The art of scaffolding

"Planning is the ordering of resources over time. Success is getting things to follow in the right order." Paul Case

For many years I thought of planning as a linear process. It could be collaborative or not, but generally it was a typical project management process. Then, when I read Kevin Kelly's book, Out of Control, in 1993 and read chapter four: Assembling Complexity, I learned to think about planning differently. It is the story of restoring a prairie. Nature has a lot to share! Nature does not work in a linear fashion, achieving one goal at a time. Rather, it cycles through plateaus each one attracting a new higher order plateau. Actually, to me, nature seems to have a more fun creating than most project teams have.

My nature has always been to read broadly and widely and to take the ideas that resonate with me and put them to work in my own life and in the work I do. Assembling Complexity resonated so deeply with me, that I have come back to it again and again thinking... designing... learning. Planning? What is planning? How do I use such statements as "Everything requires everything else to stay up, yet you can't levitate the whole thing at once. Some things have to happen first. And in the correct order." "Evolution not only evolves the functioning community, but it also finely tunes the assembly process of the gathering until the community practically falls together." "The system was sensitive to initial conditions, but it was usually attracted to order." "It is easy to get a stable system, but very difficult to get the one you want."

I began to experiment with the concepts of scaffolding, instead of going after goals in a linear, agressive manner, I began looking for scaffolding cycles, trying to understand what it meant to "levitate the whole thing at once"... what were the cycles-- the scaffolding levels-- that when in place, allowed the whole system to go to a higher order. I learned that it is an attraction process more than a selling one. The patterns in my mind began to change. 'What matters?' to each cycle? How does the system-- a major project with high stakes -- grow from the ground up? How does a project grow organically? What are the beginning points that I need to see to ground a project?

I have learned... or I am coming to knowing... the art of scaffolding and of organic development through iterations and recursions. I have learned to see differently.... to understand where a project is in its development and to be able to look for what is missing... and go in search. Planning has changed from a push/demand/top down control process to one of attracting/inviting/perturbing/playing projects into reality. This is not always a comfortable process for me, but in hindsight, time after time of having worked this way, I now understand my beginning quote in quite another sense. It was my search image - my formal training - which suggested the linear process. Now I use that quote in context with my learnings from the Chapter "Assembling Complexity." At first these concepts seemed far apart, but through use, they have become comfortable companions.

When I compare the results of my planning with linear/top down methods with the organic/bottom up methods, clearly the latter has arrived at the 'system I wanted' instead of a stable system, but not the one I wanted. They are in the end far more efficient, productive, and of course, fun!