For Innovators and Early Adopters: Paradigm Changes without Blood? Yet, With Sweat Assured and Perhaps Some Tears (of Joy?)

Is the World going through a fundamental shift? Is this shift necessary? Should we prepare ourselves for it? Do you consider yourself a well meaning, thoughtful, virtuous person?
This post is dedicated to those who respond Yes to these questions, even if they add “perhaps” to their answers to the two first questions.
So, now I am with readers who believe that maybe something is changing, and that this is needed. And who want to prepare themselves for it.
May I ask them now: “Do you think you can influence this shift?”
And I would like to remain with those who respond to this question with hope, meaning, a kind of answer like: “Maybe we can influence, maybe we cannot, but we do hope we can, and we will do what it takes to emerge this possibility”.
Right: How many remain now? What’s the percentage of people in this World who hope their actions might influence the emergence of the necessary change, and who are ready to act.
What would be good change for the benefit of Mankind?
According to a paradigm changing theory, the “Theory of Socio-Cultural Viability”, (also sailing under the names Theory of Plural Rationalities, or Cultural Theory, or even Neo-Durckheimian Theory), many answers will be given to such question. They will be mutually contradicting (opposing – irreconcilable).
How is it possible, you will ask, that virtuous, thoughtful, well-meaning, and engaged people can have mutually irreconcilable ideas about “what is good for Mankind”?

Well: the answer from these same theorists is:
Because they have been holding “conflicting myths of nature, along with the contending patterns of social relationships (solidarities) that are variously upheld or undermined by those myths”. Sorting out these, and they appear in every walk of life,  have been the stock-in-trade of those who, over the past 30 or so years, have developed this theory (1).
So what? If we are never in agreement, how will we ever act to transform the World for the benefit of Mankind?
Michael Thompson prominent amongst the theorists of Socio-Cultural Viability, will respond:
All that is needed, to my simple anthropological mind, is an institutional set-up that, by ensuring accessibility and responsiveness, creates the conditions for the emergence of clumsy solutions.”
Yes, but how do you bring that about, reforming our institutions?  is then the next question that comes to my mind.
I found the answer exploring the ideas of Ronald Heifetz, founder of the ” Center for Public Leadership” at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He has paradigm changing ideas about Leadership. I found them breathtaking, and wise. Let me quote here some passages of the introduction of a seminal article that brought me answers to so many questions, and so much Hope:
Prevailing ideas about what is good for society often determine how problems are posed, which actions are taken, and by whom. Public ideas have the power to lead and mislead….
We suggest that the idea of leadership itself shapes the processes by which a society does its work, and further that the current view restricts and diminishes the public’s capacity to address the complex problem situations of public policy.
We examine this prevailing view and some of its shortcomings, and we introduce a different account of political leadership and its role in public problem solving. “(2)

All good and well, you may then retort, again a paradigm change: “If the prevailing view is so anchored, how can we ever change the way we lead? “

This time, I should refer you to Robert Kegan’s life work. I quote him as he introduces his research and practice:
I explore the mental demands implicit in the so-called postmodernist prescriptions for adult living, a leading edge in the various literatures. I argue that these expectations constitute a qualitatively more complex order of consciousness. … The discovery of the mismatch for at least some portion of our lives between the complexity of the culture’s curriculum and our capacity to grasp it awaits those with practical as well as theoretical interests in the support, education, training, or mental health of individuals…” (3)
In clear he pleads for much more adults to engage in a transformational learning curriculum to reach what he calls the plateau of the “fifth order of consciousness”, or that of the “self-transforming mind”.
Here’s is how he describes this plateau:
We can step back from and reflect on the limits of our own ideology or personal authority; see that any one system or self-organization is in some way partial or incomplete; be friendlier toward contradiction and opposites; seek to hold on to multiple systems rather than projecting all but one onto the other.
Our self coheres through its ability not to confuse internal consistency with wholeness or completeness, and through its alignment with the dialectic rather than either pole .“(4)
Are we there yet? I believe we are far ahead with these Paradigm Changing Ideas. BUT!!!
But indeed, our next quest is thus to find ways to replace the outdated paradigms by new, more effective ones. And we will want to do that  in an effective, yet smooth/generative/peacefull  way” .
Smooth, meaning avoiding as much as possible the kind of resistance that paradigm changes quasi always encounter. Avoiding the kind of predicament Machiavelli warned his Prince about:
It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”
Nicolo Machiavelli (The Prince)
I believe the answer lies in pluralism, leadership and transformational learning. Are we here in a positive feed-back loop, more of one leads to more of another. My answer would be: Yes, but the three are necessary and in balance…
Given the speed of change, do we have time? How fast can we move?

To the first question any serious person cannot have an answer, predictions are no more in the World that is arriving (complex, adaptive, widely interconnected, non linear feed-back loops, oscillating between stability and chaos….).

What we can say without taking risks is: Better be prepared!
On the second question, it will be the topic of a next blog, but let me give some indications.
Diffusion and Digital Media
Diffusion Theory tells us that breakthrough innovations move gradually from one adopter category to the next: from Innovators to Early Adopters, to an Early Majority, then on to the Late Majority until  eventually the Laggards have no choice anymore.
I am quite sure that the Social Innovators that have started reading this blog, will have read this post until this stage.
A more difficult question is: How about early adopters, Have they read  through this post?
Which brings me to formulate yet another question:
What can we do to bring them into the game of acting for the benefit of Mankind? Has this blog an impact in that respect?
I’m not knowledgeable of any recent serious theoretical or empirical research that integrates the way the incredibly fast world-wide diffusion of information technology and social media will/can impact the diffusion of paradigm changing innovations.
I can only state here that I am very hopeful, believing even,  that it will.
Howard Rheingold‘s work and books, ideas and classes, on Mind Amplification and Cooperation, and more recently his Peeragogy project only two weeks old on the day of writing, have convinced me of the potential power of these technologies to “Act as a Force for Good” to transform the World to the benefit of Mankind.
I’ll cover this subject of great promise in a next post.

(1)  Largely borrowed from Michael Thompson’s comment on Bruce Beck’s Sustainability Concept Paper, both Core members in the paradigm changing project, “Cities as Forces for Good in the Environment

(2) Ronald Heifetz and Riley Sinder: Political Leadership: Managing The Public’s Problem Solving in The Power of Public Ideas, edited by Robert B. Reich  – 1988. I would like to reassure the reader who is interested only  in leadership outside the public domain: Heifetz’s ideas apply in all domains where leadership is required.

(3)   Robert Kegan: In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life – 1994

(4) Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey : Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization – 2009


About charlesvanderhaegen

I am a grandfather of an immensely inspiring family, thanks to the most incredible wife. To satisfy my family's needs, I was for 30 years business entrepreneur, roller coasting between success and failure. 17 years ago I was forced to stop and reflect. I dug into theory and discovered the World out there, that my involvement in Business had kept hidden to me. I feared that I will not escape remaining amidst my trans-disciplinary quest forever, bouncing back and forth from action to theory, always puzzled by Europe's apparent incapacity to free itself from its Institutional/Technological Lock-ins. My horizon opened up when Gunter Pauly, my intimate friend of 35 years, asked me to join him and take charge ZERI's development in Europe. I am now fully engaged alongside Gunter Pauli in the and the @myblueeconomy Networks as CEO of ZERI.EU vzw (Non for Profit association)
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