The ambivalence of change: using Centre Edge to explore transformation and our wish to avoid it

The ambivalence of change: using Centre Edge to explore transformation and our wish to avoid it
24th April 2016 Tim Malnick
In Centre Edge

Centre Edge presents a neutral set of principles. They describe how things work, beyond any judgment of good and bad. But the work does continually draw our attention to what is at the centre of a personal or organization system. Doing this inevitably raises the question of how individuals, organizations and society as a whole could change the gravitational centre of our lives.


Leadership means questioning what is at the centre of a system

For example, concerning our economy, we can ask, ‘what is the central organisation principle of our economic system?’ If we look closely we can see that it is currently the idea of ongoing material growth as measured by GDP. Our economic system is centred on and therefore organised around a relatively small set of numerical goals and measurements. From that starting point, vast activity, emotion and thinking radiate out creating the overall complexity of our economy. We can also ask, ‘what happens when we put those particular purposes at the centre?’ We can quickly see that part of what radiates out from that particular central principle is ecological destruction and frenetic patterns of stress and purposeless hyperactivity, as well of course as more positive material outcomes too.

When we really consider what is at the centre of a society, an economic model, a business or a team, we start to notice how various unintended symptoms and challenging problems are actually natural expressions of whatever we have chosen to put at centre stage. This questioning is a vital thing for leaders to do today, because many of the outer expressions of what we place at the centre, the results of current practices, do suggest that things are very out of balance. The skill of a leader, as opposed to a manager, is not simply to ensure things work efficiently within the current central organizing principles of a given system. Rather leadership – in Centre Edge terms – can be seen in terms of: a) expanding or playing with the current boundaries of a system’s way of operating, allowing in new possibilities, insights and practices, and b) repositioning or replacing the current central principle with another central principle that radiates out into the world in more beneficial relationship to wider systems.


Why questioning our centre is anxiety provoking:

But to deeply question purpose and to entertain the possibility that what you have placed at the centre of your modus operandi or your identity for so long, may no longer be appropriate and may indeed need to change quite radically, is existentially quite threatening. Centre Edge is a powerful way to support that sort of transformational process. It can help us respectfully move beyond current boundaries and central principles and explore moving into, or establishing new modes of being and organization based on different principles.

Part of this includes respectfully acknowledging why some people would rather avoid these sorts of transformations and reframing of central principles. It is very understandable that many people prefer to avoid questioning or noticing how what is truly at our centre naturally radiates out and manifests in our whole world. The closer we get to the centre of our lives, work and organizations, the closer we get to our current sense of core identity and this is never an easy thing to step beyond or let go. However it is possible and in many frameworks it is this reconfiguring of core identity that underlies real change.


How we use transformational tools to not change anything!

We can consider the idea of what the Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa called ‘spiritual materialism’. He noted Western students of meditation using practices designed to loosen the bonds and structures of ego in ways that actually built up their egocentricity. This irony seems to be a strong tendency in any system – whether at the level of person, or an organisation, or an economy. It is easy to take something that is about opening up and use it to actually build up existing boundaries more strongly.

Connecting Centre Edge principles to one’s journey through life, the journey of becoming a fully grown up human being, relates to increasingly opening up the boundaries of what I take to be ‘me and my world’. As the boundaries of self expand we become more and more open and expansive in that regard. Now that may sound great. Once we are in fuller relationship to reality and to the world, we can better connect to love and compassion and respond skillfully to situations. But the process also seems to require, in every tradition, a profound letting go of all the ideas and notions, the psychic habitual crutches that we have hitherto used to create the current story of ‘me’. This is rarely an easy thing to do, and there is a strong tendency, again at all system levels, to instead try to maintain and prop up the current story of me, rather than to allow it to dissolve and something larger to arise in its place.

One example is the sustainability in business movement. Sustainability in theory should be about radically transformation organisations toward an entirely different mode of being and operating. Yet somehow many organisations have taken the notion of sustainability and incorporated it in ways that allows them to carry on being the same, continuing with the same essential identity and purposes, the same centre. They co-opt a transformational idea in order to continue essentially just as they are. This is what my colleagues Gill Coleman and Judi Marshall referred to as, ‘sameness masked as difference’. You see the same thing in leadership and organisation development. The human tendency to use development to bolster our credentials or reinforce or strengthen our current identity, instead of allowing our boundaries of self to open and loosen or our sense of centre to evolve in a new direction.


A provocative invitation to question the centre:

The implications of questioning the centre are a provocative invitation to let go of the tenets of our current way of operating. It is much easier, and quite human, to not want to do that at all, and instead to take new things and try to bolster existing identities. Centre Edge principles give us a very useful, experiential framework to work with our ambivalent response to transformation. It allows us to sense what is possible and also to experience and honour what seems to be keeping us firmly within current identities and boundaries of being.