This is a list of assumptions I have used when working with clients. I have not updated in a couple of years and have been using it for about ten years. I would probably make some changes at this point and may do that here over time.
Some Basic Assumptions for Client System Work
Attention – The primary job of leadership is to manage the attention of the organization, community, customer, and market effectively and consistently. Leaders cannot begin to accomplish this unless they can manage their own attention. Most of us are not aware of the source, quality, objects or even activity of our attention most of the time. It is necessary for leaders to take on and develop the basic skills and disciplines of attention and even the transcendence of attention. Eventually this leads to deeper questions about the source of attention itself and what is prior to the act of attention. Leadership has to do with the ability to manage and be responsible for attention in a way that allows the collective realization of a future.
Relationship – "Relationship is the medium for unprecedented results." The ability to create and maintain meaningful dynamic relationships is the key to growth and significant change for individuals and organizations. We cannot rely on our historical interpretations of relationships and hope to be successful. For the purpose of intentionally manifesting results we must understand relationship in the context of shared commitment and the possibility of the transpersonal. We must actively assume and participate in a profound state of prior relatedness. Not relationship to “this” or “that” person, process, or thing, but a prior state of relatedness from which we come to the circumstances of our lives. Accomplishing the shift from historical relatedness to shared commitment within ourselves and our organizations will not happen accidentally. This shift must be taken on with focus, discipline and intention.
Unconditional Positive Regard – People act in a way that is intended to produce a positive outcome. They act in a way that is perfectly correlated with the future, as they perceive it. For us this means that it is not effective to seek to alter personal or organizational behaviors without first understanding the future that those behaviors are currently serving. If you seek to alter the behaviors without creating an altered future, or possibility the result will be unsustainable, at best.
Choice – More choice is better. Authentic choice is necessary for effective teaming and collaboration. This means, among other things, that people must authentically be able to say “no.” This is the most basic expression and is missing in many organizations. The cost is that people can no longer authentically say “yes” and therefore their ability to participate is curtailed. When this condition exists people’s attention and action become more and more consistent with the unspoken “no.” A state of authenticity begins when ones internal reality and external expression are congruent. Eventually the most meaningful choice one can always make is to chose things exactly as they are in total. This is a radical form of choice from which all other choices are seen to be conditional or even decisions between things rather than actual choices.
Emergence – Among other things this assumes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In order to work emergently it is necessary to create a container in which that which is nascent can emerge. This requires great maturity since it involves continuously working with and releasing the desire for control. Within the Western Canon a thesis involves a string of questions, logically connected leading to a conclusion. Historically in China a thesis tends to surround the subject or conclusion, sometimes without ever making it explicit, only implying it by means of contextualization. Working with emergence and design for emergence is more like this. Ones attention is on the container resonant with what one may wish to emerge, without attachment to the form or means. Though this can look like just letting things happen, it is not and requires real rigor and discipline as a practice.
Technical and Human Systems – This is a means of working with the difference between a subject-object frame and an inter-subjective one rather than some descriptor of reality itself. Technical systems are those which refer to some third frame, taken as objective. The use orientation of a technical system is the predictable manipulation of objects in space and time. The use orientation of a human system is the generation and derivation of shared meaning. Typically the use of the word “system” from a technical point of view implies a system outside of us with which we interact in some way. In a human system we are all participants, individually and collectively enacting the system. All technical systems are a product of such human systems.
Containers – This refers to the bounds of a particular system or desired outcome. It is created through an individual and collective participation and shared view of some teleological cause, or commitment to serve, implicitly or explicitly. Typically containers are built and maintained through a process of dialogue and inquiry. Containers can be built or revealed, but require a continuous and conscious investment to stay in existence. Capability with container building is required to work with emergence and is a specific form of relationship to one another as human beings and to some desired outcome. A container is a conscious expression of a human system. It is not this or that relationship you have with some “other,” but rather the living and collective relation of a whole. Though implicit containers exist within any organization, to create intentional change it is necessary to distinguish and name these containers, determine if they are resonant with the desired outcome and consciously build and tune them accordingly.
Holism – Teams and leaders must be able to take an enterprise or systems view. They must be able to distinguish hierarchy and holarchy (the shared condition or unity at different levels of association and hierarchy) and make appropriate choices. Without the ability to think from a systems view, leaders must resort to force to accomplish their aims. Force, though useful and appropriate in some circumstances, creates many unintended consequences and is not sustainable. The inability to think from a systems view erodes personal and organizational choice. Holistic systems thinking in which we understand ourselves as part and a full participant in the system as a whole is the key to sustainable growth, balance and resilience. The primary relationship with any whole, as such, is contemplative and intuitive.
Transformation – Transformation is the shift from a world that occurs as if there were no possibility to a world in which the individual, team, and organization directly experience possibility. It is a shift from self as object to the self as subject; from an objective reality to an inter-subjective reality. Transformation is a shift from the self as an effect in a cause and effect chain, to the self as resourceful and capable of creative, dynamic relationships. The fundamental source of such transformation is acceptance or surrender. One must yield the inclination or habit of objectifying the world and others for the sake of manipulation in order to gain one’s own ends. The existential and most 'powerful' choice one can make in this is to choose things exactly the way they are. Ultimately transformation creates or reveals the possibility of a way of being beyond the inter-subjective.
Experiential Learning – In many learning experiences there is a significant gap for the learner between theory and practice. We cannot eliminate this gap, but we are deeply committed to providing structure and process that compassionately bridges the gap. It is our intent to include direct 'hands on,' immediate experience, rather than non-situated theory, as much as possible. This requires a partnership in which espoused theories are actively tested in one's own life on an ongoing basis. We feel that the most valuable knowledge is already present in the participant, rather than something that is going to be ‘installed’ in them. We work in a variety of learning systems.
Ecological Integrity – We believe that all change work must take into account the impact on the all the systems affected by the desired change. This means that we ask our partners to consider the effect of their work on systems ranging from the personal to the planetary. We will typically ask, “If successfully brought about will the change damage or endanger any other systems or people?” “Will the failed attempt to bring about this change damage any other systems or people?” This is an exploration of the unintended consequences. The ecologies in question include the environmental, societal, personal, etc.
[These assumptions are not claimed as nor meant to be original and are the result of many integrated sources from the both the Eastern and Western Canons, as well as writing from the Great Tradition of shared humanity. They are also not meant to represent the truth in any way, and indeed many of them are artificial and merely useful. Influences are too numerous to exhaustively detail here and include: Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Plato & Aristotle, Paulo Freire, Lao Tse, Gurdjieff, the Hesychasts &“The Philokalia,” Bandler & Grinder, Heidegger, Jurgen Habermas, Virginia Satir, Gregory Bateson, Robert Fritz, Robert Hanig, Peter Senge and Adi Da Samraj, to name a few.]