Exploring Human Potential

Opening ourselves up to becoming something more, yet respecting where we came from.

Tiago Forte retweeted a post by Daniel Thorsen on Twitter talking about his recent Emerge podcast with Robert Kegan on The Five Stages of Adult Development (And Why You Probably Aren’t Stage 5).

While this podcast is slightly long (at just over an hour in length), it is an amazing and valuable introduction into understanding how there are stages of psychological development that go beyond what we conventionally and societally think of as an “adult”. For anyone fascinated with creativity, social innovation, and releasing the untapped potential of people, I would put this on my top ten list of things you should listen to this year, not just in terms of understanding how this works but more importantly understanding why this is so essential for the development and growth of our species as a whole, especially within the VUCA world we are now living within.

My Own Exploration of Stages

For myself, I researched Robert Kegan’s work in a slightly backwards sort of way. I initially learned about there being “stages” of development when it was hinted by Peter Senge within his book The Fifth Discipline. Later in 2013 when reading Anti-Hero by Richard Wilson from OSCA, he gave an overview of Robert Kegan’s stages of psychological development. Shortly thereafter I discovered Bill Torbert’s Action Inquiry work (initially found via a HBR article) and then extensively read Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter’s Vertical (Ego) Development work as well. Only after reading these other perspectives on the stages of development, did I return to Robert Kegan’s work and read it in more detail.

Note that there are others going beyond this existing work as well, such as Terri O’Fallon’s STAGES model, which is “metaphorically (being) compared to the periodic table of elements”, thus helping to show an “underlying structure” of “meaning making” relating to “wisdom skills”. What’s amazing about this work is that Terri is experimenting with a Voyant-like application that would allow the analysis of text (i.e. blog, essays, books, lectures, etc) to assess the stage of a person, rather than the typical sentence completion tests used previously.

While I find all of these people’s work amazing in their detail, it is Richard Barrett’s own Barrett Model that I have gravitated to the most recently, because it seems the most easiest and accessible for people to grasp, aligning values to each stage of development as a “shorthand way of defining (them)”. While other people use nine stages or even twelve stages within their models (to show more transitional detail), Richard uses seven stages of psychological development but integrates Robert Kegan’s latter three of five stages as “plateaus of growth” within his model.

I also prefer utilizing these plateaus alongside the stages as well because they can metaphorically help us see our lives playfully within the narrative of an ongoing heroic adventure (tying into Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey) whereby the “hero” leaves the safety of the City (the metaphorical equivalent of the Socialized Mind), travels into the Borderlands (the metaphorical equivalent of the Self-Authoring Mind), and eventually is able to independently survive within the Wilderness on the “edge” of the world (the metaphorical equivalent of the Self-Transforming Mind).

Commonalities Between Different Development Models

As I noted above, all of these development models are just different perspectives of the same thing, so there are commonalities between them all.

All models see stages as different ways of meaning making and identity which in turn defines the way we perceive, see, and filter the world around us like lenses. In effect, our view of the world and our identity are entwined, being one and the same. This is why when evolving, leaping, or teleporting to a higher stage, it can feel like your identity is begin shattered and disintegrated before you reintegrate a new one. Thus as even Daniel Thorsen indicated at the start of his podcast above, it’s “a little bit like dying” but instead of grieving for a lost loved one, we are grieving for a lost loved identity which previously protected us and helped us navigate our life up until this point.

All models don’t see one stage as “better than” another stage because the goal is to try to maintain a spectrum of all attained stages at the same time for optimal flow. Richard Barrett’s model exemplifies this the best, in my opinion, by showing how we need to maintain lower stage values to attain and maintain higher stage values. Thus forcing someone to rush to a “better” higher stage, before they’re fully prepared for it, can be just as traumatic as forcing someone to stay at a lower stage, when they’re fully prepared and want to evolve to a higher one.

All models see age thresholds in being able to reach the latter stages (i.e. need to be at least 40 years or older to reach Robert Kegan’s Stage Five Self-Transforming Mind). My belief is that it not only takes time to evolve to these latter stages (if you even achieve them at all) but it often takes a diversity of experiences to do so as well. Therefore I believe if a person had a lot of diverse, intense experiences (lots of blissful highs and crushing lows) earlier in their life, they could theoretically reach a higher stage earlier than normal but only if they had the ongoing support to do so. That said though, these thresholds still wouldn’t be stretched by that much (i.e. someone in their mid-thirties might be able to achieve a Self-Transforming Mind but I doubt someone in their twenties would).

BTW a side point to relate to this age requirement for stages is that I believe that understanding one’s passion and purpose in life in a clearly articulated sense evolves as one gets older. Thus a twenty year old shouldn’t really be worrying about why they can’t figure out their passion and purpose in life at their age. Instead they should just be living their life with as many diverse experiences as possible and noting which things they seem to gravitate towards the most from those experiences. In doing so, their passion and purpose (and thus their larger identity and True Self) will naturally emerge in the process of just living their life and “connecting up the dots” reflectively looking back upon it.

How An External Crisis Can Be A Catalyst For Our Inner World & Identity

Now taking the commonalities I’ve just mentioned above, I’d like to cover the points mentioned within the latter half of the podcast interview with Robert Kegan. Specifically the question arises of how do we individually step forward and evolve to help society and humanity as a whole, when our very individual evolution can seem like a direct threat to society in turn. This mirrors with the “so hopelessly dependent upon the system” quote by Morpheus from The Matrix movie and also with organizational antibodies often encountered when trying to socially innovate and transform an organization.

I think the best way to try to understand this external rift internally is to relay some of the experiences and feelings I had on my own journey of growth and transformation. For myself, I was basically functioning primarily within a Socialized Mind back at the turn of the millennium but with some emerging Self-Authoring tendencies within the background of my life. When the Dot-com Bubble burst in 2001 and I got laid off, this effectively produced an external crisis in my life that became an internal catalyst for transformational growth.

When this occurred, I initially went through what is effectively known as the stages of grief, mourning for the identity I had loved and lost. After finally accepting the situation after a year or so though, I started doing freelance web development work but also starting researching why the concept of “work” wasn’t working for me and what could be done about it as well. In effect, I didn’t want this external situation to define my life and started to learn, grow, and evolve from it, trying to self-author my own path forward with some sense of autonomy and freedom, thus finally bringing my Self-Authoring Mind more dominantly to the surface.

I specifically remembered at the time feeling like most of the jobs I’ve had in my life, including my current freelance work at the time, didn’t encapsulate all who I was. But then the next obvious question that arose from that was, “Who am I?” Thus besides researching organizational development, I also started pursuing personal development, trying to understand myself from as many different perspectives as I possibly could, leading me to eventually understanding the meaning and purpose of my life as a whole.

Trusting Yourself To Overcome Conflicting Feelings & Beliefs

What I’ve just described above in the last two paragraphs are Richard Barret’s two stages of Individuating and Self-Actualizing which encapsulate Robert Kegan’s single stage of a Self-Authorizing Mind. What’s remarkable about Richard Barrett’s two stages is that they clearly defined a shift in internal feelings for myself at the time. In effect, initially I was angry with society for letting me down and not keeping its side of the “bargain” in my life. But later, when I started committing to forging my own autonomous path and finding out my purpose in life, I kept feeling like society (as my internal ego of programming) was getting angry with myself for not keeping my side of the bargain.

For example, I would often experience very disconcerting dreams that would put me within absolutely absurd social conundrums that were effectively impossible to figure out. In effect, I was internally going through a sort of Kobayashi Maru training exercise in my sleep trying to role play and figure out how to step beyond society’s programming and expectations of responsibility to it. To summarize this feeling as a whole, my desire to step beyond my Socialized Mind and start listening and accepting the desires of my Self-Authoring Mind felt like I was going crazy at times and I couldn’t trust myself.

This is effectively what your ego wants though, as a representation of society, to maintain its control on you. “Don’t trust yourself. Just trust the larger collective. We’ll show you the way. Just follow our path and everything will be all right.” Yet I was realizing that following someone else’s path, even my own ego’s (from the perspective of myself as a soul), wasn’t helping me. If anything, it was taking me further from where I wanted to be.

For me, this was the larger shift to fully accepting my Self-Authoring Mind. It was not about accepting and taking responsibility for my self within society but rather about accepting and taking responsibly for my self within the larger context of my Self that was unfolding from within me. To put it another way, I was putting more trust within the authority of my Self, even though I didn’t yet fully know at the time where my path was leading me.

From Ego To Soul: Applying The Two Loops Model To Our Evolving Self

I think one of the best ways to get over this conundrum of a continually evolving self, so that we move beyond being in conflict with our past existing self or our emerging future Self, is if we apply the Two Loops model of change to ourselves. By doing so, we can begin to have a perspective whereby our past existing self and our future emerging Self are both valued parts of a bridge to help maintain and sustain ourselves as a whole. This directly correlates with the previous perspective of one stage of development isn’t better than the other one because the idea is to try to maintain them all as a spectrum or overarching bridge, opening a pathway between our ego and our soul.

In this way, we begin to recognize the multitude within us (often experienced by highly creative people), as we become protectors and hospice workers for our older sense of self that is dying, while also being trailblazers and illuminators for our newer emerging Self that is being born. In this way, we are able to fully support and stabilize the transformational bridge between the older and newer aspects of our continually evolving identity, whereby our old self has a dignified death helping to nourish and sustain the birth of our new Self.

So again, we don’t choose one perspective or the other as being dominant during a transformation change, treating them like competitors or enemies against each other, but rather see both perspectives as collaborators who are working together to maintain the stewardship and continue growth of one’s evolving identity and Self overall.


Harnessing Quantum Creativity

The key to prospering in the creator economy is to maximize interaction while reducing friction. Generally this means minimizing the amount of input required from users (i.e., Twitter’s counterintuitive 140-character limit). They need to contribute freely and naturally without having to think twice. In Saffo’s view, the creator economy will reward businesses that leverage tiny amounts of user input. “The companies that will be the biggest,” he says, “are the ones that harness the smallest quantum of creative activity.

The Creator Economy: Futurist Paul Saffo On The New Business Epoch

Seriously fucking brilliant and so true.

This is so in line with what I’ve said before about how the path to the New World is found within the in-between spaces of the Old World (in other words, within liminal moments while we’re in transition between things, having a few moments to scribble or jot down an idea).

Mirrors perfectly with Tiago Forte’s vision of work being broken down into smaller “bite sized” tasks as well.

Also resonates with what I’ve said before how WordPress needs to get its act together and seriously tackle microblogging with the ability to embed articles previews (probably using JetPack) with full functionality similar to Embedly (or like pretty much every social network platform under the sun, i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc).


Nourishing Informal Leadership Everywhere

Learning to see and support what’s already right in front of us.

Yesterday I articulated that the current methods of trying to transform society as a whole, by transforming formal leaders of organizations and then transforming the organization in turn, are often limiting.

They’re limiting because they’re often inaccessible (and perhaps even invisible) to any individual primed for transformation because they’re targeting formal leaders first and foremost. Thus a person who isn’t a formal leader within an organization may not realize that these classes can actually help them take leadership of their life as a whole.

They’re also limiting because they’re often unaffordable to a person who doesn’t have a salary typical of a formal leader, since the classes can easily be in the thousands of dollars (not even including the air fare to get to the class). Thus a person who isn’t a formal leader can’t simply choose to take them in the same way a formal leader could (perhaps even writing off the class as an executive developmental expense), because the price point inhibits it.

Seeing Potential Leaders Everywhere

Why I’m so adamant about trying to break down these barriers that can be limiting people and preventing them from transforming themselves is because we are living within a world where there are often amazing informal leaders all around us, readily primed for transformation, but they often go unrecognized and unrewarded (even by themselves), be it within organizations or even outside of them. Richard Barrett in his book Evolutionary Coaching reiterates this when he mentions a quote from Bill George’s book True North.

An enormous vacuum in leadership exists today—in business, politics, government, education, religion, and nonprofit organisations. Yet there is no shortage of people with the capacity for leadership. The problem is we have a wrongheaded notion of what constitutes a leader, driven by an obsession with leaders at the top.

Bill George, True North

And I would even go so far as to say that because of this “wrongheaded notion” of what constitutes a leader, most conventional organizations today are actually impeding the natural leadership capacities and growth of their people, rather than helping to foster and nourish them. When this happens, these people often need an “exist strategy” of some kind to find environments more conducive to their growth, as Richard Barrett notes below.

If the cultures they are embedded in hinder them in their developmental journey you may need to help your clients develop an exit strategy: help them find an organisation, community or society that will be better able to support them in their human emergence.

Richard Barrett, Evolutionary Coaching

Informal Platforms for Creative Growth

Thinking back on my own journey, particularly around the 1990s with the emergence of the Internet and Web, I could tell that I was looking for something more in my professional work life but I wasn’t finding it. I think this is why the background of my life starting shifting more to the foreground. In effect, I started to create and cultivate communities online around video games, becoming a leader within them, which in turn helped me to take leadership of the growth of my life in ways that formal work environments and organizations weren’t letting me do.

However, interestingly enough near the end of the 1990s, because I was becoming more and more comfortable and confident in my abilities, both as a Web developer / designer and as a leader, I leaped at the opportunity to work within a local web firm which built online communities hubs for some of the largest video game developers at the time (i.e. Sierra Studios, Activision, Konami). Even though it was initially just a junior position, within six months I had quickly become a Senior Web Developer within the company and was mentoring others on standards and emerging best practices, even in areas outside of my usual expertise (i.e. proposal writing, etc).

This is what I’m trying to get at as a whole. We need different informal platforms for growth and leadership because our existing formal institutional platforms are often still working on a lower level of consciousness which is often limiting our growth. Therefore if we can find newer informal ways of connecting, empowering, and inspiring ourselves individually and collectively, I believe we will see an explosive developmental growth in our society as a whole that we haven’t seen in centuries, whereby we will see community “guilds” overseeing the emergent practice of character development (i.e. soft skills) rather than just craft/trade development (i.e. hard skills).


Taking Transformations to Scale

Finding my own path, my onlyness, in being nobody-but-myself.

While writing out my last post on Leading With Values, a bunch of older feelings seemed to well up from deep within me and rise to the surface. I was transported back to my amazing time on Google Plus between 2013 and 2015, where I was able to connect up with so many interesting and notable people because the platform had this cultivated sense of openness to it.

The Expectations on The Road Less Travelled

Back at the peak of that experience around 2014 though, I remember Susan Scrupski approaching me and asking me “What is your ‘job’ precisely?”, as she was interested in knowing if I could “fit into” Change Agents Worldwide. I remember proceeding to give her effectively an UnCover Letter response describing how because I wouldn’t “fit conventionally” into the group (because there was no way they were going to make me sound prestigious to corporate clients) that I would probably be the perfect fit for their group (because I believed they needed people with unconventional, lifelong learning backgrounds to represent the future of what was emerging right now).

Reflecting upon that conversation and other ones with members like Celine Schillinger, I remembered feeling innately uneasy about me working as a “change agent” helping corporate organizations and their leaders to transform themselves. Why? Because it just didn’t feel like me in terms of my onlyness and the path I was trying to take (yet I couldn’t fully understand at the time). In other words, it felt fake and forced to me from my perspective which is why I’m glad it never happened.

To put it another way, it felt like being a “change agent” was just another newer type of expectation put upon me by the community of professional misfits and outcasts I was a part of. So when I indicated to some of them that trying to transform corporate organizations and leaders just felt wrong to me in some way, I not only felt ostracized for not fitting into society but I also felt ostracized for not fitting into this newer community of social change as well. It’s one reason why I’ve continually said I feel like I am “disrupting the disruptors” because I’m trying to take an additional step further than the emerging norm of others.

Seeing Every Individual as A Creative Leader

What do I mean by that and why is it important? What I mean is that there are already a ton of professional change agents around the world trying to help corporate organizations and leaders to transform themselves. In effect, this is pretty much the conventional norm now in trying to transform individuals and organizations in a top-down sort of way in which the leader is transformed first and then he or she is able to transform the organization as a whole in turn.

From my perspective, this seems like an excruciatingly slow and limiting way of trying to transform the world as a whole, especially when we need more and more evolved leaders to help tackle the “wicked problems” of our world today (as noted in the book Anti-Hero). This is why I instead want to take a more playful, informal approach that is much more bottom-up and emergent oriented.

What I’m talking about here is transforming every “individuatingly-primed” individual no matter who or where they are, inside or outside of an organization, to take leadership over their own lives for the first time in their lives. Of course to achieve this and target an audience on this scale means radically changing one’s approach as well. Your approach needs to be both accessible and understandable from the perspective of the primed individual it’s targeting but it also needs to be affordable for them as well.

Making Transformations Accessible & Affordable

Again this is radically different from the norm. Most transformational classes are in the thousands of dollars, which is why unless you’re working for a larger corporate organization, it can be difficult to ever get the opportunity to take these classes. Yet the irony is that the very people who need these classes and transformations the most are probably the people who can afford them the least.

This is why I like Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain approach because it creates a personal, self-directed system under the guise of productivity whereby an individual can begin to objectify the subjectivity of their lives which is essential (as Robert Kegan notes) to transform oneself in the process. In effect, the primary benefit of the system is its ability to creatively begin to generate meaning and a clearer identity for your life which increases your productivity as a by-product of it in turn.

For myself, I believe it’s even possible to step farther than this, using my own previous experience and knowledge of building communities of practice around video games as an example of this. In effect, I believe a more accessible and affordable approach is one in which people (if given the right structure and guidance) will come together and transform themselves over time on a weekly basis by using these meet ups as a means of sharing their experiences, stories, and questions that they are trying to tackle in each of their own lives.

In this way, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey becomes a sort of metaphorical representation of this ongoing weekly transformational journey amongst a group of people, whereby just like players in an MMO game, they following quests, go deep into dungeons, kill wicked monsters, and discover wonderful treasures. Yet in this case, the “quests” they undertake are the questions in their lives, the “dungeons” are the depths of themselves, the “wicked monsters” are their shadow selves, and the “treasures” they discover are the insights into their greatest gifts, their passion and purpose.

Transformational Role-Playing

BTW if what I just described above sounds strangely familiar to what people do when coming together to play role-playing games, you’re absolutely on the right track. In fact, that correlation is exactly how I realized that the communities I had been helping to build online were effectively how organizations would function in the future. That correlation was specifically found when I stumbled across the word T-groups which are a part of organization development. Here’s the meaning of T-groups as describe by Wikipedia below.

T-group or training group (sometimes also referred to as sensitivity-training group, human relations training group or encounter group) is a form of group training where participants (typically between eight and fifteen people) learn about themselves (and about small group processes in general) through their interaction with each other. They use feedback, problem solving, and role play to gain insights into themselves, others, and groups.

T-Groups, Wikipedia

Pretty weird and wild how similar they are, right? It’s no wonder then when people say how role-playing games have changed their lives. Now can you imagine a playful approach that could transform thousands, if not millions, of people in a similar way? Seriously, I’m surprised that a video game developer or publisher (hello Vancouver!) hasn’t started tackling this already. It would be the perfect integration of technological innovation and social innovation.


Leading With Values

Learning how to creatively innovate & ‘level up’, moving beyond societally limiting norms, fears, and control.

Lisa Doig, Director of Corporate Evolution, gives an excellent overview of Richard Barrett’s Seven Levels of Consciousness (so much so that Richard himself thought it was ‘brilliant’) and explains how it can be used as a framework for development and growth beyond the societal norms and expectations of the Socialized Mind, as she notes below.

Levels one, two, three, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, the shoulds, have to, must. At level four, something happens that forces us or awakens us to break away from the conditioning, and it takes courage.

Level one, two, three can be victim and blame, or ‘below the line’ as we say. And level four to seven is above the line. So I take accountability for my part in that.

Adapting: Letting Go of Fears & Control

She also elaborates on what it takes from an organizational perspective to ‘level up’ consciously beyond societal norms, describing the fears and control that leaders need to be let go of before an organization can truly start adapting and innovating.

There’s not one organization I know that can survive in today’s VUCA world that can not be adaptable and innovative. But can you see it takes a higher level of consciousness to be in that place.

So this is also where we start listening to the employee. There’s command and control (at levels one to three). You do what I say. Level four is I’m actually listening and inviting participation from employees.

True Belonging: Unconditional Love & Being At “Home” With Yourself

She further elaborates on levels five and six which resonate with my own journey, as I feel like I’m trying to level up to level six individually right now but I still need to let go of residual fears still holding me back from fully accepting and unconditionally loving myself as I truly am. This mirrors with what Richard Barrett said about levels one, two, and three fears being synchronous preventions of achieving development within levels five, six, and seven.

In (level) five, I’m stepping into my purpose, internally. Level six is externally. If I’m living my highest self, ‘I make a difference’ but really feel it in the heart. Not like, you could be ‘I make a difference’ at level two to be liked. At level six, I know by my being I make a difference. And so it’s a really place not having do and prove anymore but be a mentor and be a coach because it’s my purpose.

What I find remarkable about this statement is that it mirrors the work of Brené Brown when she talks about the difference between belonging (in a more normal, societal sense) versus True Belonging. When a person achieves a sense of True Belonging (which I equate with level six), there is a sense of being truly at home within one’s Self at a higher level versus feeling inadequate and always seeking a place to belong within one’s ego self at a lower level.

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

Brené Brown

This shift from a lower level self to a higher level Self is achieved by developing a deep intrapersonal relationship with one’s self / Self which again is elaborated by Brené Brown below, describing this acceptance and unconditional love of ourselves as we currently are. To provide a different perspective of this, we all have this feeling of wanting to belong to something larger than our selves. When we achieve True Belonging, our (ego) self finally feels like it belongs to a larger sense of our (soul) Self, thus the ego and soul are finally in perfect alignment.

Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness–an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.

The special courage it takes to experience true belonging is not just about braving the wilderness, it’s about becoming the wilderness. It’s about breaking down the walls, abandoning our ideological bunkers, and living from our wild heart rather than our weary hurt.

Brené Brown

Note how this perfectly aligns with what Lisa Doig says near the close of her presentation.

In fact, (level seven) is who we are at our core. A human being at its core is this. We just have layers around us, like the onion, to unpeel to actually see who we really are and this is the journey of being a human being.

Mastering Creativity: Analysis & Synthesis

I couldn’t agree more. And what I find remarkable about this final statement is that I believe it ties into an intuition of mine that this entire life journey of development is teaching us how to understand and master creativity at larger and larger scales within our lives.

In effect, the first three lower ego levels are teaching us analysis which is breaking things down by separating them, thus inadvertently building up walls and layers of separation within our lives (i.e the masks or shields we carry). The highest three soul levels are teaching us synthesis which is bringing things together and integrating them, thus removing walls and layers within our lives, until we fully master creativity. When we do so, we are able to ‘swim’ with ambiguity, even becoming it, as the fluid creative continuum and source of our emerging reality.

The problem though is that many of us get stuck at these lower levels due to being unable to let go of our fears, thus never fully evolving and learning how to apply creativity to the larger context of our entire life and even the world around us as a whole. This to me is the core of understanding social creativity as it applies to social innovation and how our older social constructs of empowerment are now not much more than social artifacts of disempowerment and if we can apply creativity to them, we can let go of them and create newer, larger social constructs that can contain the complexities of the larger world we are living within today.

Dispelling Perceived Myths of Levels of Consciousness

Finally Lisa wraps up her presentation by dispelling some of the perceived myths that people might have when viewing these levels of consciousness and trying to understand them for the first time.

The most obvious incorrect conclusion people have is that higher levels are better than lower levels. They’re not, such as a visionary non-profit unable to deal with its practical needs. Instead the idea is to try to maintain a spectrum of levels, like multiple open gates in a sluice box, to maintain your creative flow which connects and aligns your ego with your soul.

And finally, in reality, just because we may achieve a higher level of consciousness (as a stage of development), it doesn’t mean we stay there. Life events, such as losing our job, may cause us to temporarily fall back down to a lower level of consciousness until those level lower needs are met again.


Trailblazing a New World

Understanding the process of exploring, navigating, and leading others to a New World.

Deborah Frieze’s TED Talk on understanding how change happens like living systems which she describes using the Two Loops model that her and Margaret Wheatley created at the Berkana Institute. In this case, as one system begins to die and disintegrate, another newer system emerges and reintegrates itself, giving birth to a new world and a new way of doing things (something which Margaret Wheatley reiterates within her book So Far From Home when she talks about how emergence works within it).

The way we’re trying to change the world is not going to work, and it’s never going to work. I’d like to offer a radical theory of change, based on my experience working around the world with people trying to solve our most pressing problems. This belief turns most of our efforts to fix our world on their heads.

Here it is: you can’t fundamentally change big systems, you can only abandon them and start over, or offer hospice to what’s dying. By big systems I mean education, healthcare, government, business, anything characterized by overorganization, standardization, regulation, and compliance. And I’m saying you can’t undo, fix, reverse-engineer, redirect, or reassign these systems. That’s because they are not machines, they are living systems.

Deborah Frieze

Elaborating further, Deborah discusses the various different roles surrounding this Two Loops model, such as the trailblazers which are walkouts from the previous dominant system.

‘Walk outs’ are the trailblazers. These are the folks willing to turn their back on the dominant system, eager to be free to experiment with the future.

If you’re ‘a walk out’, then you’re willing to feel ignored, invisible, and lonely a good portion of the time. That’s because what you’re doing is so new and different, people can’t see you work even when it’s staring them in the face. These can be difficult dynamics to live with, especially when you know you’ve done a good work, that you’ve already solved problems others are still struggling with. That’s why we, ‘walk outs’, need each other.

Deborah Frieze

Without a doubt, this trailblazer role is most definitely the one that gravitates to me the most, as it resonates with my journey so far these past couple of decades. Even more so, as I’ve noted before, I find the similarities to the Connecting, Nourishing, and Illuminating stages of this Two Loops model to be remarkably similar to what I’ve articulated as the Connecting, Empowering, and Inspiring stages of Social Creativity.

In this case, in helping to get to this New World, one is leaving the Old World (as the dominant system) and undergoes a process of exploring, navigating, and storytelling to not only reach it themselves but to share and illuminate the way for others to make the journey themselves.