Transformation: Playing At The Edges

“If we want to change the systems we are part of – our countries, communities, organizations, and families – we must also see and change ourselves.”  -Adam Kahane Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities

Transformation is an interesting word. A Google search would begin by defining it as, “a thorough or dramatic change…” Others would tend to replace “thorough” and “dramatic” with “radical” and “profound.” But what does that really mean, for us and for our organizations? What does it truly mean to transform? Do we ever truly transform? Or is transformation a never ending journey?

We often talk of transforming ourselves, our organizations, our systems, but how often do we truly see a “thorough,” “dramatic,” “profound,” or even “radical” change happening in the way our individuals, organizations and systems operate? In our behaviors? Even our daily conversations?

Or are we just circling our organizational wagons?

Because, in a sense, in the midst of the push for deep transformation lies a heavy layer of uncertainty and chaos that pushes us up against the very boundaries that surround our organizations. In many ways, the very idea of transformation stretches and exposes our current capacity in very uncomfortable and threatening ways, initiating a recoil, a flinch we experience at the edge of the known. A snap-back from the vulnerability that the unknown creates.

Which leads us back to circling of our organizational wagons.  

Especially in the face of the fear and anxiety brought on by sheer non-volume of the unknown. When we are no longer fixated on amplifying the known, the safe, the linear and predictable, the solemn quiet of the unknown can be excruciating in the anxiety and fear it extracts.

Which leads us back to circling our organizational wagons.  

In many ways, if we are really going to push for “profound” and/or “radical” transformation, over reform and incremental change, we are going to have to get much more adept in our ability to act in a more agile manner at the edges of our organizations. We are going to have to learn how to inhale the chaos that reverberates out the unknown spaces that lie beyond our organizational boundaries.

We need leaders with a willingness to lean into the uncertainty, ambiguity and unknowns that surround our modern organizations. Leaders who can push through the chaos and turbulence that this creates, rather than recoil back to the safety of what we’ve always done and known.

Unfortunately, transformation rarely evolves and emerges, when we’ve labeled the work as reform. In many ways, transformation is as much about abandonment for the future, as it is about re-framing, re-creating and re-imagining our future.

And unfortunately, whether as individuals or organizations, often the very thing we hold so tightly too, is one thing that we need to release and let go of…

If we are going to emerge into the future, more transformed than reformed.

“Nothing happens without personal transformation.”  -W. Edwards Deming


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