You will hear me say this in this blog many times: the underlying dynamics of change at any level of system – individual, relational, team, organizational, national, planetary – are similar. Once a change leader begins to understand these fundamental underlying dynamics, their ability to navigate change rises exponentially. Given the state of our organizations and world, we need more change, not less, which means understanding these dynamics is critical.
A natural human tendency, when we are operating unconsciously from our ego, is to turn away from what we do not like and toward what we do like. We avoid pain and seek pleasure, and comfort is always high on our ego’s list of chosen states. This generates a number of challenges for navigating change processes.
Significant goals and breakthroughs always lie outside our comfort zones. They require us to stretch, risk, take new actions, or the old actions in new ways. If we simply keep doing what we’ve been doing in the same ways, we only achieve what we’ve already been able to achieve. We need to go outside our comfort zones to change and achieve more, but we unconsciously turn away from such “expansions” and habitually contract back to our old, but comfy ways. People do this; teams do this, organizations do this, as do nations and the world as a whole.
When we do step out of our comfort zones, we inevitably make mistakes. Why? Because it’s new, uncharted territory, and by definition, we haven’t figured it out yet. But we don’t like mistakes, so when they occur, we tend to turn away from them, cover them up, pretend they didn’t happen, blame them on someone selse. Our turning away from them negates learning, stifles progress, and ensures that we repeat them.
When we step outside our comfort zone, we feel fear, doubt, anxiety. Why?Again, because it’s new territory, and it is natural to be afraid in such a situation. But we don’t like those feelings, so we turn away from them, deny them, cover them up. This causes us to lose focus as we subconsciously battle with these inner fears, making us less capable of dealing with the situation that is triggering the feelings. If we do move ahead, we under-perform, but often, we simply retreat to the familiar.
The key to navigating transformational change – at any level of system – is to learn to turn into the contraction, not away. This starts with us personally, and is the foundation of self mastery. This takes conscious awareness, because our ego will automatically and unconsciously go for comfort and keep us inside our comfort zone, away from the challenges required to achieve our goals. It takes courage and inner strength to face the fear or problem at hand. Mostly, it takes the ability to let in and feel the contracted feelings our ego wants us to avoid, for if we do not accept them (turn toward them and receive them), then our turning away will lead to turning away from the actions required to succeed in our change process.
Conscious change leaders know these dynamics. They know that they literally navigate change by listening for where in themselves and the larger systems the contractions are occuring. Then they take a deep breath or ten, turn toward those contractions, and step into the fire to deal with the personal, relational, team, or organizational challenge at hand.
Change management tools can help in these sitatuations, but their limiation is always that they tend to deal too superficially with what is happening and miss the underlying dynamics. And turning into these underlying dynamics with the understanding and talent to help them unravel and resolve is the path to unleashing greater potential in yourself, your stakeholders, and your organization.
Do you have this level of self mastery? Whatever your level today, keep developing this most essential talent. Your relations, team performance, organization, and world are counting on you to step way outside your comfort zone and contribute your best, and this is fundamentally how you do it. The world needs you to master this most essential conscious change leadership skill.
I recently got a call from a CEO of a software company that is bringing to market a financial accounting system that generates increased profit for clients by shifting how they run the financial aspects of their business. The software company is overwhelmed with sales. Their business model is that they do not take fees; rather, they take a percentage of the clients increased profits. Very cool.
The problem is that their software drives real transformational change in the business as it calls for a dramatic shift of mindset and behavior. The CEO called me asking if we could train and certify in the Being First Approach 40 transformational change consultants in the next 6 months. Over the past year, he’s found that traditional change management consultants do not have sufficient skills to make these implementations successful, and his company does not get paid unless they are successful.
The core skill he is looking for but cannot find in traditional change management is Conscious Change Process Design. This is a critical, albeit advanced, skill inherent in conscious change leadership.
I often conceive of conscious change process design as a river, with me designing where it needs to flow. It all starts with identifying the impacts the content changes will have on stakeholders. In transformational change, these impacts often take the form of stakeholder resistance in one way or another. One must look underneath the resistance, however, and identify what core human needs are being triggered that is causing the resistance. Such needs can include: safety, inclusion, power, order and control, competence, justice and fairness. In other words, the new content is bringing up the stakeholders’ natural human issues, and these will need to be resolved for them to really buy-in and commit to implementing and using the new content optimally. Your river will have to flow through these issues.
There are many ways to handle stakeholder resistance, but none work as well as consciously designing a change process that in itself mitigates that resistance. This means designing the activities and tasks of the change process so stakeholders’ concerns get met. For example, let’s assume the new software triggers control issues. Then, the change leaders would want to engage those stakeholders early, giving them as much control as possible over both the change process and the use of the new content. If the underlying issue was competence, then the change leaders would want to engage stakeholders early so they could build their competence, and therefore, confidence in the new content. They’d want to announce early that everyone will get adequate training, and that no one will be held accountable for using the new system perfectly until after they have been trained.
Conscious change process design requires a deeper insight into the human dynamic. You simply must understand the inner workings of people. It requires flexibility, as you must constantly adjust your change process as new dynamics emerge. It also requires an expansive level of awareness to see impacts across the enterprise and how the content/people dynamic is likely to unfold over time.
Conscious change process design is anything but linear. You have to put aside set, predetermined formulas, and bring your wisdom to the show. People using an end-to-end change process methodology like The Change Leader’s Roadmap can rely on their methodology to gently inform them of the general direction of change, but on the ground, you will constantly need to be awake, and consciously design each step along the way to account for the specific dynamics you face. Make your river flow through and handle these issues and you will succeed.
In today’s world of constant bad news, you might ask, “What is right with the world?” When most of us can truthfully answer, “I am,” then the world will be a very different place.
Linda and I just saw the most moving documentary that either of us have ever seen, called, simply, I Am. It was written and directed by Tom Shadyac, director of many highly acclaimed films in a far different genre, such as Bruce Almighty, The Nutty Professor, and Ace Ventura. DO NOT MISS THIS FILM. And bring all your friends to see it. You can see a trailer of this documentary and learn where it is playing at http://iamthedoc.com.
Please note, this is not the same film as the movie released in October, 2010, under the same name and directed by John Ward. Neither of us have seen that movie.
You may not see the documentary I Am on the roster at your local theater. It is not a big Hollywood release, and in all due cynicism, its message is simply too conscious, too essential and too important for Hollywood to pay it much mind. It is not about sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, or violence. It is about consciousness and the path of self and global transformation. If you cannot find it in your local area, please badger the manager or owner of your local theaters to bring it to town. Again, go to http://iamthedoc.com to find out where it is playing in your area, as it was just released and you will have the best opportunity to find it now.
I won’t say anymore about the film here, but I will say that if you are interested in conscious change leadership, then I can pretty much guarantee this will be one of the most moving and impactful films that you have ever seen. Remember to bring your friends and family to see it. You will undoubtedly want to talk about it afterwards. I’d also strongly suggest you mention it around the office, create some buzz about it, and then convene your team to share what you each thought about it. Films are powerful communicators, and this one in particular may open up a depth of conversation and dialogue not previously entertained. This is just the type of film and trigger we need to get a global conversation occuring about the nature of our reality and the path to a sustainable future.
Please let us know in your comments here what you think of the film. And make sure that you are ready, through your modeling and way of being, for someone to ask, “What is right in this world?” so you can respond, “I Am.”
I just started reading Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner. Perhaps you’ve read it, or others by him? He is one of my favorite authors. His prose and wisdom cuts to the bone and penetrates the heart.
This passage by the narrator in the book touched me deeply because it speaks to where I am currently living in myself:
“Though I have been busy, perhaps over busy, all my life, it seems to me now that I have accomplished little that matter, that the books have never come up to what was in my head, and that the rewards – the comfortable income, the public notices, the literary prizes, and the honorary degrees – have been tinsel, not what a grown man should be content with. Whatever happened to the passion we had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world? Our hottest arguments were always about how we could contribute.
“Whatever happened to the passion we had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world?” What a wonderful question. Mine has not died, and in fact, burns hotter today inside me than ever. But in many ways, I have kept it at bay, in a closet, hidden from people who might otherwise ridicule it. I know that others would not understand this about me because they only witness my outer deeds, but I know that I have been holding back.
This past year has been one of great inner work for me, confronting many of my ego’s ways in which I hide from expressing the fullness of who I am and what I stand for in the world. I have been confronting in myself how I play it safe so as not to seem too farfetched, too non-ordinary. But truth-be-told: ordinary sucks, and the world does not need me in that pared down version of my Self. Look where ordinary has gotten us. We are in trouble, as both a species and a planet. Our common way of thinking, behaving and acting has us killing each other and the biology that is our home at an unprecedented rate.
Isn’t it time I stand up, a bit taller, with a touch more volume and fervor in my voice, to see what my real mark of contribution might be? Isn’t it time I take a stand for real transformation of the human condition as I know it is possible? I am the only one who can answer those questions, of course. The demons such a stand triggers exist only in my mind and are my battles to fight.
How about you? How are you holding back your contribution, limiting your mark on the world? How are you conforming and not saying what needs to be said, or not doing what needs to be done?
The world does not need you in your pared down version either. One thing we don’t have in the twenty-first century is the luxury of time. We must radically transform the way things currently operate in our organizational and social systems, and in a hurry. I bet you have something special to offer that effort, and I bet, like me, you have some inner demons to release in order to make your most meaningful contributions.
So let’s release ‘em and get on with doing the good works we know we can do. A primary purpose of The Change Leader’s Network is to convene people like you and me, who want to contribute more to our organizations and the world’s transformation, and collaborate about how taking a conscious change leadership approach amplifies our contribution and impact. And a conscious approach always starts with us becoming more conscious ourselves.
So, how are you holding back? What are the beliefs, fears, and doubts in your way? What is that special mark on the world that you want to make?
While Linda and I were in Copenhagen a couple weeks ago, we did a number of press interviews for the release of the Danish translation of Beyond Change Management: How to Achieve Breakthrough Results through Conscious Change Leadership. This video interview for Børsen, Denmark’s largest and most well respected business publication, was really fun to do. The interviewer, Frank Dybdal Lilleore, First VP, Corporate University, Danske Bank, was a great guy. He describes himself as a “change management junkie,” having read “all the books on change.” He asked really great questions. I hope we get to spend more time with him next time we are in Copenhagen.
Frank also reviewed the book for Borsen. He gave it six out of six stars, which was wonderful. I understand from our strategic partners in Scandinavia that that doesn’t happen very often, so it was nice to know that the book’s message connects with the change leadership needs in Scandinavia, too.
Some friends of mine saw the video recently and said they needed to take me shopping. They said my tie was awful. What do you think? Toss or keep?
All eyes have been on Egypt and its process of transformational change. With the sexual assault on news reporter Lara Logan, attention has turned to the issue of Egypt’s treatment of women, and the discussion poses a significant question about the dynamics of transformation. Was the temporary absence of sexual harassment of women during the uprising a fluke or an illustration of the power of shifting people’s focus to a larger issue, a higher goal?
Historically, women in Egypt have been living under the threat—and reality—of frequent harassment when out in public, and even within their families. However, during the uprising, women report that they did not have that fear; they were a part of a larger force for change, side-by-side with men, fighting for something they ALL believed in. They walked the streets, participated in huge gatherings, and even slept out in tents on behalf of the declaration they were making for the downfall of the old government. They experienced the possibility of a transformed social norm, a partnership of equality with their fellow Egyptians: mutual, cross-boundary respect between men and women.
With the assault on Lara Logan, we know that even in the celebration of the success of the uprising, the reality of sexual harassment was still present. Her assault has brought the issue to the media spotlight—an awful and harsh experience for her, but a positive step for the women of Egypt. It appears from subsequent media reports and interviews with various Egyptian women that the old pattern still lives and the fear has returned. But the issue of the treatment of women now has attention, and women’s new-found courage to speak the truth of freedom for all needs to extend explicitly to Egyptian women as well as all of Egypt. It is not just the government that needs to transform; it is the social reality that the government condoned. Even though the harassment behavior seems to have returned, the larger issue is still present. The question is whether these old ways are what Egypt wants in its new reality.
Was the temporary absence of the fear of sexual harassment and disrespect during Egypt’s 18 days of demonstrations a fluke, or something more? Isn’t it possible that the uprising allowed a new reality to be experienced?
When people shift their attention to a larger cause or higher goal, their old behavior, patterned to serve their prior “lower” focus, changes. Their new behavior aligns with the higher outcome they aspire to. This is an illustration of the WIN-Win-Win principle we teach in transformation: Committing to a higher goal that serves all of us, first and foremost, changes everything. We behave, treat each other, make decisions, and act differently living from the larger perspective—the Big Win. When we align to what is best for us all and that becomes the top priority, then we easily work collaboratively across boundaries to achieve that goal, allowing “me” to win and “you” to win as well.
This is what took place on a grand social scale in Egypt, at least during the uprising. The commitment and priority of the greater goal of freedom and respect caused men to view women as partners in the struggle, and not as targets of their disdain. Their behavior changed—albeit unconsciously—because of their commitment to the Big Win. But why has the old behavior apparently returned? Is it not possible that the Big Win commitment can be proactively and consciously used as the new government and social reality realigns? How can this new behavior be named, celebrated, and sustained?
WIN-Win-Win is a simple dynamic that has enormous implications—for relationships, teams, organizations, communities, politics, society, nations, and the world. We witness commitment to the Big Win most often in times of crisis—massive fires or floods that consume communities, the earthquake in Haiti, the miners in Chile. The issue is how to sustain that commitment after the adrenaline of the crisis subsides…after the uprising succeeds and life “returns to normal.” But in transformation, we don’t want “normal!” That has us backslide from the ground we just gained.
The key is helping the collective become conscious of the value of the new behavior, on behalf of the better social or organizational outcome it chooses. The work of leading transformation is making the Big Win overt and naming it as a priority and ultimate goal, embedding it, monitoring it, celebrating it and reinforcing it. These are the dynamics we need to master and carry out as conscious change leaders.
The temporary shift of social mores in Egypt, as a reflection of its Big Win, is a demonstration of something the Egyptian people are capable of collectively co-creating. In the coming months, the question is how to use the awareness of the initial social change to sustain progress. What would it look like for Egyptians to become conscious on a mass scale of the change that happened, then collectively choose it, and work together to sustain it because it serves them all and the higher outcome Egypt as a nation benefits from? The plans made and carried out by the organizers of the uprising were nothing less than brilliant. Now, can that same intelligence be used to evolve the society of the new Egypt going forward? Can their Big Win be sustained for the good of women as well as the rest of their freedom agenda?
What are your thoughts about this? Do you think what occurred in Egypt was a demonstration of the Big Win? Do you think it is possible for the people who lived it during the uprising to make it a conscious choice for their new collective reality? For Egypt, for women, and for us all, I hope so.
Optimal performance in anything we do comes from our ability to “forget ourselves” and enter that inner state often called the “flow” or “zone.” When we are in it, we do your best; when we are not, we under-achieve. The key is getting ourselves into that state.
Very few people know how to access this optimal state of being. Most of us have a couple of these experiences in our lives, but it doesn’t happen often. The good news is that we can learn pretty straight forward methods and tools that make this highly desireable state far more accessible. No, I am not talking about drugs or magic pills.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, has been researching this inner state for many years. In an interview with Wired magazine, Csíkszentmihályi described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Mihaly’s research coincides with my own: a key to generating a flow experience is being in the sweet spot of the intersection between skill level and the challenge at hand: being skilled enough to not have to think about the task to perform it, and being challenged by the task enough to have it draw you out of your ego self to execute it well.
The flow is a shift of inner state out of ego and into Being. You have experienced this shift before, likely more often than you might initially realize. Certainly, if you think about it, you can recall a time when you skied “over your head,” played tennis “out of your mind,” delivered a speech “beyond expectations,” had an intimate conversation with a loved one that “blew your mind,” or simply lounged on the beach in silence and got “transported” to some other place.
I know this inner state of optimal performance well, and am convinced that my ability to generate it was the foundation of my own excellence as an athlete. In the 1980’s at the Optimal Performance Institute, I taught students how to intentionally create this inner zone, and watched hundreds of them deliver personal bests once they learned how to produce it in their activities and lives.
At OPI, we found very clearly that performers could learn to use breathing, body awareness, mental rehearsal, focusing, and concentration techniques to increase their flow experiences. When I first started teaching this work right after graduate school at Stanford, I was concerned that some people might consider it “touchy feely.” Back then, it sometimes was, only because we didn’t know how to talk about it in really pragmatic ways. But now, thirty years later, we certainly do.
Flow is extremely important to conscious change leaders because the more we can support stakeholders in this direction, the more committed to our change initiative they become and the more they contribute to its success. Plus, what could be more important for ourselves than learning how to manage our own inner state to perform consistently at a higher level? Knowing how flow works in us also gives us greater understanding of these deeper human dynamics so we can design our change efforts to unleash more of the potential of our workforce.
The best approaches to this “inner management” are multi-dimensional, addressing body, mind, emotions, and spirit, because they are more direct, complete and effective. Over the next six months, I will begin to offer programs through the Change Leaders Network that will develop and apply three distinct levels of flow experience:
1) Level One: Optimize: How to Manage Your Inner State for Optimal Performance and Fulfillment;
2) Level Two: Transform: How to Re-Program Self-Limiting Behavior Patterns;
3) Level Three: Mastering: How to Transcend Core Beliefs on the Path of Personal Mastery.
Stay tuned for these development opportunities.
In the meantime, please let me know your personal stories of flow and performing optimally, “out of your head,” where you excelled at an extraordinary personal level. How would you describe those experiences? What were they like for you?
Eric Clapton’s music is amazing. I am sitting on a ten hour plane flight from Frankfurt to Denver, watching the 2008 Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood concert at Madison Square Garden via the airline’s video programming. I tried to get tickets to that concert, but it was sold out in the blink of an eye. If you remember the rock groups Blind Faith and Traffic, then you know why.
Yesterday, Linda and I were conducting an all day training session with 125 operational excellence consultants in Copenhagen. I asked them to recall a time they performed their very best at something meaningful to them. You know, that once in a lifetime performance where for some reason you excel way outside your normal level, just nailing it. You ski the run like never before, or shoot the round of golf of your life. Once they recalled such an experience – and most everyone does – I asked them, “What caused it? What was different, what was unique in that moment than unleashed a potential buried within you that you had never previously expressed?”
I have asked this question of thousands of people over the years, starting way back in the early 1980’s at the Optimal Performance Institute. The answer is always the same. People report that they “lose themselves,” “stop thinking and just flow,” “enter a zone of pure awareness and just express.” And always, they report that it is a marvelous, awe-inspiring experience.
If there was one thing I wish I could do in my next life, it would be to play the guitar like Eric Clapton. What kind of inner zone must he enter to be able to feel the music and express it the way he does?
Listening to Steve and him right now, I feel that zone about me. Music does that. Listening to it transforms us. It takes us to a place “beyond our minds,” where we stop thinking and simply be, full of the inner joy that naturally wells up inside and washes over us with each familiar beat and note.
Not everyone loves Eric Clapton’s music as I do. For them, that inner experience of just being in the flow of the music might come from Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra or Andy Williams, like it does for my dad, or from Andrea Bocelli, like it does for Linda. The experience does not emanate from the musician; rather, their music touches that timeless and formless place in us. Not everyone’s boat is floated by the same music, but everyone has a favorite style that moves them.
But to play such music, that must be doubly wonderful. As talented as Clapton is, even on an off night he’s fantastic. But when he is in his mental zone, then even he reaches new heights.
When the Copenhagen consultants spoke of their optimal performance experiences, I could see them light up, even from the stage. As they recalled those moments of being in their flow, feeling the inner joy of really going for it, you could feel it in the room. What would our lives be like if we could be in that inner space more often?
What is it like for you when you are in your inner flow? How often does that happen for you? How easily can you consciously create it?
I recently spent two days certifying consultants in one of Being First’s training programs, Leading the Human Dynamics of Change. On one of the days, we spent almost four hours role playing, practicing and debriefing a five minute experiential exercise. That is alot of training time for a five minute exercise! And these consultants were brilliant, so why did it take so long?
It is simple. This exercise uncovers one of the core, universal, human dynamics – the difference between ego and higher self, or Being. Every human being has both, but very few of us understand the difference, especially when it comes to how each manifests in our lives. Being able to navigate the territory of ego and Being is important for leaders because they not only deal with these two different sets of dynamics in themselves, but also on a daily basis in the people they lead. For change leaders and consultants, ego and Being becomes profoundly central because the ego / Being dynamic manifests in everything they interface with in their change efforts. Certainly, every human issue, like stakeholder resistance and commitment, is a product of these two different aspects of our inner dynamic, but equally so, all systems, structures, business processes, and technology are built as reflections of our worldviews, mindsets and values. This means that the ego / Being dynamic manifests in everything humans have created in the external world as well.
OMG, this is getting rather large in scope and impact, isn’t it?
Most people (change leaders and consultants, too!) and I really mean – most people – live out of their ego’s conditioned beliefs and mindsets without being aware of what they are, their impact, or that there is another alternative. Their consciousness expresses out of and through those worldviews, shaping their behaviors, actions, and therefore, results. Those mindsets, living in the their egos, means that their thinking, behavior and reactions are “governed” by ego dynamics. This causes basic human dynamics like fighting or flighting what we fear, and moving toward what we find plearsurable or positive. It means contracting againsts things we don’t like, and opening up to what we do.
These are fundamental aspects of human functioning, but what happens when contracting against what we don’t like does not work to give us the results we want? For example, when your children resist, does fighting against that resistance help it resolve and them to grow? Usually not. Likewise, if you deny or suppress (fight against) a contracted emotion in yourself, like fear or doubt, it doesn’t go away and lead to growth, but rather, stays stuck in your body and can lead to dis-ease.
As a change leader or consultant, how do you respond to resistance in your stakeholder groups? Probably like most of us: you automatically and unconsciously try to contain it. You “contract” against it. The problem is, this does not work to resolve it and build commitment in your stakeholders. Instead, they take their resistance underground, to the water cooler, and incite others to resist as well, often all the while making it look like they are on board with the change.
In order to respond more effectively, we need to become consciously aware of what our ego dynamics are in these moments and shift into our Being so we can open to what we don’t like. As change leaders interfacing with stakeholder groups, this means we invite the resistance out rather than contain or squash it, which will allow it to express and resolve. The net outcome: the resistance will diminish as a result and our stakeholders will have a healthy place inside them where their commitment to the change can grow.
There is much more to this story, and much more about how to help commitment to a change initiative grow in stakeholders, but the point is simple: the more we really understand ego and Being dynamics, the more we can navigate them in ourselves, others, and in our change efforts.
This is one key place where Conscious Change Leadership goes far beyond change management. In change management, we use tools and techniques to do things like deliver better communications or foster greater stakeholder engagement. This is very useful, but not near as effective as also deepening our understanding of core human dynamics. When we really understand how the engines of human expression work, we can then really impact the quality of performance and results, in ourselves and others. Conscious Change Leadership makes these deep and profound internal human dynamics overt, and builds its tools and methods to promote people to step outside their unconscious and less effective ego dynamics so they can operate from their higher selves and deliver truly breakthrough results.
How important is this deeper understanding of human dynamics to you in your role as a change leader or consultant?
Linda and I visited the most famous castle in Denmark yesterday, Kronberg Castle, with our wonderful friends, Thomas Fischer and Louise Heller, and two of their three children. Kronberg Castle, a heavily fortified Renaissance Castle, was made famous worldwide through Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Touring the castle triggered an insightful conversation that carried on over dinner about Danish and American history, violence, and the state of the world.
The Danes, especially during the viking days, were quite a violent society, but not any longer. In fact, gun violence in Denmark today is very uncommon. It simply doesn’t happen much at all. A couple days ago, I asked an East Indian taxi driver, who’d lived in Denmark for 17 years, why he loved the country so much. He simply replied, “Because it is so safe.” Contrasting that with safety and violence in America, and I could not help but be curious about differences in the two countries, especially the systems and cultures, to see if I could tease out any reasons why violence levels are so radically different.
With the recent violence in Egypt, Darfur and Arizona looming, and with violence increasing to intolerable levels in most places across the globe, discovering new insights about what causes violence and how to limit it is becoming critically important. The human race often seems to be between two dark, but real, possibilities: will we end it all first by killing each other or by destroying the planet environmentally? Because I stand for the possibility of global breakthrough to learning to live co-creatively with both each other and the environment, our dinner conversation about the causes of violence had real meaning for me.
So why so little violence in Denmark, and so much in America? Most people answer that question by looking at the systems of the two countries and identifying their differences. In America, roughly 30% of the population owns a gun, most saying they do so to “protect themselves.” And many people carry these weapons daily, to the grocery store, on the bus, and while walking their dogs.
In Denmark, the only people who own guns are hunters, who must study diligently and pass three exams to get a hunting license, the police and the military. Casual gun ownership simply does not exist. In fact, if you are caught with simply possessing a gun without a hunter’s license, you end up in jail for three years or more. The only guns available for highly regulated purchase are hunting rifles and shotguns. No pistols, no automatic weapons. Not even the police have automatic weapons, just the military.
No one really questions this, because citizens see a direct relationship between gun ownership and violence, and they feel so safe that they do not need to protect themselves. But there is more to the story, which is how did these two countries end up with such different systems and different public attitudes about guns? How did the two cultures emerge over time so differently? This is where it gets quite interesting for those of us seeking answers about how to change organizational cultures, or how to reverse the trend toward greater and greater violence in the world.
As some of my Danish friends have remarked, “Denmark has an embarrassingly violent past. We know the perils of violence. We perpetrated war on many nations over hundreds of years. We lost most of our country’s land through war, and we know through experience that the answer is not violence.”
Contrast that with America’s history. We’ve written into law the “right to bear arms.” It is a pillar of our democratic system. Why? Because America was created to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” meaning, that America was first and foremost a sanctuary from British rule and the oppression of over taxation. Our founding fathers ensured our legal ability to rise up and fight against tyranny, first the tyranny of excessive British taxation, and second, the tyranny of our own government should it ever become overly oppressive itself. Our “right to bear arms” was our right to maintain a life of freedom from our own government!
From each country’s history, you can easily see why the current systems and cultures have developed over time in their very different directions. You might want to ask – Which system is right? Which is better? – but those are the wrong questions to ask. They usually lead to an ideological debate about gun control, an ideological argument about the right to bear arms versus the need to control arm’s ownership.
But each ideology, and those that hold them, live inside a larger cultural context, a history that was created across multiple generations. And this larger context is mostly invisible, forgotten, by those in the debate. But once we look across the broader perspective of time – the “process dynamics” of each country’s history – we see that each ideology has merit and logic inside its own evolutionary perspective. And if perhaps we first sought greater understanding of why we each think what we think, then we could have a more fruitful conversation, not about which ideology is “right,” but what system and culture would best work for us going forward. Perhaps we ought to begin by first nurturing our collective broader and deeper understanding, to make conscious the unconscious assuptions we were each handed by history, then attempt to crawl out of them to see more objectively our current reality and the future possibilities we can imagine together. Seeing our mostly unconscious historic influence and our current mindsets in this way, we just might be more aligned than our ideologies might have us believe. Then we could ask questions like: what are the principles we want to live by going forward, where we could all feel safe and people could thrive? What culture and system could we collectively devise that would align to those principles? How might we evolve to create that from where we are today?
I am sure there is a significant conversation brewing in your company about your organizational culture, both what it is and what it needs to become. Usually, these conversations miss these all important variables of history, unconscious assumptions, and change process dynamics. These are so critical because they reveal the trajectory of the organization’s evolutionary process. Knowing this trajectory is absolutely essential to seeing where the organization’s culture and systems are naturally heading, and for gaining insight about how best to nudge them consciously toward more positive future possibilities, rather than watch them unconsciously fall into decay and dysfunction.
In your organization, how can you stimulate meaningful conversation about how your culture and systems got to where they are today? How can you tease out the unconscious assumptions that lie underneath the ideologies about what your culture ought to become? How can you help people co-create a shared vision of a positive future and not get stuck in the cycle of debating ideologies?