Does a glowing sunset stop you in your tracks? Do you lose track of time when strolling through an art museum? If so, appreciation of beauty and excellence (ABE) might be one of your signature character strengths.
ABE speaks to our capacity to relish the best of what we see and experience in the world around us. While nature and visual imagery are obvious examples for experiencing ABE; there are less obvious, and potentially more powerful possibilities.
What about the potential to appreciate complex systems and systems change with an “elegance” mindset? According to Professor Azad Madni in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California, “Elegance is a term frequently associated with aesthetics in design. It typically connotes simplicity, beauty, and grace.” However, “when it comes to complex systems, it also connotes predictable behavior, power, and creative functionality. Elegance is what separates the merely functional from the engaging.” Reading about Madni’s work in systems engineering and reflecting on our work with people-centric systems and change, I was struck by the similarities.
After being involved in decades of large and small “reform” efforts, it seems that there is no shortage of innovative solutions to our challenges. New ideas and re-branding of old ideas are constantly emerging. While many of these innovations hold promise, it is rare to witness real and sustained change. Why?
Because what we really have is a scarcity of interest/ability/attention span for capacity-building and adoption.
Elegant systems change calls for an iterative, creative process that exploits systems thinking by probing and questioning. This doesn’t happen quickly. Our work to build successful change processes within and across schools, organizations, communities and partnerships similarly requires that we first build a receptive culture. Receptivity is built by engaging stakeholders with ideas, one another, the process, and by adopting and encouraging flexible, adaptive thinking while maintaining coherence to a shared vision. Concurrently, paying relentless attention to details, connecting the dots between them, communicating important milestones, and holding ourselves accountable to them are necessary components for whole scale change. With these actions, we get what Madni noted above–predictable behavior, power, creative functionality, and that rarest of commodities–sustained change.
When all of the elements come together (elegantly) in seamless change efforts, it is, indeed a beautiful thing to behold – a sublime and transformative experience for all involved, and well worth the effort. For those of us who may not get to experience a spectacular forest or roaring ocean on a regular basis, elegantly designed change processes can make it possible to appreciate beauty and excellence in our homes, workplaces, communities, and beyond.