"Anthropologists have found 'galumphing' to be one of the prime talents that characterize higher life forms. Galumphing is the immaculately rambunctious and seemingly inexhaustible play-energy apparent in puppies, kittens, children, baby baboons - and also in young communities and civilizations. Galumphing is the seemingly useless elaboration and ornamentation of activity. It is profligate, excessive, exaggerated, uneconomical... In the higher animals and in people, it is of supreme evolutionary value."
Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, by Stephen Nachmanovitch
Matt and I have long used the word 'galumph' to describe our cats racing through the house with a certain gait, or when they chase grasshoppers or snowflakes with a wild spirited abandon. However, this is the first time I have come across the meaning and context of the word. I think back to the organizations and communities that began with a galumphing. The Well, Wired Magazine, GBN, The Calvert Fund, The Whole Earth Catalog, the Open Source phenomenon, The Learning Exchange, MG Taylor Corporation, Architectz of Group Genius are a few that come to mind. Years after their origin - even though some are now deceased - the memory of them brings them back to life. They all galumphed themselves into being. Each brought delight to both the production and user communities. There was an eagerness to engage, to play, to build on the ideas.
It is interesting to think about the cycles of organizations. That first phase (start up) is where creation, time, and vision is all there is. There is seldom money; people are doing it for the love of an idea -- a need they see being able to fulfill. I would dare to say that without a fair amount of galumphing, these organizations would not have survived and been able to sustain themselves into the next phase of organization. Galumphing is a grand scaffolding process. But then something happens. Someone steps in who knows better and declares that to survive, it is imperative to get down to business ... to eliminate the play ...to get serious. Dollars and profit take over. This is true of most communities as well. Suddenly parts of communities begin fighting with each other, competing for what they consider scarce dollars. The parts of what should be a whole system begin fragmenting, pulling apart from each other, and in the end wasting resources and making the "scarce dollar syndrome" real.
The either/or syndrome is alive and well. Yet systems thinking demands AND thinking. Play and money ... can go together; in fact they must for any living system. Without one the other is only partially fit, crippled and requiring far more energy of time and money than necessary or available.
The design process demands galumphing. It seeks to discover wild connections, to seek difference and fun, to go into new territory and discover bold, fresh new ideas. Perhaps this is why our social systems design process is so engaging to our Krew and to our clients. Each time we do an event, we give birth to it. We do not have templated forms that take no real thought. We begin with a beginner's mind and a challenge. We expect that each participant - including the designers or Krew will learn and play and come forth with new and surprising thoughts. Even when working with such serious and prestigious organizations as The World Economic Forum, or The International Society for the Systems Sciences, play - galumphing - must find its way into the process or there is no hope ... no way to escape to a higher order. A good design process opens doors for individuals that have long been closed. It re-members the creative process, restoring the sense of play that was so prevalent in childhood memories. It brings new life. Participants leave different than when they walked in the door. They know themselves and everyone in the room differently. Galumphing is often the difference that makes a difference to the well-being of an idea, project, community, or civilization. Galumphing is a far better survival technique than fear. I wish our war leaders could come to know this.