Monday, November 1, 2010

Transformation Cycle and Why We Get Stuck

One of my favourite models for transformation goes like this.

1. Incompetent unaware
2. Incompetent aware
3. Competent aware
4. Competent unaware

Each phase has the potential for us to get stuck. Most people are not adept at transformation in their own lives and in their organizations. This causes us to stagnate and repeat our mistakes which in turn entrenches our behaviour. Pursuing continual growth and transformation keeps us fresh and enables us to increase in effectiveness over time. So how do we move through these four phases of transformation?

1. Incompetent unaware.
At this stage we are unconscious of our own incompetence. We aren't aware of the area that we need to improve.
Here are a few examples: A person may be a terrible singer but think they are great (e.g. American Idol tryouts!). A person may be a horrible spouse and have a failing marriage but think their marriage is moving along just fine (I have had many a married person come to me totally flabbergasted that their spouse is ready to leave them; they were blindsided because they were unaware that there was a problem.) A person may be hurting others around them by their gossip or crudeness but not even realize that they are doing it. A person may be grumpy and pessimistic but not realize that they are walking about with a dark cloud over their heads and bringing gloom into others' lives everywhere they go. A restaurant may not realize that although they are great at service, their food is terrible (or visa versa). A clothing store may not be aware that customers are coming in but the lack of selection means that there is nothing in the right size for the customers to buy.

 So how do we move out of Incompetent Unawareness? Well... painfully.
1. First, we must free ourselves from the fear of being found out. We all have a sense that there are things wrong with us and our organizations. We have learned to cope with this by covering up and hiding.
a. We start being freed from fear by accepting our own brokenness. When we acknowledge that we are in desperate need of improvement, we take a huge leap forward in the transformation process. Strangely, accepting my own brokenness takes some kind of self-esteem. I believe this special kind of self-esteem (that accepts my own brokenness) comes only from knowing God's grace.
b. The next step to be released from the desire to cover up (fear) is to have an even greater desire to grow and get better. When desires conflict, the greater desire generally wins, no matter how much we try to enforce our willpower. Willpower will work for a short time, but eventually, desire will take over. How badly do you want to improve or change? This is why most of us need pain to help in the transformation process. When the pain of staying where we are exceeds the pain of change the scales tip and we reach a defining moment. Sometimes we call this "hitting bottom".
c. But we would be wise to 'hit bottom' sooner than later. If we do, we will take on less damage. This is why those who are adept at transformation have learned some very important skills.
i. Regular evaluation and reflection. The ability to step back and honestly evaluate and reflect is a crucial skill for finding (becoming aware of) the areas we need to change.
ii. Feedback. Listening for feedback is maybe the most important and most missed skill at this level of transformation. If we are unaware of something, the only way to discover awareness is to look outside ourselves. What are the numbers saying, what are the people around me saying? Do I know how to ask good questions are draw out the truth? Am I approachable with the truth? etc. Am I listening on different levels and reflecting back what I am hearing to make sure I am hearing correctly?
iii. Brutal honesty and ruthless candidness. To break free from unawareness we need to be willing to face the brutal facts. In fact, we need to long to face these facts.
iv. Learning from others' mistakes. One of the best ways to learn wisdom without experiencing pain is to learn from other people's pain. Looking at others' mistakes, are there any paths that I am on that will result in that pain eventually? One of the skills here is to learn to "play it forward". To think through how our current behaviours will effect our future. Looking at others who have gone down the same path is one great way to find out.

Okay, I am sure there is much more to be said about this but I think that will suffice for now. The above will help us move from stage one to stage two. Stage two is an uncomfortable place to be, but a necessary place for us to be transformed. Once we get to stage two (Incompetent aware), how do we move from there to stage three (Competent aware)?

That will be the topic of another blog. :)