MindShift

TRANSFORMATION – INSIGHT – LEADERSHIP


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Leading change: First in the subtle, then in the world.

If you want to lead change – personal, organizational or societal – you have to intimately know how change works. This includes experiential clarity in knowing how to overcome – and help overcome – resistance towards change. It also includes knowing the ever so subtle, almost unnoticeable shifts in your own inner experience when facing a challenge to change a personal reality in the face of a conscious or unconscious resistance. This is especially true if the change you want to induce is not just incremental change, i.e. getting better at something, but a real transformational shift, or even a paradigm shift, personal or otherwise.

This is what Bill O’Brien or Otto Scharmer talk about, when they tell us how much the `inner place of an intervener´ matters to the success of an intervention.

217868_454397854583456_2109798001_nLeading self comes before leading others. Let us illuminate that ‘blind spot of leadership’ and take a closer look at what happens in our own spaces first. How do you deal with your own personal change? How do you overcome your own resistances when they are well hidden from your own insight and logic? How much do you know your own inner quiet place where you examine your own assumptions, what you are unconsciously knowing (e.g. “I am not good enough”) and can you unlearn what you know? What you are ignoring (“I can’t bear feeling that”)?  Are you aware of what it is you are secretly protecting?  What encountered knowns and unknowns do you leave unexamined? With which consequences?

The answer to these questions lead to the areas, where leaders of change need to develop a kind of mastery that is similar to that of martial arts: In dealing with the inconspicuous, lightning fast impulses, and in handling most uncomfortable pushback, shadow impulses and resistance.

We tend to think that facing change and leading change are about the bold moves, that paradigm shifts are spectacular, that holding unknowns or paradoxes is something very noticeable and in your face. This is not the case –  the trick lies in the subtle, in the almost undetectable vibrational shifts and minute impulses that are going on in the background of your own mind, without you noticing them consciously.

There is this old Zen joke, that has been around, about the old fish that meets to young fish. While passing he friendly asks: hey guys, how is the water today? After he is gone, they turn to each other and ask: what water??

Here, the unconscious is exactly what the word says: what is least conscious because it is most usual, most familiar, most every day. This is why people don’t easily change even their most unwanted realities: “Every day” is what we call a reality that is constructed around homeostatic systems with adaptive ‘set points’ around money, happiness, confidence, relationships, success, etc. What are your assumptions around this that hold you, like invisible rubber bands, in your old reality? Noticed any patterns lately?vortex

What you might notice if you are being challenged to change even a minor set point or a status quo in these areas are things like; becoming tired, embarrassed, distracted, ill, angry, intellectual, nice, pleasing, aggressive. Now become quiet and listen in, feel in: what happened inside, in your ‘inner place’ just before the avoidance mechanism?

nimbusD'aspremont_webBecoming good at identifying and handling these impulses needs a different set of skills and capacities. It needs noticing where your attention goes in automatic and where it is stuck. It needs awareness of the mechanisms that you use to escape from the ‘inside of a feeling’ that you protect yourself or others from. It needs the willingness to feel something that is deeply uncomfortable, oftentimes painful. It needs the will power to stay and feel it through. These minute moves are silent, not loud; you need to catch frequencies, not words and mental concepts; you need to move at the speed of emotion, not slow changing matter. Draw faster than your shadow. And, just like in martial arts, the resistance and impulses can be used to our advantage: there is usually a treasure to be found at the bottom of each illusive impulse. Follow that resistance, use its tension and its origin for your own goal of becoming whole again and greater awareness, and come out shiny at the other end.

You learn to stay some more and make this new, unchartered unfamiliar territory your place. You start playing with new possibilities you didn’t know were possible before. The choice field widens, and welcome to prototyping. You can start leading and teaching the martial arts of change. New realities emerge from the subtle first, and the rewards are priceless.

Are you ready to play?

Photos: Cloud in a room. Artist: Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.

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Transformative Processes and Adaptive Pushback. Mapping out Stages, Patterns, Mechanisms, Immunities to Change and How to Respond

shiftWhy are we resisting Transformation?

In the global change arena we see more and more the need for leaders to know about what happens in transformative processes inside out in order to play a different 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 more often than not that the intrinsic mechanisms of transformation are still not widely understood nor mastered. Transformative processes that are supposed to respond to adaptive challenges require a fundamental shift in perspective and meaning. In order to be able to design, catalyze, foster or lead such shifts, leaders need to recognize stages, depth and width of the process, need to identify patterns of systemic pushback, know what to do with immunities to change and how to handle the usual resistances and escape mechanisms.

The following Powerpoint shows maps of

  • stages and stations on a archetypical transformative process
  • pushback and escape mechanisms tipically occurring in relative accordance with the stage of the process
  • generative interior and exterior condition that can foster a successful process
  • a selection of toolboxes, techniques and methods that are helpful in order to bring participants back on track

What are your thoughts? Download the presentation here:

looking into transformative processes and adaptive pushback

Paper Presentation during the Conference on ‘Transformation in a Changing Climate’, University of Oslo, June 2013.


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Taking on the Future: Transformation in a Changing Climate

Workshop on Transformative Leadership in a Changing Climate, Saturday 22 June, 2013, Oslo 

If we see transformative change as a necessary response to global climate change, we have to know its processes intimately. Transformations that respond to adaptive challenges involve fundamental shifts in perspective and meaning. In order to be able to design, catalyze, foster or lead such shifts, leaders need to recognize stages, depth and width of the process, identify patterns of systemic pushback, and know what to do with immunities to change, as well as how to handle the usual resistances and escape mechanisms.

For those who are interested in learning more about leadership for change, we offer a one-day intensive workshop directly following the international conference on  “Transformation in a Changing Climate” at the University of Oslo .

The workshop will lead participants into experiencing transformative processes first hand and head-on. We will look at how our evolving worldviews frame the problem in need of transformation, how to shift polarized perspectives, and unlock movement towards solutions.

The work offers insights into the more concealed mechanisms and stages of transformation and on how to detect and overcome hidden immunities to change and adaptive pushback in yourself and others. Other expected results include insights into personal recurring patterns and on how to restructure seemingly fixed conditions. The links between personal and global trans-formation, and leadership, will become clear.

The workshop is delivered by a team of international professionals in the field of transformation and leadership development: Abigail Lynam, Geoff Fitch and Anne Caspari.

Click for more information on the workshop,  for registration or contact me on an.caspari@gmail.com

Taking on the Futuredownload the flyer: Taking on the Future


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Working with Resistance – a praxis paper.

Working with Resistance – When Reality hits, use its Force

Follow the intensity of your resistance down to its source and sure enough you will find a treasure.

“The difficulty we have in accepting responsibility for our behavior lies in the desire to avoid the pain of the consequences of that behavior” M. Scott Peck

With transformation work, encountering and overcoming resistances is an intrinsic part of the game. In coaching and facilitating transformative change, people naturally face stages of resistance, fear and confusion. This will inevitably trigger escape and protection mechanisms of the self/Self system that come in a multitude of shapes, sizes and flavours.

Many of these take the form of well-rehearsed identities (e.g.spiritual identities, cynical attitudes, attack of coach or method, sudden shift of priorities) that are designed to ‘protect’the coachee from the suspected pain of re-owning deeper lying disassociated parts (shadows). These defence mechanisms can easily sabotage the transformative process. In many cases, the coachee is not aware of these phenomena, but rather strongly identified with them. Kegan and Lahey (2009) define this as “Immunity to Change”, a “hidden commitment”, with an underlying root cause, that competes and conflicts with a stated commitment to change. It is these hidden commitments that cause people to not change and to fail to realise their best intentions. It takes experience to spot such phenomena and to defuse or utilize any deviating construct arising in the space appropriately, in real time.

In the previous paper I listed the various stages of a typical transformative process. Now I add to that the typical resistance patterns that often correlate to the stations on the track. Fortunately, these patterns tend to have a recognizable sequence. See also Anne Caspari  www.integral-planning.org

An experienced coach can identify them and knows how far or deep a group or an individual is on their way through the process and what is still ahead of them relative to their goal. The good news is that there are plenty of extremely good tools available.

Tool boxes

Based on more than a decade of practical experience with coaching transformational change processes in adult development, combined with the application of integral theory on facilitating change in personal to global strategic projects, I have started to map out recognizable patterns that show up consistently as indicators of specific stages of the transformation process in individuals and groups. Resistance patterns or pathologies can of course vary in flavour and form depending on the kosmic address or altitude of the group or person in the process. If level-specific mechanisms show up, they are best addressed with tools and approaches that correspond well with that specific developmental level.

Escape patterns and pathologies in different states of consciousness are harder to recognize and require, as always the full experience and presence of the coach.

These diagrams are intended to provide hands-on practical information that is hopefully useful to practitioners dealing with transformational change. I have listed a number of tools and methods that have proven appropriate and extremely useful in coaching people back on track in their movement through transformational processes.  

Resistances are treasure indicators

In transformation work we encounter a lot of fear and collective shadow around resistance and blocks, not just in the coachees, but also with some coaches and trainers. These tensions can and should be harvested. It requires some cleaning up and practice, like mental aikido training, to recognize obstructing, attacking or resisting forces as forces to work with and as pointers and key indicators to the most important acupuncture points for change, much like a treasure map. Furthermore, if the transformational process is designed to prototype new ideas, listening to the information sitting on resistances and fears can actually provide the breakthrough that is called for. Then, working with resistances can even be like a fun ride in a roller coaster or like a ride on a sail boat using the resistance to propel you in the direction of your conscious choice. Welcome to the world of trim tabs.

The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.” Peter Senge

Download this paper here: WhenRealityHits[Paper041]

Adaptive Pushback Caspari