The times they are a-changin'

Apr 24 2009 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

Change is all around us. Past assumptions about how our workplaces function are outdated. Transformation is necessary. We are facing a critical point in how we conduct business.

Dependence on technology-driven growth, our obsession with efficiency and mechanistic organizational designs are all but dysfunctional in our current workplace culture - increasingly characterized by instability, limited resources and overall strain.

Unfortunately, the call for true change and transformation is either falling on deaf ears or being resisted by those who prefer the status quo. Many business leaders are either waiting for external forces to create change or simply reinforcing what isn't working.

Transactions and Transformation
Two requisite elements of the change process that produce real and positive change are: (1) the transactional aspect and (2) the transformational aspect.

The transactional aspect deals with processes and outcomes. The transformational aspect deals with "people". Most businesses focus on the former – it's easier than dealing with "people."

The challenge for business today is to merge the two aspects in a way that fosters a conscious and healthy redesign of business and eases the tension between the status quo and an emerging future that encourages people to contribute and prosper.

In future, successful organizations will conduct business less as a mechanistic entity of processes, procedures and outcomes, and more like an ecosystem which takes into account a multidisciplinary approach to work that meets at the intersection of physics, quantum physics, psychology, biology, and neuroscience.

Adaptive strain and adaptive change
In the world of engineering and physics, "adaptive strain" occurs when tension exists within structures and functions as a result of conflicting events that lead to destabilization. In our business world, we are witnessing this destabilization.

In nature, this destabilization is resolved through a process of "adaptive change." Living/natural systems adapt to change. They move from equilibrium to stress and strain, adapt and move to another state of equilibrium in a dynamic fashion. Living systems thrive on their interconnectedness and make course corrections as necessary to produce resiliency.

In human organizations and systems, i.e., our workplace, adaptive change is anything but natural and fluid. The only way businesses can and will survive is if/when folks have a clear vision for their future and a conscious awareness that adaptive change is necessary in order to survive.

Many are unable or unwilling to create that vision or hold that awareness. When organizations lack both a vision and awareness, atrophy happens. Transactions break down and the "transformational" aspect is not even a part of the equation.

The "transformational" aspect of adaptive change focuses on the people - the psychological, emotional, and spiritual effects that change has on individuals. This is the "tough" area of change for most folks in organizations, but this is the area that will lead to more effective change and transformation – it's the "irritant" like the grain of sand in the oyster's shell, that produces the pearl.

Until or unless the transactional and transformational aspects of change work in tandem, true change is almost impossible.

In business, human systems – people – are often the greatest barrier to change. There is no automatic, natural adaptation that leads to resiliency and equilibrium. When destabilization occurs in business, which is where we are now, fear and resistance often take over and mitigate change.

People are afraid of the "unknown" – the future – and so dig in their heels and cling on to the status quo. The result is a sense of disorientation and ambiguity, a fear of loss.

The belly of the beast
Most often, true change and transformation can only happen when one "hits bottom" – in business, and in life. The journey through the "belly of the beast" brings one to a place of deep awareness and response, where intuition, creativity and "right knowing," "right understanding" and "right action" arise – over time – and help one move from strain to true change and transformation.

This journey is neither quick, nor easy. One must remain in the "belly" long enough to deeply experience and metabolize the physical and psychological chaos that exists. There is no quick fix. Many businesses, however, choose a microwave approach and before long find they are facing the same status quo, the same uncertainly, apathy and cynicism, i.e., "business as usual."

Only here, in the belly, where turbulence and disengagement abound, can business discover new insights that lead to true re-design. Only here, can business truly grasp the nature of conscious and healthy interconnectedness between the transactional and transformational aspects – between procedure/structure and people, between function/process and the psychological/ideological. Here is where new ways of doing and being arise.

Team dynamics
True change and transformation happen when leadership and management become aware of their dysfunctional ways of leading and managing – not in their processes, but in their personal style and character, not their "business systems" but their "personal systems."

These behaviors include avoidance of risk-taking, being disengaged, being untrusting and untrustworthy, refusing to delegate, being fearful of change and ambiguity and needing to be in control - all things that sabotage their teams, create stress and adversely affect performance.

This journey into the belly of the beast is neither easy nor fun. But it is what has to happen to move away from the status quo and foster successful change and transformation. In fact, all organizational members have to experience this journey if they are to contribute to the change process.

Adaptive change is not the purview of top leaders and managers alone. It's an experience everyone has to encounter as part of the "ecological system" of the organization. It's a big belly – room for everyone. Only through the journey can transparency, trust and collaboration effect change – change that comes as a result of the engagement of every individual.


  • Are you and your organization facing the strain of adapting to turbulent times?
  • How do you feel you and your organization are doing?
  • Does your organization focus equally on the transactional and transformational aspects of change? If not, why not?
  • Are you and your organization using outmoded models and tools to adapt to change?
  • Would you describe your organization as an ecological, living system or a mechanistic one? How so?
  • Have you, personally, ever experienced the journey through "the belly of the beast?" What is/was that like for you? What did you see about yourself as a result?
  • How do you deal with an uncertain future?
  • Do you hang on to your beliefs, worldviews and assumptions all costs?
  • What was strain like for you and your family when you were growing up? How did you and your family cope?
  • How do you, personally, deal with change? Honestly.

Personal change
When individuals are caught up in resistance, denial and defensiveness, change cannot happen. The road to adaptive change can only begin when individuals choose to take the journey. It can start in small, incremental ways – changing one's mind, one's assumptions, one's worldview, making a decision or creating a strategy.

It's here that individuals must willingly choose to "look inside", to explore what threatens their self-esteem, their confidence, and face their fears head-on. It's here that one can eliminate self-destructive and self-sabotaging patterns of behavior and begin to engage in new behaviors that are both self-supporting and supportive of the organization.

In this way change becomes a "competency" of both individuals and the organization, where the organization transforms from a mechanistic entity into a truly living organism.

When change doesn't work
When individuals refuse to take this inner personal journey, and become focused solely on the mechanical and functional aspects of their organization, they most often stay stuck in a cyclical process of failed change. In this place folks generally choose the status quo, are non-trusting of others, fear ambiguity, uncertainty, and loss of control (and actually choose failure - the "devil I know vs. the devil I don't" type of reactivity to strain).

The bottom line of true change and transformation
Navigating the rough and uncertain waters of change will require conscious, honest and self-responsible conversations not only about the transactional aspects of the organization that are counter-productive to change but the transformational – people – aspects that are preventing needed change.

Resolving strain requires a clear orientation to the realities of the present and the possibilities of the future, real collaboration between individuals, and leaders who are both trusting and trustworthy.

The change process that will ease a smooth transition into the future requires every individual's strength and steadfastness, plus the willingness to look within and remove obstacles to change. If we choose this path, we can start to move away from the status quo towards a new, healthier equilibrium.

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.

Older Comments

Impressive words but how does this translate to the man on the Clapham forklift truck? Transformation is etymologically in obsolescence due to gratuitous excessive use in the public sector. I look to you, professor, for an innovative replacement word!

patrick newman Stevenage UK

Hello Patrick,

Transformation is nothing more, nothing less, than being self-aware...having a conscious awareness of one's internal map of reality...monitoring in 'real time' one's thoughts, beliefs, worldviews, etc. as they happen/arise in the moment and tracking how these affect one's moods, feelings, emotions, psysiological state and behavior and actions...all this as opposed to being 'unconscious' and completely reactive to one's external experiences.

The self-aware individual then can see where s/he is being self-sabotaging in their life. The self-aware person (not just the person who 'knows' about their self - the self-aware person has a much deeper connection to their self) cannot behave in a way that fosters self-sabotaging thinking and acting and can see how their heretofore negative and self-defeating internal and external behaviors are being self-destructive to their self and to others...leading to 'transformation'...a positive change in how one is in the world...leading a business or driving a fork lift.

Does this help?

peter vajda Atlanta, GA