Saturday, September 30, 2006

Eight Variations on Change

One of the hidden gems in Beck and Cowan's Spiral Dynamics is the change model they present. The book presented seven modes of change, to which Beck has since added an eighth variation. How we cope with change -- or why we might choose one or the other of these variations -- is a complex subject that I will address in another post. I also want to look at the six conditions necesarry for change to occur, but that will also be another post. For now, I want to introduce these basic variations on the theme of change. It's fundamentally impossible to address this topic within the structure of Spiral Dynamics without using some integral jargon, so please be patient.

Beck and Cowan divided the modes of changes into three categories: horizontal, oblique, and vertical. I am most interested in vertical change, which can be defined as movement up or down the developmental spiral, but the other forms will be discussed as needed. [A more thorough explanation of vertical change will be presented in another post.] What follows is a brief introduction to the varieties of change.

There are three forms of HORIZONTAL CHANGE, “fine-tuning,” “reforming,” and "upgrading." Horizontal change is any attempt to make changes that do not effectively change one’s world-view or developmental level. Essentially, it is change that broadens the possibilities at the current level of being. This may be, by far, the most common attempt at change.

Fine-tuning is the first variation and involves an adjustment of the current approach to dealing with life conditions. One may develop better techniques for coping and acquire better information, but everything stays essentially the same. In reforming, nothing within the system is really changed, but assignments may be juggled or re-aligned. A company may replace one advertising slogan with another, but nothing about philosophy changes. With an upgrade, one seeks a new and improved model. Basic operating assumptions remain unchanged. This is the approach to personal change that seeks a better body as the key to being happy.

Reforming and upgrading were lumped together as expanding out in the original book. These forms of change can sometimes feel like they are more substantial than they actually are.

The two OBLIQUE variations of change (change that is neither fully vertical or merely horizontal) involve “stretching down” and “stretching up.”

In stretching down, the fourth variation, the individual remains in the current worldview, but reawakens earlier strategies for coping with change in order to deal with the current crisis. For an individualistic, rationally-minded person (we’ll name this person Pat), this may mean a reexamination of one’s belief in God following a near-death experience. The crisis in faith may propel Pat back to the church of his/her upbringing, but over the long-term, if Pat successfully navigates the crisis, the result will be a faith compatible with the scientific and individualist worldview held before the experience. A stretch down response is a common first attempt at dealing with change for many people, in that it allows them to recall previous habits and approaches that are more comfortable and comforting.

In a stretch up approach, the fifth variation, the individual takes the opportunity to try on more complex and challenging behaviors to cope with change. For Pat, s/he may turn to therapy as a way to re-contextualize the way s/he approaches the current life conditions. Rather than reverting to an earlier, more comfortable approach, the choice is made to attempt a more complex method of coping with the crisis. The underlying worldview remains unchanged, but if Pat successfully navigates the change in this way, s/he will integrate some more complex behaviors into the existing collection of skills. This is often a best-case scenario for those who are confronted with change, but do not possess the needed conditions to experience an actual vertical change.

These first five are considered first order variations (not to be confused with first tier). Changes may occur in the system, but the fundamental assumptions or givens remain unchanged. While modes of expression may change, essential beliefs are also unchanged and function as anchors to insure stability. In second order variations, however, the whole sytem or way of thinking is brought to question and overhauled. New operating assumptions are adopted -- what Beck refers to as, "The new wine has new wineskins."

The last three variations are forms of VERTICAL change. In particular, the sixth variation, break-out, is the most relevant to dealing with personal crises. Break-out occurs when one is in the midst of change, caught between what was and what is yet to become. This period can be quite prolonged and involves a great deal of frustration and anger. Beck and Cowan say, “This time of emotional loading is when all hell breaks loose, symbolically or literally. Such transformational change is tumultuous; it marks life passages and ‘significant emotional events.’” When one is in the depths of this type of change, which can be equated with the initiatory stage of ritual when liminality is the rule, the traditional response is an all-out assault on the perceived barriers keeping one in that liminal space. Using Pat once again, this may mean therapy, going back to school, attending seminars and workshops that offer to help Pat find his/her path in the world. Pat might also enlist the help of friends and family, and those not willing to help might be labeled traitors and dropped as friends. The mentality is that of revolution, and the risk is that the assaults will fail and regression will be the outcome. The break-out approach is the only one where total regression to prior approaches to handling life conditions is a serious risk.

The seventh variation, up-shift, is a relatively rare approach in which one sees the crisis coming, or is not floored by it if it comes unexpectedly, and is able to quickly adjust to meet the new demands. This version of change might also include situations that are initiated consciously by the individual. All six of the conditions for change must be met for this to even be a possibility, and when they are, change can be a consciously chosen experience, even when it forces the adoption of a whole new set of behaviors for dealing with one’s life conditions. Unlike the sixth variation, there is no need to destroy any of the existing modes of behavior; instead, the approach is to transcend them by adopting more complex and comprehensive behaviors. Using Pat once again, s/he might suddenly see that s/he has been living an isolated life with few close friend and few peers. Further, Pat might see that s/he has been too focused on his/her own life at the cost of friends, family, and humanity at large. The solutions might involve deepening relationships, using existing knowledge and training to mentor youth, adopting a spiritual practice, and any number of other behaviors that are more expansive than those that were relied on before the near-death experience.

The eighth and final variation, quantum change, is the most massive and rare type of change one can endure. It is very rare, but under certain intense circumstances, it can occur. When one is experiencing quantum change, several areas of one’s life are being forced to change all at the same time. In most integral models (either Ken Wilber's, Spiral Dynamics', Robert Kegan's, or any others), human beings are seen to have many streams of development that comprise their sense of self. In quantum change, several of these streams are being forced to adopt more complex approaches to the prevailing life conditions, all at the same time. For Pat, this may mean that following her/his near-death experience, the intellectual stream is no longer capable of functioning in a world devoid of meaning, the emotional stream is no longer willing to live an isolated life, the spiritual stream is recognized for the first time, the physical stream realizes that the heart attack was a result of poor health habits and forces Pat to change his/her behaviors, and the moral stream recognizes that the needs of others are as important as self-needs. All of these different streams are forcing change at the same time and, although each of them may be at different developmental waves, the combined force for change is experience by the Self as a quantum event, beyond the bounds of linear progression.

Before any of these variations can occur, however, the subject (person, group, business, culture) must meet certain characteristics. I'll get into that in the next post.


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