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TRANSFORMATION – INSIGHT – LEADERSHIP


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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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New Publication: You say you want a revolution?

Karen O’Brien, Jonathan Reams, Anne Caspari et al. (2013): You say you want a revolution? Transforming education and capacity building in response to global change. Environ. Sci.Policy

A b s t r a c t

This paper considers the changes in education and capacity building that are needed in response to environmental and social challenges of the 21st Century. We argue that such changes will require more than adjustments in current educational systems, research funding strategies, and interdisciplinary collaborations. Instead, it calls for a deeper questioning of the assumptions and beliefs that frame both problems and solutions. We first discuss the challenges of transforming education and capacity building within five key arenas: interdisciplinary research; university education systems; primary and secondary education systems; researchers from the developing world; and the public at large and politicians. Our starting point is that any type of revolution that is proposed in response to global change is likely to reflect the educational perspectives and paradigms of those calling for the revolution. We differentiate between a circular revolution (as in the ‘‘plan-do-check- act cycle’’ often used in change management) versus an axial revolution (moving to a different way of thinking about the issues), arguing that the latter is a more appropriate response to the complex transdisciplinary challenges posed by global environmental change. We present some potential tools to promote an axial revolution, and consider the limits to this approach. We conclude that rather than promoting one large and ideologically homogenous revolution in education and capacity building, there is a need for a revolution in the way that leaders working with education and capacity building look at systems and processes of change. From this perspective, transformative learning may not only be desirable, but critical in responding to the challenges posed by global  environmental change.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901112002146 


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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


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Mapping Transformative Processes with AQAL and Theory U

Mapping Transformation

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[1]) 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 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-[Pap


[1] (Scharmer 2005; Scharmer, Senge et al. 2001)

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