Transformational Change: Where do we start?

By Mike Poutiatine

Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about transactional change vs. transformational change. The idea being that New Year’s Resolutions are very rarely changes that stick, rather they are fleeting. True, lasting change is transformational. I had a few questions asking how to achieve true transformational change. Realizing that I’m not an expert, I turned to someone that is, my friend Mike Poutiatine.

True transformation of self, organization, community or society requires the complex interaction of three things; Thinking, Feeling and Doing.   Virtually all transformational change starts with one of these three.  All are involved with true transformation, but one of them is always the seed.

The most common way for individuals or organizations to enter a transformational process is through changing their thinking – unfortunately, this is the least effective starting point of the three.  We have been taught by our mechanistic production-oriented school system that if the mind understands the new, the body will change its behavior.   This is patently false, but we act as if it is true all the time in organizational life.   The dynamic process of true transformation is much more complex than that.   Thought is not the place to start because it is just too easy to isolate thought from everything else.

Feeling is a better place to start.  When we change how we, or an entire organization feels, we open the doors to thinking and behavior to follow.  But this kind of transformation requires shifts in culture, and always requires us to feel uncomfortable for a time. The habits of feeling are more powerful even than the habits of mind.   Most people can entertain new ideas for a time without a lot of difficulty; few can entertain feeling uncomfortable for any length of time.  For example, most people cannot stand more than about eight seconds of silence in a conversation or meeting without feeling uncomfortable enough to have to fill the space with words – it does not matter what the words are, just words to end the silence.  Feeling is not the place to start because feeling is too difficult to shift initially.

The easiest and most effective place to start is doing, no question.   In individual and organizational contexts it is far easier to simply engage in conscious changes in behavior, rather than conscious changes in thought or feeling.   To get transformative process off the ground, ask yourself or your organization to act differently, even if just for a short period and see what happens.

Change a habituated work schedule for just one day a week; start a business meeting with a piece of poetry; make no judgments about anything for an hour; hold a meeting outside; suspend the use of technology for two hours a day; Ask for five minutes of complete silence in your entire organization once per day; suspend the knee-jerk reaction to fix anything (or anyone) for an hour; eat nothing at your desk for a week. Do something different and see how it changes your thought and feeling about your work and life.

Just try it – start by changing behaviors, not thoughts or feelings if you want to instigate transformation.

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