Poison Apples

I'm following with great interest the meltdown of the financial markets, and the curious response by investors, brokers, and regulators alike, noticing how much energy is being focused into restoring the old status quo. Who knows what the markets should be like now? We've nibbled the poison apple and the best response we seem to be able to produce is how to guarantee the future supply of poison apples. Yum!

A lot like the debate over granting war powers prior to the Iraqi intrusion, and we know how THAT turned out.

Taking this to an area I know something about, on projects there are four or five critical failure modes when it's discovered that a project's in trouble. First, whatever the point of discovery, it was busted a long time before the problem was recognized. The old status quo was geriatric before it was acknowledged as aging. So the first shock is great, but not terribly significant. We've already lived for a long time with it busted.

Second, there's always a hair-on-fire urgency to do something - literally anything, probably to recover our sense of mastery and control more than to actually fix anything. Of course, the toup's flaming  creates the worst possible context for deciding anything mindfully.

Third, the initial strategies for resolving always involve recovery, rather than transformation, even though recovery will only produce more of what's already proven to not work. We don't know how to produce transformation in a systematic way. The paradox is that by letting go, we're more likely to encourage transformation. By holding on, we encourage continuing dysfunction.

Fourth, why seems like the right question, though it almost never is. What next? or what now? are each better questions, but each initiates an investigation rather than a solution. The belief that there is a root cause, and that finding that root cause will necessarily allow undoing the past, is the real root cause. But this is just the way it is, a stupid human trick. 

Finally, the quality of the response is usually misunderstood to necessarily mean clear, precise, predictable next steps. In this way, we recreate old status quo rather than pursue transformation. 

If we can side-step these pitfalls, we might make a real difference. If not, probably not.

The conversation around 'resolving the credit crisis' is stepping into every one of these.

Often, in my experience, embracing an "Anything But That!" strategy better encourages transformation, though it usually feels like the worst possible approach.

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