Non-adaptive adaptive practice

It is striking how our rhetoric and reality – or aspirational and actual – can be so different. I was recently speaking with someone about adaptive programme development and implementation because the organisation operates in a dynamic environment. They were keen to talk about adaptive practice, but the moment I started exploring and suggesting specific ways of doing things adaptively I faced reluctance. Perhaps our views of what constitutes being adaptive were different or perhaps, and more likely, being adaptive sounds good in principle, but frightening in practice.

I was encouraged to challenge and ask questions. But there appears to be asking for feedback and receiving it. People talk about feedback because they say they want to improve things, but the feedback received can be very selective. If it does not support my intention or paradigm, then the feedback just gets fed back at you. In this case, it was evident that a sense of control and stability was expected to prevail and could not be jeopardised if we shifted from fixed and carefully orchestrated practice to dynamic and adaptive approach.

I am not sure where it comes from – is it university education or what – that kills in us the desire for exploration, amazement, discovery, and surprise. Instead we are encouraged to gravitate towards control, measurement, and predictability. We try to reduce uncertainty, tame risk, and domesticate the unknown. The impetus is to work out as much as possible in advance otherwise, it is implied, we can’t take action. The ones rewarded are those who mastered the way of driving out anxiety from the minds of senior managers… even if it means transferring anxiety further down the organisational ranks. This seems the way of non-scientific scientific management.

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