In ANTIFRAGILE, THINGS THAT GAIN FROM DISORDER, Nassim Taleb (The Black Swan) once more is lucid and honest in seeing and communicating reality as ‘what it is’ instead of propping up ‘what it should be’.
His section header (pg 278) drew my attention:
SMALL MAY BE UGLY, IT IS CERTAINLY LESS FRAGILE.
We recognize that the belief of small being ugly is embraced by the discourse of western society. We easily recognize the values of corporate and corporate leaders in particular who negotiate the choices to increase in size as a standard performance indicator.
‘Ugly’ can be understood as unattractive; it can also refer to our perspectives in judging the way we see and measure assigned values that we calculate as digits, and also to accumulated digital impact as we add more line items to the ‘table’. The favorite worldview of corporate we have come to ‘breathe’ as western society is that currency and numbers are unquestionably the most reliable indicators of all in assessing what is valuable. ‘Less is more’ is not a corporate standard.
… so what of the Social sector and the requirements of ‘scale’ as the indicator of the credibility of the work and the outcomes?
The nature of human development is intimate and individual. With great sadness, we witness the impact on our young people who are experiencing ‘economies of scale’ in the social sector, both in how programming is designed to resolve into impressive numbers, and in the detachment of the prescribed methodologies of practice which impose activities strategized to produce the promised (on the funding application) outcomes in the terms required by ‘the funder’.
Where is the ‘human’ in the role of society in supporting their children to purpose and meaning and participation in life? Human is what is universally required to nurture the personhood of young people. Many young people in our society have not had traditional opportunities to learn from the adults personally responsible for their growth and development. How will they learn ‘human’?
‘Scale’ in numbers is an impressive corporate indicator.
The risks remain hidden. Taleb shares an insight gained from Jared Diamond in “Why Cats Have Nine Lives”, a paper he wrote re the effect of strategy based on size. He pointed out that a cat or mouse falling from an elevation of several times their height, will typically manage to survive. Elephants, by comparison, break limbs easily.
‘Scale’ in organizations demonstrates a comparable hidden risk.
Importantly, ‘scale’ does not allow flexibility and agility which are key to strategies influencing human outcomes. e.g. If the outcome is to restore the personhood of marginalized young people, and the given is that this work requires their efficacy and ownership to drive their motivation and choices to build their lives, then without this critical aspect to their development, they grow taller and stronger within the parameters of who they were the day they entered a program, and they leave with little of the experience required to accomplish what was most necessary.
‘Scale’ mandates measurement in numbers calculated in dollars per outcome: the bodies counted, the staff paid to manage them, the cost reduction to society to hold them in ‘# of beds’ ; all numbers quantified and compared to dollars invested… . ‘Scale’ is not able to address individual development.
What of the young people? Hundreds continue to be channeled into the ever growing well-intentioned strategies and supports which label who they are and what will ‘fix that’.
Until civil society is allowed to see more clearly what is still hidden, we will still believe that young people are being well served by our systems and institutions. This is the outcome of ‘scale’.
Our ongoing hope lies in the magic of the potential to accomplish what is essential for any young person on the edges of our society: that it is in the moments, and in the individual staff person who sees the humanity and lives the human mandate to nurture our children.
Excellent individuals still impact young people wherever they work, AND the ‘scale‘ is one on one. The critical way of seeing young people is that each is a unique being. As unique people we can individually impact one person one moment at a time by attention and listening. For young people, this is the beginning of their efficacy to take charge of their own growth and choices to build the adult within them. AND they will be the builders of our society moving forward to the future.
To be continued…