Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) and Spryng

Video Transcript
Barrett Horne 0:00
Yeah, I think there we are now we're recording so. So Glenda, it's always nice to see you. And I really enjoy our conversations. So thank you.

Glenda Eoyang 0:15
I do too, Barrett. This is a fun chance to talk with you and to find out more about Spryng and how it works. So that's really great. So yeah, yeah, of course, I'm always full of questions. But my first question for you today is, how does it work? So, who comes to Spryng? And why? And how? And just really curious about a project life. Why do they come? What kinds of problems would bring someone to Spryng?

Barrett Horne 0:51
It's a really good question. And typically, the reason an institution, it could be a private company and government, an NGO, across the whole spectrum of organizations, there, they have some sort of issue. That's typically a problem for them. Typically, it's a problem that's been intractable, that's been difficult. It's one that typically they've been dealing with for a long time, one way or the other. And they come to the place where they say, We need to figure out what's going on here. And typically, they've tried other approaches and other things, and they stumble on to or for whatever reason, they learn about active sensemaking, this way of gaining insights into complex human systems at scale. And they present the like myself, consultant, or about, you know, practitioner of active sensemaking. They present them with the question, we want to understand. And some of the projects that, you know, I was thinking of in relation to this conversation, we want to understand how, why, how do customers become loyal to us as a business? What's the source of that obvious important question for lots of businesses? And or what, how are in a government organization? How is leadership being experienced in our public service organization, which often comes about because they've been hearing reports of uneven experiences of leadership? And they're saying we, we want to, we need to, do something to raise the standards or deal with these issues. But we're curious, how are people experiencing leadership? And how can we figure that out? And so there's a question – it starts with curiosity. There's a question about something that's important to them as an organization. And sometimes it's about health. There's a lot of projects that have been done in the field of health, a lot of projects that have been done in social services, government services, but also businesses and Customer Service, Employee Engagement, anything, any of these large sort of complex challenges where the there's feel like there's a need to do better, but we're not sure what we can do that will make a difference.

Glenda Eoyang 3:29
Well, and it's so exciting, because in all of those cases, it's about what people are thinking. So it's not all kinds of complex questions, all kinds of complex problems. It's what are people thinking. And not what are, what's an average of a group thinking? So you don't want the average of the group, but you want to know what individual Subjective Truths are within a collective. And so it's so interesting that you need to know how an individual is processing information, responding to service, seeing a possibility, but each one is going to be unique, because their experience is different. And so how do you hold that possibility of knowing each, individually and all at the same time? It's an interesting path into normative truth, isn't it?

Barrett Horne 4:24
It is. And of course, that is the challenge. And if I can say that's the magic of the methodology, or the genius of the methodology, that it's built, in a way it's designed in a way that says every voice matters, every human experience is unique. And every human experience, every human opinion about whatever it is, is based on experiences that they've had, and then they form opinions or judgments about that. And so we want to know what were those experiences and then how did they make sense of those experiences? The first thing that we do once we understand what the what the curiosity is about, we design some some questions where we're inviting respondents, whoever the people who are, who are, you know, impacted by this influencers and influenced by the system, whatever it is, as many as possible, we want to invite them to share experiences. And we do that by inviting them by designing what we call prompting questions. And a prompting question is to invite somebody to share Anik a concrete specific experience that they've had relative to the question. So for example, I can read you one here. A project where individuals, groups that are involved in providing humanitarian care for people who have been displaced refugees, and what has been their experience of working with international NGOs, what has been their experience of providing care, in partnership with larger organizations that are trying to help local leaders? Here's one of the prompting questions. Think about decision making power and resources needed for a just and equitable response to a humanitarian crisis and or displacement. So they're encouraged to think about that. Share an experience you have had or witnessed. Where local stakeholders were in charge, or where outside actors had the power. What happened? Now you can see what's happening? That's an ambiguous question. It could be a positive experience, it could be a negative experience. It could be one where local people were in charge or outside people were in charge. But it's context where there's that interplay, what experience did you have? And so prompting questions are always slightly ambiguous, as one person said, if a person can read a prompting question and say, Oh, that's the kind of answer they want. It's not a good prompting question.

Glenda Eoyang 7:54
There's so many variables there. So I can imagine one of those people would have 20 stories. Absolutely. So in that moment, they can say one, and then that may make them think of another and another. So it's not just then that that person's experience is unique. But you capture a unique moment, right? And response to that moment in a unique person's experience. And so that prompting question, really, the more concrete, I suspect, you get it, the more applied, the more particular, the easier it would be for people to give really meaningful and unique responses.

Barrett Horne 8:38
And they are unique. One of the differences between this and say a traditional survey is we invite people to share more than one experience. So if you as you say, if I, I'm reminded of other experiences, and always with the instrument, it says, if you have another experience, please share as many experiences as you would like to sit. But each time you share an experience, you share one, and then you answer some questions about that experience. So you're interpreting you're giving you're assigning some meaning to that. You know, here's another one for the one we were doing for an education department about inclusive, and special education. And one of the questions and there's always a choice of questions. So there's usually three or four different questions that are slightly different so that hopefully one of them is of interest, or hooks to the respondent. Think of a time when the teacher or other support people were helpful and engage with the student and or family and or community or were not helpful or disengaged. What happened? Okay, so again, you can answer there's no right or wrong answer. And we tend to push people to the extremes because the really interesting experiences are the ones that are on one end or the other. And then they can interpret those things. So we're inviting. And the thesis behind that is that every voice matters. Every experience matters, you can think about it in terms of customer loyalty and similar, you know, prompting questions around. What happened, you know, some experience that you had with a company that made you want to keep shopping there or decide that you would never shop there again.

Glenda Eoyang 10:22
That's another really interesting aspect to the questions is that they're evaluative, so they're not just reporting. Nor are they opinions, necessarily, but it's telling the story that made you feel something, and so or that prompted you to feel something. And it's an evaluative thing, which is really interesting, because usually, when you provide information on a survey or something, even in an interview, it's very often just descriptive. This is what happened to me, what happened to you, but this is so much richer, because you're talking about not just what happened, because you asked for that, keep it grounded. But what was your response to that? What was sure? How did it affect you? Are they always that kind of have an evaluative layer in them?

Barrett Horne 11:14
They always push to the borders, if you will, the boundaries of whatever the question is, and typically, that is evaluative, I suppose it could have you could think of it in other ways, but but, you know, it's it's pushing you to think of the, the exemplar experiences along whatever the scale might be. And because those are the ones that are interesting to people, those are the when you think about it, that's how we naturally do stuff. When I ask you how your day went, you don't say, well, I got up and I brush my teeth. And I put on my clothing, you know, whatever it is, we say, well, today, boys, it was a hard day because I had to do this or it was a great day this thing happened. So that's a natural way that we think of our experiences in life. And so we're inviting people going through that selection process. Yeah, exactly. And we're doing that, because we're making sense of our day. I mean, we're actually when we think about it, when I say How'd your day go? The answer that you give me is you're telling me an experience. And the experience that you're giving me is one that's going to help me understand how you are experiencing your day, as opposed to simply saying, Well, I brush my teeth, and then I ate my breakfast, or vice versa. And to me, that's a very natural human way of how we make sense of the world.

Glenda Eoyang 12:44
Yeah, that's true. That makes sense. And I think that it's such a critical reflection of what we talk about as adaptive action. It's not just what you saw. But so what did it mean to you, because it's in that things get stored away, it's not the thing that happened that you remember, it's the response and the so what implication, the connections that really capture and memory. And that would also be the memory that your client would have wanted to know, when they're trying to figure out a variety of individual perspectives. How do you decide on a good question?

Barrett Horne 13:26
It's an art and a science. Deriving really good prompting questions. And as I say, there's typically at least two or three, maybe four don't want too many, but at least a couple. So people can think, you know, a number of doors into whatever the big question is. But typically, it involves a process where people who are either influencers or influenced by, but people who have some involvement in whatever the question is, but involvement, not just as people who are in charge necessarily, you're trying to be as broadly representative as possible of the population who would be naturally interested naturally involved with naturally impacted by the whatever the issue is, whatever the question is, and you bring together a representative group of them, and there might be I've done it with as few as 10 or 12. Depends on how big the issue is. I've done it with multiple workshops of you know, 15 or 20 people. In those workshops, we're inviting people to think about whatever the question is asking them. What are questions that come to mind? Actually, pattern spotters is not a bad little exercise to put people to when I think of this question, these are things that come to mind. And we're just generating what's bubbling to the surface in their thinking around those. And then we look at what they come up with. And we're looking at the patterns in that. We invite them to reflect on those patterns, and are their themes, do they notice any themes in the patterns that they've identified? And then from noticing those things, we're looking for what we sometimes call modulators, we're looking for the things that seem to be where the hinges are for how people are, are asking questions, how they're responding to the challenges that they're wrestling with. And out of that, we start crafting, prompting questions. And then we test the prompting questions with this group, or these representative folks. Because we want to say, are they relevant? Do they make sense? And we will invite them to say, do these questions provoke experiences, when you read this prompting question, do experiences come to mind that seem relevant to the issue? And so it's a, it's an iterative process of coming up with questions that are relevant, that genuinely provoke experiences that feel like they matter. And yeah, and at the same time are ambiguous. So there's no right or wrong answers.

Glenda Eoyang 16:39
So I really love that in the facilitated conversation, you'd be asking them about their experiences. And as they talk about them, you'd be seeing the patterns and pattern spotters, in general, what do you notice around this issue? What are the contradictions on the one hand on the other? What surprised you about it? What questions do you have about it? And as they do that, you're listening, and you're seeing patterns. They're talking about patterns of their experience. And you're seeing patterns from the group. And then as you put together questions, it consolidates those questions of the group, and then you confirm it back to them with their experience. So it really is an interesting, pattern recognition, generation, confirmation process of meaning making. So it's not just sense making at the end, it's not just act as sense making at the end, your act of sense making in the middle as well,

Barrett Horne 17:37
All the way through. I mean, you can think about adaptive action, you know, it's What, So what, Now what, within larger circles of What, So what, larger circle.

Glenda Eoyang 17:49
Yeah. And each time it's kind of distilling the information. So you have to, you can think about the experiences as raw materials, and that this is a process of distilling them, and getting the essence out of them without destroying the essence of it. It's really interesting. So then, once you have the questions, and the stories are coming in, I'm very curious about how that storyteller tells you about their story. They tell you a story. And then they analyze it for you.

Barrett Horne 18:29
So then they tell us what it means. And again, the the premise behind this is that the only person who truly understands the meaning of their story is the person whose story it is. And, and, you know, that's one of the key points of active sensemaking is that every voice matters, and every voice is taken seriously as being the authority, they are the expert on their story. And so the next part of it, we design prompting questions, but then we design not not too long and needs to be fairly short. But we design a series of what we call signifying questions. These are questions by which people give meaning or assign meaning. They say this is what this experience meant to me. And even with these questions, there's an art and science to them. They're graphic. There's three main types, there's a triangle, one where there'll be three points on a triangle. And people move between them to say where their story fit. There's what we call a slider where they have two extremes on each end of the slider. And then we have one we call the canvas, or the marbles where there's two axes, and people place a dot somewhere relative to each of the two axes. And it can be, again, they need to be ambiguous and I'll give you an example of one So here's one where for the inclusive education experience, so people were sharing stories, whether they were a parent or a student or a teacher, they were sharing, answering a prompting question about their experience with with special needs education and inclusive education. And, and so think about this one, in the experience shared, so you're always referring it back to the experience that you shared, unique student needs were and they have three points on that triangle, understood, taken, seriously acted upon. And all three of those could be true. And if you put the dot right in the center, you're saying all three of these points are equally true. But it may be that they were mostly understood, but maybe they weren't acted on so much. So you're deciding, and you watch people when they're doing this, they're moving the circle around trying to figure out where to put it at. And they put it somewhere. But the the, the art of these is, if they're, if they're positive ends, which these are all slightly positive, you could argue they are positive, or if they're negative ends, they're all negative, or they're all ambiguous. And there's always a choice out applicable to say, actually, student

Glenda Eoyang 21:24
You don't want a pro and con, to analyze the data in one direction or another.

Barrett Horne 21:30
No, just so you know, for example, the experience shared was about school resources, student needs, student family. And that one's interesting, because it's ambiguous. It may have been about that. But the fact is, they may have not met, it may have been about student family, but it was a total botched experience with a student family. So again, there's a certain kind of ambiguity. And so they answer those kinds of triangles. A slider question is sort of a similar sort of thing. The experience shared was an example of and you have usually two extremes, blind hope, total despair. Okay. And you can think about one end is total despair, one end is blind hope. And somewhere in between there maybe, was where the story fit. So great, you know, people answer these, these kinds of questions. And often there are some multiple choice questions, which then say, the impact of the story that I shared was, you know, extremely positive, positive, neutral, extremely negative, so they impact things. Sometimes there's questions about the feelings, the feelings in this story, the feelings that this story evoked or that was about, they might have, they can usually pick two or three feelings that you know, what things like, made me feel angry, made me feel hopeful, made me feel whatever. And so they answer these questions. And then of course, there's some demographic questions. Relevant, whatever might be relevant, you know, where you fit into the organization, or age or whatever things gender, those whatever questions are relative relevant to the, to the questions. So that's the interpretation. And, and so they're there. And those questions to the design of those questions, by the way, you gotta be thinking about the cognitive load. So you can't have too many of these. And so these questions emerge out of the same workshops. Because when we're listening to the people who are involved, when we're creating the prompting questions, we're also listening to the kinds of things that seem to be impacting. So for example, if we hear them talking a great deal on the customer, one about customer loyalty, one of the things that was, you hear a lot of how customers are really happy when their questions got answered. Okay, when they receive help for something in a timely manner, and which makes sense in a timely and relevant matter. So then you can design your triangles around some of those kinds of modulators. As you've heard those things come up as being the things that seem to matter in the community.

Glenda Eoyang 24:23
That was so cool. Again, it's another pattern recognition. And pattern distillation. So you hear what they say. And you say, these are the differences that make a difference in what you're talking about. Sometimes it's about the consequences of the story. Sometimes it's about the emotions. Sometimes it's about the content of the source. So interesting. And then the idea about being able to sort is a fundamental cognitive capacity. That is one of the first things kids learn, right? Yep. What's the difference? Between a cow and a cat, what is the difference? How do they sound? Or how do you sort these things by color by shape or whatever? So that idea about being given three categories and asked which does this fall into? Or what combination it is, does these fall do these fall into just a really interesting thing very deep and fundamental cognitive function. And when we think goes back, again, to one's perception,

Barrett Horne 25:25
Right, and when we're designing the instrument, part of the practice is that, you know, we come up with a draft, and we send a draft out, again, to the folks who have been involved helping us to have these conversations. And we get their feedback. You're answering this you're sharing, think of an experience and, and if they come back, and they say, these, you know, a significant percentage of the questions have not applicable, then we say, well, those aren't, those probably aren't very good, interpreting questions if they're not applicable. And so they need to, they need to feel like they're relevant to the kinds of experiences that people would share. And so then, you know, it goes out into the wild. And people respond and share experiences. And the nice thing about this, and this is really, I think, one of the unique differences between an active sensemaking in a traditional survey. So with active sensemaking, as I say that every voice matters, every experience ends up being captured, and, contributing, you know, anonymously, and we're very careful about that. But nonetheless, my experience becomes part of the database, if you will, of this inquiry. And in a traditional survey, my experience is abstracted out. In fact, even when I answered the survey, whatever experiences are in my head, from which, however, I'm answering the survey question, that that, that, that that experience is gone, it's no longer there. And my survey answer becomes just, it's lost to, it's nothing to do with me, it just becomes part of the average, whatever out there. Whereas here, every, every single contribution from every single contributor becomes part of the interpretation and the story stay connected. And these have been done with, you know, as many as 10s, of 1000s. Of the participants, but every one is a story that's been interpreted. And then what you're able to do with Spryng with the computer power of Spryng, is you're able to say we have this quantitative data, which is all the patterns of interpretation, but they're always linked to the stories that generated them. So we can use statistical analysis to look at what are the patterns? What are genuine patterns emerging, say, on this triangle? Where do all the patterns end up being placed? And we can cross reference them. So we can say we want to see all the patterns of experiences that were rated by people as being extremely positive. And that happened less than a year ago, because that's another question. When did this happen? How long ago? Was it? You know, is there a difference between experiences 10 years ago and experiences this year? What are the ones that were positive? Whether the pattern so you see that pattern, and you see well, here, almost all of the positive responses to this triangle are in this corner, but there's a few positive ones down in this corner. I wonder what's going on down here. Most of them are up here. But there's a few down here. So then we can look at those. The ones at the bottom of the unusual triangle, and we pull up the stories and we say here, here are those dots on that triangle. And here are the stories that go with those dots. And then you say, Oh, my goodness, is there? Is there something going on in those stories? That's significant why they're different from the ones. So you can always be pulling, looking at the qualitative data, the quantitative data going back and forth, looking for relationships, correlations, and patterns of meaning. Yeah,

Glenda Eoyang 29:23
yeah, it's so interesting. One of the tools that we use in complex systems is zooming in and zooming out, because we recognize that there are patterns at all these different scales. And so the fact that you can look at a whole collection of data and see a pattern of similarities, what's the same here? What's different, what's connected, that's how we define a pattern. So you see the data just as it shows up as a scatter diagram in whatever way what's the same year what's different. Let's connect it and once you see it at that scale, then you can zoom into the story and see Say for that story in it, but similar, different, connected, that tells us about reality. Or you can look at those two stories that are nearby, or two stories that are far apart. Yep. How are they saying? How are they different, how are they connected? And that's how the meaning comes about. And it's interesting that what you've done as you establish them is, what's the pattern similar to, a difference, a connection. In one experience. The same, different, connected, across a whole person's experience. The same, different, connected, for the group to define the signifiers. But same, or different, connected, in the signifiers. And then let's say different, connected when you test them out. And then yet again, when you say this is what the data is, what are the patterns we see at this stage with similarities, differences and connections? What does that mean to us? And ultimately, how is that the same, different, and connected to what we understand about reality that our own experiences and what we see and what we do? So it's pattern spotting, and pattern creation and pattern, reflection and pattern reinforcement. All in every interaction, which of course, is the exchange, which is very exciting.

Barrett Horne 29:25
You're able to cross reference all of the different signifiers, all the different interpretive questions can be cross referenced against one another. And that includes, for example, the demographics. So for example, we can look at what is the pattern of the teachers' experiences and the parents' experiences in the students' experiences relative to this question.

Glenda Eoyang 29:49
And how are they, say that's a kind of exactly, that's a system, right? Are they the same? Are they different?

Barrett Horne 29:55
Exactly, exactly. And so, and out of those out of all of those emerge, of course, the, the, the, the instrument itself, the data itself doesn't tell you what to do. It doesn't tell the client what to do, but what it provides them with is insight into where it's reasonable to think of what would be in HSD terms and XYZ action, that's going to move us to where we need to go. So we're seeing these patterns, we're seeing these relationships, we start forming hypotheses, typically, this isn't the the consultant who's doing this, this would be again, gathering, representative, folks, sometimes the same folks who helped create the instruments, sometimes different folks, but representative of the community that the study concerns, and giving them data, letting them play with this and inviting their questions inviting them to explore it. And it's curated. Because if you got 10,000, they can't look at everything. But the curation is relatively light. It's not, it's just saying these are patterns that emerge. And these are the stories that look like they go with these, the stories that connect to those patterns. What are you curious about when you look at this? What are you curious about? And what would you like to explore more, and so they can actually dig into it? And start teasing stuff out? And then you can, and typically invite them again, to recognize, to ask questions about what's going on, what do they notice, pattern spotters again, variations of pattern spotters is a very useful thing at this point is, they're looking at all this stuff. And then the invitation is, so if there were hypotheses, if you were to, after all of this, and you're looking at this, and you're to think it depends who the who they are in terms of whether they can actually make decisions, or they're just making suggestions. But nonetheless to say, from this, what would be some hypotheses to get to amplify the kinds of patterns that would be helpful and constructive and worthwhile. And to dampen the patterns that are the opposite of that, that would be unhelpful, and that you want to put behind you. And so that leads to, its just, it's the opportunities to see things in a different light, and to actually know what the pattern is that you're endeavoring to shift. So for example, in customer loyalty, we can say, generally, I want customers to be loyal. But now we understand the patterns of that loyalty, we can see what have been, you know, productive patterns, what have been destructive patterns to that loyalty. So we can actually start to say, here's a place here's a modulator, here's a lever that we have that we think if we, if we make this action, take this wise action, it should have the effect of increasing customer loyalty in ways that we think would be helpful. And actually, there's one study that that I was thinking of before we had the conversation, is a study of health providers. And they're looking at a particular community's experience of health care. And they discovered some really interesting patterns, different patterns between whether they were insured or not insured and, and whether they had private insurance or insurance to their company. And that led to some really interesting opportunities for them to say how they could shift the patterns, and they now continue to repeat the study because they're saying okay, we are taking some actions and we should see some shifts, we can continue to invite responses and get feedback through active sensemaking. And we should see if our theories bear fruit, then we will see pattern shifting in ways that we think are constructive.

Glenda Eoyang 34:15
Well, it's fascinating because even at a more analytical scalpel level view of the past, you can talk about there's this difference that shows up across the board. And there's a difference. We didn't expect to see, how can we use that difference? How can we and our policies, or processes or practices or our people or training, address that particular difference? So you may not be talking about patterns of trust, or patterns of communication, or patents or good customer service, you may be talking about this particular distinction between the people who are personally insured or professionally insured. And what is it at that particular intersection? And so you can be really precise in your act of sense making in the now what stage, because even ahead of that, you can say, Oh, this is kind of like, and we've got this group, and we have an idea about what those do at a kind of impressionistic level, which is okay. But sometimes that impressionistic can represent your biases, or somebody else's biases, or be so imprecise, that you don't really know how to act, they can be perfectly accurate, true, but not precise enough really, for you to be able to touch that point in the system, that difference in the system that can really make a difference. In my experience, sometimes the biggest change is made by the difference, that's the least obvious that you might say, you might not even have noticed the difference. And might not even connect a difference with that pattern with a pattern emergent pattern. But that's the place where there's a lever and a possibility for change. So that I think would be a great thing to be listening for as you're doing the pattern spotters for the sensemaking. Because then what they're doing is to use the patterns that you generated and, and presented as mirrors to see reality. So in that reflection, they see their reality in a much different and more articulated way.

Barrett Horne 36:27
That's actually not uncommon, that there's a surprise that something little that it just hadn't twigged that would be important to let that in the insurance one is an example of that, that there was a significant proceed perceptual difference how people were seeing if they had private insurance, or they had, you know, company insurance, and that led to some insights. The other thing, though, that it does is often we do have intuition, the one that the public service were the question, we were looking at the experience of leadership, there were no big surprises in that, I think, intuitively the organization had a reasonable sense of what was going on, but they didn't have data. And so with, with the act of sensemaking, they're able to say, we can see what's happening with how leadership is impacting, you know, authoritative leadership, in leadership experiences, authoritative is having this kind of an impact. And leadership experience, this collaborative. Having this kind of impact is not surprising. But we have these stories, and we can see, we get a sense of the gravity of it. And it provides motivation to say okay, there's an opportunity for us to, to address something here. And to make some amendments and how we develop leaders.

Glenda Eoyang 38:00
It shifts what the question is, and that's so key, right? Because whatever question you're asked, is going to determine how you see the data, how you understand things, how you take action, right? And so if you can see differently, then it gives you a whole different way to live toward adaptive action.

Barrett Horne 38:23
I mean, I have often said, the way that I came into active sensemaking and the way that I see it, relating to my own practice and organizational development is it's allowing me to do at scale what I typically do with my clients, when you know, at small scale and, but if you're, if you've got hundreds of people, it becomes much harder to gather all those voices to let to provide an opportunity for those voices to influence the the system and and and to be confident that you're seeing the patterns of the whole as well as the patterns of the of the individuals and so it's it's very congruent with with my individual work but allows it to happen at a larger scale.

Glenda Eoyang 39:18
This may be kind of a strange question. But is there anybody or any institution, any question that is not a question? Is there any customer that you'd say that's a really important thing? It's not something we do. That's not being done in Spryng?

Barrett Horne 39:58
I think I could probably teach just about any, if it's an intractable problem, I guess that's what I say if if the, if it's been genuinely experiences intractable as having many possible answers, if it's, and they're being serious when I say serious, but obviously, for them to want to do the initiative, it would be serious enough that they want to do something about it. To say, this is hard. This is hard. We have been working at this for a long time. And we're just not sure what the answers are. And, and I mean, all my clients where I've done active sensemaking projects, they're coming at the end of having tried a lot of other things. Okay, often their surveys, and they still aren't confident they're understanding what's going on. And so Spryng becomes an opportunity to find out what's going on. So are there problems that you could not do? Are there problems that you would say not? I mean, I'm sure if somebody said to me, Well, I may answer it a different way. Somebody if they weren't curious. If a client was simply looking to have their preconceptions confirmed, to prove X or Y, I'd say Spryng is not the thing for you.

Glenda Eoyang 41:39
That's great. That open for curiosity? Well, and it's interesting, because that's the way we define a complex system that it's open. Yep, the boundaries are open and fluid. And certainly those are the kinds of issues you're working with their high dimensions, that there are lots of differences that make a difference. And you can't know ahead of time, necessarily which ones they are. And it's nonlinear. So every cause has an effect. And those are three characteristics for a complex system. And so it sounds like Spryng shines are things that are complex, intractable, and easy to solve in a closed system, low dimension, linear way, or bad mines that are closed.

Barrett Horne 42:29
Yeah, well, I'm the jury, for me, the jury is out whether there are systems that are closed and not linear. But there are mines that are definitely closed.

Glenda Eoyang 42:42
Yeah, I also think there are systems, otherwise my living room would not get so dusty. But so, so interesting, so interesting. And when you talk about it, Barrett, I just see you glow and get excited and laugh and really enjoy this rich experience. And I've noticed that everybody I've ever seen engaged in a Spryng project, or planning one or talking about one carries that kind of delight. I don't know whether it's hope or freedom or curiosity, or but there's a kind of really positive energy, it seems to me you do notice that? Where do you think that comes from?

Barrett Horne 43:32
It is one of my longtime stock answers to you know, when you're asked to introduce yourself in various events and situations, one of the ways I typically have described myself as incurably curious about what it means to be human. And I think Spryng is like a backscratcher to explore my curiosity about being human. It's a great tool for diving into that infinitely interesting pool of being humans.

Glenda Eoyang 44:19
Yeah. And you take a lot of people with you, which is great.

Barrett Horne 44:25
Well, as do you, Glenda, that's one of the reasons I think we connect

The vision of HSD is that “People everywhere thrive because we see patterns, seek to understand, and act with courage to transform turbulence and uncertainty into possibility for all.” ( hsd.html)

Spryng is a software platform that well-serves and complements the vision of HSD, providing a powerful set of tools to help see patterns that yield understanding and provide insights for wise actions in complex contexts of uncertainty.

HSD and Spryng recognize that human systems—organizations, communities, businesses, governments, institutions and groups of every description—are inherently complex, by which is meant that:

  • Their boundaries are fluid and open
  • There are multiple dimensions interacting
  • They are non-linear, with every cause acting also as an effect: the parts effect the whole, the whole effects the parts, and the parts effect each other. Moreover, every ‘whole’ is a ‘part’ of larger ‘wholes’.

The unsurprising outcome of that complexity is that managing and leading human systems—making decisions and seeking to influence outcomes is inherently challenging. It is, quite simply, impossible to predict or control for all the possible variables, all the potential cause and effect relationships. (If this were not the case, poverty and homelessness would long ago have ceased to be issues, all business start-ups would succeed, and football teams would never lose a game.)

Nonetheless, human beings are amazingly adept at navigating the uncertainties of complexity. As humans, we have an extraordinary ability to notice and respond to patterns. Indeed, we do it so naturally that we rarely notice our pattern of noticing patterns... Most ‘folk wisdom’ is an expression of pattern recognition: “Pink in the morning, sailors a-warning, pink at night, sailors’ delight.”

This is a powerful insight that informs HSD: that we, as humans, make sense of the world by way of noticing patterns, what HSD describes as Pattern Logic:

“It is a great day! You have a new job, in a new industry, and a new city. You show up the first day, and from the time you step through the door, you are in a whole new world. You search for the familiar in everything that is new. Are there people you know or software systems you’ve used? How are people dressed and how do they interact? Who can you trust to know what’s up and to share it with you? Do you know the acronyms or the inside jokes? What about your boss, colleagues, internal and external clients? All day, you search for patterns, you try to make sense, and you do things to become a part of this strange new world. You are using Pattern Logic.” (

The great gift of HSD has been to integrate the insights of complexity into organizational practice—honing what are our natural human abilities into self-aware and intentional models and methods for making sense of human systems with a view to generating useful insights and enabling wise decisions and actions.

Pattern Logic forms one of the core HSD models, involving three powerful processes:
  • Discover the boundaries that define the space—what is the ‘thing’ about which we are curious, what are its ‘borders’, what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’?
  • Find the differences that make a difference—what seems to be important at this point in time and place, among all the things that could be noticed, what stands out as significant now?
  • Explore connections between and among—what are the relationships between the ‘things’ within the space, what stays the same and what is changing, what kinds of ‘exchanges’ are occurring?

HSD refers to these three conditions as Containers, Differences and Exchanges—the elements that comprise virtually every human system. Being curious about them and paying attention to them provides a foundation for influencing positive change, revealing the potential levers for influencing the patterns that emerge

And ‘emerge’ is a critically important notion. For human systems are never static. The patterns may be shorter or longer-lived, but they are always shifting, always emergent. And this is a key insight for the second core HSD process: Adaptive Action. (

Deceptively simple and incredibly powerful, the Adaptive Action process involves three basic questions: What? So what? and Now what? Because every human context is genuinely unique, making sense always begins with intentional inquiry. What is going on in this human system? What patterns are noticed—what are the containers, differences and exchanges?

The So what? question asks what seems important from all the What? observations—the differences that seem to make a difference, the containers and exchanges that seem to matter relative to the reasons for inquiry.

The Now what? question is the action step in which a decision is made on the basis of the previous two questions—what is the ‘next wise action’ that, in light of the What? and So what? data, seems most likely to shift the system’s patterns in a desirable direction.

And Adaptive Action is an iterative and multi-scaled process. It’s iterative because systems are always shifting and, especially, when any action is taken, the system is no longer the same. There will necessarily be new answers to each of the three questions. It’s multi-scale because all human systems are made up of smaller systems and part of larger systems—all of them interacting and affecting one another. There can thus be adaptive action cycles taking place at multiple scales as, e.g., a team, a department, an organization, an industry, an economy.

What brings to these powerful HSD models and methods is the ability to apply them at scale, making it possible to engage with complex human systems that would be too large to engage in any other way.

From a few dozen to hundreds of thousands of people, the active sensemaking methodology of Spryng makes it possible to gather multiple individual stories and experiences from individuals. And, as they share experiences in response to carefully crafted prompting questions, the respondents answer a small set of interpretive questions about each experience or story that they share.

By this process, a Spryng initiative yields a rich set of quantitative and qualitative data, in which the unique voices of each respondent are (anonymously) preserved—the qualitative data—while remaining connected to their interpretive answers—the quantitative data. Using the active sensemaking power of Spryng, it then becomes possible to explore how these data relate and correlate to each other. Patterns of interpretation emerge which can be explored and compared to the stories that lie behind the interpretations. With Spryng’s active sensemaking, it is always possible to ask what is/are the experience(s) behind a respondent’s (or group of respondents) interpretive pattern.

It thus becomes possible to apply the power of HSD insights such as Pattern Logic and Adaptive Action to the uniquely human data generated by a Spryng initiative. Unlike traditional surveys in which every contributor’s context and experience are totally abstracted from the data, in Spryng’s active sensemaking, each voice, each individual context is preserved. Moreover, it is the contributors themselves—the true experts—who tell what their stories mean.

HSD provides the tools to explore the patterns that a Spryng initiative reveals, to inquire into the meanings associated with those patterns, moving from What to So what to Now what, building a foundation for truly well-informed and data-driven wise decisions. Taken together, HSD and Spryng open powerful new dimensions for making sense of human systems at any scale, empowering wise decisions for complex human challenges.

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