Shifting strategically to catalytic action

When non-linear, far from equilibrium dynamics accelerate, it may be time to let go of some of our linear responses and become catalysts to encourage better outcomes in non-specific, non-linear ways. We can be strategic about it – doing our best with the intrinsic uncertainty of these times, and then learning from what happens. Because even the best outcomes we can imagine for any of our linear acts may morph into something else in these strange nonlinear times. Awakened, we find ourselves not agents of change, but participants in transformation. The more conscious and creative we can be about that role as we go along, the more likely we’ll be able to shift appropriately with the changing times, over and over.

Around the world, events – and reactions to events – are intensifying. In the midst of it all we are witnessing the power of love, trust, prayer, resistance, solidarity, dialogue (my favorites so far are Standing Rock and the I Trust You initiative) as well as fear, hatred, judgment, tribalism, violence, propaganda, arrogance (and not only from “the other side”).

When I shift my viewpoint to see all this from outside – to see humanity and the planet in its sweep of evolutionary context – what I see is massive and expanding disruption of the status quo. That foretells the emergence of something else – or I should say somethingS else. At an accelerating rate, systems and cultures are coming apart, caused by the need for something else and making space for the emergence of something else. It is crystal clear that that “something else” will be a mix of things far better and far worse than what we have now… and that even those phenomena will be changing, en route to further changes.

We’re in a different time. Or perhaps in a time when the ubiquity of change that Buddha commented on so cogently 2500 years ago is more in our face than it has been before, at least for more of us. Things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster simultaneously and in more extreme ways.


There are ample roles to play in the range of energies listed in the first paragraph above, and many people on all sides are stepping into them, raising the pitch of the disruption, for better and for worse.

There is another role and path, not clearly marked but clearly called for, that’s not quite any of those other energies but sees them as signs and resources for something bigger than what any of them think they are about, something unformed but potentially far better than what we have, something calling out to be catalyzed more than made.

CONSCIOUS catalysts of social change are NONLINEAR change agents. They create generative spaces, make vibrant connections, ask juicy questions, raise awareness, invite engagement, open up what is hidden, evoke latent energies.

There are also UNCONSCIOUS nonlinear change agents. Sometimes LINEAR change agents end up stimulating nonlinear change by taking linear actions that unintentionally catalyze results that are totally different – even the opposite – from what they were trying to accomplish.

Conscious nonlinear social change catalysts are not trying to get anything specific to happen. They are simply teasing things in healthy directions, ready to learn as they go and inviting everyone else to learn, too.

Trump claims to be an agent of change – and he is. But above and beyond what Trump and his movement think they are about, they – and the energetic reactions to them – are ALL catalysts for the disruption of what’s familiar and the emergence of something different. This will be true whether or not Trump becomes president, whether or not he does what he or his allies and enemies currently think he will do.

Currently it looks like he is about to magnify the “internal contradictions” inherent in the neoliberal capitalist oligarchy that has (subtly and not so subtly) shaped our current world. (These contradictions include traditional Marxist economic analysis but also reach beyond it into the social, political, and environmental reactions to accumulations of power and abuse in social, political, and ecological realms.)

And all these are intensified and complexified by expanding population, globalization, environmental degradation – especially climate disruption and resource depletion – and the risks associated with novel technological developments, among many other emergent issues. All these diverse forces magnify and interact with each other to create impacts far beyond what they each could trigger separately.

Trump’s current cabinet choices promise to magnify and accelerate these dynamics all even more. In systems thinking terms, this looks like positive feedback loops magnifying the forces involved into systemic instability, runaway amplification, overshoot, tipping points and, ultimately, likely collapse.

If Trump takes office and pursues his apparent agenda, I suspect that the resistance and protest (both domestic and international) to that – and his US government’s response to that resistance and protest – will be massive and unpredictable. On the other hand, if Trump is denied office, his movement (without or probably with his leadership) will massively and unpredictably resist and protest whatever replaces him.

Efforts to keep all this under the surface will be, I suspect, too little too late and even counter-productive (in any linear sense), so I propose it is time for some of us to shift our focus to this larger phenomenon unfolding in which we are all participating, regardless of what we do or don’t do and on which “side” we act and which “strategy” (implicit or explicit) we choose to govern our responses. It is extremely doubtful that all this will resolve soon, either by “getting back to normal” or by “shifting to a new state of affairs” (for better and/or worse).

Advocates of unrestrained market action and technological development often speak of “creative disruption”, “creative destruction” and “disruptive innovation”. These phenomena are now metastasizing to the entire society, again for better and for worse. Businesses will see business opportunities (e.g., Disaster Capitalism) and revolutionaries will see revolutionary opportunities. Where is the opportunity for the whole society to find opportunities for the general good?

From my perspective watching it all, I see this growing disruption creating space for (among other things) initiatives that meet basic needs while transforming or replacing current ways of doing things (current systems and cultures). Note, again, though, that this includes everything from centralized fascism to local communalism to competing dystopian gangs – with many different approaches rising, falling, and transforming here and there. I don’t like the intense uncertainty any more than you do, but I want to suggest that this is a space within which visionary possibilities can play a bigger role than at any more stable prior time. In a supersaturated solution, all it takes is one more grain of salt or sugar to pull all the rest of the potential crystal into visible form – a giant crystal that was invisible before – often quite suddenly.

That’s catalytic action. So what grains will we contribute? What is the precipitating crystal we would like to see appear?


PS: If you wish to go to the site, it, too, is currently in a transition state. Its temporary URL is


Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440
Calling forth the wisdom of the whole for the wellbeing of the whole

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