the Athena Group

Athena Bulletin

Delight in Complex Systems

I recently read “The Book of Delights” by Ross Gay. His aspiration was to write a daily essay about something delightful. He made some rules for his practice. Write a delight every day for a year. Begin and end on his birthday. Draft them quickly and write by hand. Later he added another rule, which he calls TEMPORAL ALLEGIANCE (his caps). By this he means he won’t stack and save delights for a future day of writing. Nor will he reflect on past delights that are recalled from memory. Keep it current. Find delight everyday.


I want to see if I can do something like this, but different. I’m going to bound my context by finding delight in complex systems, which is where I do my work in the world. I don’t know exactly what that means, yet. I’ll try an example. This photograph records a delight from a few summers ago:

A dragon fly on the stem of a sunflower

If I were to write about this particular delight (which is against the rules), I would express wonder about the exquisite organisms in the photo: the dragonfly and sunflower, both of which live for a season, and the Douglas Fir in the background that might be 100 years old. There is delight in the texture and strength of the sunflower stalk contrasted with the delicate wings of the dragonfly. The yellow flower petals are drooping sensually, and will be gone in a few days as the seeds mature in the flower head. And then the blue jays will show up. And the blue jays, in their exuberance over such abundance, will drop seeds that will lie in the garden soil through the fall and winter and germinate next spring.

I’m in the spring of my 67th year and I’m in the middle (maybe) of a pandemic experience. March 2020. No better time to start noticing delights! Today I felt delight as I rode my bicycle to a routine doctor’s appointment (scheduled long ago) in brilliant morning sun under a blue sky. The temperature was 37 F. The feeling of delight came from noticing spring’s insistent energy generating buds on blueberry bushes and kiwi vines in a favorite front yard garden in my neighborhood. Blueberries will form and mature and be eaten. This is a sure thing.


Steve Byers has 20 years of experience working with teams and leaders, and in convening important conversations in communities and organizations. He has designed and facilitated conversations in culturally diverse communities and organizations on such topics as racism and fair policing, employment and recreation for people with disabilities, access to health care in rural communities, strengthening families to prevent child abuse and neglect, and social determinants of health in immigrant communities. He also trains people to do this work, thus building capacity in the community. Steve works with teams and leaders to improve performance, strengthen working relationships, and increase team member well-being. He has presented multiple interactive workshops at various conferences in the last 15 years, including Elevate Early Learning (Tacoma), In2:InThinking Annual Forum (Los Angeles), and the Pegasus Systems Thinking in Action conference (Boston & Seattle). Any workshop Steve offers can be customized for an organization so that the participants can do real relevant work while learning. Steve is a graduate of the Organization Systems Renewal program at Seattle University. He is an experienced “Art of Hosting” facilitator and trainer. He designs and teaches workshops for organizations and the public, and teaches in a graduate leadership studies program at St. Mary’s College of California. Steve is also the owner of Helping Human Systems, a consulting practice to develop leadership capacity.