Archive for the ‘complex adaptive systems’ Category

Janes Walk buttonsThis weekend I attended a planning session organized by the folks at Jane’s Walk Toronto, where I picked up these buttons.

WalkShop: Health and the City took place at the bustling Centre for Social Innovation Annex (below).

JW planning session 2014

After participating in several Jane’s Walks over the years (one of which is posted here) I decided to create a walk for the upcoming May 2-4 event.

My proposed “walking conversation” will be around the question, “How healthy is this place?” We will gather at the corner of Bloor St West and University, then proceed west toward Bathurst St. Together we’ll analyze therapeutic visual elements such as vitality, variety, nature, legacy and cultural connections. I hope to raise awareness for visual health through questions and bits of research regarding brain health in the city.

Here is a 15-second video that highlights my question.

My Jane’s Walk idea stems from having created this video: “Salutogenic Places,” as well as years of leading facilitated Critical Eye (visual literacy) sessions.

These walks began in Toronto in 2007 as a tribute to the memory of urban activist Jane Jacobs. Now a global movement, they have spread to 85 cities in 19 countries. Several aspects of Jane’s Walk keep her spirit of neighbourhood awareness and advocacy alive:

  • an informal, hands on, social way to explore and analyze elements that make places livable
  • builds on shared, first-hand knowledge rather than experts and theory
  • largely self-organized and globally contagious requiring a minimum amount of promotion

And lest we forget, World Labyrinth Day is May 3 with a corresponding Jane’s Walk.

– Sharon VanderKaay

HP Jenenne

Jenenne Whitfield, executive director of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit spoke at OCAD University and the University of Toronto today. Both events were sponsored by the U.S. Consulate General. The U of T event was co-sponsored by Spacing magazine, with Q&A facilitated by Spacing editor Shawn Micallef.

Jenenne explained why this project has been working for 26 years on so many levels (despite ups and downs) to improve life in the complex city of Detroit.

Watch this fascinating summary of the project:

These four “natural ingredients” of the Heidelberg Project’s ongoing success stand out in my mind:

1.  Work with what you have (asset-based development)

2.  Use the attraction principle to change behavior (not more rules or enforcement)

3.  Rely on organic, bit-by-bit change (v. massive programs)

4. Don’t wait for top-down initiatives to improve things (DIY culture must replace rescue delusions)

Founder Tyree Guyton’s philosophy, known as Heidelbergology, views art as having active powers to transform people, to act as a medicine and to serve as a catalyst for widespread change.

The big news in Detroit recently, Jenenne says, is that change is now coming from the ordinary, everyday person.

Matt Galloway’s interview with Jenenne on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning:

-Sharon VanderKaay


photo: Mike Williams, General Manager of Economic Development & Culture, City of Toronto, cites the many benefits of manufacturing in urban areas.

Vertical Urban Factory, last night’s excellent panel discussion at 401 Richmond, delved into the return of manufacturing to cities. Economic and social benefits include fortifying a solid middle income base, opportunity for local innovation and the creation of spin-off jobs. The talk was sponsored by the Centre for City Ecology in conjunction with an exhibit at the Design Exchange in Toronto. This exhibit has previously been on show in New York and Detroit.

In addition to Mike Williams, the panel included Nina Rappaport, Curator, Vertical Urban Factory and Jason Rehel, Cultural Critic, National Post.

A particularly interesting aspect of this movement that factory owners are attracted by cities with a vibrant workforce, which we can only hope brings an end to the outmoded idea of tax subsidies.

-Sharon VanderKaay

Liquid Arrow

Tight or loose management – which is the best way for firms to thrive in a chaotic business world?

Wrong question…old school question.

Instead of a tight or loose?* either/or question, we should be asking: Which aspects of our business require us to adhere to rules, and where do we need room to move within boundaries?

To begin this conversation, we must examine our assumptions about the true nature of work today.

Let’s list some of the givens of our current business environment (along with how we need to respond):

– it is unpredictable (therefore we must create a flexible way forward)

– it depends on messy human relationships (so we need to nurture cooperative interactions)

– it depends on discretionary effort (so it’s vital to understand what motivates people to do their best work)

– there’s a yearning for meaningful work (so it’s vital to define the firm’s purpose, as well as each project’s purpose beyond meeting schedule, budget and scope)

When tight management is applied to the wrong aspects of the business, initiative and progress are stifled. Likewise, misapplied loose management results in wasted time and effort. “Loose” does not mean sloppy, haphazard and uncaring. In any case, striving for a uniformly tight mechanical system of  management goes against human nature and leads to endless frustration.

Let the conversation begin! Which aspects of your business are tight-appropriate and in what ways do you need more room to move?

– Sharon VanderKaay

* I first encountered the concept of tight/loose management in Tom Peters’ and Robert H. Waterman Jr.’s 1982 book, In Search of Excellence – and yet we still wrestle with this issue.

How can we reverse the damage done by over seventy years of mind-numbing additions to our built environment?

Whenever the dysfunctional norm (such as described in four previous posts below) seems hopelessly entrenched, we can look to the stories and principles of Positive Deviance (PD) to see a way forward. PD can be viewed as a form of Evidence-Based Optimism. It is based on the notion that frequently, if we develop our powers of observation and Colombo-style inquiry, we can discover where the problem doesn’t occur.

This approach is very different from simply adopting best practices. Best practices tend to be instigated from the top down. The “best” may well be temporary (likely to become future worst practices) and they are built on assumptions about what is possible.

For example, the overwhelming disincentives for change in U.S. health care economics may lead us to assume that the norm for high cost, low return billings and habits are just baked into the whole cantankerous system. Relying on best practices for delivering services that are not working will yield the wrong answer.

Yet the way the Mayo Clinic does things places it among the highest-quality, lowest-cost health care organizations in the United States.

In their book “The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems” Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin and Monique Sternin provide examples of the PD way of looking at deep-rooted situations that appear intractable. The authors describe how amplifying successful but “deviant” people and practices can bring about change naturally.

Let’s discover and amplify the PDs in human-centric design.

– Sharon VanderKaay

Generations of architectural project managers have diligently applied tools and techniques that achieved some remarkable results, yet failed to meet budget, schedule and other targets. Traditionally, it was safe to assume that imposing tighter controls within a more mechanistic system was the best way to prevent these failures. Now there is growing awareness of the perils of pretending your real project exists in a closed, predictable, static environment.

Last year the world-renowned Project Management Institute presented their Book of the Year award to Managing Complex Projects, A New Model. Author Kathleen B. Hass recognizes that large projects have inherent dynamic qualities that we must work with – rather than attempt to fight against. “As projects get bigger and more complex, we tend to ‘do more of the same’ applying ever greater degrees of rigor in the way of methods, reviews and tests, resulting in higher costs, and not necessarily returning value,” says Hass. “What we do is explore the nature of complexity theory as it applies to projects.”

In other words, experienced project managers are realizing that the stakes are too high for us to rely on false assumptions and old mindsets to maximize project success. Below is a chart that captures our understanding of how complexity theory applies to large design and construction projects.

This is a huge topic that requires ongoing analysis. However it may be of interest to construction project managers that, nearly ten years ago, a group of leading software developers gathered to write an Agile Manifesto that identified what really matters in terms of rapid, results-driven software project delivery. Maybe a group of design and construction project managers will one day write a manifesto aimed at removing similar barriers.

Sharon VanderKaay

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