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 »  Home  »  Blog  »  The chaotic nature of the reorganization process
James Lawley

James LawleyJames Lawley is a UKCP registered psychotherapist, coach in business, and certified NLP trainer, and professional modeller. He is a co-developer of Symbolic Modelling and co-author (with Penny Tompkins) of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling. For a more detailed  biography see about us and his blog.

The chaotic nature of the reorganization process
By James Lawley | Published  15 02 2012
Download a print-friendly version: 2012-02-15 Chaotic nature of the reorganization process.pdf

I was asked a fascinating question:

I "get" the emergent, bottom-up nature of this work. And it is foreign to me, as one of the things I value about traditional NLP has been its directive nature at the level of process. I tend to have bought into that early Richard [Bandler] and John [Grinder] routine about if people are paying, then we would be well off to help them achieve some measurable outcome. I believe that clean work does achieve outcomes. And I like how it leaves that responsibility in the client's hands. So I guess I just have a lot to learn about how to get myself out of the way and let clients use this sort of facilitation. 

It appears that part of the "emergence" is coming to recognize patterns and meta-patterns and how they relate to one another, how they relate in space, as well as how they repeat over time and what keeps them in place repeating, or what allows them to reorganize. I am curious about the chaotic nature of this reorganization process. For example, what expectation do we have that a new organization is likely to be "better" than the old one.  It seems to me that there are many ways to be organized, and that many of them might well create pain and only a few create improved circumstances.  So by what principle do we expect that emergent reorganization will create a desired result rather than a less desired? 

I presume that there may be hypothesized some whole-ism principle.  The body-mind does appear to try to heal many things with time. But I am very curious about how this works.  And how reliably it can be counted upon. And in what circumstances?  All? 

I replied:

I too am curious about the process of change and the chaotic nature of reorganization. I don’t profess to understand it – but that doesn’t prevent me from attempting to work with it and from having a few hallucinations about how it works.  

First, I think you are wise to consider the possibility that a change may not be beneficial. It is a bit heretical in some quarters and I think every facilitator of change has a moral responsibility to consider it.

I can think of four ways that emergence leads to improvements – given there can be no guarantees, especially, as David Grove used to say, "sometimes it gets worse before it gets better":

1. As you say, there may well be an impulse to systemic wholeness.

2. Also, the client's system reacts (particularly through their body) to everything that happens. By them and us calibrating the reactions (which are too fast to be under a client’s conscious control) we can both be steered in a beneficial direction.

3. The client has conscious awareness of what is happening and can explicitly or implicitly guide the process.

4. Lastly, the logic of the client’s metaphors will often provide a direction.

Working with the process is a bit like the blind leading the blind. Luckily most clients seems to have something akin to blindsight – the ability of some people who are blind to respond to visual stimuli without having any conscious visual experience. Clients can know things without knowing how or why (sometimes called tacit knowledge). One of the most important knowings is the sense of what is in their (and others’) best interest. I’ve lost count of the number of times a client has said something like “I don’t know why but this just feels right” or “It’s not what I expected and it seems to make sense.” These kind of meta-comments are music to my ears.

In 15 years of using Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling as a change process we have seen a lot of people and their landscapes change. While each change is unique we have developed a nose for noticing the potential for a valued change. When there are signs that something is afoot or a small shift might be about to happen, we invite the client to attend to that ... and to stay there ... and to find out ... what happens next. (We call this maximising serendipity.)

When a change occurs it either happens spontaneously without conscious aforethought (it appears to happen of its own accord), or is proceeded by a conscious intention (e.g. "I'm going to move that barrier out of the way"). From the clean facilitator’s viewpoint this distinction is irrelevant. (Most clients aren’t interested in how the change occurs, but of they are that is something for the facilitator to attend to.)

Either way we follow the white rabbit – where she goes, no one knows. But one of three things is likely to happen:

- The change starts a contagion which creates a new or reorganized metaphor landscape.

- It goes nowhere and has no discernible effect on the status quo. That doesn’t mean nothing has happened. Sometimes a person will need to ‘go round the loop’ a number of times before something new happens. And, how the system maintains the status quo is itself valuable information. We never presuppose that change is better than staying the same.

- It invokes doubts, concerns, or fears or some other problem reaction. This is not a sign of failure — quite the opposite. It indicates the client’s system is revealing more of its complexity and acknowledging its “current reality” (Robert Fritz). This increases the chance that when the client’s system does reorganise, it does so in a way that takes into account more of the dynamics of the system. As Ken Wilber would put it, it will be more significant, i.e. more than relief of a symptom, more than a remedy. Rather it will be a generative change—a robust, resilient change that keeps on giving.

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