Dying. But it is alive.

Dying. But it is alive

Last week, Lodewijk Asscher presented a proposal to Pauw to increase the retirement age more slowly than hitherto thought. This blog is not about that plan. I would also like to emphasize that it is not my intention to put Asscher or the PvdA in a bad light. I find both the man and the plan quite likeable and I don't want you to accidentally read the rest of this story as an attempt to push the PvdA the final push towards the abyss.

Anyway, Asscher. I saw a man trying hard to revive his own political career as well as his party. Jeroen Pauw was of course critical. How could it be that Asscher came up with a plan that was different from the retirement plans he designed and supported when he was still in the cabinet?

Not only did I see those two men, but I saw two other living systems at work in their behavior. On the one hand the PvdA, on the other hand the TV program Pauw. "Living systems?" You might say. "What are you talking about?" Of course I don't mean that you can have a beer with a political party and have a conversation. I call something a living system if it can sustain itself in unforeseen circumstances. This is called ultra-stability and is a property we see in plants, animals and humans. Bananas grow towards the light, hares flee when they spot a fox and people brake when they see the car slow down. Not to mention the trick that warm-blooded animals like ourselves manage to keep our indoor temperature constant, even as it gets colder around us.

And besides humans, animals and plants, there are many more ultra-stable systems. Your family, your family, the baker on the corner, the company you work for, our government, countries. You name it. And so also a political party and also a TV program. And what ultra-stable systems prefer (the name says it all) is stability. If possible, they continue to walk the beaten track. They will only do other things if circumstances compel them to do so. The more serious the threat, the more they will be willing to do. When it comes to the point, it is even just about survival.

It is no secret that the PvdA is in serious trouble. That political party has come to the point that survival is high on the agenda. And of course Asscher (or rather the system he is part of) comes up with new plans. For the ultra-stable system, everything is permitted to win people back to the party. The system can no longer afford to be consistent with previous views otherwise it would certainly do so. Of course Asscher relies on progressive insight, but an important part of the truth is that it is not Asscher, but “the PvdA is speaking”. The system is all too often in charge and people are cogs in that system. And all too often more helpless than we like. A politician has ideals, a political party does not.

I am sure there are readers who think this is going a bit far. But I will give a simple example that many of you can recognize from your daily practice. An example that shows that as soon as you arrive in the office in the morning, you can become as willless as I depict Asscher above.

If you work in a large organization today, chances are that your organization is working on many projects at the same time. Our ambitions have no limits and we start project after project. We all participate in this and we do not usually question it. However, it is also a simple fact that the standing organization simply cannot handle that enormous amount of projects. The majority of the projects will not be delivered to the standing organization, no matter how interesting and important each individual project is.

To illustrate how strange this situation is, I want you to now imagine inviting four friends over for a bread meal. They'd be crazy if you made two hundred sandwiches for them. No matter how delicious each sandwich is, and how fantastic you could recommend any variation, the five of you just don't get two hundred sandwiches. No one would ever do this in everyday life. Nevertheless, the projects and the sandwiches are logically completely comparable. This example shows that we can literally start thinking differently if we are active in an ultra-stable system. Without realizing it. We even defend that line of thought as rational. The dynamics within an ultra-stable system means that we are often less “in control” than we think.

The title. Dying. Does that apply to the PvdA? It could be.

But if I were you, I'd be more concerned about your own organization. It lives. Still.