by Amina Knowlan | February 2010
The informed universe is a world of subtle but constant interconnection, a world where everything informs – acts on and interacts with – everything else. This world merits deeper acquaintance; we should apprehend it with our heart. It offers a vision that is imaginative but not imaginary: a poetic vision of a universe where nothing disappears without a trace, and where all things that exist are, and remain, intrinsically and intimately interconnected.1
Science and the Akashic Field
IT IS THROUGH establishing a living, breathing Matrix of connections with optimal communication, feedback and diversity that we shape groups toward their true capacity as living systems. Living systems are adaptive, innovative and sustainable through periods of chaos and change. They are guided by, the web-like pattern of connections between the individuals, and by their connection to a larger Source of Life emerging.
If the members of a group never communicate directly with each other in the open, if all of the communication is spoken to "the group as a whole" or occurs in private conversations outside of group time, the links between people will be faint, sporadic and incomplete at best. If no one ever talks to anyone else directly or if all of the communication goes through the teacher or the manager, the individuals are not connected optimally.
... system has come to mean an integrated whole whose essential properties arise from the relationships between its parts, and "systems thinking" the understanding of a phenomenon within the context of a larger whole. To understand things systemically literally means to put them into a context, to establish the nature of their relationships. (Emphasis mine)2
At the heart of systems theory is a simple concept. Nothing exists in isolation. To think that we can understand the behavior of a child separate and apart from her family is unthinkable yet increasing numbers of children are medicated in order to "control" their behavior. Increasingly, it is understood that the child's behavior is influenced by her home life, including her parents and sibling relationships, the food she eats, her parents' financial security or lack thereof, the number of hours she spends in front of a television or computer, the rhythm of her bedtime and sleep habits, and her extended family and neighborhood dynamics.
In school, she is influenced by the social dynamics of the classroom, the personality and teaching style of her teachers, the school schedule, the number of hours she has to sit still, the lighting in the classroom, and her own learning styles and whether they are a good match for the teaching methods utilized in the school.
Once a sixth grade teacher spoke to me about a situation in his classroom that led him to feel threatened and in need of legal consultation. It revolved around a student who had made a false accusation about him to the school principal. All of the school's actions revolved around disciplining and controlling the behavior of the child and making the teacher invulnerable to such attacks. After describing the story and his lingering fear, he asked me what a Matrix perspective would bring to the situation.
This child was part of a clique of rebels and outcasts. They were the discontents. When I hear about a child in any kind of "bully" role, my curiosity goes to, "What is she expressing for the rest of the class?" Might this group of kids be expressing frustration with something that others simply comply with?
I had heard the teacher speak of his extreme frustration with the demands of standardized testing performance ratings. "Do you think that the kids also feel frustrated with the pressure of being evaluated by their standardized test scores? Or, maybe it's completely ridiculous for them to have to be in school by 7:00 am? Maybe they are kids who have less money than some of their peers?" These questions, from a Matrix perspective are aimed at looking at what these kids are expressing on behalf of the whole. It would suggest that they are not "bad kids" but they are struggling with a "bad system."
This is the beauty and the promise of applying Matrix Leadership principles in the small group contexts of our lives. If this same child could spend some time each day in a small classroom group where the communication and connections between the students (and with the teacher) were developed intentionally, something dramatic would begin to happen.
The students would begin to have an experience of the group or class as an interconnected whole — like a family or tribe. Without anyone telling them the theory, they would begin to experience themselves as a part of something greater. They would develop mutuality and come to care about their impact on others. They would develop support and find a collective intelligence that could serve as a buffer to the oppressive systems of competition that divide them.
They would eventually come to understand that these same systems were not all bad. They would begin to discriminate between the parts of those systems that served and those that needed reform. They might even be inspired to be a voice for change in their own school community. At the very least, they would have a source of self-esteem that was not dictated by narrow academic achievement and class-but by the Source of love that came through the group because of their connections with each other and with their group.
In Matrix groups, we deliberately shape or form the pattern of interactions between the parts-pair by pair-into an interconnected web or network. We intentionally open the channels of communication between each pair of people in order to optimize the network pattern of communication.
In conceiving of a group of human beings as a living system, if there is enough connection and open communication, we first understand that each person is in an ongoing process of evolution. That evolution is not separate from the evolution of each other person, or from the growth in our relationships or from the group as a whole.
Matrix Leadership begins and ends with attention to the connections between people and to the whole group. If we begin to see it as a set of practices that optimize the connectivity, we are creating the capacity to actually live or embody our interconnectedness. In the process of becoming a fluid, self-organizing living system, we create the opportunity to liberate each individual and the group from fixed roles, stereotypes and cultural paradigms. We create a system that has the capacity to express differences openly and learn from their interplay; a group that functions with responsiveness and love.
1Laszlo, Irwin, Science and the Akashic Field,
2Lilienfeld, Robert, The Rise of Systems Theory, 1978 and von Foerster, Heinz (personal observation), as quoted in Capra, Fritjof, Ibid. 1996, p.27.
This is not just learning about leading groups, this is learning to communicate from our heart.
— Mari Adachi
Foundation Training Participant