasing religious competition.  Revitalization is difficult because it is understood as  reversal of the life cycle process.

Complexity Perspectives offers another way to view organizational vitality when they draw you and I into the dog breeding metaphor. The vitality of organized life is not just at the molecular, genetic, biological level.  There is something unique about the sociological life that is under-addressed by Darwin and by the church.  That is a flow of information and communication that allows organized groups to invent tools, understanding and ascribe meaning to those inventions .  These inventions can then present new challenges that then require new tools, understanding and most importantly a new ascription of meaning.

It seems to me that the church of a living God  is evolving but those of us that manage the church are using outdated tools, understandings and meaning to try to manage the evolution.   We are not actively participating in the sociological selection process of adapting tools, understanding and meaning.  (Even secular organizations do this better than us)  What is worse, we refuse to be as nimble as Jesus was in the realm of investigating sociological context.    Issues of membership, tradition and finances are just some of the subjects that I hope to approach with the help of editors, David Lane, Sander van der Leeuw, Denise Pumain and Geoffrey West.

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 Almost 3 years after it is published, in the new year,  I will begin a review of a book Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change, editors David Lane, Sander van der Leeuw, Denise Pumain, Geoffrey West.  I first learned of this book by listening to a master’s class interview with Geoffrey West on the website www.edge.org devoted to multidisciplinary conversation among innovative scholars and scientists.

The book argues that innovation (the way that invention spreads through a population) is the driver behind urbanization.  My goal is to make this book applicable to the church which has, since the time of Jesus, been dealing with social change.

Today,  the church, it seems, can easily become a reactionary institution.  This is quite ironic given the progressive pictures of Jesus in our new testament scriptures and the progressive images of God in the Hebrew scriptures.   Fundamentally the church confesses a faith in a  living God with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Once organized we understand ourselves to be part of  a larger vitality.  Individual members become part of the Body of Christ.

In this critique I will be assuming that the church has a great deal to do with the urban environment that the editors have collected in this book.  Further, I will be assuming that the vitality of a localized congregation is found in its ability to innovate in response to its environment and its tradition.   I am sure I am not alone in this second assumption.  However, the challenge for the local congregation is the how-to of innovation and what are the necessary elements for innovation to flow through a congregation.

I hope to discover important questions and learn as I blog about this book.

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