As science fiction writer Greg Bear has described it, chaos is a force so roiled that it doesn’t respond to feedback.

Eventually, every wave of human activity—yours, mine, ours, theirs—is going to reach what many experts and commentators (including Nobel Prize-winning scientist Ilya Prigogine; George Land, the author of Grow or Die; James Gleick in Chaos: Making a New Science; researchers at the Santa Fe Institute, and pioneering “chaologists” like Edward Lorenz and the late, brilliant Benoit Mandelbrot) have called “the bifurcation point.”

At Brain Technologies Corporation, we’ve been calling this dimension “The Bifurcation Zone.”

In the vernacular, as it nears the bifurcation point, the wave is running out both of oomph and coherence. Soon it will be headed downward, destined to break up as chaos takes over. For individuals and organizations depending on the wave’s buoyancy, this brings decision time. Do you do nothing or fail to do enough and ride the wave all the way into oblivion? Or do you do what it takes to catch a new wave and continue to be vital and relevant in new or in self-renewing circumstances? Two paths in the sea: one headed up, the other down. Which will it be? (Surely there’s a bumper sticker somewhere that reads: “Bifurcate or Bust!”)

Because of its absolutely critical importance in the life of any and every organized, ongoing activity, you would think that the bifurcation zone—at the top of the wave and for a distance thereafter—would be a frantically crowded, busy place. You would expect everyone—dolphins, not-quite-flying fish, sharks and carps alike—to be testing the water, eagerly searching for clues and portents to what might come next. But that is seldom the case.

Carp Hazard: Falling Off the Wave
In actuality, the crest of the wave is typically about as crowded as a swimming beach in the midst of a wintry blow—that is, not very crowded at all. And there is much to be learned from the reasons why.

In the bifurcation zone, the wave inexorably sloughs away from its apogee, losing power, momentum and opportunity. It is increasingly abandoned by the creative forces of the environment, heretofore the invisible sculptor of the wave’s shape and dynamics. It heads into a trough.

For the carpthinker, the point at which the wave begins to top out generally goes unrecognized. There can be any number of reasons. One is often ideology; the carp mind’s rigid sense of how the world supposedly works can create fatalistic blinders that screen off key realities. Or the problem may be folk wisdom, handed down for generations, that leaves a person fatalistic about what warnings signs mean and how dangerous they are and whether change is even possible. Or it may be simple ignorance of how the wave works and what can or should be done differently when it begins to come apart. In any event, carpthinkers aren’t likely to linger overly long at the top of the wave because they will soon be swept “over the falls,” so to speak, and carried swiftly downward toward disastrous endings. Or else—Possible Egregious Fate No. 2—the end may come much sooner. They may find themselves being eaten.

‘Pig-Out’ Time for Sharks
It is that prospect of a feeding frenzy that often brings large numbers of sharks to the top of the wave. But they’ll remain only long enough to dine on easy pickings. Given all the financial shenanigans in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world in the early Twenty-First Century, examples of top-of-the-wave “pig outs” for sharks were plentiful. Consequently, cable TV was soon awash with ads offering to help people reduce credit card debt, avoid home foreclosure or make a financial killing by buying a house that had been foreclosed on or getting the training and/or information they needed to find a job.

Otherwise, sharks aren’t congregants in large numbers in the bifurcation zone because they invariably greet the first signs of slackening in the wave’s momentum with a mad retreat into more familiar waters, waters where they have enjoyed success.

Few waves come apart overnight. There is nearly always advantage and benefit to be enjoyed in transitional times if you are well enough connected to get advanced warning. Or if you are well enough protected to ride the turbulence for a time. Or if you are rapaciously quick-witted enough to grab and defend what you control, whatever the moralities or ethics of your actions. The sharks are absent because they don’t want to be identified with failure. So they will have rushed off to protect themselves. And to reassure—and gain reassurance from—various stakeholders and codependents: their peers, their investors, their political cronies, their stock brokers, their allies and their sycophants.

Drama at the Bifurcation
If there are changes to be made, sharks would prefer that they come only after they have secured what they can, and they would prefer that those changes happen on someone else’s watch. So in the bifurcation zone, once the feeding frenzy ends because most carps have been eaten, you find few sharks; they’re out beating the drums and spreading such messages as “It’s just a minor correction.” “All we need to do is get back to the basics.” And, “It’s only a matter of hanging tough.” Behind the scenes, of course, they are nervously trying to benefit from “the greater fool theory.” As I’m sure my reader knows, the theory is named after the person left holding the bag when the bubble bursts and the wave collapses.

Summing up, the carp mind permits itself to be swept along by the wave, even if the wave is in a death plunge. Typically, the shark mind is fiercely and furiously—and often myopically—in the hunt, searching for self-advantage and easy kills but quickly departs when the food supply dwindles and the carnage attracts too much media and regulatory attention.


Bifurcation Watch for Dolphins

And dolphins? What do they do differently? Dolphins do pay attention to sharks, and with the utmost intentionality. As I note many times in my latest book, LEAP! How to Think Like a Dolphin & Do the Next Right, Smart Thing Come Hell or High Water, dolphins have learned to quickly recognize compulsive (sometimes, pathological) winners—by their teeth, by their glee at discovering blood in the water, by their calculated and calculating behaviors. The practice and the activation of shark defenses are as much a part of a dolphin’s routine as civil defense drills used to be in some communities at the height of the Cold War.
On occasion, shark evasion and containment can even be fun for dolphinthinkers. But, in truth, they have better things on which to focus their attention:

• Dolphins pay attention to where they are so they can remain grounded and centered—so they can anchor their strategies well.

• Dolphins pay attention to where they want to go, benefiting from the backwards
tug of future intentions.

• Dolphins pay attention to correcting when they sense that they have drifted off
course or that circumstances have changed.

• Dolphins pay attention to what needs to be done now, or done next—that is, to
the business of the future.

• Dolphins pay attention to what needs to be undone—that is, to the unfinished
business of the past.

• Dolphins pay attention to what’s happening now, believing it provides the most
accurate reading on how everything fits together.

And dolphins pay attention to the 20 percent that really, pivotally matters. Dolphins are not beyond taking pleasure in the journey and its joys. But, when it is crucial or deserved, if there is anything that they absolutely do insist on, it is the payoff. Thus, in finality, they do what accountants do: they track results and the trail they leave.

Dolphins Pack Their Bags Early

In most cases, you shouldn’t expect them to be visible at the bifurcation point, either. Dolphinthinkers both intuit and reason their way to a realization that a need to change is coming rather than wait until the environment bludgeons them again and again with sharper and sharper reminders.

Sensing that fundamental shifts are in the wind or the wave, dolphins begin their disengagement and their pro-active explorations of new possibilities well before the crest of the wave. For certain, this is before it becomes plainly evident that something different will need to be done and the beginnings of a new wave need to be put in place. The idea is to begin a new discovery process well before the arrival of the actual do-or-die bifurcation point, dolphins have worked through much of the start-up lag of new beginnings. If all has gone well, they are firmly in command of their strategy and their program for the new wave and the new era.

So dolphinthinkers leverage the wave again and again. When the old patterns and performance gains begin to flag, when people’s needs aren’t getting met and the faintest hint of changing times and circumstances is transmitted by failure, dolphins begin to raise questions and to play “What if . . . ?”

Knowing that the political realities, budgetary considerations, research, pilot runs and efforts of persuasion needed to catch a new wave will take months or perhaps even years, dolphins usually begin to disengage from the old wave well before the actual bifurcation point. In that way, when the old wave tips over and begins its downward plunge, the dolphinthinker’s effort is ideally nearing the end of a new discovery phase. While the severity of the learning experience increases geometrically for those riding the old wave down, dolphinthinkers hope to be doing something different, something that works.

Incoming: the Granddaddy of Curls?

Dolphinthinkers can no more forecast what is going to happen and what their precise responses will need to be than any other kind of thinker. But ask any dolphinthinker these days and you are likely to learn that these kinds of minds are sensing an extraordinary opportunity to alter the course of history. Dolphins everywhere are sensing that a bifurcation point to top all bifurcation points looms. And that, if the apocalyptic fork is taken, the human experiment can go in the tank with unspeakable complications. And that, if the transformational route is taken, this could be the beginning of something redemptively new and amazingly good.

As I note more than once in LEAP!, when the wave is a’changing, the ability to process additional time, space and complexity are pretty much everything.

One more time, the dolphin mind’s advice—to the dolphinthinker it serves and all other kinds of mind—has a familiar ring: Pay attention to the wave! Because the big ones incoming may offer the best evidence so far of why there is something rather than nothing and of which way is up.

Bookmark and Share