The Patterns of Change: Think-in, 29th January, 2016


This was the kickoff of our Think-ins, the network meetings of the Centre for Thinking Futures that we support (see Thinking.institute).  Our Thinking Partner from Sydney, Philip Pryor, was here to help lead the inaugural day for us. We explored the topic of change.

The day, and the morning session, was facilitated by Angus Jenkinson. To begin, we told some stories about change in our lives, gentle change and sudden change. Philip’s life was changed in three days by a simultaneous chase of a hurricane and a woman. Both spun off.

Heidi led us in some eurythmy exercises to explore pattern, context and context markers. We did a kind of play exercise that let us be conscious of how these form, shift and break and what happens. What she did was to build up an exercise stage by stage making the patterns more complicated each time. This allowed her to give instructions while we kept going, so to speak. Some of us found extreme difficulty in paying attention to those either side of us (giving to one and receiving from another) and remembering the sequence of moves and listening for the next instructions.

When the pattern breaks down, someone ends up with too many balls: they are supposed to circulate so you only have one at a time. We were simultaneously quite thrusting and useless. Fritz talked about applying the insights to working life in organisations. One of the most apparent features was the dislocation between where someone ended up with none or several balls and where a glitch might have occurred.  It was transparent that the appearance of breakdown may not be where it is triggered, and where it first occurs physically might be distant from a cue. I asked whether anyone had ever experienced talk at work about coordination having broken down rather that accusing or blaming the person holding all the balls.

We are working with Heidi on a scheme to explore cybernetics in a more bodily way, rather than too intellectually. And the next network day in maybe six weeks will explore the use of eurythmy much further. Be there.

Mondrian traffic

An abstract image of city traffic by Mondrian

So Angus offered an exercise before lunch on traffic planning, inspired by Mondrian, involving coloured crayons. John was transported back to his youth by the smell of the crayons. The exercise, again playfully, allowed us to explore how patterns form. Go to destinations, routes, barriers, signs and so forth generate and flex patterns. There are equivalents in the working – or goings – of organisations.

Lunch at the lodge is wonderful: a sunny dining room to ourselves and sitting around a table sharing bread and cheeses and fruit. It so difficult to share properly in a more commercially oriented venue.

Philip first wanted us to define what we thought change was. From our replies he focused particularly on whether change depended on the perception of an observer. Then he introduced the concept of blinkers, and of people (and horses) having a narrowed field of view that excludes things that are potentially critical to what we want to do. If we are not aware of things in the environment and of the unconscious assumptions we are making, we cannot notice their lack!

Philip did a demonstration of the effect called Chinese numbers that I won’t spoil for you or for him, but it was pretty effective that people are easily misled into not paying attention to what is under their noses.

Where Philip was leading us, and there was much more on the Reframing Leadership course this week, is that change is not necessarily a mountain. We simply pay attention to the wrong things and get the wrong result. Small corrections can lead to big shifts.