Our beliefs and assumptions about the nature of change
Change at different scales: Change has shapes and dynamics that are fundamentally the same at different scales. The dynamics of competition in the ecosystem of an algae pool, of interaction within a family, of feedback loops within a major corporation, or even among the parts of a single personality, have a great deal in common. We gain insight into each of them by considering them all together, by using the patterns of evolution to study the family, and using the insights of family dynamics to look at the corporation.
Change through different lenses: People tend to treat psychology, organizational dynamics, community organization, and politics as if they were entirely separate fields of study, as if we could find nothing useful in the study of one to look at another. Yet these fields are closely inter-related - and we can enrich those insights further by studying the non-human dynamics of change in biology, hydrology, chemistry, and the formation of stars. For instance, the idea of punctuated equilibrium, from the study of evolution, is useful in scenarios work for both organizations and families. The concept of a "learning organization" achieves new richness when applied to a family. The concepts of feedback and error checking, from Norbert Weiner's cybernetics, have proven useful in everything from intra-psychic work to the negotiations that gave birth to the Palestinian Authority.
Systems: These are not just useful metaphors. Each of these disciplines is studying a type of system, and there deepest, most fruitful insights are insights into the nature of complex, adaptive systems. You and I are complex adaptive systems, engaged in many larger systems - our families, communities, and organizations.
Personal growth: The corollary of this is simple and powerful: it is not possible to change a system in which you are engaged, without changing yourself. Often the hidden question with which we approach change is, "How can I stay comfortable, with the same beliefs and assumptions, the same self-image, the same way of being, while I cause this change to happen, or while this change washes over me?" The bad news - as well as the good news - is that it is not possible. If I want my spouse to change, I must ask myself, "How can I change my part of the conversation?" If I expect my organization to be different, I have to ask, "How do I have to be different, as a person, if I want this change to take place?" If I see change coming at me - in my financial situation, in my reporting structure, my colleagues, my relationships, where I live, how I spend my time - I will change. I will be different. The question is not whether I will change, it is how I will manage that change. Will it be chaotic, compulsive, and destructive? Will it be courageous, thoughtful, open to feedback? Will I nurture myself and those around me? Will I end up better, stronger, somehow larger, than I am now?Change has shapes and dynamics that are fundamentally the same at different scales. The dynamics of competition in the ecosystem of an algae pool, of interaction within a family, of feedback loops within a major corporation, or even among the parts of a single personality, have a great deal in common. We gain insight into each of them by considering them all together, by using the patterns of evolution to study the family, and using the insights of family dynamics to look at the corporation.
An infinite game
Change (in James Carse's useful phrase) is an infinite game. It has no end, and no winners or losers. You can play the game better or worse, you can gain more freedom of movement, more connection with other players, a richer environment. But change has no awards ceremony, no victory parade, no endgame. If you kill off your opponent you don't get to play any more.
He who cannot dance will say, "The drum is bad" (Ashanti proverb)
The Way is that toward which all things flow. . . The reason why rivers and oceans are able to be the kings of the one hundred valleys is that they are good at being below them. (Lao Tse)
(For an organization, this thought is about the limits of command and control as management techniques, the limits of speaking and the power of listening, the limits of rules and the power of connection.)