Changing How We Think About Change
Changing How We Think About Change
By Ash Buchanan /
Sep 22, 2017
“The way we are trying to change the world is not going to work, and it’s never going to work”

This is the bold statement Deborah Frieze offers as she opens her TEDx talk.

In this wonderful video, Deborah offers us a new map for navigating the potential for transformative change in big systems like health care, education and business.

Two loops: How systems change

Deborah’s research suggests that all dominant systems rise to their peak before turbulence starts to show and then move into decline. When this happens, the dominant system will try to innovate and remain resilient. But as Deborah suggests, you can’t fundamentally fix or transform big systems. You can only walk out of them and wisely walk onto emerging alternatives.

When systems start to decline and signs of turbulent show, new alternatives appear. Initially these new alternatives are created by a diverse group of trailblazers who have the courage to experiment with the future today.

Over time these communities name the common change they are working towards, connect with each other, self-organise to nourish their collective efforts and illuminate their stories so others can find them.

New transformative paradigms are created, not by changing the existing system, but by creating communities of practise who courageously walk out of their limiting beliefs and language to take control of their own future.

“You’ll never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” — Buckminster Fuller

This trailblazing work can be challenging, because as new alternatives emerge the powerful within the dominant system tend to ignore or crush them in the interests of self-preservation. But if the alternatives band together in well organised communities of practise and exchange information, they can disrupt the declining system by co-creating a healthier new system.

Four roles

To create healthy new systems, Debora highlights four roles we can play. This includes;

  • Trailblazers — People who are eager to be free and experiment with a healthier and more resilient future. Our pioneering path finders.
  • Hospice workers — People who compassionately stay within the collapsing systems and guide its people through the transition to the emerging alternatives.
  • Illuminators — People who tell the stories of the emerging system so others can find them and join them and to make wiser choices about their future.
  • Protectors — People who have the power in the dominant system to create space for innovation and experimentation with giving birth to the new.

Without these roles, the systems we belong run the risk of declining without a healthier future to walk onto. Arguably this decline is happening to many big systems today — such as education, healthcare and business. In turn, the declining systems are contributing to a broad range of health and resilience challenges for the people living and working within them.

Being mindful of our opportunities

Deborah’s insights have made our team at the Benefit Mindset project particularly curious.

What if Trump and Brexit are actually the faces of the political and economic systems in decline — imploding in on themselves? What if this is one of the best opportunities we’ve ever had to co-create and transition to the mainstream emergence of healthier systems?

If the old system is in decline, its believers will be increasingly hurting and confused. They will also be suspicious of these emerging alternatives. How can we best work towards the emergence of new systems and transition the collapsing systems over with compassion?

No one knows for certain, and we think Deborah’s theory of change offers important insights into how we can make transformation a reality.

Interested in finding out more about how you can take a transformative approach to wellbeing? Check out our latest report Becoming Wellbeings.


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Changing How We Think About Change