Gravitating toward change

Every situation has an underlying structure. We speak of this as "the gravity of the situation". We get a feeling for the convex or concave shape of things beneath the superficial evidence. We get sense of what is called for in a situation from this underlying structure.

There are two purposes that any underlying structure pursues. One is to maintain and replicate itself by stabilizing the situation. This occurs when the structure is concave and near equilibrium. The other is to reinvent and transform itself by disrupting the situation. This spontaneity happens when the structure is convex and far from equilibrium.

Lasting change is always aligned with the gravity of the situation. When change efforts go against the gravity in the structure, the situation regresses to it's previous condition -- once our ambitious struggling stops. Change efforts are like our pushing a ball uphill, swinging a pendulum or stretching a rubber band. The temporary movement is only proportionate to our change efforts. The attempt at change amounts to a mere oscillation: "plus le change, plus le meme chose".

When change efforts go with the gravity of the structure, the situation self-organizes into a new condition. It's like pushing a ball downhill, releasing a flock of pigeons or offering a free Web 2.0 tool online. The change is disproportionate to the small initial effort. A little push creates a landslide or avalanche of change. The aftermath is a whole new ball game.

Making change happen is doomed to failure. Letting change happen is destined to succeed. The gravity of the situation determines the outcome and does almost all the work.

The underlying structure of a situation morphs from concave to convex with an increase in shared understanding. It takes very little understanding to maintain a stable situation. The shortage of understanding keeps any change coming back to "the way it's always been done around here". A surplus of understanding evokes the self-organizing potential of the situation.

Understanding in situation is increased by social networking and blogging. It's built up by participation in communities, conversations and collaborations. Understanding adds up when someone else speaks our mind or pulls for our learning. A surplus of understanding is created by giving everyone change models to comprehend their situation -- like I'm doing right now.


  1. Tom;
    It's interesting that I can't seem to hear a consistant and clear description of the desired change from reformers and change agents.

    There are so many voices and a general dissatisfaction with the status quo...but what are we really asking for?

    The reform movement is so diverse that it dilutes the message to a point where it becomes mushy and hard to define.

    Great post.


  2. Pete
    That cacophony of voices indicates for me -- a "far from equilibrium" condition of the underlying structure. The unmanageable diversity of initiatives suggest the system cannot fall into a stable consensus. All the "mushy and hard-to-define" directions can only self organize into an unpredictable transformation. If the situation was near equilibrium (change according to plan: on message, on mission, on track), dissent would be silenced, teamwork would be celebrated, and cooperation would overrule deviation. Happily dissent is obstreperous, innovations are getting consideration and deviations are not according to plan. It makes sense to me that most concerned educators, parents, consultants and legislators would all be getting heard, understood and validated somewhere in the digital domain. This creates the surplus of understanding that moves the system far from equilibrium. The ball is free to gain momentum in any number of directions.