Holistic Systemic Strategy, Policy Making, and Planning

Let’s begin with a caveat. This will seem wrong to many of you. This is because it is not familiar and our brain prefers the familiar so it can conserve energy. Just remember this conservation is a threat to learning and discovery and particularly creativity and innovation. We have to manage our reactions to the new to open doors in the mind. There will be plenty of time and ways to test and validate if it is worth letting go of old molds and frameworks. But be willing to suspend certainty until you have experienced the different approach.

First, one begins with a Whole in mind and works from the whole, all the time. This may seem obvious, but it rarely happens. Lets remind ourselves how we know a whole. A whole is born (e.g. a person or animal) , formed by nature in her work (e.g. a canyon), or created by humans with an intention of being an enduring whole—e.g. a family. This contrasted with planning processes that work with functional aspects such as jobs or incomplete parts of a whole such as task forces . Additional examples here including working with a river, storm water or a city. These are not wholes. An example of a whole is a corporation, a watershed as demarcated by nature, a customer, or a valley. Puget Sound or Cascadia are wholes, not the State of Washington or the Province of British Columbia.

Starting with a whole in mind, enables working with the potential of the whole, as it is revealed by its essence, and the systems that are to be developed in pursuit and achievement of that potential. Understanding the wholes and their systems comes before examining current existence, never ahead, (current existence is understood from examining and assessing the issues, the trends, the challenges , the problems etc.

This is the first place that the concept may seem wrong to many of my readers. How to you go into the future without understanding the present? Just to clarify, we are not talking about time-based phenomena but rather eternal phenomena. Essence is always there and not about a future creation or end state. It has been there since it was formed as a landscape or born as a being. And understanding the present conditions are so rife with conflicted ideologies, perspectives and filters—not to mention quantity of data to be interpreted, interwoven, validated and aligned. We need a context and new frame if we are to see it anew and unify the divided minds toward a whole. Now back to understanding wholes.
Places, persons and entities are wholes. They have potential because they have unique essence in their forming and their unique way of working. Having begun with Potential, it is much easier to see what matters when we come back to trying to understanding current existence, We can now know what to study further, what to find pathways for transforming. Looking at current existence SECOND avoids the shotgun approach to data gathering (which is always on “parts” as well), the interpretation of possibilities from the world of what is already fixed in place and difficult to move (we can bypass much of this when one begins with the essence and potential of what pursuing). And most importantly it avoids losing sight of what is unique and distinctive in a whole that is uncovered in the process of identifying the potential of the whole and keeping it in mind. Without this, all trends, competitive threats and problems present themselves as needing strategies. Working with all this current existence FIRST, leads to the mostly ineffectively process of setting priorities, seeking trade-offs and being very inefficient in pursuing ventures and initiatives that divert energy from the pursuit of the best place to generate wealth— potential.

There is one other inefficiency that gets lost in the looking for the biggest challenge in existence and working to solve them by priority setting. That is the silos, and all the budgeting and staffing processes that attend them, have produced people and groups of people who have, at best a perspective that is limited, and ideas to which they are attached as truth, thereby blocking additional perspective. And at worst, they have defensive positions on turf that throws reason to the wind and substitutes rationalization. These divisions cannot be reassembled by integration and dialogue processes any more than humpty dumpty can be put together again. You have to start with whole eggs.

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5 Responses to Holistic Systemic Strategy, Policy Making, and Planning

  1. Avatar
    Curtis Ogden September 18, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    Thank you for this wonderful post! I recently met with Bill Reed who pointed me in the direction of your writings, and I am so glad he did. I am very curious to know more about how you have distilled essence in organizations and communities. I have done it with storytelling. The Orton Family Foundation, with whom I have some connections, has asked community members to identify the “heart and soul” of their beloved place. In Zimbabwe, I was trained in the Training for Transformation approach which asked observers to go into communities to look for patters of behavior and relationship that might be reflected back through various kinds of interactive performance. What else?

    • Avatar
      Carol Sanford September 18, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

      Thanks Curtis,
      I am very interested in your Zimbabwe experience. I worked there in the mid nineties as well as So. Africa, Kenya. Zambia and a bit in other nations in SE AFrica. It was with Colgate Palmolive the two years before and a year after the elections in So. Africa. Very amazing experience. The Training sounds most interesting. It took me many years to learn to see deep patterns that indicate essence. Eventually they speak to you. Regenesis does it for communities and althought I work with them, I mostly work with Corporations, Governments and sometimes with individuals inside the organizations where I am working. The process of developing the capacity is to be in a setting where it is happening and engage as it unfolds. It is not taught my telling, but by living. We will have to talk sometime to explore. What else?


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