how does the new come into the system?

Sunday, June 21st, 2009 | Uncategorized

the past few days i had three interesting experiences that all struck the same chord:

first, at the MIT Green Hub, we convened a roundtable conversation on transforming capitalism that included some of the foremost pioneers in social-environmental based banking. then i worked with the Minister of Education and her transformation team in an EU country. then i had a review session with a senior learning and change leader of a major global company in the car industry. three sessions, three systems, one theme: in all these cases we had plenty of great pioneers that had created really good living examples on the ground that demonstrated real innovations in leading, lending, and learning. yet, in all these cases these small scale innovations did not “go viral” to “infect” the entire system. on the contrary, the larger system, in all these cases, in spite of being challenged through new environments, happened to “strike back” by some version of immune system reaction aiming at limiting or killing the new.

So the new is already there. in small living examples. and so is a new set of challenges that would require the new to go viral, to be scaled. but that’s not what’s happening (at least not at the speed required). so how does the new become more relevant to the system? how does it enter and change the entire ecosystem at issue?

have you seen examples where small local innovations went viral and changed the old DNA and culture of a larger system? what have you learned from these examples?


23 Comments to how does the new come into the system?

Marigo Raftopoulos
June 22, 2009

I don’t think we can treat the ‘capitalist system’ or ‘environment system’ like any other systems that have been the subject of systems dynamics.

The renewal of the capitalist and environment systems now have the strength of globalised self interest that is more powerful than at any other time in human history. And their objective is to protect the heavy investment in the status quo.

Yes, change is inevitable, but it has formidable adversary.

Hi Otto,
I am not gonna be able to offer any practical example, though two general reflections that might help!

1) I guess you are familiar with the article by the great Donella Meadows “Leverage Points: places to intervene in a system”. I thought it can be a good opportunity this one that you have to link it with these recent thoughts you are having about going ‘viral’.

2) It depends on the system we are talking about, for sure. But I think that systems have a natural tendency to resist change, up to a point. I would link this resistance with the theory of the scientific paradigm shifts that happen in society, as explained by Thomas Khunn in 1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Basically, you keep pointing at the flaws of the old system / paradigm, as well as building up a new theory that is more comprehensive than the old one, and you are able to show its value as a guide to your actions and plans. At the beginning there is always an awful lot of resistance to change, until the new theory hits a tipping point.

All the best,

Sandra Lester
June 23, 2009

The future is all about energy and resource flows, if we track these then truth of the system becomes more apparent; the rest is a facade that will eventually be left behind. We just have to make this fall away sooner, rather than after it is too late.

The future is also what we are telling us it will be… What stories are we telling? Are we telling inspirational stories that stimulate our perception of the future that wishes to emerge?

LeAnne Grillo
June 23, 2009

Each time we talk about this question, I keep coming back to the Dance of Change and the challenges that Peter Senge and colleagues discuss in that book. Our initiatives are similar to the change efforts discussed there. I think we get too focused on the initiative itself and don’t pay enough attention to cultivating the field that we are planting it in. We have to create hospitable conditions in which the initiatives can grow–otherwise the system is going to push back. That cultivation is a big job–bigger in some ways than developing the initiatives themselves.

Viral growth is opportunistic. Sometimes it happens when there is a weakness it can seize upon–other times it happens because the conditions are ripe for it. Is it easier to detect that weakness to foster the growth of the new, or is it easier to supplement and fertilize the field and create the conditions for scaling up?

Charles Walmsley
June 23, 2009

I did some research 30 plus years ago about the factors which were important in the succesful implementation of new systems. from memory these included:- (i) Having a well known and respected chamption (ii) Having a team of enthusiastic change agents which gelled and worked well togther and (iii) the process met the needs of the corporation. I don’t know if this is useful!

Ria Baeck
June 25, 2009

Dear all,

Always when I hear the question about scaling-up, I wonder if it is the right question to ask, to get to an answer that would work… Otto asks: “so how does the new become more relevant to the system? how does it enter and change the entire ecosystem at issue?”

What if the new is a new system all together? – linking this indeed with the article by Donella Meadows. Are we seeing/knowing that for the new initiatives to go viral, the system in itself – in its core – will have changed?

To me it is in general a shift from ‘looking at systems from the outside’ – hence the question about scaling up – and ‘being an ecosystem’, also in our thinking ‘about’ it. Can we be an ecosystem in every cell of our being and acting?

How would the question of scaling up be in an ecosystem language? What kind of (permaculture) principle would be at play here, or will give us enough inspiration? I guess LeAnne’s answer about the surrounding conditions comes close…

I guess you/we would need both double and triple loop learning…

Isn’t one of the assumptions that get us stuck here about the implicit belief that institutions, organisations and countries will still be the same kind of ‘things’ when the core concepts and practices of these little initiatives have gone viral? I think that organisations will transform into organisms – which is a different kind of story…

Why not use a level4, generative conversation to get to the answer… what would the quiding question be?

Tom Klein
June 25, 2009

I have this experience repeatedly: An inspired leader on an upper-middle level engages passionately in a transformation process in his function on the leading edge of what it would make sense to do. We have a great team of change agents, who are open to the challenge, come into the process and grow beautifully through the experience of bringing their organization to a new level. The benefits to the business are quickly proven, and we all think — this has got to take off. It mostly doesn’t, and so Otto’s experience and question takes center stage in our reflection on causes and possible solutions.

Often we experience the limitation in the systems dynamics of power at the top, where results are narrowly defined and serve the imperatives of career, analysts and shareholders short-term. We succeed best when we get top management as the principle champions from the start, and when it works, it is mostly in the large “Mittelstand,” where financing is conservative and independent of money interests and yet the resources and innovation capacity exist to try new things.

Viral dissemination is changing the landscape of power, but where and how it pushes through is mostly chaotic in nature. As long as we have ownership systems, change is less viral than it is based on personal values and insight of owners and holders of power. Growing out the soil of a new landscape of social and cultural values (virally created top soil?), top people in positions of power become open to new approaches. At that point, transformational coaching technologies, systemic constellation work, and deep reflection techniques which take place in personal relations of trust can tip the scales in individuals to wager complex solutions that match the increasing complexity of the environment the company finds itself in.

We need to make it in the interests of power to take the next evolutionary leap in consciousness. Daniel Goleman’s Environmental Intelligence story, for example, strikes me as an effective approach. Then it is footwork, clearing the blocks, creating opportunities, and fostering the insight in person after person to tip the scales, until a system tips. I have the sense that the environmental conditions for success in this are improving quickly just now.

Max Neill
June 26, 2009

Implementing transformational change seems almost to happen backward – at least in my experience of promoting person centred thinking with people supported by social and health care services.

We create a vision of where we want to be, then we think of what needs to happen in order to get there.

As the level of detail increases, we realise we need not only to change the plot of the book, we need to change the paragraphs, the sentences, the language and the very alphabet it is written in. This is a level of flexibility that everyone involved finds challenging.

The tools we use become smaller and sharper as we move from carving out a basic shape to filling in the detail.

At every point however, we need to keep referring back to our purpose. How does this activity, this tool, this meeting, this dialogue move us toward our overall purpose? is a question that keeps recurring for services striving for more personalised and person centred approaches.

June 27, 2009

Viele Jahre habe ich Wachstumsprozesse von Jugendlichen begleitet, die
das deutsche Erziehungs- und Lernsystem ausgesondert hat (nicht mehr gruppenfaehig und somit fuer Schule und therapeutische Einrichtungen nicht mehr tragbar). Diese Jugendlichen wurden dann zur Einzelbetreuung nach Italien geschickt. Ich selbst fuehlte mich als Deutsche in Italien nicht mehr vollkommener Teil des deutschen (Werte)Systems, weil ich nicht mehr Leistung und Rolle als mein Lebenszentrum sah und die Jugendlichen fuehlten sich schon lange nicht mehr dem System zugehoerig, alle hatten eine lange Karriere der Ausgrenzung hinter sich.
Wuensche und Aktivitaeten waren jedoch dahin gerichtet, zum System gehoeren zu wollen und von der Gesellschaft anerkannt zu werden.
Die groesste Veraenderung habe ich erlebt, als ich irgendwann entdeckte und tief in mir spuerte, dass ich nicht ausserhalb des Systems stehe, sondern dass ich wichtiger Teil des Systems bin. Die Grenze des Systems erweitert sich. Wer definiert? Ich erlaube mir ueber die Grenze des Systems mitzubestimmen. Das System ist nicht naturgegeben es ist kultureller Werteausdruck. (In Italien wurden diese deutschen Kinder zumTeil ins oeffentliche Schulsystem integriert. Keine leichte Aufgabe, aber aber von Lehrern, Eltern, sozialen Diensten….als Herausforderung angenommen)
Es geht um meine eigene Wahrnehmung und mein Bewusstsein.
Ich bringe mich ins System zurueck und das veraenderte Denken und Spueren bewirkt eine Drehung. Aus Enge wird Weite. Meinem Leben gab dieser Wandel neue Bewegung, Richtung und Handlung.
Heute fuehle ich keine Trennung mehr, ich bin mitschoepfender Teil
des Ganzen, dessen Konstante immer die Bewegung, der Wandel ist.

Jim Rosen
June 27, 2009

I’ve seen this kind of change take hold in the technology industry – particularly in small and midsized firms. Perhaps the reason is that the business models of these firms depend on innovation. They have to stay one step ahead of the industry behemoths in order to survive.

Patrick McNamara
June 27, 2009

–What a great discussion. I can think of several examples where I helped shift a systems’ culture: in a UN department, a UK financial institution, and a rural US school district. In each of these cases, ‘the new’ had already been relevant to the system. Our change effort was helping bring forth what they were being ‘called to become’ (Appreciative Inquiry) rather than making the new relevant.
–How does it ‘go viral?’ A Mystery. It happens when “the new” is already in the system, sometimes palpable. It happens when it’s time. It happens when the conditions are right. Definitely invisible (emotional or source). One can sometimes create the conditions or attend to the field and more often I think things ripen on their own with seemingly coordinated action taking place, in my view, because of invisible connections. A change is catalyzed or goes beyond the threshold level – and the new form is expressed and replicated – ‘catches on’ – and becomes the norm.
–Below are thoughts on working intentionally to transform organizations:–
–I think the first thing is to CREATE THE CONDITIONS for a (conscious) shift. This could be cultivating the field, as LeAnne mentions, holding intent, aligning a core team to the purpose of the intervention, etc. For me, part of setting the conditions is engendering trust – often through respectful, deep listening and authentic communication.
–A second aspect is somehow to ARTICULATE the new and also ALIGN people to the new vision/culture as it is created. This can be done in many ways – visioning & backcasting, as Tom mentions, core team or key leadership articulation of the new, understanding interviews, dialogue, deep reflection, etc. If there’s a shared visioning process, alignment happens naturally – when vision for a new culture comes from the top, alignment is an art. Well, maybe alignment is an artform anyway.
–A third piece, after prototyping, is trying it out, testing it, seeing what works, experimenting with a new model then somehow learning from that experimentation and tweaking the model. ** this is where it gets fuzzy **
–How the shift unfolds depends on so many things. If someone is trying to manage it – one can do the coaching or constellations that inspire transformation, or one can establish measures/metrics that reward the change. However it’s done, there needs to be SUPPORT for the new to nurture the seedling, nourish the new plant, and allow it to strengthen. When it’s ‘managed change’ that support is often created (e.g. coaching).
–If it’s happening more organically (or if there’s lots of resistance), the support is maybe less visible. Those who carry seeds of the new vision often take leadership to protect and hold and birth the new culture – against all odds and with persistence. Then, a symbol of the old might get booted out, conditions might make the old irrelevant, or new leadership might catalyze a groundswell for the new. As consultants we can be a catalyst for change and we can also feel and buffer or sidestep or move through the resistance.
–Today, viral shifts are more likely because – with social networking technology, smart networks, and interconnections on many levels – an entire ecosystem can transform more rapidly. In my three examples, only the financial institution went viral… and only because we put measures and management systems in place that incentivized the new. Not so organic. How viral whole systems change takes place is a Mystery. When it happens, there’s a felt sense of transformation – like speaking another language, one I’m learning by sensing and doing.

Carmen Altena
June 28, 2009

Because we work with a similar model for personal development I like to compare it with the learnings I have from that field. Of course there are differences in dynamics but the principles of change to me are quite the same. And may be because it is simpler it is useful to learn from. And I believe that the experience in the bottom of the U is first an individual experience also.
What do I see at individual level? When people have made contact with their core and seen the future and made new decisions, in the brain new neural links are created, which are new possible choices for the individual. In the beginning the old en new (behavior, possibilities etc.) exist together, however mainly in the first 3 weeks it seems like the new choices made (in contact with the core) are challenged.
It seems like the individual is tested in his/her personal environment to check whether his/her choices are real. If we believe that everything is always at balance, then if one person moves towards the middle than the other persons in the environment will also have to move or leave the system. At the beginning there is resistance, the environment will try to keep things with the old. But if the choices made are deep enough, the individual will resist the resistance and in the system unity appears on the specific theme or the issue disappears.
The individual is in this transition period extremely conscious of the choice he suddenly has and the duality. If the individual has made his decisions ‘deep’ enough (in total contact with the self or core) than the new will stay or basically the issue or duality disappears and unity appears.
However there is usually just a few others in that system, so changing one person is usually enough to change his/her system (and there is also a flexibility usually to change the structural part like ways of communication and working together).
Compared to an organization I think that the power of the change team needs to be strong enough to change the rest of the organization. This means that people in the change team must be really in contact (with the self) and the group must be big enough to create the breakthrough. And another success factor is to translate the individual experience in the bottom of the U and the individual choices to the team/organization. This is in terms of role, responsibilities etc.
I also think that the breakthrough themes can be checked through the core values of the organization. Usually all the core values we define are the themes that are out of balance. That’s why they become important. So most of times what we call core values are anti-values (based on fear, shame or quilt). So if balance appears on the core values of an organization, serious breakthrough happens.
The contact with the core is viral, because it enables real contact with eachother. However I think that there will always be resistance. Is the believe in the new made decisions strong enough to hold the resistance? And is resistance in itself wrong? It may help us to remain sharp. Because in total contact there is no judgement about wrong or right/good or bad, in total contact the old and the new are good. This does not mean that there is no desire to change things, but it is about disappearance of the good/bad which enables the change.
I sometimes think that it is not about change, it is about accepting our qualities and working from there (at an individual and at an organizational level).
I hope to receive some reactions back, because this theme puzzles me for a while also!

Rebecca Shuman
June 28, 2009

This question, How does the new come into the system? is so very heavy on my mind. I have worked for 30 years to bring deep, meaningful change into the systems that serve people with developmental disabilities. There are many new, profound innovations that have emerged around the country in small measure; however, none of it has become “viral.” which leaves intact the closed world of disability. In New Mexico, one of the innovations, self-direction, has evolved into a new system structure, but has not triggered the replacement of the old. I chair a group that has the opportunity to work together to create a new vision/design for the dd service system. In this context, I’m struggling with how to move people away from the frame of what they know to a free space to allow the new to unfold. The power of the status quo to entrench itself and stay there is a problem I so wished there were answers for.

Ralf Lippold
July 1, 2009

Good morning!

Otto has asked: “..have you seen examples where small local innovations went viral and changed the old DNA and culture of a larger system? what have you learned from these examples?”

Yes, I have experienced a change myself here in the City of Dresden. in 22002 I was lucky to be part of a hastily formed network (HFN) during the flooding of the river Elbe that is flowing through Dresden. It has been a terrific collecitve learning effort. After the flood the “old” system overtook the loosely built up structures. Even though people were eager to keep the HFN in any former into the future it hasn’t worked quite out.

I moved then to first Regensburg and then Leipzig as part of the building up team for the new BMW Plant Leipzig. A lot of people, (personal) behavior and procedures learned during the flooding were helpful in these times. The organization was a whole “Learning Community”. This worked fine until the “old” structures have taken over again after some time of operation.

In the meanwhile I always remembered what has been successful during my time working for the flood help in Dresden, and during the early stages with BMW.

Change happens, when people have a choice for themselves to choose and risks can be taken (as the new is unknown, and doing something can almost certainly result in positive gains!)

So after seven (7!) years my experiences and knowledge about what learning and action working communities are like, there has come a day when I heard about Presencing, which resonated very much with Lean Thinking which I practice for about 20 years now. I have seen the connection to the broader scope of Presencing and the U-Process which “got me on the hook” going along with what I had learned about collective learning in the past.

The result was a visit to Frauke Godat, Self-Hub, with whom I ran a TheoryU peer-coaching case clinic in Berlin. It was terrific and ended in setting up an initiative that is now growing in Dresden:

The LockSchuppen (

The networks in the background of that project have grown over the years from mere some 100 folks (from within the City Council of Dresden, to companies supporting with computers) to a thousand (1.000!) during setting early days of my BMW career now spreading into the worlds of LeanThinking, SystemDynamis, SocialNetworkAnalysis, OrganizationalLearning, CoWorking, OrganizationalDevelopment, TheSingularityUniversity, …..

It seems like I have been part of an expontially increasing development which – for over 7 years – has been quite unseen from the outside. Only my vision (initially: providing better work environments for people through focusing doing the “right stuff” without any waste in its processes) has pulled my thinking and action.

It is always the small things you can do, that seem unmentionable for others, where you can learn for yourself (action learning) and doing it in a larger system (such as BMW, or LockSchuppen) it quickly emerges into what we call Action Research (thanks to Charles van der Haegen, I learned this on our flight back to Europe from the 3rd SoL Global Forum).

So coming back to the initial question:

Yes, you can change the old DNA of systems (being consistent, being pulled by a larger vision and finding some supporters who think similar):-)

Best to all and please give me a “ring” if you are interested to hear more than what I have written here.



Ines Seidel
July 10, 2009

how does the new come into the world?

Maybe it just happens, not as we expect, but in its own special way. If we lift up our heads from the projects we’re involved in (with all their exciting and sometimes exhausting or frustrating aspects) we can see so many things fundamentally changing today. They are coming from very different streams, with still few links in between, yet bound to form one big river of change.

I am thinking for instance of the striking students – students all around the world demand to be educated in a way that does not consider them just as future “human capital”
I am thinking of the strategic shopper who is not shy of talking with companies on eye-level, asking them to live up to their green statements.
I am thinking of the growing volunteer movement: People may be less ready to donate money to a charity, but they are much more ready to give their hands, time and attention to the community around them
I am thinking of the Gen Y employee who demands more liberty and also more leadership from his management
I am thinking of the people who have been hit – sometimes painfully so – by the downturn. There is a resistance towards greed, profit-maximization and fast growth that will stay with us.
I am thinking of current developments in the so-called creative industries. Creative professionals increasingly realize that their work is not neutral, they want it to express their personal values and missions – and those values have everything to do with equality, balance, eco-centeredness. Designers are aware of their role in society as creators of experience and thus they start to create things (from architecture to household items to mind changing videos like the Story of Stuff) in a way that allows users to have a positive and empowering experience.
I am thinking of the guerrilla art and acts of kindness movement: Not just artists but normal people create “urban interventions” that make people stop in their routines, that make them smile or even inspire them to become creative as well.

All these changes are more bottom up than top down. And they are not reversible because the experience that you have as a striking student or a volunteer in a senior care home changes you on a deeper personal level.
This community here is also part of the big development that we could summarize as empowerment. I think that this empowerment will lead us (individually, collectively) to come to a point where we can understand that change can be consciously brought to life through us.

It is easy to get impatient, though. I do. Maybe that is just the sort of little death that happens before the next step?

Paula Zamarra, M.A., Organizational Learning
July 13, 2009

Hello Otto,

I’m new to this blog but am a student of Presence and am delighted by your question/consideration.

Much of what I’m going to say should be attributed to the Theory of Livng Human Systems (Yvonne Agazarian), and the Systems-Centered Training and Research Institute which has performed much research and study of living human systems.

Based on the storming, norming, forming dynamics, the large established group will always work to destroy/attack the new smaller group even though the new smaller group may be offering a solution for the good of the entire organization (group as a whole).

What can work is intervening at the subgroup level (mid-management) where the group can have an effect on levels of the organization both above and below it. Also, it is important that the subgroup have enough members in it to withstand the attack and to begin influencing the larger organization and growing it’s membership. This is just the tip of the iceberg of some ideas and experiences from the Theory of Living Human Systems I’d love to discuss with you as I’ve seen many parallels between it and the Theory of the U.

John Lamb
July 15, 2009

A very important question! I have come from making innovative step changes happen in global corporations as a facilitating consultant to trying over the last three years to do the same thing in African development. We are just at this turning point in a sub-national region, where the ideas have been developed and sunk in with both donors and the national government, and they are opening up to a completely new approach with locally driven project management. Now we have to turn the ideas into action. I think making the transition from global for-profit to developing regions is teaching me about the most essential elements.

Obviously one method is the cascade ‘pandemic’ – in really desperate situations, people will fundamentally change behavior to survive, and a strong leader can have immense power. Britain and Winston Churchill under threat from German attack in 1939-1945 is a good example. But I think we are hoping that there are ways to spread innovation before the desperation phase.

The other technique is the one we used in global corporations, one of creating a seamless process from assessment through design and pilot to roll out. Many aspects of this have been covered in LeAnne and Patrick’s input, I think. The key here is to involve representatives of all stakeholders, at both the leadership and operational level. Discuss the assessment with them, and agree what is to be achieved. Make sure they all understand why it benefits them. Design it with them – an operational team designs and recommends to the leaders. The leaders redirect as necessary, and are facilitated in thinking about all the implications – results, cash flow, resistance, resources, contingencies, learning, sustainability, contingencies, etc. They are coached in collectively taking responsibility for everything needed to make the new system work, and for how to manage its continuous improvement. (No process can last without this, as it is organic, and has to be able to develop coherently). Get down to details wherever necessary, design the tools and mechanisms that will keep people thinking of the right things relative to their roles and moving in alignment with everyone else. Then leaders and practitioners agree on a pilot project or cycle of work to demonstrate the new approach.

It is only in the pilot that the commitment to spread begins. It has just been theory to this point – each person with their own dreams about how it might be better, but most people with a lot of skepticism about whether anything will really change. Whether momentum builds or is lost depends mainly on the quality of the facilitation. Has the swamp been adequately drained? Have all the significant rocks been understood and removed or navigated around? If all the key ‘actors’ make a coordinated step in the new direction together, momentum builds. Each ‘actor’ sees the benefit – feels the benefit, and starts to build real emotional commitment.

So, just as in corporations, in Africa one has to find all the key stakeholders and influencers – donors, government, religious leaders, youth, women, elders, resources, history … and the biggest of all – culture. Understanding the culture and working iteratively with it and within it is key.

An example is trying to find entrepreneurial solutions to African development. The culture in my region means this cannot work as a ‘westerner’ might imagine. The personal rewards bring huge headaches there, as everyone expects a share. There is no concept of only being able to take out what has been put in – the concept is if someone has need, and another has more, that other will share. Most ‘employees’ will steal, but to them it is not wrong – you have, they need, that’s how it works. There is also no concept of organizational resources being separate from personal ones. If a person runs an office or a company, all of those resources are ‘fair game’ for anyone who needs them. There are many more like this, but you can start to see, understanding the culture – the way people think and do things – is critical. It was the same principle in corporations – each culture was different, and it was critical to understand how things really “got done” (or didn’t) there.

Then to secure the viral spread, we need coordinated leadership and communications to win hearts and minds, again within the culture. We haven’t got this far yet, but in our rural culture where many don’t read or write, and many only speak a local language, we are working to use radio soap operas. This is also a culture where people respect and follow leaders as role models, and traditionally learn by elders, parents and uncles telling interesting stories around the dying fire (used for cooking the meal) at night before bed. So, going with the cultural flow, we are bringing all respected leaders together to agree coordinated leadership on the key change issues, and we are lining up compelling radio stories with role models closely researched to match the people we are trying to help. These role models make the change from the negative to the positive behavior, and don’t just show people why, but also how. Much of this would be accomplished by “just in time” training in corporations, but we don’t have the same paid audience in rural villages. We have to draw them in with a cliffhanger episode two or three times a week. This is the Sabido method, by the way, and we are working with one of the world’s experts in its application – Bill Ryerson, President of the Population Media Center in Vermont (

We are also working with civil society and a local university, to study, understand and build the capacity to take this approach to other regions, to accelerate the spread of anything that works well.

So – I hope this helps with your question Otto! Please fire back if anyone has more thoughts or questions.

If anyone has got this far, please note, this approach to culture change is the only gentle one that works for big step changes in global corporate cultures. We know that. Yet “donors” try to develop Africans by designing the ‘product’ in plush offices based on aggregated research and experience, and then delivering it like soap powder. Every ‘product’ is just a fragment of a solution, never fits well locally, and no big donor addresses the need to build the capacity to integrate the changes within the local culture.

Barack Obama very wisely recommended stronger institutions to sub-Saharan Africa earlier this week, during his speech in Ghana. I hope he can turn US AID and the other US agencies that are supposed to be helping, on their heads. At the moment everything they do is commanded and controlled from the top, keeping local institutions weak. None of it helps in the long run, and most of it comes with lots of collateral damage in the short run too. Please think about this when you give money to any organisation that says it is contributing to African development!

Thomas Dyer
July 16, 2009

While I have no relevant experience to draw from, I have been reading David Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order (having been inspired by, Presence, Theory U, and the Dialogue on Leadership). Reading this blog with him in mind I have a hunch he would call for a whole new way of thinking for getting the new to change the ecosystem. I am probably going too far, but, this new genre of thinking would go beyond mechanistic causation and beyond fragmentation. I think Bohm and others would demand contingent thinking, i.e. answering your question on a case by case basis. To do this successfully, I imagine, takes full and total presence in the moment, awareness of every surrounding aspect and seeing from inside all participants.
I find that when I try to begin to answer a question like you have posed I begin to think of the group members that have yet to change and participate in the “viralness,” as objects to be manipulated. In other words I find I objectify the people not yet embracing the new. As soon as I see this, I realize that I can do better. I realize what the situation really takes is my “subjectifying” them. I must see them as if they were me, or at least not separate, the subject. And as hard as this is, I think it is only the start. Then comes being present with those that need the newness and seriously helping them to question, or, at the very least, to look at their assumptions.
As ridiculous as it sounds, this whole approach sounds a lot like simply loving each individual in the system. Though this seems pretty time consuming to me my hunch is that this is the only way that will work. I suppose no one ever said systemic change would be easy. . .

Ramona Mangrum
July 24, 2009

I have been waiting for something like this to develop for so long. I was thinking I am not the only one that sees how insane everything is and the need for change on a deep and pervasive level. I read where in one of the posts that we need a powerful champion. Not to get political, but I sense that our US President is making the same arguments you guys are just using different words. Why not start with him and try to get someone on his staff that is well trained in the concepts and then can help to integrate them throughout all federal agencies. See in the US, this is the best way to get things done. You get the structure of the government to change and then require that if any business wants to do business with the government, they have to make similiar changes and show evidence of doing so. It would be a massive training event and results would not be obvious right away. But, it would mean a major shift in conciousness in a short period of time as people became aware of the benefits. This would make it into the collective. I just wish I could find a way to be part of it all. It is so exciting.

Louise Jørgensen
July 25, 2009

Just very shortly; I am confused by your sentence “at least not at the speed required”. I am eager to learn about people’s experience on the speed question. It is for me both a personal and professional task at the moment.

I see that initiatives DO go viral. That is, if we allow them to do so – by accepting time as a variable working WITH us, not against us.

Greetings from Denmark


August 6, 2009

WOW. What a GREAT conversation we are having here. i particularly love all the concrete different examples. they show us the phenomenon in all the different contexts: europe, africa, north america, private sector, government, civil society, bottom-up, top-down, middle-out, from individual micro all the way to collective macro and mundo levels of systems change. i was struck by the wealth of practical experience we have in this conversation about creating the “invisible” context conditions. i was also struck by the comment that stated that the systems boundary (between my self and the system) is a function of my consciousness as an individual (that is, I have the power to change it–the italy example). lets continue this conversation in many ways!

Len le Roux
August 12, 2009

otto and others
so i find all of this very interesting, and i very clearly would not consider myself a scholar on this topic, but it is something that deeply interests me – how do we go about creating a momentum around a change opportunity that has the ‘viral’ impact. maybe we should learn from the lessons that a virus can teach us. they are opportunistic, and build from an environment of dissatisfaction (whatever the reason may be). here i refer to the viral impact of the e=generation to propriety software for instance. as much as we might want to instill some sense of responsibility towards transformation within leaders (read: those with influence in a system) it is when the ‘user community’ starts to take action that the real action begins. here lie the lessons of resistance social movements that have ignited the imagination of the masses in what was previously considered intractable divides and had that ‘viral’ affect. what has characterised these initiatives? flat heirarchies, peer accountability, passion, a clear personal identification with the issue, deep commitment to creating a new order that has a collective response, and institutional arrangements that have a clear common purpose.
Aluta continua!

Penny Lane
December 10, 2009

A couple of years ago I facilitated a strategic planning session for a provincial initiative. As part of the process I invited the participants into a circle and put forward the questions: `from your experience with strategic initiaives, what levers have you seen that support the uptake of an intiative across a system?’ The following key points emerged as themes from this groups considerable experience (collectively):
a. inital benefits are tested and demonstrated – through pilots, doable `chunks’, take the long view of improvements, accessible resources were widely distributed (i.e. a free health guide)
b. dynamic leadership and sponsorship – the champion had dedicated time and was connected well in the system, dedicated leadership, resources were available, sharing beyond the committee or work group, network across boundaries, partnerships
c. a fit to context – there was a fit with the organization, there was political will (i.e. mandated), makes sense at the practice/ practical level, supportive change and learning
d. Clarity and focus on who the changes are ultimately for – stays connected to people who are real, storytelling, engages people who are impacted by the plan, passion for improvement.
From my own experience, I would agree with these observations and also offer that sometimes for some initiatives the timing is JUST RIGHT and there is the presence of leadership that sees that and stays focused.

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