The Cycle of Kairotic Flow is a new framework or map for seeing where we are in the bigger picture of natural cycles of life, getting a sense of what would naturally come next, and what conditions we might prepare for those changes to occur in a healthy, generative flow of activity.
(If you want a TL;DR, please feel free to scroll straight down to the video.)
I’m not comfortable saying I ‘created’ the Kairotic Flow or that it was ‘my idea’, because although it certainly appeared rather suddenly in my head in early 2020, I’m well aware that it really emerged from the soup of my life experiences and observations over the past 40-odd years, and what I’ve learned from countless others, living and long dead.
What I prefer to say is that I ‘discovered’ or ‘saw’ the Kairotic Flow, acknowledging that it was inspired or brought into my awareness at least in part thanks to Simon Wardley’s “Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners”, Jennifer Russell’s “Four faces of incorruptible power”, and the yin-yang symbol.
That’s still oversimplifying the provenance of Kairotic Flow, however. Those familiar with the work of others that I enjoy exploring, such as — in no particular order — Dave Snowden (e.g. Cynefin), Nora Bateson, Elinor Ostrom, Michel Bauwens, John Vervaeke, Jordan Hall, Daniel Schmachtenberger, Forrest Landry, Nate Hagens, Kate Raworth, Vandana Shiva, and far too many others to name, may well feel hints of their influences in the Kairotic Flow as well. Anyone who knows me personally may also spot a variety of yet more influences — my husband Manuel Gomes, other family members, friends, network connections, work colleagues, fellow students, teachers, mentors, the Enneagram and multiple other models and maps, plus a ridiculous number of fiction authors. It is impossible to untangle what came from where, and while I would ideally love to give appropriate credit everywhere it is due, I cannot. I am simply and very deeply grateful for all of it.
The Kairotic Flow, pictured here in its most basic form, proposes 6 lenses or Archetypes that express in a continuous flow of Phases of activity, and the Roles or perspectives we all take on to properly (and hopefully wisely?) engage in those activities.
At first glance, it’s pretty simple. The 6 Archetypes are arranged in a clockwise circular flow. Three of them — Simon Wardley’s original three — are on the lit side of the circle, represented by orange, an active and attention-grabbing colour. The three I added — Steward, Curator and Scout — are shown in purple, representing a quieter and shadowed (less visible) side to the cycle. (Note — Simon Wardley has since renamed two of his three Archetypes because he acknowledges that the original names are historically problematic. Unfortunately the new names he chose (Explorer and Villager) do not translate well for the Kairotic Flow Archetypes, so for now I have kept his old names — Pioneer and Settler — and am considering other options).
Before we get to the video, I wish to draw your attention to three dynamic aspects of the Kairotic Flow, which I regard as far more important for understanding and application than are the six Archetypes. Two of these aspects became the name, and the third sits right at the centre of the diagram.
What comes to mind for you when you think of the word "power"?
Is it negative, like “power over” and “power corrupts”? Positive — like "self-empowered" or "power with"? Neutral, or both, or both-and-more?
I’m asking this because my use of the word ‘power’ in talking about Kairotic Flow has been a regular topic of discussion with others over the past 3 years, and no doubt such discussions will continue far into the future. I do fully acknowledge that ‘power’ has discomfiting connotations for many people nowadays. (And as an amusing side note — when I tried using Notion’s AI to summarise my own notes on Kairotic Flow, even it refused to go along with what I meant by "power"!)
However, the way I understand power is so central to the Kairotic Flow concept that at one point I even included the word in its name: “The Kairotic Flows of Power Cycle”. I did concede that the word didn’t need to be in the name, but even after many discussions and hours of searching and contemplation, I’ve not found a viable alternative to express the concept of power, and rehabilitating the word — or at least trying to — feels like the only sensible option.
So. If the word "power" has entirely negative connotations for you, and you’ve already made it this far, I can only ask that you bear with me just a little while longer to finish reading this section and see how I’m using it, and then on that basis, choose whatever course of action is right for you.
If there’s one principle I’m proposing that I hope everyone remembers about Kairotic Flow, it’s this: Power only gets corrupted when it accumulates and stagnates (by which I mean that too much power stays for too long in one Archetypal structure). Power is not inherently corrupted or corrupting… but it does have to flow through the cycle as it is needed. Like electricity, or like the energy we get from eating and digesting food. Power is energy in motion, doing work.
And now, if you’re curious to learn more, please continue.
If, however, you’re convinced that I’m totally wrong about the nature of power and believe it is always evil or corrupting, regardless of how it is viewed or treated, then I would suggest/advise that the Kairotic Flow is probably not your cup of tea, at least for now.
The ancient Greeks had three concepts for time: Chronos, Aion and Kairos.
Chronos is clock time, evenly divided in hours, minutes, seconds. You see it show up in words like “chronological” and “chronometer” and “chronic”.
Aion represents a very long, cyclical view of time (an age, epoch or eon).
Kairos is living time, seasonal and cyclical, judged not by duration, but by its importance and value. Kairos is the opportune or defining moment.
The adjective “Kairotic” comes from Kairos.
The Kairotic Flow points to the opportune moment for power to move or flow from one Archetypal Phase to the next in the cycle, as determined by living context. It’s about timing and necessary sequence or order of events.
Here’s what I mean by that. We humans define Spring as starting on a particular day in the calendar (chronological) year, but trees and plants don’t care about what month or day of the year it is. They start flowering when their living conditions and their internal states show them it’s the ‘opportune moment’ for them to do so. Not a moment before, not a moment after.
When we make choices, we’re nearly always making some kind of trade-off between opposites, which exist in a natural and inevitable tension. More of Option A means less of Option B and vice-versa.
In common parlance, we say we can’t have our cake and eat it too.
Do we buy a new car, or repair the one we already have? (Pioneer ↔ Steward)
Do we develop a routine around an approach we have been using for a while, or do we look for other approaches that might better meet our needs? (Town Planner ↔ Scout)
The choices we make in our lives might be carefully considered or the automatic result of blind habit, but the trade-offs are always there. Being aware of those trade-offs in the context we’re in helps us to find the right balance and make wiser choices.
When the tension is truly resolved and the choice fully made and actioned, we move on to the next Phase of activity in the cycle.
You may have noticed that that the first option presented in all three tension questions above is the one on the orange side of the Kairotic Flow cycle.
I’ve done this to highlight the choices we tend to make in today’s world, where power in nearly every form is stuck on the orange side of the cycle, which we associate with economic growth. Our social institutions, and in particular, market and ‘state’ (the word I use to point to formal government institutions) structures and incentives, were created to facilitate these choices and activities, all of which are in one way or another immediately and obviously important to getting us the resources we need to live.
Now I want to draw your attention to the critical importance of the purple side activities, which those same social institutions frequently try to minimise as costs or annoyances (or unproductive/lazy fun), and typically regard as having no immediate or obvious value.
If you intend to jump a long way, prior to actually jumping you (probably without even thinking about it) take at least a few steps back so you can build forward momentum by running up to the point you’ll jump from.
If you intend to sort out a big mess in a storage closet or cabinet, it helps to first take everything out, remove things that don’t belong there, and then reorganise the rest in a way that better meets your needs.
Plants display the importance of the purple side of the Kairotic Flow, dropping off old leaves and branches which no longer fulfil their purpose, and sending appropriate nourishment to where new growth is needed.
To summarise, the Phases of activity represented by the Archetypes on the purple side are preparation for the activities on the orange side. They may look like costs in the short term, but in the longer term, they’re making the value we collect during orange side activities possible.
I would suggest our world is in the mess it’s in now largely because we’ve collectively been undervaluing, under-resourcing, ignoring and/or avoiding the purple side of the cycle.
If you look around at the natural world, you see this full Kairotic Flow cycle playing itself out everywhere, because life adapts to the nature of its environment, of the inevitable consequences of the way our world spins on its axis and travels around the sun. There is no summer without winter, no harvest without pollination, and no pollination without the directing of energy away from the no-longer-viable structures (like old leaves and branches) and towards the potential for building new structures in wherever the new best place is, to suit current conditions.
Life changes continuously as it learns and adapts to its continuously changing environment. Nora Bateson’s word symmathesy describes this mutual learning beautifully.
The complexity of relationships continually changing - dynamic interrelating - is as real as real can be. Maps and models and the institutions we create are often useful to us, but on the most fundamental level they are all wrong, all disconnected from reality the second we create them.
The Kairotic Flow is no exception to this rule, since it too is a map of sorts. It does however attempt to describe what seem to me to be eternal patterns of life that play out over and over again in multiple contexts. If I’ve succeeded in this, the usefulness of the Kairotic Flow map rests largely in our abilities as living creatures to sense what’s going on around us and, using our pattern-matching abilities, respond accordingly to what’s happening now and what’s needed next, rather than getting lost in our own creations and trying to impose them on reality.
There is no starting point to the cycle - we simply are where we are - however given the current state of the world, I often introduce the Archetypes in this order: Steward, Curator, Scout, Pioneer, Settler, Town Planner. My sense of the bigger whole-of-humanity picture right now is that we need to pay more attention to what we already have and what's no longer working for us, and figure out what is needed next.
While in the background I've done a lot of work, thinking, writing and dialoguing with others since the Kairotic Flow first emerged for me in 2020, very little has been published so far -- this is, for example, the first video I'm releasing! I sincerely hope you enjoy it, despite my very amateur video editing, and find something useful and/or thought-provoking within. Other discussions have been recorded with a variety of people, and these, along with hopefully many more conversations, will be arranged into further videos over time. Various writings are also in the works, likely including a book at some point in the next year or so.
This recording was made on 15 May 2023 during my presentation to and following discussion with the WINfinity CORE group: Trae Ashlie-Garen, Wendy McLean, Michael Shoeman and Parmjit Nahil. (My sincere gratitude to you all for your generosity in being "first cab off the rank", and also to Wendy and Trae for your invaluable help in getting the slide deck to the point where it can be shared without making too many heads explode in confusion!)
As you might imagine, there is a lot more to the Kairotic Flow than could be included in one presentation and brief discussion.
If you're interested in further information or wish to contact me regarding joining small group zoom conversations, or booking personal coaching or consulting around Kairotic Flow, please start by going to https://presenceofmine.com. The slide deck used in the first 25 minutes of this presentation is available there as well as here.
More detail on the Six Archetypes is provided in a separate slide deck.
Notes on the video -
The slide deck remains a work in progress, e.g. the title on slide 4 has since been updated to: "How we make sense of complexity and ‘innovate’".
In the video I use the word "fractal" to point to Kairotic Flow's pattern repeating at multiple scopes and across multiple contexts, but it has turned out to be somewhat misleading. I am now using the more accurate term "holonic", from the word "holon", which refers to something that is simultaneously both a whole in itself, and a part of a greater whole.
A book, e-course and further videos are all in development, but progress is very slow due to the need to find time around (unrelated) paying work. I would love to dedicate more time to Kairotic Flow but given that it seems to be most needed by others in the same situation I am, I'm not willing to put everything behind a paywall. All of the information provided here is therefore under a Creative Commons license. Conditions are Attribution, Share Alike, and not for Commercial Use.
If you would like to support further work on the Kairotic Flow and are in a position to do so, please consider becoming a patron using the link below. (Also note that patrons supporting with $50/month or more will gain free access to attend Kairotic Flow small group conversations. More information at https://www.presenceofmine.com.)
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