Change as a Force of Nature

Holding a Living Systems View on Change

Kathryn Maloney M.A. ABS

A consulting advisor and organisation designer to leaders, founders, and teams for 25 years, Kathryn weaves systems change vision and initiatives into strategy, priorities, and operating from outcomes. From her wheelhouse, she taps into how you communicate, relate, operate, work, lead, and group think; infuses presence, power, and self-awareness onto broad, prioritised organisation strategy; and designs tangible change to elevate your system's potential and expand its human value.

more about Kathryn
, New York City

When it comes to the difference between change management and how system designers look at the future, system designers hold an exquisitely different viewpoint on the starting places for creating and embedding change. We also hold a deep appreciation for how change and living systems fundamentally work.

Where change management may apply change to or attempt to manage change within a system, systems design practitioners are focused on unlocking capacity and potential within a system.

We aim to leverage change as a natural, expected, and needed force. We believe in flow and emergence. We don’t actually believe in control and management as they relate to enabling progressive, sustainable, and evolutionary change.

This isn’t for the sake of being rebels. Rather, it is because methodologically control is opposed to evolution. Control and management align not at all with the laws of nature, the operating principles of living systems, and the dynamics of co-creation. To practice and deliver change, we need to work with, not against, the actual fundamentals.

Living Systems Theory At-A-Glance

According to modern science (biology, chemistry, evolutionary cosmology, quantum physics and mechanics, etc.), living systems operate according to three basic principles:

  1. All living systems are interrelated and interdependent.
  2. All living systems have the capacity to self-organise, and without constraints, have the capacity to develop and evolve.
  3. All living systems operate according to the principle of differentiation, in that to exist is to be different.

We All Are Innately Connected

In the living systems that involve human interaction e.g. human systems, change (transformation and evolution) will occur best under the conditions and with the appreciation that we are all innately connected. In other words, humans rely on and impact one another even when not in direct conversation or the same physical space. And, even if they choose to operate in a separate from headspace.

We Are All Born to Create

Change also occurs in human systems by means of engaging with the presence of creativity and freedom. We are born to be free, we are genetically wired to create and innovate, and self-direction is fundamental to both existence and growth.

Our Individuality is a Prime Directive

Human systems are based on the premise that we all come at the first two principles from uniquely independent and different points of view. This means our differences are not obstacles to change; they are actually the conduits for it to occur. Living systems need friction in order to evolve, and each of our unique and evolving truths is that blessed friction.

The Field Is Pure Potential

Humberto Maturana, a Chilean biologist, said, “You cannot know what is your potential until you are drawn into action.”

  • Living systems are perpetually in a state of optimising for potential. They are dynamic, self-correcting, and constantly working toward balance.

  • Static systems, on the other hand, are an oxymoron because we don’t stop evolving and growing as human organisms. We are dynamic systems with infinite capacity and possibility. (Your resistance to your own growth is a story for another day.)

  • Organisational systems have the same potential, possibilities, and responsibility   built in.

We evolve and grow both in spite of ourselves and as a result of great intention and discipline. Like it or not, we are by design perpetually drawn into action to realise our potential.

You and the System are Mirrors

When a human system is wired for optimisation rather than stasis, the people inside it can do what is fundamental and natural  —  be drawn into potential.

We design tangible change so that the system and the people are constantly being drawn into action to realise potential  – over and over again. We hold the belief, in alignment with systems theory, that human systems head toward slow or catalytic extinction when they aren’t optimised for continual growth and evolutionary potential. Simply because you started and gained success as X company with Y mission or purpose does not give you license to not evolve, grow, shift, and pivot. You have an innate calling and responsibility in line with nature to do the work of your evolutionary potential.

In the theory of dynamic co-creation, we are perpetually in the moment of deciding what our response is to a stimulus. As Victor Frankl taught us, the last freedom we have, which can never be taken away from us as human organisms, is the ability to choose our response regardless of the situation (aka the field's pure potential.) Ultimately, nobody and nothing can rob you of your ability to choose your attitude in any given moment. In your choice of response lies your personal freedom and your power.

You choose how you suffer as much as you choose how you experience love and joy.

Organisational systems have exactly the same choices of dynamic co-creation. Systems always have choices in response to stimuli and in terms of which levers to pull to suffer or not suffer. Systems take stands, make bad choices over good, and good ones over bad. Co-creation and stimulus response boils down to consciousness and awareness. When systems engage the collective and align with the principles of living systems, the system again draws on the oxygen of potential, freedom, and the creative impulse.

Sometimes, outdated structures and ways of organising, operating, and leading may blind and inhibit your organisation’s ability or willingness to choose new and different responses to stimuli. Dismantling old, static models and inflexible structures, while designing new levers, fluid structures, and dynamic rhythms so a human system can more easily exercise the freedom to co-create, is methdologically core to evolve – not control – your system.

You Have To Muck About To Arrive Anew

As seasoned practitioners, we know that chaos and messiness are fundamental partners on the path to change. We facilitate messy as a means to get you to a better, more progressed state of operating. We don’t pretend change is tidy, nor do we sell any delusions that we’re going to manage or control you and your organisation out of that state of messiness.

William Bridges says chaos is the primal state of pure energy to which the person/system returns for every true new beginning. Meaning, if we avoid messy, we don’t stand in the pure energy that gives rise to new beginnings. So, we hold space for messy to occur as a part of the journey to your new beginnings. We know it is part of our job and accountability to allow systems to see, feel, and experience degrees of disequilibrium as anticipated and natural bridges to their new operating states.

As systems change designers, we take a living systems and co-creation point of view. We view change as a life force and an inevitability rather than as a threat. We optimise systems to leverage and ride change, rather than control or resist it.

Changing to Operate in Emerging Truths

Remembering the three principles above, we rely on (1) connectivity and interrelatedness, (2) the freedom to create and to choose how you respond, and (3) the tension  —  and beauty  —  of difference to activate your potential. We facilitate rather than control for this, and we allow it using qualitative rigor, to emerge it.

Ultimately, system designing aligns with and leverages the truth about how the natural world works. If the capacity of natural systems to create is their work, we as system designers crack systems open to focus on and optimise doing just that. Unlearning what is interfering with and then learning new capacity through progressed mindsets, mental models, and methods to operate by emboldens a system in the direction of its higher potential.

We don’t believe you can manage change any more than you can grab hold of air. The notions of controlling change, avoiding chaos, and not being messy are misnomers. We believe that change is the state to which all living systems return, in order to continually become new, improved, and better versions of themselves.

We understand and accept that becoming isn’t tidy. We also know levers, mechanisms, and mindsets that can hold people and systems steady through the waves of change, and we understand how to hold space for systems and people to rise into their capacity and potential. We believe you and the system are capable, even when you might not.

From this state of grace and possibility and with deep respect for the way nature works, we practice the work of tangible, evolutionary change  —  and invite you to as well.

You’ve got this. x

by Kathryn Maloney M.A. ABS
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