Preventing Snapback

Brenda Zimmerman was a thought leader who had a gift for applying complexity theory to living systems for social change. She died in unexpectedly in December 2014.

Just 2 months earlier, she shared her newest idea – the concept of “snap back” – at the 2014 Collective Impact Summit.

Paul Born, of Tamarack Institute for Community Change, has summarized the key ideas from Brenda’s presentation Preventing Snap Back: The Challenge of Resilient Systems:

  • Resilience 101 – Communities and organizations, like all living systems, experience ecological resilience: adaptation and deep change through creative destruction which allows the system to continually learn.
  • Change in Complex Living Systems – The behaviour of the system can be largely explained by understanding “attractors.” Relationships and coordination among parts of the system can be more important than the parts themselves.
  • Simple Rules – Living systems are self-organizing and influenced by simple rules that provide coherence while allowing for constant adaptation and innovations.
  • Snap Back Defined – The tendency for innovative solutions to lose momentum or fail to take root when faced with pressure from the dominant system to return to the status quo.
  • Preventing Snap Back: How to Make Innovations More Durable – The following four principles are outlined as important for minimizing the threat of snap back when implementing an innovative initiative:
    1. Relationships are Key – Choose an “Audience of Significance” that can provide honest feedback and validation for your thinking.
    2. Pay Attention to Engagement – Ensure resources are available for listening and engaging on an on-going basis. Protect space in your calendar and reward others that take the time to do this. Listening, engaging, and pattern recognition must be supported forever – not just at the beginning.
    3. Be Strategic Thinkers, not merely Strategic Planners – Reinforce strategic processes that recognize the iterative nature of profound strategic thinking, and always look for the small differences that could create a tipping point.
    4. Don’t Confuse Quick Wins with Quick Fixes – Success is not a destination in complexity. Make resources available for safe-fail experiments and value context expertise as much as content expertise.
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