Everything can undergo a transition; a person going abroad, an organization merging, a country going in a war, or even a fluid at its boiling temperature. Transitions always do something to you. A transition is the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another. Transitions basically means “change” for a system. Nevertheless, transitions imply that there are multiple levels engaged in making a change. This just means that a lot of things get involved while changing, you can think of 1000 reasons why transitioning from man to woman would be difficult. This is the complex dynamic systems view; a point of view where you take into account the multiple levels involved with the dynamics of a system. Transition can be in the long term, so take place over months (for like organizational transitions) or could take place in a few minutes (for a person transitioning from home to work). Either way, transitions can have an huge impact on the system. Nevertheless, it is quite hard to determine the outcome of a transitions. When you get a new job, win a million dollar, go on a huge journey, have a massive break-up, you are never sure of the outcome of the transition.
In today’s blog I talk about transitions from a view of complex dynamical systems. I will mostly focus on transitions in the long-term. I don’t want to disregard short term transitions, but for consistency I will only discuss long-term transitions. Secondly, I will teach how to play with transitions. You could modify several things from the system to make it perceptive of a transition. I hope you have fun reading this.
The systems view
The first thing we need to know from a system, is that every system has multiple layers. Thus, each level has its own timeline, with its own pattern. Let’s say I would like to go abroad for a while, this would be a huge transition to me. A transition requires a change in all the levels of the system. I have levels called work, relationship, and friends, (these are my primary timelines). Moreover, each level has its own pattern. This pattern has its own timeline with moments where it is ready to for a transition. The pattern of each individual level has an influence on my decision to go travelling. For example, at my work-level: I have a 1 year work contract until next August (making it easy for me to travel in August), on my relationship-level: I have a girlfriend who has her own timeline and she is not ready to travel for 1,5 years, and I have several friends who have their individual timelines. If they go abroad, it makes it easier to me to go as well. The timelines are usually not aligned, so it is never a good time to go abroad. However, once the patterns on each level align, we are getting something. If I get fired, and my girlfriend breaks up with me at the same time, this would be a great time to make a transition. Let’s go traveling!
But in real life, it is quite hard to go abroad for a while, because it is quite unlikely that all the levels align. All the levels move independently from one another, at a different rhythm. That might be the reason we don’t see that many people going abroad. At young age we see it more often, because their rhythms are shorter, and young people have less levels (timelines). Adults start to have children, houses, and jobs; aka, long term patterns. At retirement, timelines of children, jobs and houses disappear again and traveling becomes more fitting. So should you wait on retirement then? I believe not, because there are several tricks that will make transitions easier.
The first trick is to make levels dependent on each other. As mentioned, when each level moves separately, it is hard to sync them all to the same rhythm. Once they are synced (and thus repeat and stop at the same time), it becomes easier to make a transition. So instead of separating the different levels, you could try to make the levels interdependent from each other. I could discuss my traveling plans with my girlfriend and tell her that we could go together. Through that way, her patterns become dependent on mine and we’ll discuss each of our patterns where we both try to change them. For my work, I could work hard and make my work dependent on me, so they would promise to take me back once I leave for half a year.
The second trick is removing a level each time it ends a cycle. It is easier to quit a job once a project is done, or to break up with your girlfriend in a bad period, if you really want to go travelling (this is not my plan though!). The less levels you have, the easier you could make a transition. But be aware that removing levels might have a large effect on your functioning. Removing levels reduces your complexity of the system and makes you more dependent on single levels. But we could talk more about it in a different blog.
Suppose you are doing a job that is mostly online writing but you have a few meetings each week. Then, this is a reason you couldn’t go abroad. Nevertheless, once you manage to change these meetings to an online platform, you need no physical presence anymore. In that way, the external work patterns disappear and works becomes “a part” of you. It doesn’t have its own pattern anymore. So you could go abroad while working online. With merging levels you create a full interdependency until the levels merge. I know that this example of online work might be a little vague. But for organisations I have a clearer one. Suppose your organization does marketing, and needs to print posters through an external office. In situation, you are dependent on the pattern of this external office, what affects your own rhythm. If your organization is large enough, you can buy (merge) the printing company, so they become a part of you, increasing your efficiency, literally; a merger.
Okay, this is a weird one. But I think is one that happens quite often. Suppose you are at a party and you want to leave the party. However, everyone is partying at his own rhythm, so someone will always yell; “don’t go now!”. That’s why it is never a good time to leave a party. Suddenly, at 2 AM, something huge happens that causes quite some stress; for example, you hear on the news that a Tsunami hit the shore taking many deaths. Usually, 2 AM is no time to leave the party, but this news item did make everyone sync for a little while. Everybody was forced to a moment of confusion; a little transition. And you know, transition states are great for making a(n independent) transition. So at that moment, you could say; “I’m leaving!” and no one will bat an eye. They even probably associate your transition with the fact that you are sorry for the deaths of the Tsunami. Great for you! But there are also common tricks which use this technique. When you want to break into a conversation, you could slap the table loudly (which is an independent transition), and start to talk.
I believe we are quite keen on spotting transitions, and I am sure that some of the things I told are not new at all. But I believe that seeing transitions as multi-leveled timelines across a system makes it quite insightful to deal with them. Especially when you realize that humans, organizations, institutions, matter, and climates deal with transitions every day. Moreover, transitions appear from the largest till the smallest level; from transitions over decades to transitions happening in a few seconds. Knowing about their appearance and giving them a place makes it easier to work with them. Furthermore, it gives you chances to play tricks with them. There is much more to talk about, but this blog is long enough for now.
Art-project for proof
Based on this theory, I made a little art-project to proof some of the aspects of theory. In this proof, I combined two levels and made them synchronize with each other. Nevertheless, the outcomes give you twisted thoughts. Read more about it here: http://www.justintimmer.com/playing-with-the-associative-mind/