Learning from Complexity – A Case for Mindful Change

Organizations invest significant time, budget and resources in change initiatives designed to move people from point A to point B. In the process they often carry forward into their future reality the dissatisfying circumstances that generated their desire for change in the first place.

Imagine metaphorically packing up your whole organization and leading all of your employees half way across the globe toward a brighter future, only to end up recreating the same old problems in the new destination. To be sure there are usually some advances and improvements that come from any change initiative, but in the final accounting the pains often outweigh the gains. And you may find that you’ve come up way short of the potential that prompted your action in the first place.  When you look at it from this perspective, it’s not that surprising that 70% of change initiatives fail. It’s more surprising that 30% succeed. How then do we go from striving and surviving to thriving in a complex world?

Emergent Organization Development takes the nature of system’s life into account in the stewardship of organizational learning and change. Rather than trying to manage complexity and change on the level of content, behaviour or even process, which typically results in low-leverage/short-term change, the emergent learning approach seeks to generate high-leverage sustainable change by working with individuals and groups at the level of context and culture: that is the maps, frames and learning orientations they use to make sense of their work, their relationships, and their most confounding experiences.

In Emergent OD, the primary assumption is that the current level of complexity has been created out of the ways of thinking, feeling, being and relating of the people within the system. So before attempting to influence change in a system, we take some time to explore the rich and bountiful learning environment of the current reality. From this orientation, we invite participants to lean into the current conditions from a place of personal power and responsibility so that a deeper level of growth and evolution can unfold.

To create mindful and sustainable change you need more than an inspiring vision and a plan of action, you need to understand the meta maps that were used to create the current conditions. What assumptions, beliefs, values and view points were spun together in synchronicity or conflict, resonance and resistance to create this unique reality? If you’re not fully aware of the map that brought you to this place, you can be damn sure you’re destined to bring along some of that old baggage.

In a mindful change process we want to be conscious and deliberate about where we’re going and about who and what we’re bringing with us and why.


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