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Reflecting on HSD Simple Rules: Zoom in, Zoom out

One of the attractive aspects of the work by the Human Systems Dynamic (HSD) Institute is the simplicity with which the organisation presents its purpose, intention and methodology.  Given their area of interest is a more meaningful and productive engagement with complexity perhaps it is a given that they would be able to simplify their own complexity into a set of rules, what they call Simple Rules.  The HSD community had been sharing posts about its Simple Rules over the last few weeks, ahead of a gathering of the HSD community in Minnesota during April 2024. 


My focus is on the HSD simple rule ‘zoom in, zoom out’.  Just to zoom in on me for a moment.  I am a Professional Credentialled Coach with the International Coaching Federation and first came across HSD at a webinar delivery by Glenda Eoyang.  I was intrigued by what I heard and what was same and different between HSD thinking and my coaching practice.  As a consequence I followed up by inviting Royce Holladay and Miriam Bayés to share HSD thinking with a community of coaches that I support.  More recently I have completed the first iteration of the Adaptive Action Coaching programme led by Royce and Miriam.  During all of these interactions I have grappled with my understanding of HSD’s simple rules, and that grappling has involved zooming in on the detail of them, and zooming out, to see where they play in that bigger picture, or system if you prefer.


Zoomed out to take in the whole of Les Grandes Constructions by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva. Picture by Jeremy Hinks


Zooming in and out is something where concept and reality are equally well described by the language used.  At first inspection it really is as simple a notion as I described above.  A more nuanced interpretation is that ‘zoom in, zoom out’ captures the importance of paying attention to both the detail within a system and the system itself, and to understand how the patterns (of behaviour) that characterise the detail will combine to influence the systemic patterns, and how the patterns observed in the system will inform the behaviour of  the detail within it.


Encouraging a client in a coaching partnership to zoom in and zoom out is something I have always done, since well before coming across HSD.  Something of a habit you might say.  So, raising my consciousness of it in my coaching process has had interesting consequences.  I have been more conscious of my clients zooming in and out and alert to what causes them to choose detail over bigger picture, or vice versa.  Quite aside from what the detail or bigger picture is the reasons behind the choice to switch between the two.  This is another piece of data that had been partially hidden to me.


Zoomed in on some of the detail of Les Grandes Constructions; a very different experience. Picture by Jeremy Hinks


What occurs to me is that until recently I had a ‘zoomed out’ relationship with this particular simple rule.  At that big picture level I understood its importance yet had never really contemplated the detail of the process.  Now that I have (and do) I have a much richer picture.  It’s a picture that shifts and changes, much the same as the shifting of patterns viewed through a kaleidoscope.  When I zoom in on this Simple Rule I wonder about what is going on with clients who are averse to either zooming in or zooming out.  I am interested in what is going on for people who oscillate between detail and system at high level of frequency.  I am alert to my own transitions as I pursue them, intentionally in support of my clients yet at risk of being something to do with a need of mine.  I am excited by how perspective changes at either zoomed in or zoomed out positions have very different consequences.


I am aware that I am taking something that has been simplified to good effect and apparently making it more complex.  Maybe I am, a good friend of mine often says wonders out loud why the hell I have to make everything so complicated!  I prefer to think that I am being playful with something, and being open to what might emerge.  That is another facet of these simple rules.  For me, they encourage experimentation and I like that.  Thanks HSD, have a great meeting, and really sorry not to be able to make it on this occasion.  Hope that all who do have a great time zooming in and out together.



HSD Gathering 2024 Wk4
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