Work and Love

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Systemic Imperatives are locked in place by current explanations and interpretations which are based on past experience and which people use to justify their long-held points of view.  These explanations and interpretations, giving the illusion of certainty, allow us to avoid the discomfort and anxiety inherent in raising fundamental questions.   However, transformation requires a patience with uncertainty and never arises from explanation.  Rather, it arises from the deeper awareness born of stepping into the unknown when challenging unexamined assumptions.

Mauldin adds to our understanding of this phenomenon in Notes from the Front Line, when he tells us that behavioral psychologists say the process of explaining actually releases chemicals in the brain that make us feel good.  We literally become addicted to the simple explanation.  The fact that our explanations may be irrelevant or even wrong is not important for the chemical release.  And thus, we eagerly look for reasons.

But daunting or not, challenging Systemic Imperatives is essential for transformation, the nature of which seems more like starting a brush fire than winding up a clock.  Changing a Systemic Imperative is a creative act and as Frank Herbert points out in his great novel, Children of Dune, there is no such thing as rule-driven creativity.  When magical innovation happens, rules for replicating it are nearly always wrong.

All of our examples, public and private and from all over the world, involve people getting others’ attention with direct action.  They were not merely writing books and articles or sending letters to those in power.  While many of their actions seem risky in retrospect, they took responsibility and just did it.  Each had pledged themselves to changing a Systemic Imperative, which they were convinced was wrong.  None had much agreement from the “powers that be”.  Direct action is always essential for causing a new Systemic Imperative, at whatever level of the system for which you are willing to be responsible — nothing changes unless you get peoples’ attention first with uncharacteristic action.

Transformation Starts in the Leaders

The General Manager of the national division of a global consumer goods company was determined to set a bold sales goal as the basis for a company-wide transformation.  She asked her senior team and the entire company to double sales over four years — and she meant it.

What really made the difference were a number of life-altering events.  Her relationship with her husband was tumultuous; full of shouting, making each other wrong and marked by a shared inability to manage their children in a coherent and graceful way.  At the end of her rope, she agreed to practice simply listening to him every day with generosity and compassion.  It was a rocky road.  But she stuck with it and after a while there were moments of intimacy and connection they had not known in years.

At the same time, she realized that she had not been listening with that same level of generosity to a lot of people important to the success of the business.  When she began listening to them in this new way, their willingness to imagine a new future for the company was evident.  However, disaffected conversation, rumor mongering, false promises and low morale still persisted in the company.  Many felt victimized by the new imagined future and there were widespread complaints.

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