Saturday, February 19, 2011

No More of the Same

The belief that one's own view of reality is the only reality is the most dangerous of all delusions. Paul Watzlawick.
Recently, one of the coaches I mentor asked for the sources of my distinction between first-order change and second-order change. My earliest influences were Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind and Watzlawick et al's Change; later, Senge's The Fifth Discipline and Hargrove's Masterful Coaching.

While the terminology of these authors and I may differ, we share some common principles:
First-order change is a temporary "fix" to a problem without examining the underlying patterns that caused the problem; the typical result is "more of the same." Senge, for example, identifies archetypes arising from attempts at organizational change that feed the original dynamic.
Second-order change is a radical shift in worldview and consequent actions; it requires systems thinking, the ability to step back and intervene in the dynamics that have reinforced "more of the same."
Political satire, "more of the same"
First-order change in coaching similarly refers to learning new skills or capabilities that involve doing something better without examining or challenging underlying beliefs and assumptions. Second-order change occurs when clients step outside their current perspective, examine their frame of reference, and do something different. As a coach, you help them (a) observe the assumptions and behavioral patterns that have kept the same problems cropping up over and over, and (b) fundamentally reframe their worldview. As a consequence, they become less habit-driven, more open, and increasingly self-aware.

For example, Bill Danvers was  V.P. of Sales, in line to be president of his company. The CEO had annointed him because of spectacular sales results, not realizing Bill had taken all the credit in spite of behind-the-scenes support from V.P.s of other functions. After agreeing with his peers on negotiation parameters, he would override those agreements to make deals with customers that other functions didn't have the resources to support in the expected time frame. So if customers became dissatisfied, Bill still looked like the golden boy and his peers took all the blame.

His underlying drive was to succeed at any cost. Consequently, the other V.P.s didn't trust him and wouldn't support his bid to be their boss. Because he wanted their approval, Bill agreed to tell customers his offers were tentative and to confirm with his peers before closing the deal. This first-order change might have temporarily satisfied others in the organization, but if his fundamental drive continued to serve his own achievements at the cost of theirs, nothing fundamental would have changed and he would again have lost their trust.

With a systemic view of his behavioral patterns, Bill Danvers began to acknowledge evidence of his competitiveness and his high need to be recognized for his successes. He became aware of childhood messages that his worth depended on accomplishment. With the goal of second-order change, I helped raise Bill's awareness when feelings of competitiveness and approval-seeking behavior began to grip him. He was gradually able to intervene with new responses and authentically collaborate with his peers.

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For a personality-based explanation, see "Breaking Out of the Box," especially the discussion beginning at the bottom of the fourth page (page 24 of my book with Clarence Thomson, Out of the Box Coaching). For more about first- and second-order change, see Tompkins and Lawley's  When the Remedy is the Problem.



Anonymous said...

Brilliantly summarized... enriches my understanding of second-order change and how to translate it into practical conversations... As coaches we need to help our clients 'critique' the motivational framework that drives problem patterns... to take "a position" on what was taken for granted.

painting techniques said...

Interesting, this could serve as a good eye-opener for many...Thanks for sharing this!...Daniel

Mary Bast said...

Hello Daniel,

I don't know if you were aware that I'm a student of oil painting, started painting for the first time ever at age 69, four years ago (see followed "painting techniques" above to your web site and classes, just subscribed to your daily tips and am considering one of your DVD classes. I also posted your lapsed-time demo YouTube link at a discussion board of breast cancer survivors--we're using art to express our journey. Great idea to offer such accessible learning. Thanks!!!

Daniel Edmondson Studio said...

Thanks Mary for subscribing and spreading the word by sharing my videos.
I looked at your paintings...very nice!

James Lawley said...

I like your example Mary, and thanks for putting a link to Penny Tompkins' and my article on the subject.

I'd also like to put in a plug for 'first-order change' or 'translation' as Ken Wilber calls it:

"And as much as we, as you and I, might wish to transcend mere translation and find authentic transformation [second-order change], nonetheless translation itself is an absolutely necessary and crucial function for the greater part of our lives. Those who cannot translate adequately, with a fair amount of integrity and accuracy, fall quickly into severe neurosis or even psychosis: the world ceases to make sense – the boundaries between the self and the world are not transcended but instead begin to crumble. This is not breakthrough but breakdown; not transcendence but disaster."

The Essential Ken Wilber (1998) pp. 141-142

I'd add that we often need to go through several translations before we are ready for transformation. Trying to coach someone to go through a transformation when they are not ready is usually counterproductive.

All the best, James

Mary Bast said...

You're absolutely right, James, and I'd be stuck in either/or thinking if I only valued transformational change. I do think many coaches focus only on 'translation' so I encourage knowing the difference. We're more apt to see readiness when we know more is possible.