When I was in graduate school in international relations, I remember being struck by the varieties of bi-lateral and multi-lateral international, regional and global relations. The idea of international interdependence was gaining traction in the 1980s, but as we looked at the nature of interdependence, professors talked about some countries being more dependent on other nations; countries were sometimes described as ‘center’ or ‘periphery’ nations, with center countries having more resources, stature and power.
In the early 1990s, I heard Dr. James Rosenau, then professor of International Affairs at George Washington University, shed welcome light on nation-state relations by talking about the turbulence of complex systems, creating an international system of ‘cascading, complex, asymmetrical interdependence.’ It seemed to me the best description of the layered relations that countries had to navigate. Within those relations were the issues brought on by absolutely essential resource needs, such as oil, that influenced all other commercial trade relations, plus immigration issues, educational exchanges, defense systems, foreign aid, political alliances, and issues of sovereignty infringements. The list goes on.
Think about the complexity of the global conversation on Syria right now.
Being a head of state these days turns a person’s hair gray and adds lines to the face. Just grasping the edge of the complex implications of nation-state level decision-making seems to take a cast of experts, and the picture is still hard to see. Too many moving pieces.
Rosenau died in 2011. Interestingly, his last book, published in 2007, was PEOPLE COUNT! THE NETWORKED INDIVIDUAL IN ‘WORLD POLITICS.
In it, he made the leap from the power dynamics of nation-states to the emergent power of connected individuals.
Quoting from the Amazon book description, “People Count! rests on a single but important premise: As the world shrinks and becomes ever more complex, so have people as networked individuals become ever more central to the course of events. The age of the nation-state has yielded to the age of the individual…”
Networked individuals—multi-faceted, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-local, multi-committed, multi-believing, multi-generational, multi-incomed, multi-habituated, multi-believing, multi-framed, multi-valued, multi-spiritual and multi-religious, multi-gendered, multi-political, multi-techno, multi-networked, multi-desiring….. what other ‘multis’ might you add here?
The multiplicity in action.
And, It’s not just the interdependence and interconnectedness among humans but also with other species.
Managing multiplicity includes thinking about and connecting to not only our impacts on other species and plant life on earth but also their impact on us.
We are hearing that the ways we manage our chemicals and pesticides look like they have killed somewhere up to 60% of all honeybees and that the die-off has enormous implications for our crops and ecosystem balance, no small thing.
Just when, as leaders, we think that we can’t deal with one more variable, perspective or connected impact, another set surfaces. That’s what managing multiplicity is about—we’re not able to be successful with a linear, incremental, partial inclusion approach. It’s coming at us, whole cloth, all the time, in all its complex beauty.
I’ll be commenting on some ways to think about and get more literate in managing multiplicity in the next posts.