Coping and the Fibonacci Sequence

Today I want to talk about coping.

Traditionally, the word has a slightly negative connotation, it suggests an underlying struggle that we perhaps not deal with. But I’d like to suggest that coping is mark of an underlying strength, a silent fortitude that gets us through life and all its challenges.

Coping needs to be celebrated. Because coping is living.

EF Schmacher in his “A Guide for the Perplexed”, writes:

“To live means to cope, to contend and keep level with all sorts of circumstances, many of them difficult. Difficult circumstances present problems, and it might be said that living means, above all else, dealing with problems.”

He then goes on to talk about convergent and divergent problems. It is the unsolved, and perhaps insoluble, divergent problems that create a form of existential anguish. And triggers the need to cope.

Coping in a multi-faceted, rapidly changing environment: personal, organisational, societal and technological

But Schumacher wrote in 1977 when there was time to reflect on these things. The multi-faceted, rapidly changing environment was not yet upon us.

However, this does not mean his advice is no longer relevant. If coping is dealing with problems then we simply need to break our problems into those which answers converge and go and solve them. And those which answers diverge and decide whether or not they can be or are worth solving.

What has all this to do with the Fibonacci Sequence? And well might you ask!

The sequence is an series of numbers where the ratio between adjacent pairs approaches “the golden mean”, a ratio found throughout nature and which features heavily in Greek architecture.

In writing about craftsmanship, Matthew Crawford quotes Tom Hull, a welding teacher at a high school in Oregon.

“‘…the sequence portrays a human characteristic as well, as the ratio is not immediately achieved, but gets closer and closer, and not by some steady slope to perfection but by self-correcting oscillations about the ideal value.’

“This captures the iterated self-criticism, in light of some ideal that is never quite attained, whereby the craftsman advances in his art.”

Self-correcting oscillations rather than straight line solutions.

John Kay, in his book “Obliquity”, speaks of much the same thing when he says that we achieve our goals indirectly.

Coping then is largely about having the patience to allow these self-correcting oscillations to occur. And finding ways to maintain our ability to influence in a multi-faceted, rapidly changing environment. Because, short of doing things ourselves, the ability to influence is all we have.

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