Evolutionary impulse to thrive

I once heard Don Beck explore the difference between the words ‘change’ and ‘adjust’.  What he said made perfect sense at the time and then moments later I lost track of why it made sense.   I have been trying to figure it out for a couple years.  Today, I now realize that these words are all about our efforts to thrive – with efforts to survive, as appropriate, in the mix.

Change is movement on the Spiral

Adjust implies tinkering.  Change implies something more significant.  Both are relevant and needed, but they are not the same.  The difference lays in our life conditions and the degree to which we are open to change (see the last two posts on the principles and patterns in/of the Spiral, and the conditions that enable movement up the Spiral).

If adjustment is tinkering, then that means creating new ways of doing things within the current vMEME.  It is a way of making the current value system work.  It is a way of allowing the current value system to take into account any inconsistencies.  Change, however, arises when the value system itself is challenged to the point where a whole new view comes into being.  This can be up or down the Spiral – upward to a new perspective, down to a previous perspective.  Change is movement on the Spiral from one vMEME to another vMEME – either up or down.  While change means movement on the Spiral, adjustment means staying put.

Figure A - Movement on the Spiral

Two directions of movement on the Spiral

When life conditions change around me I react in some form.  If I experience sufficient discomfort, I may be compelled to look at the world quite differently.  I may experience – and begin to live – a new, higher, view on the Spiral.  Depending on the degree to which I am open to the potential for change (see condition 1), I may be unable to see the new conditions  and be closed to this change, I may need additional discomfort before so I am partly open to change, or I may be ready and open to doing things in a totally different way (open).  All three scenarios are open to me at any time.  Yet just because I am open to change does not mean that movement on the Spiral is necessary – adjustments that maintain the status quo may be fully appropriate.

There are two directions for movement on the Spiral: up and down (Figure A).  As circumstances dictate, coupled with our openness to change, we move up and down.  When moving up the Spiral we are expanding our perspective and understanding, inclusive of all the levels below.  When moving down the Spiral we are constricting, or hunkering down.

When we first starting using automobiles few rules were needed.  As more vehicles came into use and as they moved faster and faster we noticed that life conditions were changing.  The RED world of impulse led to accidents and death and injury.  Society began to see that BLUE rules were needed: speed limits, laws of the road, enforcement, road design standards, etc.  Speed limits and road design standards would not have emerged if there was no discomfort with the RED conditions.  A change came about and we moved up the Spiral.

Similarly, when the forest fire hit Slave Lake, Alberta in May 2011 and destroyed most of the town, any roadway rules were put aside.  (See How could a whole town burn?)  Life conditions changed quickly and citizens hunkered down to ensure their survival.  A change came about and folks moved down the Spiral.

Movement up and down the Spiral takes place when life conditions change around us, compelling us to change.  It also takes place when we are open to the change and are able to make the change (for more on the conditions that allow change, please read yesterday’s post).  At every threshold we are a point of allowing our very expansion and evolution or of constricting it.  Yet, there are also times when constriction makes perfect sense.  The trick is in being fully aware of the situation and noticing what the context is really demanding of us.  The easy route may be in being closed to change and hunkering down.  The tough route may be in facing what we are fearful of.  This is hard enough for us as individuals, let alone as a collectives the size of cities.  This is big, important work to undertake within ourselves as we build cities for ourselves.

Adjustment is in one spot on the Spiral

Recognizing when it is time to move up or down the Spiral is one decision.  Another significant decision is when it is time to stay put and tinker with things as they are.  This is another totally appropriate response to our world – when life conditions are appropriate.  In one organization I worked with, our leader looked to us to tinker with policies and procedures (BLUE authority) when the organization was in crisis and our attention needed to be put on the things that were driving people out of the organization.  In contrast, I have watched how the National Building Code has been adjusted over the years in an effort to raise construction standards relating to energy efficiency.  While each adjustment is not revolutionary, over time the standard of constructive is considerably different.  Tinkering resulted in a recalibration of the rules over time.

We need to be skilled at changeability and adjustability – recognizing when it is time to tinker and when it is time to expand and when it is time to hunker down.  Taking wise action in any of these directions requires significant self awareness.  Over time, we will find that the most appropriate response is lower on the Spiral – when our attention is on surviving.  Once things settle, things recalibrate and we again begin our journey upward – where our attention is on thriving (Figure B).  Every action on the Spiral – even the pauses to adjust and the moments when we need to hunker down – is in service to our upward impulse to thrive.

Figure B - Evolutionary impulse to thrive


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