Lines and Loops

By Chris Chittenden

"Narrative is linear, but action has breadth and depth as well as height and is solid."

… Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish essayist and historian

Our sense of time is linear and, as a result, when we think about our life, we consider it as a sequence of events occurring one after the other.

It is hard to go past this common sense view to life and I have no intention of asking you to do so here. However, this sense of sequential living can create a blindness for us. Our linear sense of time can predispose us to think of life as only being sequential in nature, whereas there are many aspects of life that are better seen as a loop or a cycle.
This may sound like me a being a bit pedantic here, but let me explain. When we see the world in a linear way, we tend to focus on the future and what’s next. This is particularly so as we become busier and busier.

The busier we become, the more we tend to focus on tasks and the less on the human context of those tasks. If life was just about tasks, then a sequence makes sense but being human involves coordinating with others and this involves communication. And effective communication involves loops.

For example, we use a model of an action conversation that was originally developed by Fernando Flores as a means of developing the original workflow software back in the seventies. This has been known as the “Promise Cycle” as it is a loop. We share this model with many people and, when we do, it is rare that someone does not recognise the various aspects of cycle - requests, promises and so on. What they often had not seen is the pattern of the cycle. This is just one example.

As ontological coaches, we are trained to see various relational loops and more importantly to understand the various breakdowns in these loops and how to address them. When thinking of human interaction, it serves us well to think of loops rather than lines.

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© 2012 Chris Chittenden