Pendulums and Fire

Most change in organizations is 1st order change, the change of the pendulum. We seek 2nd order change, the transformation of fire. Peter Berquist, The Postmodern Organization

Growth, life development and organizational change have at least one thing in common; they all face the potential rubber band cycles of movement to the new and then reversion to the old. Each time a change forward happens it has to fight the gravitational pull backward of the old. This back and forth pendulum-like motion is labeled 1st order change. You look at almost anything in life and this initial change forward can only ‘stick’ if it gets out of the gravitational field of the old orbit. Pendulums are predictable, cyclical, and pictures of entropy. Pendulum change is essentially system tweaking, members of the system doing more or less of something they have always done before, as a result 1st order change is reversible and threatened by the pull of yesterday.

The change of fire however is quite different. This 2nd order change is transformation that occurs through being forced to do something new that has never been done before. This is the exact opposite of more of the same.  This is an effort to intentionally do something of a totally different sort.  The problem? Fire is unpredictable, chaotic, gravity defying, linear and irreversible. What is the point of this paradigm of change?

In any transformation, we are usually working with 1st order change tools when we actually need 2nd order change. We almost always prefer pendulums to fire.  Pendulums are clean, elegant, predictable and listen carefully…hypnotic.  They makes us think something is happening but slowly bring us back to a hypnotized stupor.

Evaluate how much change you make in your area of ministry or life that is 1st or 2nd order change. You will probably find the greatest changes made were almost always by fire, but most solutions you’ve explored are pendulums.

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