Understanding the Dynamics of Disruptive Experience…to Achieve Optimal Response

Written by: Bruce Waltuck and Denise Easton

A new series of blog posts will focus on how Plexus network members and clients build on and apply principles of complexity in innovative new ways. In this post, written by Plexus Catalysts Denise Easton and Bruce Waltuck, they describe their ongoing research and work about how Self-Organization and Emergence – two fundamental aspects of Complex Adaptive Systems – result in new insights about the Dynamics of Disruptive Experiences, and how they help people develop optimal Adaptive Response Capacities to improve outcomes in uncertainty. 

The word FLUX comes from the Latin, fluxus, meaning flow.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives contemporary definitions as “a continuous moving on” (as a stream) or “change.” 

A cover story in Fast Company magazine a few years ago, described “Generation Flux” as a growing  group of  workers – both young and old – displaced by major disruptions in workplace technologies and employment patterns.  In talking about this, Plexus Catalysts Bruce Waltuck and Denise Easton began to think about the patterns of disruptive experience in our lives, and the ways that we as individuals, communities, and organizations, typically respond.

These conversations, and the research that followed, defined the new framework that Denise and Bruce refer to as FLUX.  In short. . . We all feel FLUXed sometimes.  The challenge and opportunity are about how we may best respond.  

We commonly talk about the universe and our lives in it as being “dynamic.”  We think about how things are constantly in motion.  But in fact, the universe – and our lived experience – is DYNAMICAL.  This refers to the fact that the universe, and especially we humans living in it, are constantly and continuously affecting and being affected by most everything and everyone else.

As we further explored the common patterns of disruptive experience, we recognized four fundamental dimensions and capacities that directly flow from our lived experience, and which most impact our ability to successfully respond to disruption.  We began to think about FLUX as a valuable framework for addressing DISRUPTIVE EXPERIENCES. Not just the catastrophic, damaging, or unwanted experiences, but also the remarkable surprises and unexpected opportunities that come from disruptive challenges.

Our constant experience of the dynamical universe shapes and defines how we FEEL about things. The complex nature of our lived experience shapes and defines what we LEARN, and UNDERSTAND. Our beliefs, values and intentions directly and dynamically impact present and the future actions, and how we choose to eXPLORE options for new possibilities.  How we respond to the ever-moving FLUX of the universe and our lives determines both our individual and collective probabilities of successfully achieving our goals (objectives?).

Through our ongoing work and inquiry, we have come to understand “being FLUXed” as the experience of a Significant Difference between the Need or Opportunity to Respond and Our Current Capacity to Successfully Respond.

Everyone regularly confronts situations in life and work that may be disruptive, but our lived experience has taught us what to do. When we get a flat tire, we often know how to respond and fix it ourselves. We have LEARNED and UNDERSTOOD how to respond. We may FEEL differently based on the circumstances of the flat tire – is it  on the driver’s side which poses risks as we squat on the shoulder of a busy highway to repair it or do we discover it as we back out of the garage.  In any event maybe we may simply call AAA for help!

Other situations may be beyond our capacity to respond. As we were working on this post, Bruce got a call…and got FLUXED. Water leaking from his old (but regularly maintained) refrigerator, had now apparently spread and was dripping in basement. He left immediately with over an hour drive home to think about the situation. The  ice-maker line was installed 1985 but later enclosed by framing and sheet rock in 1990. Arriving home, Bruce realized that the shut-off valve to the water line was not immediately accessible.   The drywall of the basement ceiling was accumulating water from the leak upstairs.  It had  bubbled and burst and was dripping. Sears has the maintenance service contract but couldn’t  come…for a WEEK. Several calls later and Waltuck got a repair person coming that evening for a flat $79 call fee PLUS the cost of the repair.

Situations like this stretch most people’s capacity to respond, even if all it takes is to find a reliable expert who can help us.  In the end, the leak in the refrigerator damaged the kitchen, hallway and foyer floors and the basement sheet-rock, for a total repair cost that will likely exceed $5,000.  The next round of disruption is working with the homeowners  insurance, and Sears service contract liability insurance, to sort out who pays for what.

What matters in any significantly disruptive experiences – when we are FLUXED- is what we call one’s ARC, our individual or collective ADAPTIVE RESPONSE CAPACITY. This concept builds on Bruce’s  2003 work developing capacity to go FAR- to be FLEXIBLE, ADAPTIVE, AND RESILIENT. Being ADAPTIVE relates directly to our living in a dynamical universe. What can we do to change our FEELING, what we can LEARN and UNDERSTAND, so that we can better eXPLORE new options for a successful response?

The ongoing emerging patterns of FLUX in our lives change over time, and so do our perceptions, sense-making, and decisions about acting in response. This temporal aspect of FLUX rresults in three specific dimensions of our ARC – REACTIVE (past-focused), ACTIVE (present-focused), or PROACTIVE (future-focused).

We believe that individuals and organizations can and should take steps to build their FLUX CAPACITY.  A multi-dimensional approach to building a better ARC involves understanding and managing emotional responses; being more present and attentive; learning how to learn and where to get help from others; and how best to act into uncertainty and ambiguity.

In our FLUXlab presentations and workshops to help people understand the dynamics and emergence of disruptive experience, we often use the example of the master surfer as a parallel to improving one’s FLUX CAPACITY. The surfer begins by watching and talking to others. Experience, knowledge, and wisdom are shared. Ability and judgment improve. Bigger and more complex waves may now be conquered. But sometimes. . . even the master gets FLUXED.