Part III of Greg Rooney’s three part series. Part II is available here
There is much of the Newtonian thinking underpinning those promoting the dispute resolution (DR) product. This can be seen in Boulle and Field’s recent blogs where they connect measurement with understanding, a classic Newtonian concept. For example ,Boulle and Field propose that it is only by evaluation and measurement that the legitimacy and credibility of mediation can be assessed. This is based on the Newtonian concept that the world is ordered and that if enough research is done and a full understanding of a situation is achieved then the future can then be predicted.
The challenge to this Newtonian view of the world can be seen in the replication movement in which many of the significant social science experiments of the past are being repeated with vastly different results from the original conclusions. This is because nothing is repeatable in a complex environment. It has thrown into doubt the validity of much of the so-called evidence-based research and observational case studies carried out in the social science field. This has become a significant problem for academia.
The Newtonian view of the world has been superseded by modern physics; particularly, the laws of thermodynamics and the emerging awareness of quantum physics. These offer far better explanations of what is happening and more importantly why the world has changed so much.
The laws of thermodynamics hold the best scientific explanation of the disruptive world we live in. Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that is the study of systems. The first law of thermodynamics is that nothing is created or destroyed; it simply changes form. The second law of thermodynamics asserts that this change is always in the direction of decay and that all natural processes lead to an overall increase in disorder. It is why human beings, and nature in general, cannot reverse the ageing process.
As this change occurs nothing is lost or destroyed. It is simply reconstituted in another form which then becomes the new paradigm, before it too starts to decay. Disruption is therefore a normal part of reality rather than the ordered Newtonian view of the world that existed pre-2007.
The emerging understanding of quantum physics also impacts on our understanding of the complex world we now inhabit. It is a branch of physics which is highly uncertain and interconnected and where change occurs depending on the position of the observer. It breaks down the Newtonian link between cause and effect.
The answer to what will happen in the future in a complex environment cannot be found through analytical thinking. Outcomes cannot be predicted because in a complex environment every element is interconnected and constantly co-constrain each other. It evolves in random by constant modification never in the same way twice. Therefore we can only understand what is happening in retrospect. Because no two contexts are the same it is impossible to forecast or predict what will happen. Joining the dots in advance is an illusion.
This is a significant challenge for academia and theorists.
So tomorrow morning the traditional ‘process’ (non-evaluative) mediators will again go off to work where they will try to remain totally present in the moment to observe the dynamics of the interaction between the parties. They will probe first and then sense and respond to the reaction and they will try and suspend any attachment to their memories, desires and the need to understand what is happening and will try and not be deterred by blockages and impasses. They will allow their intuition to guide them through the session rather than letting the mechanical side of their brain be the master.
These are the same soft skills that leaders and managers in the commercial world need to use to manage the flow of networks between people in the way that allows for the safe space for minority views, diverging opinions, conflict and internal disruption to emerge. They require a higher state of alertness and the ability to provide a real-time response to emerging patterns and behaviours. This is the best pathway to creating strategic surprises and opportunities.
For the legal community in general and the ‘dispute resolvers’ in particular, the answer to restoring value for the legal product in the new economy is not to push aside or try to diminish the traditional mediation movement but to embrace it, and welcome it as the path to acquire the necessary soft skills to constructively engage with the fluidity, ambiguity and complexity of the new age.
I therefore suggest that rumours of the death of mediation and the significant role of the traditional process mediator are greatly exaggerated.
 Future mediation: A flexible bundle of knowledge, skills, attitudes and ethical attributes. Posted on 24/08/2018 by Dr Rachael Field excerpts from Laurence Boulle and Rachael Field, from Mediation in Australia (LexisNexis, 2018)
 Mc Gilchrist, I. The Master and His Emissary, 2009, Yale University Press.
Greg Rooney has been a mediator in private practice in Australia for 27 years and has since 1995 taught mediation and allied ADR subjects in a number of universities and private institutions in Australia and internationally. Greg has over the last 14 years mediated over 200 face-to-face meetings between religious leaders and individual victims of sexual abuse within a number of Christian religious institutions in Australia as well as abuse within the Australian Defence Force and the South Australian Police Force. Greg, together with colleagues Margaret Ross and Barbara Wilson, have since 2012 run an annual Mediation Retreat in Tuscany, Italy. www.gregrooney.com.au
Many thanks to Greg for his inspiring and thought-provoking posts this month.