Disturbing the System

From the study of transformational actors in the middle levels of organizations, researchers report that real change leaders recognize the need to disturb the system and practice improvisation (Katzenback and associates, 1995).  They understand that after implementation, there is a need to increase the “mass and velocity” of the process, and after a certain point there is no turning back.  The system is at the edge.  It becomes necessary continually to improvise and experiment, striving to keep the momentum by working “a constantly changing mix of initiatives.”  The real change agents use whatever tools are available in whatever way they can.  They learn their way forward, hovering at the edge of chaos.

So in the end, systems move to new levels of complexity because they are disturbed.  Yet there is a basic irony about all this, since systems are designed to prevent disturbances, that is, to help each person within the system maintain a steady course.  Even so, human collectives can never transform until someone cares enough, and dares enough, to deviate and disturb them.  Remember, disturbing a system normally triggers resistance.  And here we encounter yet another underlying irony, that as long as we are guided by normal assumptions, resistance marks the end of change, raising the specter of fear and dampening any enthusiasm for taking further action toward change.

The sacred servants understood all of this.  Jesus and Ghandi warn us how severe the risks can be.  Dr. King tells us that direct action requires self-purification, something the other two also advocated.  Only after we have purified ourselves can we be clear enough about our purpose and our commitment to go forward with all that the transformation entails.  Only then can we see the wisdom or disturbing the system and ultimately joining others in the dance of resistance and transformation.  Only then do we learn to trust the process that is far bigger than any one of us.

–Change the World, p. 169


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