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What is HSD?


Water drops responding to surface tension.
Surface tension exerts a force on water to create a random but beautiful repetitive pattern.

What is HSD?

HSD, Human Systems Dynamics, is about seeing patterns, asking questions and then taking wise action. Instead of the reactive – “Oh No, this happened, now what do we do?”, or “Gosh, we’re stuck in a quagmire. Will we ever move forward?” HSD shows you how to unlock opportunities in every situation.  By spotting the differences that make a difference, the weak signals and the surprises, you can choose where to influence the pattern for the next, wiser step you take.  And by taking command of your fate, you can feel and do better in the complex, chaotic world around you. 

I have used HSD for personal growth work, in my volunteer work as a board member and a coach, and in my work as a civil servant and trainer.  Practice has shown me that asking questions is a much better way to explore life’s richness than having quick answers. 

Good Questions

Adaptive Action involves three key questions to keep you moving forward.

  • What do you observe? Know for sure? Wonder?
  • So what is working, and what is not?
  • Now what will you do to make a difference for the future?

These questions, and their variations, are at the heart of human systems dynamics. They are simple as child’s play, but they are not easy. They demand humility, courage, care, and curiosity from individuals and groups.

In Adaptive Action Labs, you learn to repeat these questions in the part of the system in which you are immersed, or in the whole system, or in the system as a greater whole. You consider them in the moment, or across days, weeks, or months. This iterative inquiry leads you to options for your next wise action, even in the most chaotic situations.

HSD is Complexity Science Made Useful

The language of complexity has become commonplace—fractals, attractors, butterfly effects, emergence. But complexity in action is rare. The Praxis of HSD changes the rules. It integrates complexity theory and innovative practice for maximum impact.

Most complexity science is great at describing what happened in the past. While it can be interesting to spot chaos in your rearview mirror, you still don’t have any idea what to do about it.

As an HSD professional, I am not just a complexity and systems thinker, I am a complexity and systems doer and in Adaptive Action Labs, you become one, too. Our key to success is to integrate what we see and know with what we are able to do. As individuals and groups, we learn from action, and we test ideas in practice. 

So we get unstuck: using what we see in the present to understand patterns that hold potential power for change. We can zoom in and zoom out.  We transform difference into opportunity. When we see the power, we can make choices to shift conditions and influence the system as it emerges into the future. We cannot predict the future of a complex adaptive system, nobody can. But we can make intentional choices, as individuals and groups, to shift the patterns and turn the potential of the moment into real impact in the future.

Models and Methods for Complex Times

In rapid, unpredictable change no one has time for complicated tools or obtuse theories. Complex times require simple strategies. HSD Models & Methods are as simple as they are powerful.

A model helps you see a system from a particular perspective. A method gives you options for action. HSD provides a collection of Models & Methods. Each one of them supports action in three ways by improving perception, sense making, and action in unpredictable and uncontrollable situations.

Many scholars and practitioners who came before us laid a foundation on which HSD is based. Per Bak, Ilya Prigogine, Stuart Kauffman, Jack Cohen, Brenda Zimmerman, Ralph Stacy, Dave Snowden, Kevin Dooley, Jeff Goldstein, and many more have informed and enlivened this work. We also thank the 800 certified HSD Professionals who use, adapt, adjust, and enhance the M&Ms as they support their clients around the world.

As we work together, you will see the HSD Models & Methods in many contexts:

When you are ready to move from introduction to action, sign up for a custom Adaptive Action Lab where you will deepen your awareness of HSD and apply the practice of Methods and Models. Come with a sticky issue, and leave with a plan for wise and effective action.

Path to Transformation

We do not promise that you will stretch your identity, open your heart and mind, or improve your personal performance with HSD. Our experience, though, is that people are transformed. Clients and Associates are convinced that HSD is a powerful pathway to personal transformation.  

HSD Praxis sets conditions for people to be their best and to do their best.

Using HSD Models & Methods, practitioners observe the dynamics that influence individuals and groups. They compare the current patterns to aspirational ones, and shift conditions to encourage positive change.

Group patterns emerge from individual behaviour, and individual behaviour is shaped by rules. When a diverse or disrupted group needs to work together effectively, we help them create conditions that will contribute to sustainable coherence for the part, the whole, and the greater whole. HSD uses simple rules to help groups become conscious of their habitual behaviours and name the patterns, rules, and behaviours that will serve them well into the future.

Since 2003, the international network of HSD Associates has used a short list of simple rules to guide decision making, evaluation, product and service design, and personal and professional relationships.




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