A boy was playing up in the geography class. The teacher sent him to the back of the room with a map of the world cut into small pieces for him to reassemble – a disciplinary jigsaw. The teacher was astonished when only a few minutes later he came back with the whole map. ‘How did you do it?’ she asked.[frax09alpha]
‘Oh, I was playing with the pieces and I noticed some drawings on the back of the map. It was a picture of a man. So I put the man back together, which was easy, and when I had done that the world was back together too.’
The world is beset by many serious challenges. All of us are beset by serious challenges. Has it ever been different? Challenges call on us to grow and develop, individually and collectively. This book puts forward the case for whole individuals to solve problems.
A lot of time is wasted giving people advice they can’t take on how to respond to issues. I favour an indirect approach that builds people’s capacities (whole people) so they are able to deal with issues more easily and successfully, and actually use advice they seek. The particular kind of capacity that allows people to respond to challenges is called adaptive capacity, the ability to respond to a change in the environment without hesitation or preparation. This chapter summarises my approach to building adaptive capacity.
John Maynard Keynes, the most influential economist of the 20th century was at his analogical best when he wrote
The modern capitalist is a fair-weather sailor. As soon as a storm rises, he abandons the duties of navigation and even sinks the boats which might carry him to safety by his haste to push his neighbour off and himself in.
Keynes was discussing reactions to a downturn in the economy. I apply the idea more widely. We are all fair-weather sailors. Just when we need our skills and abilities most we have them least. There are good reasons for this. Understanding them helps us to navigate better. There are methods for helping us develop our capacities and retain our skills when we need them most. Three approaches are introduced in this book: the psychospiritual approach of Voice Dialogue, the movement-based Feldenkrais Method and the martial art of Aikido.
This book offers an integrated approach to change at personal, interpersonal, team and organisational levels. There are not four different approaches to change. The challenge of change is identical at all four levels. When you get the underlying process you have it at all levels.
Much advice is about persuading people to change their behaviour.
It does not work. We usually get told to do exactly what we cannot do! Change advice is also often directed at controlling the environment directly, especially in organisations. The culprits are seen as poor systems, and processes. Change this, change that, but rarely change yourself. I focus more on the behavioural aspects of change than the environmental aspects. After all, who designs the systems and processes, good and bad?
There is one simple reason why change is difficult. The existing behaviour, though not delivering the outcomes people want, is nevertheless the best that people can do. This becomes obvious when we do what we are often unwilling to do, look at the resistance to change (and stop calling it resistance!). By focussing on existing behaviour, understanding it, honouring it, empathising with it and refusing to judge it, it is entirely possible that transformation and development happen naturally and organically.
The models/tools suggested require us to demonstrate more manoeuvrability than we have access to. Manoeuvrability is the ability to reorganise ourselves at will. It is linked strongly to choice. When we get told (or tell others) to do what we or they cannot do we are assuming, often unwittingly, that people have more choice than they do have. Here’s a simple activity that illustrates the problem.
Take a box of matches. Hold it out in front of you. Take out a match and strike it. Good. Now hold the box with only your dominant hand, usually the right but (and this is very important…seriously) it doesn’t matter which is your dominant hand. Hold the box out in front of you as before. Now carry out the same task. Take out a match and strike it. If you are the one in ten thousand people who can do this you may not need this book.
We need two hands. We need two opposite attributes. When we don’t have both sides there is no choice and change is tenuous. The preferred way to develop opposite attributes is indirect. Don’t waste time struggling against behaviours that seem not to work. Find out what is or was so significant about existing behaviours and honour them. Rather than focus on what we can’t do it pays to focus on what we can’t stop doing. This indirect method is far more powerful that conventional direct methods, such as if you are overweight lose weight, if you are quiet, be assertive.
The purpose of this book is to show you how to strike a match in many areas of your life, not because you use one hand better, but because you approach important decisions and actions with the equivalent of two hands rather than one. My approach integrates three themes: system coordination, system stability and scaling.
Human behaviour can be viewed from a systemic perspective. We talk about the nervous system, the circulatory system and so on. We are more than systems of course. There is the mystery. There are peak moments that are available at any time, given to us by grace. Yet a systemic perspective offers rich insights. A system is a collection of parts that are interdependent. A system has properties that do not belong to any of the parts. The human being is a system comprising parts that interact. So are organisations. So is the economy.
A system can exist in either of two very different configurations. One configuration, called coordination success, describes the operation of the system when it is generating the outcomes for which it was developed. Another configuration, coordination failure, describes the same system with the same parts delivering inferior results. Think of your car when it needs a tune-up. Think of moving in an ungainly fashion. Think of a committee in which intelligent people somehow manage to negate one another. The national economy can produce high unemployment. A sports team with great players can get a bad result. These are systems in states of coordination failure. This phenomenon is a general systems issue.
The systems I am interested in, whether individuals, partnerships, teams or organisations deliver poor outcomes by behaving habitually. When we feel frustrated with our lives we are often already in a state of coordination failure and don’t know it. We initiate some changes and they tend not to work. It’s not surprising. We are, after all, in a state of coordination failure. We repeat the process twenty or thirty times and if we are lucky we spot the pattern. However, the incredible number of diets and diet books, fitness regimes, self-help courses, leadership models, team building workshops, relationship workshops suggests we don’t usually spot the underlying issue. We need to consider how we fail to coordinate, take advantage of our innate capacity to coordinate better and then initiate changes. It is a two-stage, indirect process that works better than the direct, try harder, use willpower approach. The movement from coordination failure to coordination success is the biggest change of all and it is the one we tend to neglect.
In the systems I am considering, failure is more likely than success. Let’s see why this is.
The ways we operate in the world and with one another are our habits. They are neither accidental nor serendipitous. They develop because they are survival-oriented. We are born helpless. Our imperative task as humans is to survive by gaining love, nurture and support from others. Behaviours that work for us become habits. Behaviours that would endanger us are removed (disowned and repressed) as much as possible. The long apprenticeship of babies and children requires that we adapt to family conditions, developing behaviours that allow us to be nurtured. The consequences of not doing this are all too obvious as we see unfortunately from watching the news on any given night.
The good news is that our habits helped us accommodate to a big world; they helped us survive. In fact habitual behaviours serve two purposes: they give us skills in particular areas, and they protect our vulnerability. Over time we are defined; those parts that we developed become our personality. Our self-image, those behaviours that have worked for us, forms.
The bad news is that this process limits our expression. Survival is assured by limitation, by exclusion of unhelpful behaviours. Our choices are limited. When a particular set of behaviours is dominant the opposites are often unavailable (the match striking activity). We say we choose not to behave in such and such a way. The fact is we cannot choose certain options.
The key issue is the connection between early childhood behaviour and the approval or disapproval it attracts. This connection inevitably and essentially biasses our development in specific ways. By the time we are older children we inevitably fail to coordinate as well as we can. This happens to all of us. It happens psychologically and physically, mentally and emotionally. Our whole system is biassed towards poor organisation. And our impoverished organisation determines the course of our actions and our relating, intimate and professional.
When much of our behaviour is dominated by habit and compulsion we are easily knocked over by changes in the environment. We cannot adapt or respond readily. We have to guard against these possibilities by preparing ourselves, which is stressful, and excluding risky situations, which is limiting. If, as part of a change initiative, we try to move outside our comfort zone, we risk destabilisation. It is not a matter of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It tends not to work. We cannot access functional behaviours for many situations. If we experience pain or humiliation in the process of trying new behaviours it is quite easy to become more stuck instead of liberated.
Individuals are thinking, feeling, sensing, moving beings. The impact of early childhood influences all areas of our lives. This book is emphasises movement and sensing as much as thinking and feeling. Here I retell the story of limited development from a movement perspective. It is the same story; telling it from this perspective brings out additional features. A major reason for emphasising movement is that movement-based methods are highly effective in promoting development. Purely intellectual approaches alone are rarely powerful enough to invoke real change. They help us to learn about but not to learn to do
An early environment of conditional approval limits movement choices. Movement limitations are emotional in origin. Of course accidents and injuries may inhibit movement but that is not what we are talking about here.
Maximum vulnerability, an incomplete nervous system and an ability to learn are significant dimensions of the early human experience. The nervous system is forming as we are learning to cope with our childhood environment and our developmental challenges. The origin of distorted development is found in this combination. Much of our early life is devoted to the challenge of learning to move in the field of gravity in increasingly risky ways. It is an enormous challenge tackled with great verve and determination. When, to gain approval and security, we attempt to achieve ends for which we do not have the means, distorted development begins. Premature achievement is inefficient, as the necessary neurophysical developments have not yet occurred. The somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain most influential in movement, undergoes distorted development. The extreme networking capacity of the brain ensures that this limitation is spread to all faculties. That is why movement is such an important part of the picture.
By contrast a baby goat is born with an almost hard-wired nervous system. Within one day it is able to do almost all of the actions it will ever be able to perform
The failure and success of the heading refers to our ability to organise and reorganise ourselves, individually and together, moving along a path form coordination failure to coordination success. To some extent this is a natural process. Even if individual do not actually undertake the process they are capable of undertaking it.
The essential step in starting this process is to reframe it in terms of learning; how to do what we cannot do, and how to honour what we can’t stop doing. Significant long-term benefits become available once awareness and choice are brought to bear on all our interactions. Significant, immediate benefits become available once learning becomes organic and pleasurable.
Benefits accrue because capacities that were latent become available. We stop short of developing our capacities. We are nowhere near the boundaries of our abilities. If you are a great listener but find it difficult to assert yourself you develop the capacity to do both. If you are outspoken and direct you get to listen as well. It’s a move from either/or to both. When you need both in a very short space of time you will have them. You have two hands to strike a match, two legs to stand on. This is why you will not be destabilised so easily. In the old terminology of economics it is not a question of guns or butter, it is possible to have guns and butter.
As this is still the planet Earth coordination success will not happen all the time just more of the time. However, once learning becomes pleasurable we can use life’s circumstances as a teacher.
How do we start the process of going from coordination failure to coordination success? Each of us will have a different journey. We have all excluded specific behaviours from our repertoire and will eventually want to incorporate them (put them into our bodies). Yet in a fundamental sense we are all on the same journey from less awareness to more awareness, from habit to choice, from less stability to more stability, from anxiety to calm, from practised anticipation to natural response.
The process of getting more responses, more choices is called learning. It is associated with the definition of intelligence suggested by the famous British biologist C. S. Sherrington – the speed with which an individual orients him/herself to new situations. The simple yet profound step in developing more choice is in changing the question from ‘how do I do what I cannot currently do?’ to ‘how can I learn to do what I cannot currently do?’. This is learning to learn.
There are a series of environmental factors that promote learning, that make learning to learn possible, easy and pleasurable. These factors are the principles of effective change.
Learning is built on the foundation of safety. Habitual behaviours are developed to ensure safety when we are wholely vulnerable. If vulnerability is threatened habitual behaviours, which are survival behaviours, become stronger. Any process of change that does not guarantee safety gives mixed signals that oppose the very change the process is supposed to encourage.
Our approach to improvement is often built on trying harder and making frequent repetitions. This approach is the consequence of our initial imperfect organisation. If we insist on trying to strike a match with one hand success will require much repetition and it will never be easy. In fact, effort and repetition are features of imperfect organisation. Practice does not make perfect, it just makes automatic. We train in imperfection and our imperfection becomes better, enhanced, more entrenched. We can get very good at doing things badly.
For methods to be adopted they must of course involve processes that are effective. But that is not enough. They must also be beneficial at every step of the process. Darwin made this point about natural selection. While a past mutation is useful now, it must also have been useful a long time ago in a very different environment. After all we are mostly so short sighted that the final impact is almost impossible to acknowledge. Hence, pleasure is a key ingredient of effective change. Pleasure makes us willing to repeat processes. Few people need to be forced to drink another glass of merlot. Pleasure is important as it ensures our willingness to continue. Pleasure is also important, as it is a guide that we are indeed on the right track to coordination success just as effort is a sign we are on the wrong track. The initial impacts of effective change processes and the final results are beneficial and pleasurable.
The other key component is to know that change really means development. We do not flip to other behaviours. If you were a two-finger typist and you learn to use ten fingers, you can always go back to using two fingers whenever you want. Nothing is excluded. We keep the behaviours we have and add previously excluded options. So at all times we can be as effective as we were.
If we do what we’ve always done, we get what we’ve always got. So the fridge magnet informs us. Innovation has to be part of change and development. Innovation can come in many ways: exploring a new movement, exploring a new behaviour, noticing how we are behaving, paying attention to our organisation rather than the results. Innovation promotes curiosity. We can learn as babies learn, with fascination.
If an individual or an organisation is habitually in a position of coordination failure the combination of safety and innovation make it feasible and pleasurable to move towards coordination success. Coordination success uses more of us. There is one strong influence already working in its favour. Human beings are intrinsically transformative. There is a desire and a motivation to be more of who we really are. What is needed is an environment to allow experiments in improvement to be conducted safely and with awareness.
The environment has an interesting property. It is not a level playing field. Safety first, habit and coordination failure behaviours are promoted. Our perceptions though no longer tell us that the playing field is not level. We normalise. Indeed when a change in the right direction occurs it can feel like an error. A new coordination that allows us to move and live better feels odd. An environment, which allows us to experiment in safety, to develop awareness, choice, coordination success and stability feels odd too.
Awareness is the ability to notice what we are doing without judgement or indeed any agenda. Sometimes called witnessing it is a necessary condition for change while being itself one of the most significant changes that a human being can make. We seem to have so many ideas about what is right and wrong in all areas of life. We are also very clever at justification. Developing the ability to see what we are doing without fear or favour is a necessary condition for development. It is especially promoted when we are not judged and do not have to achieve goals.
In his memoir of Weary Dunlop, the Australian surgeon and hero of the Burma Railways in World War II, Laurens van der Post notes that the Greeks valued whole people and that a whole person was to them a many-sided person. He suggests that Weary Dunlop was many-sided and that this explains much of his enormous success in the POW Camps.
On one occasion arrangements had been made to smuggle a transistor radio into the camp so that the prisoners could follow the closing days of the war. This would be the time of maximum danger for the prisoners as the guards might decide to kill them all.
Weary and van der Post were waiting for the truck to arrive. When it did arrive, they saw to their horror that far from being hidden, the radio was sitting on top of the load, clearly visible. Laurens van der Post froze. Without hesitation though Weary Dunlop snatched the radio, hid it under his coat and marched off towards the sick bay where the radio was to be hidden. Laurens caught up with Weary and marched off by his side. The Japanese guards shouted for them to stop but Weary marched on. There was a second warning. Again it was ignored. The penalty for such disobedience was instant execution. Would the guards execute the chief officer of the prisoners? They did not. Weary, Laurens and the radio made it to the sick bay.
On the behavioural scale between compulsion and choice Weary Dunlop showed an immense capacity to embrace opposites, combining the highest ethics of a doctor with the street cunning of a thief. He could use whichever was required at the time. As he had two legs to stand on he was not destabilised by the novel situation. Therefore, he was able to demonstrate successful and utterly courageous leadership.
The principles of effective change are in fact quite simple.
The individual will develop a wide range of possibilities: the old behaviours, the new behaviours, witnessing of self-behaviour using non-judgemental awareness, and consciously secured safety.
In a nutshell ASPIRE – awareness, safety, pleasure, innovation, relationship and experiential. The set of factors possibly represents the essential requirements for positive change and transformation at individual, team and organisational levels. If you do not have these characteristics in place you may not have the foundations for a successful change management strategy or more generally for functional organisation. What often happens is that after a brief flurry of activity (‘I lost six kilos in two weeks!’, ‘My new relationship is fantastic’) the situation returns to ‘normal’, that is to its familiar, habitual operation, with an additional dose of guilt, resentment and recrimination.
One of the significant features of incomplete or arrested development is poor organisation leading to poor balance. We human beings have the most exquisite capacities for stability in thinking, feeling, moving and sensing and don’t use them. We go to the circus or watch gymnastics to see these abilities. We marvel at the rare person who retains an ability to think and act coolly when under pressure. We admire the Dalai Lama for this. Hemingway defined courage as grace under pressure. This is intimately connected to dynamic stability.
However, for most of us, when we become destabilised by a sudden change our survival behaviours lock in. This is how it has always been. The earliest fear is the fear of falling, both in our individual lives and in the species development of primates. The psychological and body patterns of anxiety remain with us forever. Contraction occurs, options are closed down, relationships become mechanical and predictable and often very painful (especially but not exclusively in our relationship with the ground and a physical impact).
All our early learning is intimately connected with becoming stable. In terms of movement we go from more to less stable postures as we increase our ability to control instability – lying, rolling, kneeling, crawling, standing, walking, jumping, running, hopping, hand stands and so on. Before our sedentary modern era movement and balance were more important or more consciously important than they are now. Our language reflects this. Without stability it makes sense not to change. We just fall and fail. Ideally, we do not have to train to add dynamic stability to our repertoire. Our capacities to balance were developed along with evolution of the species. It’s already inside us. We have to add more potent methods of protecting ourselves consciously, find our latent capacities then stability is ours too.
What happens physically in movement also happens in thinking and feeling. Physical reaction is just the most obvious manifestation of a whole-of-person reaction. Neurological patterns are imposed that both reflect and support rigidity rather than the neural plasticity we are capable of. Psychological habits in the face of danger and instability programme our relationships.
Methods are available that allow us to develop more conscious choice and release our capacity for balance and effective action in increasingly challenging situations. We respond functionally to bigger shocks and recover more quickly. A virtuous circle develops. Once we become more stable we can experiment with additional (new) behaviours under conditions of greater reward and less risk. Failure is also experienced differently. In life we get hurt. Nobody and nothing can stop that. However, when we are familiar with our own vulnerability and accept it as an intrinsic fundamental part of who we are, we can include it in our decision-making and look after ourselves if we are hurt. Relationships too are transformed.
When we have an unexpected experience we can get easily destabilised. We get ‘knocked over’ by unexpected news and ‘destabilised’ by criticism. When we are achieving well we are ‘flying’. At other times we don’t know whether we are ‘coming or going’. In fact we are ‘all over the place’. Sometimes we fall ‘flat on our faces’. Getting knocked about, getting destabilised are phrases we use to describe serious impacts on us in general. Our health gets knocked about. We suffer at all levels, psychologically and somatically. The language we use is based on movement, especially stability. And sometimes things ‘fall into place’. When we are duped we fell for it. And of course we fall in love and fall out of love. We often question our (but mostly other people’s) mental or emotional stability. All dynamic terms.
The systems that are of interest evolve and change as time passes: you and I, a relationship, all living systems. They are called dynamic systems. One system we are all familiar with is the solar system. And most of us know that planets move along predictable paths. When we come to analyse systems there are three significant characteristics we want to know about:
(a) Is there an equilibrium configuration, a fixed point or maybe a regular cycle, such that, if the system happens to be at the point or on the orbit there it will have no tendency to change. There may be a single equilibrium, in which case the equilibrium is called unique. There may be many (multiple) equilibria or there may be none at all. The paths a non-linear system can take are very varied. The system can go towards equilibrium. It can move further and further away from the equilibrium. It can explode. It can cycle with no tendency to either converge or explode. It can appear to move randomly within a region in an unpredictable way. This last one is chaotic behaviour.
(b) If the system is perturbed – nudged a bit – what is the pattern of response? For example, if it returns to the equilibrium it came from the equilibrium is stable. If not it is unstable. When there are several equilibria the situation is more complex. If the system is knocked a bit and returns to the same equilibrium it is locally stable. If the system returns to the same equilibrium regardless of the size of the perturbation it is globally stable.
The most interesting property from our point of view is how a system behaves when you learn to control it. Do you remember the game we played on a seesaw? If you stand on it in the middle and walk towards one end the seesaw tips towards that end. It stops when it hits the ground. You may get thrown off! However, we kids are resourceful. If you move back to the middle the seesaw stops tipping. If you move a little to the other side (counterbalancing) the seesaw begins to move back to the middle. You can move back to the middle to arrive just when the seesaw is parallel to the ground. You can get very nimble in this game. With one foot either side of the fulcrum you merely shift your weight and the seesaw moves. This is the fine control we can achieve as we play with the relationship between the counterbalance, the centre of gravity and the base of support.
Many children’s games challenge us to control instability rather than to oppose it or deny it. Did you balance a stick on your palm or maybe your index finger as a child? The vertical stick is in an unstable equilibrium. If you keep your hand still and the stick is perfectly balanced over the base of support – your finger – the tiniest breeze will start to move the stick and it will fall. An initial displacement from its equilibrium means it moves even further away. The ‘trick’ is to be sensitive to when the stick is starting to fall, and move your finger and hand and often your body so that the stick stops falling and rights itself (well, you right it of course by moving). To maintain balance you have to keep the stick’s centre of gravity – half way up the stick – vertically above the base of support, in this case the tiny circle of the base of the stick. You do this by moving the base of support (your finger) so that stability is achieved. It’s a never-ending process. It is also quite difficult. It involves a willingness to move. If you do not adjust quickly enough or you over adjust, the stick falls to the ground. You pick it up and start again.
Once you have mastered the process it becomes dynamically stable. The process involves accepting that the stick will move and using your capacities to go with it. There is something fundamental in this game that applies to our capacity to live our lives.
This mastery of a previously unstable position is exactly the challenge of our early years and later years as well, in movement and in life. In movement we learn to stay upright by fine sensing and adjustment that operates below the level of our consciousness. The loss of this capacity is one of the prime indicators of ageing, much more so than age itself.
This combination of underlying instability and control is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that a system can go a long way on the smell of an oily rag, with hardly any input of energy. Change is easy and effortless. The curse is that if you must be a sensitive manager or the system will crash.
The stick is an upside down pendulum – an inverted pendulum is the scientific name – and it has been studied extensively. It is in fact a classic physics problem.
There are two opposite kinds of movement for the pendulum and studying them illuminates our own movement and our own issues with change, development and energy management to an amazing degree.
The first model is called the ideal pendulum, a pendulum without friction or drag. Once it is moving it keeps moving with no additional force. The second model is called the over-damped pendulum, a pendulum subject to a great deal of resistance in its movement. Imagine a pendulum immersed in honey. The pendulum can move but the viscous honey holds it back. A lot of force must be exerted to keep it moving. The inverted pendulum, both the ideal case and the over-damped case, is a simple model of human movement. And the way we move is associated with the way we live. The same nervous system underlies moving and moving though life. The ideal pendulum is associated with coordination success, the over-damped pendulum with coordination failure.
The ideal pendulum is called ideal because it abstracts from real phenomena, in this case friction. I have another reason for calling it ideal. It represents a goal, which, though unachievable, gives a sense of how much the system can be improved.
An ideal pendulum has two equilibria. If it is stationary at bottom (hanging straight down) it stays there. If it is given a tiny push it will start moving and never stop. There is no friction to slow it down. The inverted (upside down) position, which is of most interest for our purposes, is also an equilibrium, an unstable equilibrium, called a repeller. A slight breeze will set the pendulum rotating and it will never stop. If there is a bit of friction it will eventually settle at the bottom.
Without friction this system is perfectly conservative, energy is not gained or lost. Potential energy (energy stored up according to the position of the pendulum) is exchanged for kinetic energy and vice versa continuously and without loss. It is also unstable. A tiny push starts movement that never stops. In particular the inverted equilibrium never returns, whether there is no friction or if there is friction.
A fascinating mechatronic (mechanical and electronic) experiment sets the inverted pendulum on a cart that moves horizontally in response to the movement of the pendulum. Stabilisation of a pendulum at its previously unstable, inverted equilibrium is achieved. The experiment though shows the kind of sensitive monitoring and feedback rules that ensure stability of the previously unstable equilibrium. If the pendulum is given a small push the cart moves to maintain the equilibrium. Just like the stick balancing game.
This model has fascinating implications when we keep it in mind as we discuss the human ability to respond to changes when we get the sensitivity and responsiveness to balance ourselves as we balance the stick. We become dexterous, nimble and adaptive. A person operating in this way can move a long way with no expenditure of energy or effort at all. Sudden shocks represent no problem. Indeed as there is no resistance the energy put into a system by a sudden shock is redirected into useful movement. It is the quintessence of coordination success and effectiveness.
The simple pendulum is a good introduction. It is only useful though when we are thinking coordination success and as we have been at great pains to insist, coordination success is only achievable after each of us overcomes the limitations of our habitual configuration. When it comes to modelling how we actually move and change when our behaviour is the product of a lifetime of habit, when we are in a state of coordination failure a different model is a place to start. This is the over-damped pendulum.
Think of a pendulum that is immersed in honey. It is no accident that some days we acknowledge that our life is like walking through mud but honey is sexier. The pendulum moves through a viscous medium. When there is viscosity, there is resistance. The damping force, the viscosity of the honey always operates when the pendulum is in motion. The damping is proportional to angular velocity so rapid movement is only possible with enormous effort. To get the pendulum moving and keep it moving gravity is not enough. An additional force, a torque, is required. The torque sometimes adds to the effects of gravity and sometimes opposes the effects of gravity. It depends on the direction the pendulum’s rotation.
When the driving force is less than the damping force there are two equilibria at acute angles to the vertical. The pendulum is in a bent position either nearly upright or nearly hanging down. The nearly upright position is unstable though. A tiny nudge sees the pendulum move to the lower position, which is stable.
This is surprisingly evocative of our own issue with standing upright as we age. It is equally informative of any structure we attempt to maintain with force. Staying upright requires continual work. Gravity exerts a continual force on a bent frame requiring continual offset. This combination of rigidity and effort is well known to us, physically, psychologically and organisationally. It is wrongly thought to be a consequence of ageing or duration. It is actually a consequence of poor coordination (in individuals and in organisations). It is also largely reversible.
For humans the nearly upright position cannot even be reliably stabilised and our efforts have unfortunate consequences. The force we are used to using every second reduces our capacity to sense. We find it hard to come to our senses! If you are holding a bag of cement and one piece of A4 paper is put on top you will not be able to sense the difference. If you are holding one piece of A4 paper and another piece is added you will be able to sense the difference. When we move like an over-damped pendulum our capacity to sense, to feel is negligible. This is why sophisticated approaches to change always work with gentleness and ease. Without them we cannot notice differences and we cannot make changes. We cannot even get to first base. When we cannot notice the difference between easy and effortful or elegant and gross or between effective and ineffective there is no way forward.
When the over-damped pendulum rotates it has a highly variable speed. When the pendulum is near the horizontal, it moves very, very slowly and a bottleneck appears. There is still application of force but there is not much movement. Is this familiar?
One tempting response to get more movement is to add some more force. It’s like the sight gag when a guy pushes harder and harder on a locked door, which is then opened from the other side. With the additional force the overturning happens suddenly. This is a compelling picture of the overadjustment we make when we feel stuck and the consequences of pushing too hard. We try to crash through and we crash. And we do it to ourselves.
A fascinating insight into the differences between movements based on the two polar pendulum types comes from comparing Westerners and African women walking. Kikuyu women are renowned for the ease and elegance of their walk and their ability to bear enormous weights on their heads or head straps. Western men’s in this case army recruits’ walking is not renowned for ease or elegance. They are determined though.
This comparison has been studied under controlled conditions. When Kikuyu women carry a load up to 20% of body weight their oxygen consumption and their energy usage stay the same. A 120-pound Kikuyu woman can carry at 24-pound weight for free (i.e. with no increase in energy). When they carry a load of 70% of body weight on their heads, their oxygen consumption increases by 50%.
When army recruits are asked to carry extra weight in their backpacks, their oxygen consumption increases by about 13% with 20% loads, and 70% loads raise their oxygen consumption rates by nearly 100%.
The key to Kikuyu women’s economy of effort is in how they move.
As the recruits move through the ‘top’ of one stride (remember the pendulum analogy; the top of the walking stride is when the centre of mass reaches its greatest height and potential energy attains its maximum) and start to fall into the next step, most pause for a few milliseconds before beginning to fall. Muscles in the legs are contracting and fighting the fall, trying to preserve balance (damping increases here). This decelerates the body (causing a loss of energy during the potential-kinetic transfer) and, of course, increases energy expenditure. When the recruits navigate the upright position they must use a lot of energy because it is an inherently unstable state. They are always falling. So they are using muscular effort to stay upright and then falling onto the other leg with quite a bump. Loss of energy then excess energy to build up speed, every step.
The Kenyan women shorten or eliminate the pause at the top of the stride. There is no deceleration beyond the essential minimum, no loss of potential energy, and no unnecessary increase in energy expenditure associated with excessive muscular contractions (since the muscles aren’t trying to exert a braking effect at the stride’s top). The Kenyan women are, in effect, closer to ideal pendula, the recruits to over-damped pendula. Their movement combine power and vulnerability. They place their feet sensitively, they use power when it is useful. The recruits use power all the time.
Kikuyu women are an example of coordination success while the recruits are an example of coordination failure, even though in our society they are taken for examples of coordination success. The Kikuyu women have maintained their birthright of easy, efficient movement.
When we train to improve, whatever our preferred method, we train all of ourselves. I have never experienced my body or my mind. I do experience me. And when I think I also move, and when I move, I think. The odd separation between mind and body, with apologies to Descartes, makes no sense.
As Ecclesiastes chapter 3 explains
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
The times are expressed in terms of opposites. The question is, are we ready for both times? Our developmental process has prepared us to deal well with some events, some times, and less well with times that demand an opposite response. The purpose of restarting our prematurely halted development is to be able to deal with more events and other times.
There are many phrases for our ability to live our lives more fully: embracing opposites, aware ego process, resilience, health, maturity, potency, learning, moving from centre and many more. Another term is adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity is the ability to respond to changes in the environment without preparation or hesitation. It has been a popular term in ecology as representing a preferred state for ecological systems as they are able to maintain themselves in response to environmental shocks. It has also been used to describe leaders who are flexible.
The secret to adaptive capacity is controlling instability. Controlling instability requires we embrace opposites. When we learn such control we develop the ability to move with ease, without cost (the unstable equilibrium is the high potential energy equilibrium. That potential is waiting to be unleashed.) and without preparation, with responsiveness instead of anticipation.
An example of embracing this polarity is exhibited by Aikido masters who can be light as a feather or heavy as a mountain at will and wise enough to make the appropriate choice.
Adaptive capacity is related to manoeuvrability. Manoeuvrability is the ability to reorganise at will. It’s opposite is the degree of difficulty in changing direction. For example, as an articulated bus has manoeuvrability it can go round corners more easily than a straight bus. Manoeuvrability underpins adaptive capacity and is developed by learning to control an unstable equilibrium.
Voice Dialogue, the Feldenkrais Method and Aikido have a common theme. They are methods for self-discovery and effective action, for moving from poor to improved organisation, from coordination failure to coordination success, from compulsion, habit and resistance to choice and awareness, expanded opportunities and stability. All three methods stress priority of experience over intellectual understanding. They generate research-based experience and experience-based research.
While the purpose of all three methods is identical the terminology is not. One piece of terminology refers to the nature of human functioning in which choice is developed and applied consciously. I have chosen to use the terminology of Hal and Sidra Stone, founders of the psychological frameworks of Voice Dialogue, the Aware Ego Process, to describe this functioning.
The Stone’s psycho-spiritual model, elegant, powerful and simple, traces the developmental process whereby, during childhood, survival-oriented characteristics are adopted while others are disowned (suppressed). Our essential nature, our psychic fingerprint, is covered over and our capacity to live freely, joyfully and creatively is undermined. But when you are completely vulnerable survival comes first.
The basis of the model is that each of us is not singular but plural. We actually have a whole set of sub-personalities. Each sub-personality has preferred behaviours, values and rules, preferences and aversions, strengths and weaknesses, and judgements of ourselves and others. These selves are the result of the sum total of our experiences: genetic inheritance, childhood environment, education and idiosyncratic events. The cluster of selves that represent the ways we operate in the world is called the Operating Ego. It comprises a whole set of Primary Selves. These ideas are already in the language: we talk of the inner critic, our pusher, an inner child and many, many more parts. The Psychology of the Aware Ego takes these phrases literally (and is partly responsible for their popularity). We really do have an inner critic, who criticises us, often mercilessly. This diversity is hidden in plain sight when we call it ‘I’.
Hal and Sidra Stone developed a method, Voice Dialogue, to assist with the Aware Ego Process. Voice Dialogue involves a facilitator interviewing selves on behalf of the client. Over time the client begins to separate from or differentiate out the primary selves. Eventually a client will have a pusher rather than being identified with the pusher. Further along the track the person may become familiar with a disowned self, say a relaxed or laid-back part. When the client is able to honour both sides, pushing and being laid back, she is said to have an Aware Ego Process with respect to this particular pair of opposites.
Choice is developed through embracing opposites and honouring vulnerability. Hence we learn about and honour the importance of and channel the mind and the heart, thinking and linking, doing and being, world selves and relating selves, and of vulnerability. Choice and stability come from exploring both sides of the great divide, power and vulnerability.
There is no more exciting application of Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of the Aware Ego than to relating, an area of life shrouded in mystery and often misery. Using the psychology of the Aware Ego and the tool of Voice Dialogue the dynamics of relationships becomes clear and subject to conscious choice. Relationships are revealed as a powerful teacher. The details of these developments come in a later chapter. The essential point is that the some of our most problematic relationship experiences become important teachers. Behaviours of people who push our buttons are exactly what we ourselves need to develop to live a better life. They are the behaviours we run away from and resist most strongly. The approach is applicable to all relationships – between a married couple, a corporate working relationship, parents and children, independent of gender or sexual preference.
When there is a wide range of choices we become more stable. Situations that used to destabilise us no longer have that power. The Aware Ego Process delivers functional responses. In relationship it means continuing to have linkage with a partner even when the going gets tough. This is the prerequisite for many recommended and valuable communication and problem solving methods and the essential pre-work that gives them their effectiveness.
The Feldenkrais Method of Movement Education uses movement as the basis for assisting the development of human potential in all dimensions of life. Life is movement and movement is life, says Feldenkrais. Change the quality of the movement and you change the quality of the life. Feldenkrais’ developmental model has close similarities to the Stones with (at the time of writing in the 1940s) path-breaking neurological insights.
Early attempts to achieve goals are often made in an environment in which achievement brings appreciation and failure brings judgement. Yet the ends we are often encouraged to reach require means we have not yet developed.
The ‘means’ is the organisation of the nervous system, which co-develops with our experiences. Early childhood pressures bias the development of the nervous system, the options for movement it can support and the choices we can make. We become limited in excess of any natural limitations. These restrictions are first and foremost arrested development in the nervous system.
As the nervous system forms around preferred patterns of excitation and inhibition, more about securing safety than about efficiency, movement no longer flows through us easily or efficiently. We move habitually rather than using our full capacities to respond to the needs of the immediate situation. There is good news though. Restrictions are not based on the full potential of the nervous system. As it is plastic, capable of changing its structure at any time, improved coordination is possible. Feldenkrais developed methods for achieving that.
The Feldenkrais Method sets up a learning environment in which we move to see how we move, slowly and gently, with innovation and curiosity, rather than an ‘achieve at all costs’ environment. In one sense this environment mimics early childhood, a time of enormous learning through experimentation and innovation. The point is to move to see how we move. This approach of attending to how we use ourselves rather than what we achieve turns out to invoke major improvements. From this perspective safety and change are not opposites. In fact, safety is essential for successful change.
The most common configuration, the one we are used to, how we use ourselves day after day, is the product of a long period of development and adjustment. We use ourselves habitually and organisation is poor. Certain movements and actions are excluded from our repertoire. Some people very early on define themselves as not into sport, others as not into maths and so on. There is a restriction in life. This certainly applies to ordinary movements and sports. It applies very widely though to all movement and hence to how we live our lives in the physical world. When we perform actions we compensate for poor coordination; we try. This leads to certain parts of ourselves being overworked or used for inappropriate purposes and becoming strained and painful. We experience the consequences of poor organisation whenever we need to look over our shoulders while driving or secure the bottom bolt on a door or do long division or write a poem. It is like a bicycle once rust and friction have reduced the possibilities of smooth, rapid adjustment to changing conditions.
The less efficient configuration is less stable while the more efficient one is more stable. The most common configuration, the one you are likely to have right now, whether you are sitting and reading or whatever, the use you make of yourself habitually in the most normal of activities, is high energy use, high effort, low stability.
With improved organisation we use ourselves in a different way. The skeleton genuinely supports the body. Larger muscles get used for generating power; small muscles get used for directing power, for fine-tuning. We realign ourselves organically and efficiently. We actually know it when we see it. It looks elegant. We also know when we are doing it. It feels effortless. We can move better and stand still better. We can crawl better and lie better. Movement and change can be undertaken with grace, elegance and ease.
The condition for dynamic stability is that individuals have choices in movement. When a change starts they can sense it and respond rather than resist. Dynamic stability allows spontaneous response, which is exhilarating. Such moving is possible because an organised system possesses high potential energy, which is converted to kinetic energy instantly. Yet it takes sensitive handling. Sensitive handling means awareness and choice.
Think of the stick again. If the operator is coordinated the stick can be kept upright with little effort. Reorganisation at will is easy.
Aikido is a martial art that embodies the principle of harmonious and effective action. Through the practice of the art we ourselves begin to embody that principle. These word means harmony with the universal life force. Aikido makes us better people. As it was developed prior to and after World War II it was impossible for Aikido to maintain a focus on fighting. Once we had the capacity to destroy ourselves what was the point? Aikido has been called the martial art of peace.
We practice with partners rather than against opponents, finding improved methods of relating, harmonising with others and resolving conflict. Aikido allows us to move, respond, relate in new ways rather than to react in habitual ways when under pressure. This creates opportunities for creative action while preserving health and relationships. It is a martial way of developing an Aware Ego Process.
Aikido has many fascinating techniques that increase our health, that is, the ability to harmonise with an increasingly wide range of people and situations. The principles learned through Aikido can be applied to whatever speciality or discipline a person engages in.
Psychophysical activity is very important. Combatting the diseases of modern life require us to move and exercise. Aikido is rejuvenating and purifying. Sensory-motor activity is an important part of a transformational process as purely intellectual means of learning are seldom capable of sustaining individual development.
Aikido practice opens us up to more of our abilities and to each other. Movement and action in general become more intuitive and natural. The assumption of separateness we often make, though it has its uses, is revealed to be inadequate. There are many connections between individuals that can be explored through Aikido.
The martial arts play an even more pivotal role in understanding and developing adaptive capacity than is evident in the above summary. Aikido is a martial art. Feldenkrais was one of the first European exponents and teachers of Judo. Hal Stone took up Aikido because he saw it was such an effective method for developing an Aware Ego Process. Indeed he gained a black belt at age 64.
There are strong, similarities between what happens to, in and between individuals and what happens to, in and between groups. They share a fractal nature. Explanations, which summarise behaviours have similar properties for individuals, partnerships, teams and organisations. The systems are self-similar.
Individuals are already systems, an ensemble of sub-personalities, a complex nervous system, and hundreds of moving parts. Teams are systems, organisations are systems, strategic partnerships are systems, industries are systems, and economies are systems. This goes a long way – from cells to Gaia, systems of systems of systems. Wherever you look it’s systems.
It reminds me of the creation story in which the world is carried on the back of a giant elephant, which stands on the back of a giant turtle. And what supports the turtle? Another turtle of course. And … well, let’s not overextend the questioning – of course, it’s turtles all the way down!
This is the phenomenon of scaling. Scaling has frequently organised our thinking. The idea is best known from the phrase As Above, So Below, from The Corpus Hermeticum, written by Hermes Trismegistus around 300 CE. It carries the essential insight that there is a single universal principle operating at various levels of reality. We are most concerned with how this pans out for individuals, relationships, teams and whole organisations though it has much wider implications.
There are other statements in the ancient wisdom of the similarity between human beings and the world. As the view was fundamental to an earlier holistic view of reality it was graced by a title, the law of correspondences.
‘Man is a model of the World’ asserted Leonardo da Vinci. His famous drawing of Vitruvian Man solved a puzzle set by the Roman architect Vitruvius, who advised on the building of temple according to certain proportions. Vitruvius suggested that the perfect proportions of a temple must correspond to the perfect proportions of a man. This was a man whose body fits perfectly into both a circle and a square. He did not give these proportions, however, and it took a Leonardo to solve the mathematical and artistic puzzle of the relationship of body parts to the whole person, which he illustrated in Vitruvian Man.
Here then is an example of a fractal relationship between humans and the objective world – the same relationship between parts of the body and the whole body as between parts of a temple and the whole temple.
Our approach to relating between individuals can be transposed to interactions between two organisations or even two countries. This dynamic goes on at many levels. Take the relationship between the USA and the Iran. The criticism of Iran by the USA is that Iran is fundamentalist. The criticism of the USA by Iran is that it is decadent. They are disowned selves of one another. Here are exactly the opposites that are at the heart of the conflict between modernism and tradition. When the USA looks at Iran it sees repression. When Iran looks at the USA it sees wanton behaviour, drunkenness, neglect of children and so on. Of course in their self-reflection the USA sees freedom and Iran sees morality.
Each of us has this conflict going on. We all need to become more conscious about the value of tradition and of modernism. Truly it is a case of As Above, So Below. When more people value both sides and can live with the inevitable tension we get to first base, the ability to respect both sides, listen to people who carry the opposite to ourselves dominantly and express ourselves without superiority or judgement.
Organisations are systems for coordinating different people to achieve common goals. All systems, human beings or organisations may exhibit coordination failure. When the Aware Ego process is initiated in individuals and conscious relationships are developed between people they will be able to design organisations, which exhibit coordination success.
Organisations must tackle the issue of coordinating different people. To be effective we need to be supported by people who think differently to us, act differently, have different values, different motivations and different skills. Different people do not usually have common perceptions let alone common goals, and even and if they do, they usually disagree on how to achieve them. Working relationships between different people have a dynamic that must be understood in detail for individual strengths to be moulded into an effective team.
When organisations plan to change their operation the plan must have two dimensions. First, change the system from coordination failure to coordination success and then use the coordinated system to achieve new goals. As well as requiring rationality and technical know-how it is an intensely interpersonal challenge. Although these steps do not happen sequentially they are logically distinct. When we wish to build the adaptive capacity of organisations the success of the change process depends on individuals who have adaptive capacity themselves, who have an Aware Ego Process. Such people can successfully manage change projects and lead other people to do the same.
Earlier in the chapter health was defined as the maximum shock an individual can tolerate without becoming destabilised. This is also a practical definition of organisational health. One of the key factors though enhancing health in organisations is diversity. We know this from ecology. Diversity is also the key factor in stimulating conflict so watch out. The greater the diversity, the greater the need to develop an Aware Ego Process.
When issues and problems arise the core issue is rarely insufficient knowledge about the objective world. It is about relationships between different i.e. diverse people and the repercussions this has within each of us. Even when there is a major glitch in objective organisation it is often obvious how relationship breakdown underlay the emergence of the issue and delays in addressing it.
Our organisational lives are events over which we potentially have authorship. Actual behaviours, habits, limitations, reflexes and learned reactions often determine our actions and when we examine them it is clear that much improvement is possible. The fact is that in our organisational lives, especially as leaders we try to succeed with one hand tied behind our backs, hopping on one leg. Yet improvement is only a breath away.
In part B – Organising from the Outside In – I summarise the standard tool kit of organisational development. If you are a leader these are the first arrows to come out of your quiver. They are important but they won’t be enough. They won’t be nearly enough. In fact, most people will not be able to implement them competently. For example, most models of leadership suggest leaders must have task focus and relationship focus available. They must be visionary and caring. They must think and link. Such team leaders may choose to use one of them more intensively in particular circumstances. All the models summarised later require that we embrace opposites and are able to reorganise at will. Successful organisational development certainly requires that we embrace opposites and can reorganise at will. Without this dimension the search for improvement will be disappointing. Well yes but it is too much. These are opposite qualities and we tend not to have both of them.
When you put some software on your computer there is a list of minimum requirements for it to work. In the same way there is a minimum requirement that allows change initiatives to work. Unfortunately the bar is high. We must have Aware Egos and conscious relationships.
By and large conscious choice is not available until it has been consciously developed. This is the first step to empowerment. When people have some measure of awareness and choice, willingness and an ability to use life experiences as teachers, behaviours are different, relationships are different and decision-making is different. All of us are more functional, creative and surprising. Much like the books on change tell us we can be.
Think of the differences between a tricycle and a bicycle. Tricycles are statically stable. They have a large triangular base so it is quite difficult to roll them over. That is why we ride them before we have the balance to ride bikes. However, there are costs. Tricycles are not so mobile; they change direction only slowly and with effort. They are also dynamically unstable. When the centre of gravity moves outside the base of support they flip – and of course we flip with them. When they fall they and we fall big.
Bicycles are dynamically stable. When they diverge from a path automatic stabilisation moves the bicycle back on to the path. That is, the support points move back under the centre of gravity. Bicycles change direction with ease. Bicycles are statically unstable though.
By combining opposites such as power and vulnerability humans have the capacity to act in the world with stability and mobility. Yet in actual life we are more often like tricycles. We are built for stability and mobility but sacrifice mobility. In the process we do stability poorly too.
The limited development of early childhood starts with an environment in which it is not safe to be vulnerable. Insecurity limits learning, insufficient learning reinforces habit, habit restricts choice, limited choice leads to instability and instability prevents change. Conscious development reverses these stages. Safety promotes awareness and innovation, awareness and innovation promote learning, learning promotes choice, choice promotes stability and stability promotes development.
Eric Kiernan PhD