Our immediate quest -- dealing with change
We have no right to isolated acts of any kind: we
may not make isolated errors or hit upon isolated truths. Rather,
do our ideas, our values, our yeas and nays, our ifs and buts,
grow out of us with the necessity with which a tree bears fruit
-- related and each with an affinity to each, and evidence of
one will, one health, one sail, one sun. Nietzsche
As human beings prepare for the 21st century, we have to ask ourselves
a fundamental question: Can we effectively adapt to change enough
to survive in the future? If we have intellectual and moral integrity,
we have to answer the question with some equivocation and varying
degrees of skepticism. It's quite clear that some of today's problems
are growing so much that they seem intractable. Our consciousness
recognizes problems in our government, our ecology, our livelihoods,
our legal system, our social system, and our morality, to name
but a few. Our problems threaten our ability to adapt to the future.
As a society and as individuals, we're faced by overwhelming complexity.
The complexity is atypical from anything the human race has faced
throughout the annals of history. Growing complexity has several
adverse effects. It causes confusion. Complexity thwarts understanding
of relationships and depth of thinking we need for increasing
our understanding of what change means. Also, complexity retards
our ability to adapt to fast-changing situations. The complexity
facing us has two potential outcomes earning primacy among many.
(1) We can adapt, use the complexity to our advantage, and shape
the future. Or, (2) we can let change drag us along into the future
allowing complexity to create great alienation among our people
and causing our society to implode, destroying itself in the process.
How people face the gathering storm clouds of complexity is quite
interesting. Some people withdraw and fail to cope. Others valiantly
claim that the age we live in is really no different than the
ages that have evolved. Others ardently believe the complexity
to be a myth -- these people ingest the habit-forming opiate of
the status quo and its attendant seductive powers of stasis. Still
others suffer collective angst -- a mournful wailing, largely
silent but loudly outrageous to our collective subconscious, but
whose power manifests itself clearly as the violent, valueless,
intellectually vapid, narcissistic trends toward which our society
I believe we must change the way we think and plan -- our success
in this effort will influence our survival as a culture. Change
in this context involves two concepts -- coping and shaping. Coping
is passive, something one does without a lot of intellectual energy.
Shaping, however, is an active process, a process that
requires expending intellectual energy. I must preface my discussion
at this point with the disclaimer that nothing is drastically
wrong with the way we've traditionally thought and planned. But
we must be honest with ourselves and realize that what was good
enough in the past simply won't work in the future -- particularly
in a future in which the information revolution, technological
advancements, and rapid, complex change are sure to dominate.
How can I be so bold as to make such an assertion? By ways of
evidence, signs of needed change appear, if we look, in all walks
of life. We are confused and frightened about the assault on our
senses brought about by the advent of mass media, violence, global
connectivity, social issues, ecological disasters, war, famine,
pestilence, and death. We are confused about the search for truth.
Not only does truth change, but in some circumstances, there
is no truth.
Let me provide some facts to buttress my premise. We face, for
example, the societal hypocrisy of living in a land of milk and
honey but in a land where one can't stroll through the streets
of our cities without stumbling over begging, destitute waifs
and adults. We live in a land where our populace has enormous
and important freedoms, yet our prisons overflow. We live in a
land of tremendous affluence, but 15% of our people live below
the poverty level. We also live in a land with a growing underclass
in our large cities, and underclass whose ethos is despair, whose
daily way of life is violence, and whose salvation lies in endless
cycles of substance abuse. We live in a land where many of our
citizens reside in a wall-less ghetto whose inhabitants are just
as surely trapped and doomed as Jews of the Warsaw ghetto in the
1940s. It takes neither wisdom nor acute powers of observation
to conclude that our society is in trouble.
We live in a land with increasing numbers of people, many of whom
are very bright and successful, have few thoughts and fewer scruples.
They are the soulless whose existence mars every age but who are
particularly dangerous in the age of the information revolution.
These people have no goal other that the emptiness of trying to
get rich. They are smart enough to make a difference, but who
have bound themselves to greed and selfishness.
We live in a society that faces an awesome revolution in information
and technology, and populated with human beings who, for the most
part, just hang on, remain confused, and desperately want to participate
again and be functioning citizens. We live in a day and age when
information and technology proceed regardless of anachronistic
organizations, problem solving, thinking, and planning. I fear
if we don't change, if we don't adapt, if we don't use the great
creative and intellectual forces lying fallow in the fields of
our collective beings we'll become as extinct as the dinosaur.
Even with the reality of the negative evidence I just presented,
I can't help but believe we have the potential to do better. We
have the potential to alter our thinking and shape our future.
I'm very optimistic about the future of the human species because
of our ability to think and alter the way we do things. I'm optimistic
because for every act of violence, I hear about 20 acts of kindness.
For every person living in a homeless, abject poverty situation,
people are doing their best to help those in need of help. We
have a determined, inventive society what will eventually right
some of the wrongs that seem so self-evident. I have hope; therefore,
I offer a few of my thoughts as a way of helping us deal with
the exigencies of change and the future.
Regardless of my optimism, we need to adapt our thinking to cope
with the dizzying pace of change accentuated by advances in information
and technology. We can't continue to think about things in isolation,
failing to capture and use the powers of synergy. We can't continue
to think through analysis alone instead of analyzing and synthesizing.
Moreover, we need to change the way we plan. We can't continue
to plan as we have in the past -- emphasizing the short-term over
the long-term; failing to think about recognize, and cope with
short- and long-term effects; failing to understand the true essence
of problems; failing to understand the difference between understanding
and knowing; and engaging in endless reductionist thinking.
I've developed an approach that presents a new way to think and
plan. I believe it's the way we need to move into the next century
positively, shaping and designing change, rather than being torpid,
witless, helpless victims of change. I offer this paper for your
thought -- to discuss, debate, argue, accept, deny -- but, what
I truly hope for those who disagree, is that they come up with
a better, more intelligent way to cope with the future and the
overwhelming problems that face the human race. If such approaches
surface, I know I will have succeeded beyond my wildest hopes.
Some opening thoughts
Two souls, alas are lodged within my breast, which
struggle there for individual reign: One to the world, with obstinate
desire, and closely-cleaving organs, still adhere: Above the mist,
the other doth aspire, with sacred vehemence, to purer spheres.
Oh, are there spirits in the air, who float 'twixt heaven and
earth dominion wielding, stoop hither from your golden atmosphere,
Lead me to scenes, new life, and fuller yielding! Goethe
As a way of starting along the path of advocacy of change in thinking
and planning, I must offer a few words on my philosophy. I believe
that change is like wind, strong and aberrant, shifting constantly
and shaping our collective destinies. The winds of change assault
and eventually fragment our status quo and our existing realities
-- sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly. Change remains frightening.
It's something that happens and that we have little control over.
Out of necessity we usually cope with and adapt to change rather
than shape it. coping takes little effort; shaping takes a lot
With change comes chaos -- change tears apart established status
quo, and leaves us with an existence that can never be the same
again. Within change-induced chaos, however, lies the arcane synthesis
of wisdom, collective intellect, and synergy. All we have to do
is synthesize disparate elements of change-induced chaos into
meaning and a higher order of thought. With the advent of change,
we often experience the familiar, empty feeling of knowing something
is gone or changed and being frustrated that we can't do anything
about it, much like the empty feeling we have when a loved one
dies. If change is slow and methodical, we generally can cope
and adjust by changing the way we view the environment, adjusting
to circumstances, and putting together pieces fragmented by change.
Such is one of the true blessings of being a human.
With rapid change, however, the human equation changes. It's the
negative side of being human that we can't change rapidly enough
to cope and adjust. Instead, we suffer from individual and aggregate
angst. With rapid change, we don't have opportunities to put change-induced
fragmentation back together.
Yet, there's hope. Even with the chaos that change-induced fragmentation
brings, coalescing forces can gather fragments together into new
wholes, into new meanings. To coalesce change-fragmented entities
into wholes, we must understand nuance and synthesize related
bits and pieces of information into wholes. What inhibits this
process, though, lies in our intellects. Our intellects typically
don't synthesize bits and pieces of information with ease, particularly
those that seem disparate. We also have trouble understanding
coalescence because it's intangible, something we cannot quantify.
Without quantification, we have great difficulty believing. We
must believe to be able to understand. Coalescence must involve
nuance and quantification to be meaningful.
The complexity and rapidity of change thwart our efforts to think and plan as we should to shape the future. Our environment grows increasingly difficult to live in because of ever increasing complexity. Our environment though, presents three interesting intellectual implications.
I believe thinking and planning provide about the only ways to
cope with complexity and associated bewilderment rapid change
causes. Traditionally though, thinking and planning receive short
shrift even in our daily lives and organizations. We should ask
ourselves why. We've become the sound-bite generation, looking
for simple solutions without mental travail. With the simplicity
brought about by sound bites, we lose our ability to think in
sufficient depth to understand and use complexity, let alone change.
It follows that in the aggregate out thinking has suffered a serious
Typically thinking and planning don't receive much attention.
They deal with a mysterious future, contribute only to quixotic
solutions, use "soft numbers" if quantification is even
possible, evolve rather than remain stationary, and involve generalities-instead
of specifics. Also, thinking and planning often reduce complexity
into such simplicity that relationships and complex wholes either
can't surface or surface as foolishly simple.
In the thinking and planning ethos of our globe, human beings
fail to search for and understand relationships. Without relationships,
it's difficult to think about effects. Adding to the problem,
people often experience difficulty understanding long-and short-term
cause-and-effect relationships. We tend to ensure the existence
of the forces of isolation and alienation that come with an incessant
focus on quantitative goals, events, and outcomes at the expenses
of relationships and wholes.
What can we do?
What should the solving on Nature's secrets be?....
If you wish to advance into the infinite, explore the finite in
all directions. If you desire refreshing contemplation of the
Whole, you must discern the Whole in the smallest of things. In
the infinite the same events repeat themselves in eternal flux,
and the thousandfold vault of the heavens powerfully conjoins
with itself, and then the joy of life streams out of all things,
out of the smallest and out of the greatest of stars...
Because of an increasingly complex environment and the demanding
aspects of change, we must modify our current methods of thinking
and planning. Thinkers and planners in the 21st century must
seek relationships, understand wholes, seek relevance, and strive
to create the conditions that promote synergy. I call this type
of thinking and planning holistic thinking and planning.
When we use holistic thinking and planning, we can think and plan
with methods we've used successfully in the past and combine them
with a synthesis-driven, holistic approach to thinking and planning.
Holistic thinking and planning seek multiple paths to shape the
future. Holistic thinking and planning combine entities. This
type of thinking takes advantage of detailed analysis then synthesizes
the results of analyses into wholes. The end-result of the process
answers the question, "So what?" and provides meaning
to apparently meaningless data. It seeks understanding, not just
The way we were
You must, in studying Nature, always consider both
each single thing and the whole: nothing is inside and nothing
is outside, for what is within is without. Make haste, then, to
grasp this holy mystery which is public knowledge. Goethe
Effective thinking and planning enable order to surface in chaos.
Order and its principal side-effect, stability, provide people
a way to cope with a bewildering, complex environment -- the real
world. To be effective, thinking and planning have to relate to
the real world.
A plan provides a means of orienting the future; it's a path or
design to accomplish goals, objectives, or an end. The words 'path'
and 'design' suggest thinking. Thinking and planning can't occur
without thought, but whether or not thinking is good or poor is
a subjective judgment. An important adjunct issue to this inquiry
quickly arises: What does thinking involve?
Typically, thinking involves some form of analysis, "a separation
or breaking up of a whole into its fundamental elements or component
parts." Atypically, thinking involves synthesis, which is,
"the combining of often varied and diverse ideas, forces,
or factors into one coherent or consistent complex."
I believe decision-makers and planners analyze better than they
synthesize because our society emphasizes analysis and rewards
those who rely on non-relational statistical analyses, reduce
problems into simple parts, and draw inferences in isolation from
relationships. For most people, analysis comes more naturally
than the higher level thinking skill called synthesis. Typically,
because of our number-oriented proclivities, we draw conclusions
and lay our plans from reduced and compressed date. It's at this
point that the traditional process of thinking and planning breaks
down and causes me such concern. Normally, planners don't do well
in putting reduced data back into wholes or to find relationships
- engaging in a higher level of meaning to seek and find understanding,
Typically, people fascinate themselves with statistics and numbers,
with knowing but not necessarily understanding. They seldom combine
the results of analysis to search for broader meanings and discover
Unfortunately, people learn to analyze but don't learn to apply
the results of their analysis to promote the ascendancy of meaning.
Typically, we analyze things in isolation, neither searching for
nor understanding that through the results of analysis we could
synthesize things in to wholes, gain broader meaning, and understand
Typically, thinking orients on the short-range. The primacy
of needs of the moment strikes a chord in the hearts of
those who have worked in high-pressure jobs whether it be the
military or business. After all, how can we engage in the long-term
when we stand the risk of ruin in the short- term. Besides, the
immediate is easier to deal with than a much more ambiguous and
foggy long-term. Emergencies and requirements for immediate success
or profit influence thinking and planning rather than the future
and extant implications of causal effects.
Atypically, thinking involves a broader perspective and long-range
focus. Typically, thinking flows linearly, uses analogy, and extrapolates
from historical trends. Atypically, thinking involves originality
and creativity, "...the quality of originality that leads
to new ways of seeing and novel ideas... a thinking process associated
with imagination, insight, invention, innovation, ingenuity, intuition,
inspiration, and illumination." Managerial expert Peter Drucker
captures the implication of this thought:
But tomorrow always arrives. It is always different. And then even the mightiest company is in trouble if it has not worked on the future... It will
neither control nor understand what is happening. Not having dared to take the risk of making the new happen [italics mine], it perforce took the much
greater risk of being surprised by what did happen.
The heart of the matter
... man is a frivolous and incongruous creature,
and perhaps, like a chess player, loves the process of the game,
not the end of it. And who knows... perhaps the only goal on earth
to which mankind is striving lies in this incessant process of
attaining, in other words, in life itself, and not in the thing
to be attained, which must always be expressed as a formula...
We often think by the process of reductionism: "a procedure
or theory of reducing complex data or phenomena to simple terms."
Reductionism provides a way to explain complex situations. On
the dark side, reductionism helps account for our seemingly endless
string of thinking and planning faux pas that have caused surprise,
unforeseen effects, and unanticipated consequences. Reductionism
produces isolated analyses. seldom do we take the next steps of
searching for relationships and combining the results of analysis
through the thought process called synthesis. Facts become ends
unto themselves, without relationships and relevancy.
Reductionism and pure analytical thinking are inseparable. Nothing
is inherently wrong with analytical thinking unless it occurs
in isolation, failing to seek meaning and relationship. Analytical
thinking finds facts and increases knowledge. But analytical thinking
easily and seductively becomes an end unto itself. It follows,
then, that we need to take another step in our thinking and habitually
combine the results of analysis into a whole, find meaning and
relevance, and use analysis to complement thinking critical to
Two primary reasons cause reductionism to be so dangerous.
Reductionist thinking causes the process to become preeminent
instead of the desired goal.
Reductionist thinking typically takes a short-term focus at the
expense of long-term effects. Problems with our politicians provide
an example. Political solutions offer effects for the short-term,
for the sake of political expediency. Politicians know Americans'
proclivity for the quick-fix, short-term, simple, painless solutions
to complex problems. Thus, politicians don't offer truly holistic
and future-shaping plans. Their solutions provide marginal, short-term
results at best. Holistic plans that lead to long-term economic
solutions, for example, involving investing in capital machinery,
investing in research and development, repairing our infrastructures,
and developing education to make us competitive in the future
are on the mark and correct; but these solutions are politically
inexpedient. Because political expediency obsesses our political
leaders thinking and planning, long-term effects sacrificed for
short-term expediency reduce competitiveness and accentuate our
pressing economic problems.
Our experience in Somalia is an example of what can happen when
reductionist thinking dominates the minds of our decision makers.
Somalia seemed like a very simple problem. Go, provide people
food, get out. Simple. The Somalian society was ignorant, poor,
uneducated, and backward. It's been an economic and social basket
case for years. In effect, however, Somalia proved to be very
complicated -- complicated in its own right and complicated because
of its relationships with the world. within Somalia itself, social,
economic, military, and political forces were extraordinarily
The complexity of the United Nations, linkages with mass media
connected globally, and volatile political situations in the U.S.
and other countries proved to be catalysts to an already volatile
and complex situation. Our proclivity for reductionist thinking
led us to believe the mission would be a simple easy-in / easy-out
task. What we failed to realize was that simplicity doesn't exist
and that we must think about relationships and long-and short-term
effects of what we don. No matter how backward, no matter how
dissimilar from the swirling cauldron that comprises the United
States, we can't reduce a complex society into simplicity without
When thinking and planning in a reductionist, short-term fashion,
additional debilitating results occur. Our plans have little relevancy
and continuity with the future. Reductionist, short-term plans
don't deal with the process of perpetual change. Change causes
turbulence and chaos, which, in turn, causes incoherence. Rather
than develop plans flexible enough to adjust, planners wait, then
react to change. They rely on taking advantage of opportunities
rather than creating them. Their plans often fail.
Plans also fail because of variables and surprise. Without synthesizing
the results of analysis into wholes, searching for relationships
between wholes, and using the energy of change, planners inevitably
react to perturbations. Reaction is negative; it consumes intellectual
energy rather than creating it. Thus, confusion rules and paralysis
surfaces, wielding great influence on the minds of thinkers and
Last, rigidity dominates reductionist thinking and planning. The
over-simplification that characterizes reductionist thinking and
planning contributes to rigidity. over-simplified plans don't
have feedback mechanisms enabling adjustment while a plan unfolds
because the ends and means appear very simple -- expediency and
regimens obscure complex relationships. Sir William Slim, a famous
British World War II commander tells us, for example, that Japanese
military planners in the Burma Theater were inflexible. They didn't
plan for unexpected, chance events and couldn't adjust once affected
by their inevitable surfacing. After their forces started enacting
a plan, they couldn't react well to friction or variables. The
original plan often dogmatically ruled even when the situation
warranted change. As a result, Slim and his planners easily forecast
their activities and responses to change. Japanese rigidity led
to failed plans and inevitably their doom.
Foundations of holistic thinking and planning
But the sight of the uncultured individual is clouded,
as the Hindus say, by the veil of Maya. He sees not the thing-in-itself
but the phenomenon in time and space, the principium individuationis,
and in the other forms of the principle of sufficient reason.
And in this form of his limited knowledge, he sees not the inner
nature of things, which is one, but its phenomena as separated,
disunited, innumerable, very different and indeed opposed. Schopenhauce
There is a natural unity in all things. Take, for instance, a
simple hologram. If a scientist illuminates part of a hologram,
it represents the whole from which it emanates. The part, however,
isn't as clear or representative of the whole as the whole itself.
The hologram helps us comprehend unity, understand a larger whole,
and combine pieces of a whole in ascending levels of clarity and
coherence in relationship to a larger whole.
The order and unity of nature serve as underpinnings of holistic
thinking and planning. The following passage provides us a glimpse
into the unity and interworkings of nature.
In the heaven of Indra, there is said to be a network
of pearls, so arranged that if you look at one you see all the
others reflected in it. In the same way each object in the world
is not merely itself but involves every other object and in fact
is everything else...
Nature consists of webs of relationships. Linkages connect the
webs. Webs of relationships and linkages show up in our world
as subtle and discernible patterns. It follows that thinking and
planning should copy nature and emulate its natural coherency,
and strength. Similar to the mythical network of pearls, the ordinary
cobweb serves as a useful example of unity and relationship in
We can call a cobweb's constituent parts cells; cells connect
and relate to each other physically and abstractly. Each cell
contributes to the purpose of the whole web. But a cell's strength
lies in its interconnectedness with other cells and the whole.
If a cell breaks or weakens, the cobweb loses proportionate strength.
If cells remain combined through strong links, the cobweb has
strength -- stronger together as a whole than a single cell or
the simple sum of cells.
The metaphor suggests the importance of discovering then strengthening
links, and finding relationships in holistic thinking and planning.
It also suggests that in holistic thinking and planning, the whole
is more powerful than the sum of its parts.
Links connecting wholes, oddly enough, form an interacting whole
of strengths and vulnerabilities. Links identify relationships
between wholes, making them a critical component of any holistic
plan. On the other hand, opponents can attack our wholes by attacking
links. Links identify conduits for creating the effects of surprise,
variables, or friction (chance events).
The universe continually actuates and changes. This process occurs
through the interaction of two opposites -- fragmentation and
coalescence. Nature continuously changes through fragmentation.
Fragmentation causes chaos. We perceive chaos to be dysfunctional,
but within chaos wisdom exists. Chaos causes disequilibrium and
dissonance. Our inexorable search for meaning and order presents
the potential for synthesizing fragments into meaning. Meaning
leads to wisdom.
Uncomfortable with confusion and dissonance, our minds strive
to put bits and pieces of information into wholes, combine wholes
with other wholes, and discover meaning. In our thinking, we consciously
and subconsciously strive to coalesce fragmented pieces into wholes
in a never-ending cycle. Our minds attempt to make sense out of
chaos by searching for patterns and developing understandable
combinations through this process. This thought process though,
doesn't come to fruition because when we engage in reductionist
thinking without purpose we tend to stop thinking before achieving
The Chinese theory of the interaction of opposites contends that
everything has contradiction within it -- the seeds of its opposite.
Because of change-induced interaction, contradictions arise, fomenting
the ascendancy of the opposite. After an opposite becomes preeminent,
its opposite starts to ascend. This process involves the wonderful
dance of energy that nature employs to ensure that living things
never stagnate. Chinese philosophers call this process the interplay
of yin and yang. Sun Tzu brought the interaction of opposites
to the art of war as the interaction between the normal and extraordinary
In battle there are only the normal and extraordinary
forces, but their combinations are limitless; none can comprehend
them all. For these two forces are mutually reproductive, their
interaction as endless as that of interlocked rings.
Chinese philosophers believe that discernible shapes make up the
flow and change inherent in nature. In our western way of thinking,
we have to learn to understand shapes by searching for their existence
or creating them. We create shapes by discerning wholes, combining
them, synthesizing pieces of wholes into aggregates, and causing
the shapes to work together to reach a desired outcome.
Another theorist of war, Clausewitz, provided additional insight
into holistic thinking and planning and combining wholes with
larger wholes. Clausewitz thought of the battlefield as a whole.
Closely related to his notion of battlefield wholes, Clausewitz
suggested that defense and offense form a whole of a battlefield.
Within this context of a battlefield whole, Clausewitz postulated
that the defense was the stronger form of war though it had a
negative aim and the offense a positive aim. Since the defense
relates to the offense, interacting to form the battlefield whole,
neither can exist in isolation.
Interestingly, a defender, with the negative force, gains strength
through recoiling like a spring and conserving energy, while the
attacker, with the positive force, loses strength through expending
resources while attacking. The defender, when launching an attack
from a coiled position, then assumes the offense in the form of
counterattack, with a newly found positive aim, while the former
offense now assumes the defense with a negative aim. These two
elements of the whole constantly interact and change, and are
composed of countless battle and engagements in which defense
and offense constantly mix and interact. That is why conditions
are so important. conditions influence how the pieces of the battlefield
whole interact, playing out their inevitable outcomes.
Clausewitz's trinity of war provides insight into what planners
need to understand, how wholes relate to each other, and how wholes
should combine to achieve maximum power and coherence. The trinity
of war -- hatred and passion, rationality, and chance and creativity
-- form an abstract whole of war. Each part of the trinity relates
to, and in fact depends upon the others. Clausewitz postulates
that each part of the trinity should balance with the other parts,
otherwise war could end differently from what was intended.
Because parts of the trinity of war are so interdependent, they
are symmetrical. When one or two parts of the trinity dominate
and the trinity becomes asymmetrical, the whole of war becomes
unbalanced. Without balance, the three elements can become chaotically
asymmetrical, with one aspect dominating either or both of the
the predominance of military means over political ends in World
War I serves as an example of how chaos and incoherence can reign,
obscuring even the most obvious dialectical contradictions, when
parts of the trinity become asymmetrical. Coherency of the ideal
-- controlled passions, military means kept under control by the
political end, and a rational government providing that political
end -- can easily tilt out of control. In effect, because of asymmetry,
passions can dominate over rationality, which enables military
means to gain ascendancy over political ends.
Coherency, as it relates to thinking and planning
... he looks at the world, completely coherent, without
a loophole, clear as crystal, not dependent on chance, not dependent
on the gods. Whether it is good or evil, whether life in itself
is pain or pleasure, whether it is uncertain ... but the unity
of the world, the coherence of all events, the embracing of the
big and the small from the same stream, from the same law of cause,
of becoming and dying: this shines clearly from your exalted teaching.
Holistic thinking has as its underpinnings a trinity similar to
Clausewitz's trinity of war. Coherency, combination, and continuity
comprise our trinity for holistic thinking. To unleash the powers
of holistic thinking, we must first understand its constituent
parts then strive to keep these elements in balance.
Coherency provides meaning and harmony among interacting parts
of a plan. Coherency begins with a vision, a leader's or planner's
mental sketch of a state-of-continuity. A leader's intent, which
flows from the vision, sketches the state-of-continuity. Thus,
a lucid and well-thought-through vision is the sine qua non of
holistic thinking and planning,
It is by means of strategic vision that the statesman
shapes and controls projected change instead of simply reacting
to the forces and trends that swirl without direction into the
future. He accomplishes this by dint of imagination and creativity
and by balancing idealism with realism.
Each plan's state-of-continuity links with a future state-of-continuity,
a whole interacting with a larger whole. To be coherent, a vision
extends from the present to the future. In an abstract way, the
planner always peers beyond the final curtain of the state-of-continuity
must relate to other states-of-continuity's shaping conditions
Holistic thinking and planning needs vision that enables parts
to come together at the right time and right place to achieve
desired effects. Effects influence conditions and eventually desired
states-of-continuity. Understanding, which emanates centrifugally
from the creator of the vision, cements constituent parts of a
plan. As an example, in the American Civil War, General Grant
understood better than any other general how action in widely
separated theaters of war should complement each other. We can
more fully understand Grant's strategic vision and its relation
to coherency and the theory of wholes with help from historian
Perhaps Grant's greatest qualities as a commander
were his wide strategic vision and his fixity of purpose...Grant's
perspective embraced the whole scope of the twin theaters of war,
and he was never deflected by purely geographical objectives from
his main purpose of destroying the Confederate armies.
To use coherency in any planning endeavor, we must recognize and
seek balance between moral and physical domains, tangible and
intangible elements of a situation. Deception, for example, shapes
images in the minds of opponents; it provides a framework for
surprise, and it helps keep our opponent unbalanced and fearful
of treachery. Those who use deception create physical conditions
such as marshaling, combining, and putting resources in place
to add credence to the suggestion growing in an opponent's mind.
They create images in the opponent's mind through suggestion and
hints often implanted through manipulation of tangibles.
Combination, as it relates to thinking and planning
Many things, having full reference to one consent,
may work contrariously: As many arrows loosed several ways, come
to one mark; as many ways meet in one town; As many fresh streams
meet in one salt sea; As many lines close in the dials' center;
So many a thousand actions, once afoot, End in one purpose...
To combine thins, similar and dissimilar, is a significant mental
challenge; yet, combination is the key in understanding, then
reaching a desired state-of-continuity. combining parts or wholes
of resources and impregnating them with life-force, constitutes
art in holistic thinking and planning. Artistically combining
parts of a whole becomes a collage that the spark of creativity
brings to life. The collage acts out its life, focused on its
goal, full of sound and fury, on the stage of strife only to wither
eventually in the face of succeeding evolutions of change. Sir
William Slim had some thoughts about combinations,
...a painter's effect and style do not depend on
how many tubes of colors he has, the number of his brushes, or
the size of his canvas, but on how he blends his colours...
But he also strongly argued for the absolute importance of timing
and sequencing, without which even the greatest combinations and
synthesis of combinations fail.
To combine effectively, we must first fragment existing wholes,
ours and our opponent's. We have to know and understand the highly
interactive strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics of both
sides in a competition. We can then combine the fragments into
aggregates that help us reach our envisioned state-of-continuity
or that provide a comprehensive understanding of interlocking
wholes stretching into the future. We also can imagine the steps
we must take to reach the initial state-of-continuity and its
subsequent relationship with the future. Clausewitz helps us understand
the concept of combination:
The strategist must...define an aim for the entire
operational side of the war that will be in accordance with its
purpose. In other words, he will draft the plan of the war, and
the aim will determine the series of actions intended to achieve
it: he will, in fact, shape the individual campaigns and, within
these, decide on the individual engagements.
Planners realize that environmental, political, physical, and
intellectual constraints have a strong influence on their choices
of combinations, aggregates, and sequencing. In such a mental
process, knowledge evolves from simple knowledge to complex, which
is understanding, relationship, and relevancy. With such an approach,
analysis and synthesis form an interactive, constantly changing
whole. With this very abstract whole, planners can form combinations
of resources capable of structuring conditions and creating effects
conducive to a desired state-of-continuity.
The theory of containment illustrates combination in holistic
thinking and planning. Containment was our post-World War II foreign
policy to thwart Soviet expansionist tendencies. Containment espoused
a shrewd, measured, and firm combination of resources emphasizing
our strengths and downplaying our weaknesses while accentuating
the Soviet's weaknesses and neutralizing their strengths. National
leaders enacted those combinations; strategic vision, perseverance,
will, and a long-term perspective glued the combinations.
The father of containment, George Kennan, had an extraordinary
way of thinking with strategic vision, "...that knack for
seeing relationships between objectives and capabilities, aspirations
and interests, long-term and short-term priorities." Kennan's
theory of containment combined political, military, economic,
and psychological wholes. The policy postulated that combining
diplomacy or resources would, over the long-term, persuade the
Soviets to be less aggressive and to join the world as a peaceful
nation. By wisely using combinations of resources to satisfy a
long-term state-of-continuity (the containment of Soviet expansionism)
the United States was able to check reckless Soviet expansionism
without resorting to the damaging effects of war.
Continuity, as it relates to thinking and planning
There is a history in all men's lives, Figuring the
nature of the times decreased; which observed, a man may prophesy,
with a near air, of the main chance of things as yet not come
to life, which in their seeds and weak beginnings lie intreasured.
Such things become the hatch and brood of time. Shakespeare
Plans have no end; they're only parts of new states of being,
parts of the evolving future. Because plans aren't ends in themselves,
the planner's job never finishes, though planners feel compelled
to seek closure.
Because of a constantly evolving future, holistic planners must
create branches and sequels. In a conceptual sense, branches of
a plan resemble the branches of a tree. Branches enable planners
to accept planned deviations from an original state-of-continuity
to a slightly different one. Branches are important because of
volatility in the enactment of parts of a plan, outside variables,
and vagaries of environment. Holistic planners develop sequels
to enable them to move toward follow-on states-of-continuity.
The underlying premise of states of continuity, branches, and
sequels, a priori, is that change is never finite and the
future is infinite.
Continuity links our actions with the future. Continuity also
couples activities and wholes within the framework of a plan.
Planners aggressively seek continuity to exploit relationships
between wholes, combine wholes, develop relationships (connections)
between wholes, and to know how and when to sequence aggregates.
Present state-of- continuity strongly relate to future states-of-continuity.
Created effects of a plan, in reality, build bridges to follow-on
plans, bridges to the future. Thus, while working toward something
that appears permanent, holistic planners recognize the temporary
nature of any state-of-continuity. With process toward
a state-of-continuity, holistic planners create sequels based
on feedback from enacting the current plan, new leadership desires.
and information about effects. As the follow-on plan unfolds,
planners again strive to build coherency through vision. To this
end, they create conditions nurturing the sought-after state-of-continuity,
maintaining momentum, developing combinations that make the best
use of resources, searching for combinations that create synergy,
and seeking coherency to understand relationships and links. As
a plan unfolds, planners adjust to changes in the environment
and think about even more sequels.
Flexibility is the life-blood of continuity; it becomes manifest
in a planner's mind through planning branches. At the simplest
level of abstraction, planners can anticipate reaching a desired
state-of-continuity in many ways. A state-of-continuity resembles
a floating cube -- the sides present slightly different views.
Planners, therefore, seek to vary combinations so that movement
toward the state-of-continuity doesn't stop because of an incomplete
When attempting to maintain continuity, the desired state-of-continuity
can't be sacrosanct. If situational variables warrant, the state-of-continuity
should change. When a force initiates violence against an opponent,
for example, unexpected effects can cause unexpected outcomes.
These outcomes provide opportunists with ways to adjust goals
leading to a desired state-of-continuity. Typically, outcomes
aren't intractable; actual outcomes differ from those imagined.
Variables and friction cause plans to unfold imperfectly. Furthermore,
in every plan an opponent will oppose us. When faced with an unpredictable
opponent, political variables, and normal friction, either surprise
or obstacles will surface. If planners anticipated alternatives,
or branches, that allow progress toward the state-of-continuty
despite unforeseen events and have planned to adjust the state-of-continuity,
the plan will be adaptive and effective; If planners haven't anticipated
surprise or impediments to motion, the plan will be reactive and
ineffective. Theorist Liddell Hart succinctly captures the need
for flexibility by stating.
In any problem where an opposing force exists, and
cannot be regulated, one must foresee and provide for alternative
courses. Adaptability is the law which governs survival in war...
A holistic planner also has to think about linkage within a plan's
framework. The planner has to create combinations of wholes, aggregates
of partial wholes, strengthen their linkages, cause their activation,
and sequence them to promote continuity of movement toward the
desired state-of-continuity. We can use Clausewitz's theory about
war-thinking and planning to explain this continuity of linkages,
If we do not learn to regard a war, and the separate
campaigns of which is composed, as a chain of linked engagements
each leading to the next, but instead succumb to the idea that
the capture of certain geographical points or the seizure of undefended
provinces are of value in themselves (italics mine), we are liable
to regard them as windfall profits...By looking on each engagement
as a part of a series, at least insofar as events are predictable,
the commander is always on the high road to his goal.
Once again, if we continue to observe and construe events as isolated,
with value only unto themselves, we'll forever fail to grasp the
power of holistic thinking. We must be uncomfortable with solutions
and we must constantly search for new combinations, more continuity,
and greater coherency. We must strive to think and plan holistically.
Enlarging dimensions of minds: shaping the future
The world.... is not imperfect or slowly evolving
along a long path to perfection. No, it is perfect at every moment;
every sin already carries grace within it, all small children
are potential old men, all sucklings have death
within them, all dying people -- eternal life. Hesse
How can human beings change how they think and plan to shape the
future actively? How can we learn to combine analysis and synthesis
and think and plan holistically? The solutions I offer describe
how to think, they do not prescribe what to think.
Simply put, the secret to holistic thinking and planning lies
in something that has been around as long as man has breathed
Three broad approaches form the principal underpinnings of learning.
We can call this approach the triad of holistic thinking
and planning. The elements of the triad are leadership,
organization, and individual; they must stay in balance, never
tilting toward one element, always recognizing the interrelationships
among the constituent parts. We must also form a new paradigm
for thinking and planning. Its foundations must be the imperative
for attempting to achieve, in all we do, coherency, combination,
and continuity. Our quest for coherency means we must
strive for seeking the relationships of parts of wholes. These
relationships are real and we need to make sense of them, to bring
them to the surface of our collective consciousness.
We must also learn to combine pieces into wholes. Our efforts
to combine must take into account bring together pieces that sometimes
appear disparate along with combining those that are obviously
related. Through effective combinations, we can achieve
wholes greater than the sum of their parts. We can achieve synergy.
We must also realize there is never an end in anything we do.
What we experience, even in death, is a state of continuity,
connecting and stretching into the future with relationships much
akin to the pearls of Indra.
We must adapt our attitudes to accept change as something positive.
We must view change as a force that can help us shape the future.
Author Frederic Brown has some interesting thoughts about the
nature of change that currently confronts the United States:
Today, we peer into a future that promises increasing
rates of change in all aspect of human endeavor. Knowing that,
is it not prudent to plan and even to organize specifically to
master change?....The salient leverage of the information age
appears to be innovation and initiative...
When change becomes a positive instead of a negative force, its
exploitation will come naturally. Change should cause neither
paralysis nor muddling. Change can help us adapt to environment
and accomplish goals. We also need to modify our weltanschauung.
This change will be challenging but as physicist David Bohm explains,
...man's general way of thinking of the totality...is
crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks
of the totality as constituted of independent fragments then that
is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything
coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided,
unbroken...then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and
from this will flow an orderly action within the whole.
As members of organizations, we'll be involved with thinking and
planning. To avoid the pitfalls of reductionism and reacting,
and to shape the future, we have to adjust the way we usually
perform. Instead of concentrating only on analysis, we must remember
that with analysis there will always be another mental step --
synthesis. With synthesis, we can create. We also have to think
about opposites, wholes, and state-of-continuity form our perspective
and from those of our opponents. Thinking about opposites will
always be difficult; most people don't normally think dialectically.
Yet, dialectic thinking can help; us attain the type of creativity
needed to use holistic thinking and planning.
In our organizations, we should form matrix groups that could
promote the ascendancy of holistic thinking and planning. Decision
makers must purposefully populate these groups with people who
think dissimilarly. Also each member of a work-group could have
a particular functional expertise; however, each would work toward
accomplishing a thinking and planning goal that transcends personal
goals and the goals of their parent organization. Senior leadership
would appoint a synthesizer responsible for developing the plan.
Synthesizers would search for relationships with members of the
group, identify linkages, and pull together fragments into wholes.
To reach a desired state-of-continuity, synthesizers would encourage
group participants to engage in higher-level thinking by searching
for coherency, combinations, and continuity. A synthesizer would
foster integration by requiring planners to participate in in-process-reviews
and would ask planners questions to promote synthesis. A synthesizer
would help find meaning, relevancy, and short-and long-term effects
in planner's intellectual energy.
Neither instructors nor seminar leaders in any institution should
teach method, procedure, or fact without helping students learn
relevancy and relationships to other methods, procedures, or facts.
Instructors must continuously ask students: So what? Why? What
does it mean? How does it relate to other things? How can we combine
things to create synergy? Examinations, presentations, and papers
can't be simple regurgitation of facts -- students must relate
facts to other things, display synthesis, and create, evaluate,
adjust, and criticize combinations.
Thinking and planning sessions should promote thinking by using
synthesis, thus serendipitously encouraging holistic thinking
and planning. Leaders should confront planners and challenge them
to rise above analysis and reductionism, think at high levels,
and search for combinations, relevancy, and meaning. They should
subtly promote synthesis, the key thinking skill in holistic thinking
and planning, by searching for coherency, meaning, and closure
after each thinking and planning session
Members of our organizations need learning experiences in high-level
thinking and planning where they have to deal with a volatile
future and work with complicated resources and states-of-continuity
that appear unrelated. Through such processes, people in organizations
will discover relationships of obvious and disparate entities.
Through the discovery of relationships, synthesis will occur.
Through synthesis, planners will learn to combine pieces of things
into wholes. Wholes will have meaning and well relate to an evolving
future. People in our organizations should engage in thinking
experiences in which they have to deal with long-term effects.
After developing holistic plans, in a wargaming sense, planners
should design ways to defeat their own plans. To do so,
they should concentrate on identifying relationships, searching
for links among wholes, and destroying their own plan's coherence.
From the results of this conceptual assault, planners should design
their own alternative states-of-continuity and branches and sequels.
Planners also should seek and design ways to exploit patterns
and shapes through fragmenting wholes, synthesizing those fragments,
and developing and aggregating new, more meaningful wholes.
We need to find creative thinkers and innovators and involve them
in developing holistic plans to shape the future. Creative people
enjoy developing new ideas, seeking relationships, and searching
for unorthodox solutions. I don't, however, advocate complete
reliance on creative thinkers, because "Too many innovators,
each marching to his own drum, produce chaos." Very quickly
we would live in a world of wonderful dreams in which reality
would always remain shrouded by intellectual fog. On the other
hand, if we live in a world controlled only by analytic thinkers,
we would live in a dark world dominated by exigencies and limits
of reality. We would always deal with what is, not what could
be. I believe we need to combine creative with analytic thinkers
and require them to produce wholes relevant to our new century.
In such an approach, opposites would interact to produce fresh,
creative ideas tempered by realism.
Mental capability, our most treasured asset, has positive and
negative sides. The positive side shows human beings being endowed
with a wondrous, brilliant inner light manifesting itself through
thinking. Through thought, we have the potential to create, to
heal, to save. The negative side can lead us to seeing things
in isolation, to being solipsistic, to succumbing to passivity,
to sublimating positive will to negative fatalism, and to adhering
slavishly to the status quo. Simply put, I believe a crucial contest
rages within us. In this contest, the negative competes with the
positive for dominance. If the negative side dominates, people
view change negatively. If the positive side dominates, people
run the risk of being overly optimistic. If balance dominates,
people can create their futures.
Our minds need the balance that the negative side provides. The
negative must interact with the positive to form a whole, maintaining
a delicate equilibrium between positive and negative. Reducing
the contest to its simplest state, failure to balance and exploit
the wholeness of our minds means that change could cause reactive
behavior, a philosophy of the righteousness muddling along, or
the deadly stultifying effects of mental paralysis.
Through these subtle yet real interactions of opposites, a new
wonderful, higher-order, and creative synthesis can emerge. Thus,
a 21st-century planner's greatest challenge will be encouraging
that creative synthesis and holistic thinking and planning by
controlling the mind's negative side while enabling the positive
side to spring forth. This interaction of opposites and attendant
balance will provide the brilliant ideas needed for creation and
the pragmatism for these ideas to survive.
Our individual and collective intellectual strength is the quintessential
element of the new century. Our intellects, individual and aggregate,
constitute unexploited dimensions of potential power. To unleash
or not to unleash the potential lying in our minds is our choice.
We can change the way we think and plan and move into the next
century in a positive way.