Transformation and chaos
Every system that receives a blow goes through a period of transformation until it reaches a new equilibrium. Otto Scharmer1
describes the stages of transformation in a detailed way in his U CURVE theory. Let's examine in some depth the central phase/stage of transformation which is situated between letting go
and the beginning of rebirth: letting come
. It is a moment of disorder, of loss of focus between the old and the new world which can, sometimes, create a moment of chaos.
Within the period that precedes this phase, various obstacles can prevent the system from entering into the chaotic phase: the judgment of the mind, the cynicism of the heart, the fear in the guts. All of these obstacles can stop the system from moving into deep transformation. And, after all, why not, if the system cannot handle this chaos phase, it would turn into chamos, destructive chaos.
Nevertheless, what a pity not to go all the way through to the end of the transformation, not to pick up all the benefits, to stop half way through. Because between chaos and order there is "chaorder", a place where life innovates, where things are flexible enough to let new solutions emerge.
Being a facilitator of organizations going through transformations, the following questions concerning this phase arise: how can it be triggered? Which protections
, which authorizations
are necessary to be able to follow the path? Where to stop? Having gone to Haiti, I vividly experienced the trauma of those that saw their home change from a protective cocoon to a deadly trap. Am I restraining my client from entering transformational chaos just because I resist doing it myself?
I was lucky to be able to explore these questions in several places (ALIA, EVH, EKR France2, with my peers, my customers ...). Here are some of my insights I wish to share as a humble practitioner of this complex domain where there are no truths. What happened in Japan shows us that we can't pretend we can foresee every single detail!
- On one side chaos creates fear, but it also has a hypnotically attractive side, just as when you're on a diving board, you are dizzy from the height and you want to dive in. As much as fear can restrain us from experiencing a real transformation, fascination can lead us to radical off-limits, transformation (as, for example, certain homeless people who are so far away from society that they refuse all kinds of help).
- The concept of chaos leads us to the one of container, of envelope (ex: Nuclear power plants and their security perimeters): no one should trespass a certain limit to avoid breaking the envelope (through burn out, explosion, traumatism, etc.). It is the point of balance between protection (which is different from preventing) and permission (which is not permissiveness). Each system, each person (the teams, the boss, the group, etc.) has its own envelope, more or less stable, with more or less flaws.
- Experience leads us to believe that each system should possess its own capacity and knowledge of what is right for it: it should know how to heal itself. Elizabeth Kubler Ross said: "Trust the people, Trust the process". The facilitator must ask himself: during the chaotic period, is it better to intervene or to let the system find its own solution all by itself?
- Stepping backwards: during the moments of chaos, it is absolutely necessary to keep an "outside view". Most of the time the facilitator is immersed in disorder along with the teams. Even if there is a certain distance because he isn't part of the system, he is influenced by the destabilization surrounding him. He must, as well, be accompanied to bring light to the decisions to be taken, the advice to be given, the acupuncture spots to press, the positive signals, the depth of the stakes (is it really worth it?) and the possible exits. To claim one can accompany a group all by oneself is a mere illusion.
- The one who is « on stage » with the customer needs to being doing his own self development work for himself and strengthen his own envelope. He should learn to be gentle and considerate towards himself, to accept his vulnerability, to understand that this phase can be painful, even violent and nevertheless necessary, to find deep down inside his unconditional solid base, to know how to be present in order to let come what is required.
As long as things are moving, everything is OK! Chaos often becomes a very unpleasant situation if it seems to become permanent. In that case it would be appropriate to try to make the system react, even if this sometimes leads to going backwards, or to an oscillation between different states.
In fact, chaos is life! Without this wonderful experience, how could we get away from our limiting beliefs, to go beyond the world we know. Real life pushes us to do otherwise and leave our dreams and wake up. Finally, we are all still alive!
1 : http://www.ottoscharmer.com/
ALIA : http://www.aliainstitute.org/
EVH : entreprises vivantes pour et par des hommes vivants - site en construction
EKR : Elisabeth Kübler-Ross France : http://ekr.france.free.fr/