Theophillis Goodyear: Short-term Adaptation Can Be Long-Term Maladaptation

Theophillis Goodyear
Theophillis Goodyear

It occurred to me as I was reading Beatrice Benne’s article, “Demystifying Pattern(s) of Change: A Common Archetype,” that America is facing calamity now because we’ve been so wildly successful at going through the adaptive change cycle, over and over. But the successes were short-term, and now all these short-term successes are adding up to a dead-end long-term strategy.

So it’s not only important to successfully adapt, it’s also important how you adapt. It’s not only change itself but the quality of change that’s important; and we can only measure quality by thinking in eons rather than years, decades, and centuries. Today’s joyous rebirth can be tomorrow’s problem child.

So Benne’s patterns made me think of fractals because fractals repeat patterns in successively larger scales. Short-term patterns add up to larger long-term patterns. So successful change, in and of itself, can be extremely misleading. Of course this is common knowledge to systems thinkers.

It’s the success of humans that is killing us as a species. We’re similar to the rabbit plague of Australia. We have no natural predators to speak of except for our own species.

But the main point I wanted to make about the patterns illustrated in Beatrice Benne’s article, is that each pattern can be a small section of a larger fractal pattern. Short-term successes can be collectively heading to long-term failure.

So the kind of insights required to solve short-term problems are often not enough. We need to start seeing these short-term patterns as small waves adding up to form a larger wave. And of course that’s exactly what systems thinkers are doing. But sometimes it’s good to state the obvious out loud.

Phi Beta Iota:  In order words, the corruption of short-term deal-making is the cancer of long-term resilience.  We’ve not only eaten our seed corn, we’ve been crapping in our water well.