#WorkingOutLoud – How Formal Systems Fail

Without apology, another early stage #WorkingOutLoud post today as i work to complete the paper i’m writing on ‘Black Swans and the Limits of Hierarchy’ for a conference later this year. Early stage because, having set the foundations, i’m trying to move into the ‘what we do about it’ part of the paper! The premise is this: we operate in Known Frames, utilising the power of Known Scripts, under the authority of Formal power. Black Swan type events operate in Unknown Frames by Unknown Scripts. Category errors cause us to misconstrue the ‘unknown’ as ‘known’, hence deluding ourselves that things are under control until sudden failure occurs. That’s what this illustration seeks to capture:

Black Swans - how formal systems fail

As we operate within a Known Frame, Unknown Scripts slowly infiltrate. Our native, trained, conditioned responses allow us to (or trap us into) adopting a Known Frame and recognising (miscategorising) Known Scripts, whilst actually we are drifting ever further from the Known.

Black Swans and the Limits of Hierarchy

At some point, a fracture occurs when the credibility of the Known Scripts is broken: this is the failure point, where the system is adrift. Typical kinetic responses to reimpose Known Scripts and Known Frames can fail if we don’t truly understand where the power now lies.

Central to this challenge is the way that Scripts are not just descriptive categories narrating observed action, they are powerful in themselves. Scripts define and power action, not just observe it.

So when we are trapped in a Known Frame, our own Known Scripts can lose power, and we find we cannot control (or even recognise) Unknown Scripts (because we are operating outside of Known Frames).

Later, i will explore how we can use narrative approaches to work around this challenge. For now, i’m trying to clarify and illustrate the core challenge.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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10 Responses to #WorkingOutLoud – How Formal Systems Fail

  1. rschaefe1 says:

    I always enjoy your visuals!!
    The challenge is figuring out “my” word paradigm vs. yours… I’m assuming “scripts” and “frames” will be defined in the story. If “frames” equals -> guidelines, rules, processes, paradigms… then I understand and completely agree.
    In the area of learning technology, I’ve been seeing the “Frame” as the Learning Management System – where the large LMS / TMS companies are focused on formal learning and the informal area, that requires a new way of thinking, doesn’t get embraced, other than with the comment, “we’re working on that…”
    Another great analogy is when someone has their “process ladder” set up on the wrong building, but they are 2/3rds up the ladder and making great progress…
    Thanks Julian,

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