Planning as we have may be a dinosaur move

Planning the way we have always planned is a Dinosaur move.  Refusing to see, or keeping others from seeing, that context is changing is hazardous to our health.  (For more on cities, see this post – Uneasy journey of cities and dinosaurs.)

When I first started working in Brandon, Manitoba in 1995 I had to learn the ropes. I was fresh out of school so I didn’t know how development came about, how approvals took place, how the community’s planning documents worked, let alone how all the people involved in these processes fit.  So I asked questions about things with the intention to understand how the system I was working in worked.  For one colleague, Dave, the answer was always, “Because that is the way we have always done it.”

I see now that in saying this, he really didn’t understand why things happened they way they did.  The connection to purpose of our rules and protocols was lost.  Or, if he had the purpose in mind, it was a purpose that was no longer desirable.  The result was that Dave was unable to see the value of a different way to do something, even if it meant responding better to the community’s needs.  He was a dinosaur.

Now in saying that Dave was a dinosaur, I don’t mean this pejoratively.  I simply mean he had a hard time noticing that when the context changed, the purpose for our rules changed as well. That meant that our rules needed to shift and adjust along with what those rules were supposed to accomplish.

And herein lies the planning trap – planning with what happened.

We so often research to see what has worked before, or we research what has worked in other places.  We look for trends and then plan for that to continue, assuming that what has worked for years will continue to work, or what has worked elsewhere will work in our place.

At the heart of this trap is standardization.

There is a time and place for standardization, when the life conditions are appropriate for it.  It’s companion is diversity, necessary to spark our imagination.  Moreover, we learn little when applying anything blindly, with no regard to setting.  We do learn if we explore, notice patterns, reflect on what is happing in our mileu, then find the way forward that meets the life conditions of our mileu, not those of another.

The way through the trap is patterns.

There is a distinction between standardization and patterns.  Standardization is a predetermined course of action, where a pattern emerges from what we notice about how things happen.  Standardization is a recipe.  Pattern is about discernment. Standardization is about having more of what has happened.  Patterns is about being sensitive to what has happened, but holding this lightly, ensuring that our ability to notice when the pattern changes.

So, is planning a dinosaur move?  I propose that rampant standardization is a dinosaur move.  Finding peace with the discomfort of not knowing is the opposite.  It is an uneasy journey, and the more uneasy it is, the less likely it is a dinosaur move.

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This post forms part of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.

Nest City is organized into three parts, each with a collection of chapters.  Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.  Click here for an overview of Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence, chapters 4-7.


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