improvement, legibility, ecosystems and change

In my talks about ‘commissioning’, ‘leadership’, ‘transformation’, and ‘systems thinking’, I often show people a picture of a bridge and a river – to start a conversation about how we are dealing with living systems rather than mechanistic ones. And to get people to think about the dangers of creating ‘improvements’ that depend on intentional, ‘rational’ control in a system where complexity and the ecosystemic nature has been destroyed by the demand for legibility. (And, since people come up with their own ideas, it often illustrates a lot more).

This example from David Chapman is a brilliant illustration of what this is actually about – a likely ‘water improvement scheme’, destroying a sustainable, beautiful (I presume) beaver dam has created an unsustainable system – but one shaped

It’s yet another example of how we systemically prefer the illusion of control to the possibility of allowing:

(cf the normalbaum / Seeing Like A State and the risks of legibility):