The word rhythm is derived from the Greek rhythmós, “measure of time, and beat” and describes a temporal division into equal or variable activities occurring from time to time. Rhythmic fluctuations of measured variables are used to assess the condition of all kinds of systems, like the fever curve of the human organism, the electrical impulses of the brain, the heart rhythm and even the number of sick leaves, the frequency of work absences or the local accumulations of crimes. There is the hope that early detection and correct interpretation of these fluctuations will enable reliable predictions about the near future. In business life, one can observe how the pendulum swings back and forth between centralization and decentralization. Culture is driven by ever new, but also frequently recurring trends. As there are many areas that interact with each other, there are a lot of parameters that oscillate in the areas. In this context, the search for the right rhythm becomes a complex question.
Since many oscillations take place at the same time, we hope to find simple and synchronized rhythms. But maybe we are just learning that the synchronized pace of the impulses is an expression of unhealthy solidification and lack of energy. A good example is traffic, which is becoming increasingly congested due to more and more drivers behaving in the same way. The solution can be found in the systemic approach. Let’s be aware of a few areas with periodic fluctuations.
- Rhythms of nature
In nature, everything follows recurring changes without exception. This applies to the becoming and passing of a life and extends to the oscillating movements within the individual steps of a lifecycle. Thus, biological cells divide at fixed intervals and renew that way their structure until it finally fades away. By the pulse, the breathing rate or electric activity of the brain, we can recognize the health state of living beings – uniformity is an indication of trouble. In the environment, the tides or El Niño are changes that keep Gaia going through the seasons – extreme swings lead to droughts or heavy rainfall. The earth rotates once a day around its own axis and needs a year around the sun – due to the angle of inclination of the axes of the world these cycles lead to the seasons and together with the moon to the tides. What we rarely become aware of is the fact that the changes in the countless building blocks of nature follow vibrations, which are difficult to detect.
Since all components follow their own number of cycles, we only notice overlapping deflections. That is why we are constantly looking for natural patterns that show us a direction in our activities – similar to the fluctuations that have been recognized over a long period of time and packed into proverbial rules – e.g. April showers bring May flowers; Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.
- Rhythm of culture
Our lifestyles consist of our identities and beliefs, languages and actions, stories and experiences. They appear in the visible behaviors, rituals, stories and things. The underlying values and basic assumptions can only be derived indirectly. Cultural aspects also have their own cycle: the zeitgeist follows changing conditions in science and popular art; the mass media have their publication rhythms; sporting events have seasons.
The rhythm is driven by the alternation of generations, which makes everything different and, after a few changes, reuses something old – when the young rediscover vinyl and shellac; when, despite all the digitalization, the book format survives with old printing techniques and haptic attractive books. These trends are triggered by disturbances that emerge out of nowhere, pass the tipping point and become a cultural wave.
- Rhythm of the economy
The economy not only generates but also drives the general ups and downs of markets and businesses. The economic complexity results from accelerating changes in technology, creating faster new goods and services, and more capable types of customers, who move swifter than the companies. Let us think of the Kondratiev cycles, whose long waves are characterized by certain machines and objects and describe every sixty years a new paradigm that shake existing business models – the age of the steam engine and cotton (approx. 1771), the age of the railway and steel (approx.1829), the age of electricity and chemistry (approx.1875), the age of oil, cars and mass production (approx.1908), and the age of information and telecommunications (approx.1971). The digital transformation is for the time being the culmination of the current wave that is leading to massive job losses for simple tasks.
The rhythm of the economy is the result of countless variations in management styles, collaboration models, manufacturing and software technologies – in other words, the waves are hidden in a broad band of white noise. This explains the continuous attempts to process more and more data (Big Data), in order to filter out the patterns, which would allow better prediction of the markets. The advantage lies in the opportunity of taking into account comprehensive data sets. The disadvantage lies in the evaluation models, which, despite the huge computer power, set the framework for the results. We should not forget that old approaches, like tossing a coin or looking into the crystal ball, already have a 50/50 chance.
- Rhythm of personal expressions
Even we experience such waves. We present, for example, in a lecture our messages with the help of our posture, gestures, facial expressions and intonation. The way one is posing and uses the space during the lecture, the usage of arms and hands, the volatile facial expressions and the volume, height and emphasis of the spoken words create additional expressions besides the content statements and together result in a positive or negative evaluation. If the expression lacks rhythm, i.e. if you stand motionlessly in the same place and rattle off passionlessly, you lose the attention of the audience and do not achieve the desired effect.
It is possible to improve your own presentation style through practice and conscious control of the expression. Then you manage to create the different rhythms, and thus strengthen your own message. This creates acceptance, especially, if you keep the audience swinging along.
These examples are a simple collection of aspects that are in oscillation, up and down, and that we want to understand and predict. It is important to realize that no matter where you look, the wave movements of each aspect happen completely detached from one another. However, the more different the individual rhythms are, the healthier seems to be the whole. Tightly organized groups are losing their agility through rigid chains of command – like in Fukushima, in the former Eastern Bloc states and soon in the U.S. The attempt to bring everything in lockstep is rather counterproductive, because all examples show that only the ‘chaotic’ oscillation of the elements creates a viable system.
Bottom line: One sees in nature, culture, economy and even in personal expression that waves are overlapping. This means that traditional organizational structures of the industrial age, which were designed to synchronize all functions, are no longer adequate. Agility requires openness, commitment, dedication and the corresponding Y-image of people. The right rhythm is therefore not ONE uniform vibration of the components, but the living, unpredictable hodgepodge of countless oscillations.