Mapping Transformation with AQAL and Theory U
In international development we see it more and more the need for leaders to play a new game. It is ironic that our best whole systems thinkers are becoming ever more frustrated at the lack of visible change in response to knowledge and evidence about growing threats to sustainability. The problem is, that while many experts and change agents are getting frustrated ‘with banging their heads against the same old walls’ in the exterior quadrants (UR & LR), the dynamics and mechanisms of how to go about genuine transformation are still not widely understood.
Transformations that respond to adaptive challenges involve a fundamental shift in perspective and ‘meaning making’, that is a process that deconstructs the current ‘meaning making’ system thus, enabling a shift to a different level of consciousness. Only then is it possible to perceive, find or create new answers that contribute to a new ‘reality’. To identify such critical leverage points, leaders need to recognize the interdependency between their inner and their outer world. In other words, it is the natural reflexive dynamics between interior and exterior realities that enable one to successfully create changes, whether individually and collectively.
Transformation – as opposed to incremental change – requires a true shift in the structure of consciousness one operates from. The general ‘architecture of transformation’ connects the movement through the U (Scharmer) with AQAL in what could be described as a multi-faceted and pluri-dimensional shift:
a) An individual process of dis-identification with a behaviour (UR) to its “source code” “UL” (for example recognizing a behavioural pattern and going “inside” to identify and owning a shadow, releasing it and changing behaviour)
b) A shift from the UR gross state (observable behaviour pattern) to accessing subtle or even causal states in the upper left and back to UR on a different level of perception (Scharmer’s U-Process).
c) Dis-Identifications happening on sliding scale from micro ‘aha’ moments to bigger, life changing experiences, to shifting perspectives on perspectives on a meta-level (from ‘looking through’ to ‘looking at’ – R Kegan). This can eventually lead to a vertical transformation towards more complex levels/later stage action logics.
d) Once these shifts are re-iterated, consistently practiced, in a collective with a shared vision, scaled and imbued with power, collective transformation becomes possible and whole systems can indeed be shifted. (The fuzziness and pitfalls to this process will be described in a future discussion paper.)
An Integral ‘U’ Process
Scharmer describes this “U shaped” movement from the recognition and subsequent deconstruction of current perceived realities, the little death at the ‘bottom of the U’ when going from knowing to not knowing towards the new territory of prototyping of new realities beautifully.
Scharmer does not explicitly take into account developmental aspects in his processes and tools. U-Processes should be conceived and managed in accordance to the action logic of the people the program addresses. Otherwise it will prove counterproductive, triggering stage related resistances (e.g. blue allergies to green ‘co-over-sharing’, reds refusal to go internal reflective). Also, people leading such processes should have a decade or two of real ‘walk the talk’ hands-on experience with transformation.
In many countries we work in, individual resistances and collective shadows that show up during transformative processes are generally a matter of life and death and will be touched or triggered (Syria, South Africa, Egypt, Indonesia etc.). Or as Bill O’Brien notes, “the success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener”.
“We move from part to whole and back again, and in that dance of comprehension, in that amazing circle of understanding, we come alive to meaning, to value, and to vision: the very circle of understanding guides our way, weaving together the pieces, healing the fractures, mending the torn and tortured fragments, lighting the way ahead — this extraordinary movement from part to whole and back again, with healing the hallmark of each and every step, and grace the tender reward.” Ken Wilber.
download this paper here: U and Development-[Paper036]
 (Scharmer 2005; Scharmer, Senge et al. 2001)