Paradoxical Theory of Change in Companies

Article Paradoxical Theory of Change in Companies

Real change does result from a decision but from an understanding. When I know, I can no longer behave as if I did not know.

The world seems to be charmed by the idea that change is the result of merely making a decision and pursuing one's will. The idea is based on a misinterpreted illusion of American dream. As if a great American dream success was the result of the will of the successful individual. The successful including numerous celebrities then publicly share words of advice with the common folk that their success is based on their target-orientation, stubbornness, thanks to their will which overcame all sorts of common and unimaginable problems. The road to success is therefore paved with strong will and other aspects are unimportant.

However, there are also other famous and successful people who say that the success is not the result of their will primarily, but of coincidence, luck, opportunity. Their attitude is much more humble. What the first group calls "Will", is still present in their lives as well and no-one would argue that their will would be less present. They just do not say that it was their will as the primary parameter determining their success. There were other parameters just as important such as the environment around them, parents, friends, market, partners, children. The second group radiates humanness and understanding, the sense from the first group is rather arrogance and ego-centrism. There is no doubt at all that both groups worked hard for their success. It seems obvious, however, that one group suffered more than the other.

Two Possible Approaches to Change

Change as the result of willing or understanding are two completely different approaches transcending into personal lives and into the lives of organisation and society.

A change in a company may be achieved by two ways as well. The olde way is to want, to try hard, to overcome, to deny or force oneself and to achieve the goal. The new way is to understand the reasons, the needs for the change and the goal (what value do I want to create for my customer in the end) and to be aligned with those to the extent that there is no reason for me to deny myself to make the change, but rather to be a role model of the change I myself experience. If I am a leader, the others will follow me because they will be willing to - by themselves - they will not force themselves to do so. The change will therefore be much more natural and spontaneous and will actually bring joy. Being able to overcome will still be important but it will not be the fundament of the change. It will be just a slight discomfort always present in life.

The best companies are not autocratic, robotic, inhumanly driven organisations, where nothing but strong will is promoted, where everybody squeezes the best of themselves and stresses themselves to the highest possible performance; and which finally take advantage of such individuals and get rid of them. The best companies enable people to grow not only professionally and assist them to achieve their potential at the right place - intuitively, naturally, without using force.

We Cannot Not Change

Change is the topic psychology is focused on. Society, communities, organisations and individuals are always in the need for changing - improving, doing things better - and they are constantly looking for other, new impulses and ways of living. The thirst for change is at the center of almost everything in society. We always want something a little different from what we have. We want our needs to be fulfilled better, faster, cheaper, more intense, more effecient, more sustainable. It is, therefore, very important how we perceive and understand change at all levels - in individual lives, communities, organisations and the society.

Paradoxical Theory of Change

The theory describing the paradox of making a change is called the paradoxical theory of change and was introduced by Arnold Beisser. The theory says that one achieves change by becoming what one is rather than wanting to become what one is not. A company (meaning the people in the company) will not be improved by changing it to what we want it to be, but by providing the understanding of what the company is and why and subsequently becoming it. It is a very refreshing approach easily recognizable by simple changes in our individual lives.

I want to quit smoking. Well, it's not easy.

I want to stop push people around or to stop being misused. Well, it's not easy. I want to change my company. Well, it's not that easy. Almost everyone who succeeded to quit smoking has experienced that the quitting was relatively easy and just happened. It was not the result of willing hard, but of understanding something and the change was the result of that. The change was not the result of forcing and denying and suffering, but the result of understanding. This does not mean it was not hard. If a smoker supresses the need for smoking, smoking will become inevitable. The smokers who really quit, are not usually able to persuasively reason why they quit - they just did. They did not suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Something inside changed and the result of that change was that they quit. If they tried by willing hard, they would suffer. This way they did not. The paradoxical theory of change says that you have to enter into all aspects of your own experience and realize it fully. Once you do, the change comes automatically.

The theory is not only the fundament for a specific therapy (Gestalt), but a whole range of modern psychological approaches, which aim to integrate the subconscious or unconscious content into the consciousness. If I found something about myself I did not know before, the change might come just because I found out. If I really know, there is no way I can behave as if I did not know.

Authentic Change in Organisations

Our experience confirms that the same applies to organisations. If we want to change the way a company works, we have to change our understanding of how it works - the change will follow as a necessity, not as annoying wastefulness. The models based on strong will, stubborness, pursuit and power, blong to the past millenium and are not functionaly in the modern, rapidly changing world.

The thing is that the world has been changing radically - the main change is that it is changing too fast to make things, values and behaviors of the past, relevant for the future. The only value, at the end of the day, which survives this rapid change is authentic humanity - the only thing that remains unchanged and at which computers will not be better in a nearby future. Thomas L. Friedman describes this phenomenon in detial in his book Thank You for Being Late (Farrar, Stratus and Giroux, 2016). I will not become more human by wanting to become more human, but by understanding something, which will make me more human.

Author: Andrej Vršanský

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