If your car pulls to the right, and you want to drive straight ahead, you will position the steering wheel to the left. The underlying structure is generating the behavior. If you get advice from an expert driver that when you want to drive straight, to steer straight, but your car pulls to the right, you can’t take the expert advice for long. Almost immediately, you will be steering to the left to compensate for the car’s underlying structure. Much of the advice we get is on this level. Sounds good, but in reality, it can’t work well because of the underlying structures we are in.
Three principles I write about in The Path of Least Resistance are: energy moves along the path of least resistance (water moves where it is easiest to go;) the underlying structure determines where it is easiest to go (the riverbed determines where the water flows;) and, the critical principle that makes all of the difference – we can change the underlying structures we are in. When we change the underlying structure, that automatically leads to a change of behavior. The new structure supports the new behavior. If we take our car to a garage and the mechanic aligns our wheels, we don’t need to be told to steer straight when we want to drive straight, we just do. The change of underlying structure has generated a new pattern of behavior.
Most structures we are in are invisible. They are not obvious. But we can learn to see and understand them. Some are on the personal level impacting your life. Some are on the organizational level impacting how well a company can perform. And there are two types of behavior structures produce: oscillating and advancing.
The pattern in an oscillating structure is this: first you set out to accomplish something; at first things go well; you may even reach your goal; but then there is a reversal, pulling you back to how things were. In this type of pattern, success is NOT sustainable. This is like the movement of a rocking chair. Movement forward is followed by movement backward. In a personal life it may be the great relationship that didn’t last; the project that first looked good, but later was a disaster; the career direction that, after some degree of success, somehow went off course.
In the corporate world it is such patterns as: centralize decision making, then decentralizing decision making, and later, centralize decision making again. Or it might be to build up capacity, but then going on a downsizing exercise, only to build up capacity once again. Of course these types of patterns take several years to play themselves out, but if we back up, we can see how predictable these patterns are.
In an advancing pattern, you set out for a goal, you take the necessary steps, you accomplish the goal, and it is sustainable. There is nothing pulling you in the opposite direction, as there is in an oscillating pattern.
The difference is purely structural.
If you are a consultant, coach, manager, or work in the helping professions, you may have noticed this oscillating pattern: you do your best work, everyone is pleased with your work, it seems to make a difference for a while, but, when you come back, say a year later, it is as if it never happened. They are back to their original situations. This pattern shows the telltale sign of a lack of change of the underlying structure they have been in. Without a change of their underlying structure, they are destined to return to where they were before you worked with them.
In our workshop the Fundamentals of Structural Thinking, we teach you how to first identify the underlying structure that is in place, and then how to change it from an oscillating to an advancing structure. This enables you to produce sustainable change in which the good work you do lasts and builds upon itself.
For more information:
Our Flagship course The Fundamentals of Structural Thinking (FST) will be offered only twice this year, once in America and once in Europe. The dates are May 14th-17th in Vermont, and November 11th-14th in Vienna. The one in Vienna is a co-production of our European friends and colleagues at Heitger Consulting. This is a course especially designed for consultants, coaches, managers, and those in the helping professions. Below is a 30 minutes video with excerpts from last years Vienna FST. This serves as a good introduction to some of the unique principles of structural dynamics. And also, below that, is a write up about thinking structurally... Robert.
One of the most useful skills is the ability to see and understand the structures we are in.
The reason is that the underlying structure of anything will determine its behavior. This insight is not obvious to most people because they think in terms of situations and circumstances. They assume that events are caused by previous events, and their path to the future is by anticipating the events that may come next, and having a ready-made response to them.
In my book, The Path of Least Resistance, I describe two vastly different types of orientations: reactive-responsive; and creative-generative. In one orientation you either react or respond to the prevailing circumstances. In the other, you organize your life around your choices, often about your highest aspirations and deepest values. These orientations are not simply a matter of adopting a new attitude or trying on different beliefs. It is a matter of structure. In fact, people often want to make positive changes in their lives, but if the underlying structure is unchanged, all that will happen is an oscillating pattern in which for there is change, but then there is a reversal that brings the person back to the original condition. This is a structural dynamic, and, like the rest of physics, is nothing personal.
But it can feel awfully personal when it’s your life. One step forward followed by one step back can give the impression that you are powerless to change anything of significance.
This very same principle is true for organizations. There are two patterns. One is oscillation and the other, advancement. We have seen organizations build up capacity and then downsize, and then build up capacity again, and then downsize again. They have centralized decision-making, and then decentralized decision-making, and then centralized again. They have oscillated from the focus being on shareholder return of investment to customer satisfaction, back to shareholder return of investment. These types of patterns are more common than not. And with all the change efforts that have hit the corporate scene over the years, most processes have first had their day, only to be rejected later and replaced by the next flavor of the month.
A change of underlying structure will lead to a change of behavior. Not your good intentions, your sincerity, your hopes, your goodness, or how much you care. When you are in a rocking chair, you will go back and forth. That is the nature of the structure.
This is not a problem to solve, but a matter to understand. How can we understand the structures we are in? For the most part, they are invisible at first. It takes training and practice. It is unlikely that knowing that there might be some structure in place that is causing an oscillating pattern will change the pattern or the structure. Structure is made of a network of relationships among various elements. Often desires are tied to concepts and reality and other forces in place. It takes a type of deep level of observation to come to understand the exact forces in play in any structure. This is not something that can be done by formula or matrix. It can only be done by clarity and knowing what you are seeing. How the elements of any structure impact each other and the whole. How the structural dynamics have tendencies for behavior and how to change the underlying structures so that the patterns of behavior can move from those that oscillate, in which success will eventually be reversed, to those that advance, in which success becomes the building block for further success.
The best training for this on the entry level is our Fundamentals of Structural Thinking, a four- day course which trains participants how to see structures in play, and how to change them in ways that lead to real and lasting change. This is our flagship course. Most of those who attend are consultants, coaches, managers, and others in the help professions. Some come focused on professional and business uses of structural dynamics, other for personal and family uses. These people learn how the underlying structures are THE causal factors in people’s lives, and therefore, they are not fooled by the situations they find themselves in. Rather, they are able to see the deeper level of causality: that the underlying structure of anything will determine its behavior.
To find out more about the FST: email: firstname.lastname@example.org