In an uncertain world  human beings are the most unpredictable element. Good market researchers have long known that consumers don’t always say what they mean, or mean what they say. Context matters and in focus groups participants offer rationalised responses, to project an image of themselves that matters at that moment - yet outside the artificial environment they’re people swept up in the swirls and eddies of real life: subject to overwhelming emotional and physical influencers.
Developing reliable policies and plans for people based systems therefore requires researching people in their natural habitat. For “humans are unpredictable, mushy bags of irrationality and emotion” (@travisgertz) and only a holistic approach captures the reality in all its messy glory and gore.
Human unpredictability emerges from a triad of factors - a greater understanding of which offers immense possibilities for breakthrough innovation in marketing, organisation design, policy making and development (D.Snowden):
“A person’s identity is like a pattern drawn on a tightly stretched parchment. Touch just one part of it, just one allegiance, and the whole person will react, the whole drum will sound.” (A.Maalouf)
Humans aren’t limited to one identity. We’re a “constantly fluctuating constellation of identities. We may for example chat about politics (as a citizen) with a colleague (as a professional) while driving (as a motorist) our child (as a parent) to a school meeting (as a community member)”  and our identities are flexible, adapting to sudden needs (consider how the parent identity kicks in under threat to a child). Policies and plans predicated on simplistic views of human beings, (homo economicus, customer segmentations, beneficiary communities) will leave you wide open to damaging shocks.
Humans have agency: they can choose, persuade others, and be persuaded in turn. Yet our intent doesn’t spring from us unprompted: outside forces - our own, or those of our peers - past experiences - our own, our ancestors (in the forms of shared cultural myths and legends) connect and shape us. These connections also evolve (as do we) through multiple daily interactions, making human systems - communities, organisations, networks - neither static nor easy to know.
“It isn’t what we don’t know that gets us into trouble; it’s what we thought we knew that just isn’t so” (M.Twain - allegedly)
Intelligence isn’t unique to humans - we’re even trying to extend it with AI. However, our understanding of the basis of human intelligence suggests we’ll pass through a long desert of Artificial Stupidity before we arrive at the promised land (or hell) of real Artificial Intelligence. We currently see our intelligence through the lens of the dominant metaphor of the age: “For more than half a century now, psychologists, linguists, neuroscientists and other experts on human behaviour have been asserting that the human brain works like a computer” .
However, we’ll surely discard this faulty metaphorical paradigm as we have the different metaphors that ‘explained’ human intelligence over the past 2,000 years: from the ‘hydraulic model of human intelligence’ in the 3rd century BC (when hydraulic engineering had just been invented) to the metaphor of the brain as a telegraph system, inspired by the advances in communications of the mid 19th century. (G.Zarkadakis).
Our innate desire to seek simple causal explanations  backs us into a corner - we have reduced people in systems to little more than ants or data processors (D.Snowden). We place atomised individuals on a pedestal (in the dominant Anglo-American domain) but subjugate and even demonise the collective; failing to see the humanity in them. Human endeavour - civilisation, where life blossomed on every continent on this planet - has been the outcome of human interaction across silos and borders. If we are not to undo this we need to go beyond reductionist approaches to humans and human systems that provide only the illusion of control to instead discover and exploit our evolutionary possibilities.
2 Bramble Bushes in a Thicket. Kurtz & Snowden (2005)
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