Published in Jul-Aug 2022
Here are three notes that may have something to do with where we find ourselves.
1. Complex Ecosystems: There is a great story about fixing the ecosystem of Yellowstone in the United States. In the early 1900s, rampant hunting had driven out the population of the grey wolves from the national park. After decades of study, scientists concluded that the absence of the top predator might be adversely affecting the entire ecosystem. So, in 1995, they released 30 or so grey wolves back into the park. What followed was a lesson in common sense.
Prior to the reintroduction of wolves, the elk population had exploded, because coyotes were the top carnivore and they were too small to kill fully grown elks. The elks, meanwhile, were ravaging the available green vegetation which led to the erosion of riverside banks and, in turn, shallower and wider rivers. But once the wolves were reintroduced, the eagles also reappeared to feed off the wolf-kills. The elk population dwindled; the vegetation exploded; more antelopes frolicked across the plains (wolves don’t hunt antelope); grizzly bears appeared in droves to feed off wolf-killed elk and bison. With more willow growing near the embankments, birds and insects were able to survive, not to mention, the beaver population multiplied ten fold…
The great lesson here is about the power of interactions within complex ecosystems. A politician’s campaign promise is a mere headline. It is a first-order whose effects are just an appetiser, for instance. To truly understand an ecosystem, we must be able to understand and visualise the second, third, fourth and fifth-order effects to fully appreciate the sincerity and gravity of our primary decisions. And that includes the economy. But what if we disagree?
2. Planning for Disagreements: If we disagree, let’s first agree that we have a problem. It could be a host of things critical for me, but that mean nothing to you. We can agree whether it is a problem (a problem has solutions) or something that is just a situation (like gravity or a mother-in-law) that we must live with.
Once we agree we have a problem, notice how the status quo will show up at our door. They will argue ferociously about how any experimentation is either too expensive, too crazy or too upsetting. They will stall. They will call for proof of concept. They will magnify the pain that will be felt by the few at the cost of the benefit to all others. Then they will win. They will win because we changemakers are now playing defence: we are forced to justify every decision, reexamine every choice and alter every inconvenience we may cause.
But maybe is there a better way forward? Maybe each party (to the agreed-to problem) can forward a plan that either addresses the problem or takes full responsibility for avoiding it.
Then, for each plan, we consider possible outcomes by following up with the why and how? Whatever you do – even if you don’t believe the problem is worth solving – just don’t delay and don’t stall. Make your reservations known now – and then get out of the way. Even you wouldn’t tolerate someone who creates obstacles to your growth or steals your ideas... At the end of the day, culture becomes what you tolerate.
3. “Things That Hurt…” And let’s say that after all is said and done, nothing works out and all our efforts were in vain. Benjamin Franklin, the driving intellectual force of the American Revolution, once said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.” It is a wise reminder from someone who was at the centre of insurmountable fears, anxieties and setbacks in the years leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But he reminds us that no matter how tough the circumstances, real difficulties “summon our blood and wisdom.” They propel the growth of our intellect and our spirit – giving us cause to rise to new challenges, revive broken ecosystems, and agree to disagree in meaningful and constructive ways so that we may better ourselves, even if “our reach exceeds our grasp.” Those things that hurt…? They create our courage.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE & CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.