Jitterbugging as a Metaphor for Change
Definition of jitterbug intransitive verb. 1 : to dance the jitterbug. 2 : to move around or back and forth with quick, often jerky movements
Many of us are trying to understand and create meaning around the social justice, public health and climate disruptions happening today. We’re wondering if there might be a larger system change happening. It’s all confusing, if not overwhelming. Oddly enough, the concept of “jitterbugging” can help us find a new way of interpreting the dynamics of what we are experiencing.
Watch for jitterbugging between old and new
A sign that occurs when a paradigm is about to fall is the experimenting between old and new ideas or practices. This jitterbugging can be seen between traditional and emergent business models or leadership practices, and it’s typical of how paradigms shift. We can also jitterbug between world views that may be part of political rhetoric or news streams. I happen to think we are jitterbugging between these shifts globally.
Here’s a breakdown of the specific ways we’re jitterbugging today:
- Control or Adapt
We have grown up within a framework that tells us control is possible. But control can only be achieved if a system (organization / community) is closed off from the external environment. When a system is open to disruption from outside forces or dynamics, adaptation and influence are the most effective resilient choices given the dynamic movement and interdependence that we are experiencing. In our news, political positioning, and business leadership (among other things). the pandemic has reminded us that we can all be impacted and disrupted by an external event like a virus. We have leaders who recognize that the virus requires an open system adaptation response. At the same time, there are others who start trying have control over it. And so we begin jitterbugging between control and more positive adaptation strategies.
- Short Term to Long Term Thinking
The other dynamic we are jumping between is the choice between short- and long-term thinking as a lens to create strategies. Some leaders are focused on solving the impact of the pandemic based on a short-term framework. In other words, “it will be over when we have a vaccine.” Others see the impact of the pandemic as having long-term implications that need to be considered in every decision we make. As a larger society we see both frameworks present simultaneously.
- Ownership to Sovereignty
Ownership mentality has some privileges that come with it. If we own an item, we get to choose how to use that item for our own convenience. This ownership mentality has seeped into how we view our organizations as inert objects. When we see our organizations as inert, the leaders or shareholders are owners of the organization… and its contents. That often, unfortunately, extends to the people in the organization. They are objectified and therefore can be used to achieve whatever outcomes the leaders desire.
But there’s another worldview that is emerging..that is the one where we view our organizations, and more importantly, people, as having sovereignty. Sovereignty provides choice for people in the system.When we see our organizations as living systems the people in it have freedom of choice and leaders need to attract them into actively contributing to the mission. In high talent sectors, there are many examples of companies treating their employees as if they have the freedom to choose where to work. That shifts the way leaders lead.
- Autonomy to Interdependence
Do we see ourselves as autonomous and our actions individual choices that don’t need to take others into account? Or do we see ourselves as connected and having an interdependent relationship with others? The public health phrase “we are all in this together” can help people see how one’s actions can positively or negatively impact our ability to reduce the impact that COVID-19 has on our communities. It’s also an excellent example of an interdependent worldview. Today, these two views are in competition with each other. This is exactly what happens when we approach a threshold where one view is released and another firmly accepted as the new reality.
Watch for increasing shifts in behavior and thinking
What is happening when we see opposing world views, especially when one doesn’t seem to dominate over the other? When we see things like:
- adaptation vs. control
- long-term thinking over short-term thinking
- sovereignty vs. ownership and
- interdependence vs. autonomy
…it means that we are jitterbugging on the border between a new emergent practice and a traditional practice.
The movement back and forth across the threshold between these continuums tells us that a large systems change is happening. We don’t know when one dominant worldview will fall and the complete shift to something new will occur. However, we do know that we are approaching an edge where we are evolving into thinking about the world much, much differently.
This blog originally appeared on KathleenAllen.net here.