The Illusion of Successful change requires the top person

Chris Corrigan corcom at
Wed Feb 21 15:11:51 PST 2001

Peggy Holman wrote:

> It is self-fulfilling because those not at the top have either consciously
> or unconsciously given away their power to have an impact.  And those at the
> top either consciously or unconsciously accept that power as theirs to wield
> as they see fit.
> In practice, all it takes is one person living a different belief -- that
> anyone can bring about change -- to begin the shift.  Clearly change is not
> static.  Wherever it starts, it must move to others for a shift to take
> place.  Ultimately, that means the top gets involved.  But contrary to
> conventional wisdom which I think shuts off enormous potential, change can
> come from anywhere.
> Reactions?
> Peggy

It's funny, I was just talking about this today.

One of my major clients is the provincial Assembly of First Nations here in
British Columbia, which is the regional branch of the national voice for First
Nations in Canada.

We are using OST now in a whole bunch of ways, both in formal meeting
environments and as a model of how we want to the world to be.  The leader I
work for, the Regional Vice Chief is a man of tremendous vision, deep deep roots
in his Nation, and undying energy for the cause of getting First Nations to
recognize and assert their rights and title.  No question that it is highly
political work, and work that is highly focussed on change.

But what are we changing?  Mainstream society's views on First Nations?  The
government's mind?  No.  We are actualy out there trying effect change in our
own communities, change from an old way of doing things to an older way of doing
things.  And the older way of doing things seems new, but it's not.

I'm talking about culture, specifically the culture of process.

For decades there has been one way of doing things here.  Variations on a theme
but basically the script goes like this: a pressing issue emerges, chiefs are
invited to a meeting which features a head table and one mic.  Speeches are
given, complaints are aired, and the technicians are given the task of drafting
the consensus overnight.  The next morning, the technicians present their
consensus, the chiefs knock it around for a while, and everyone goes home.  And
nothing happens, except that the government views the whole thing as a good
investment of time and money because it has mired our communities in inertia.

The process invokes a certain mindset.  The mindset is "as a leader it is my job
to make my points and give the work to my technician."  Even among visionary
leaders, this mindset takes over when the process is predetermined.  Mic time
gets hogged, the meeting runs late, important discussions are truncated, but
people FEEL like something was accomplished.

And then we did an OST meeting.

The reaction was astounding.  Some chiefs were voiciferously opposed to what was
going on.  It was too much for them to handle, too out of control.  One tried to
shut down the process.

But many others figured out what we were doing.  They rolled their sleeves up
and got to work.  It totally changed the way they looked at the issue, and it
totally changed their own notions of what responsibility they see for
themselves.  And now, there has been a change because people are beginning to
not accept processes that are contrived and disempowering.  Small talk is
starting to occur, and there is a hugely increased demand for OST now that we
have taken the genie out of the bottle.

People recognize now that they have had the power all along, that their power
comes from being a human being, being a First Nations person, being part of a
community.  It doesn't come from the government, it doesn't come because they
have been elected to be chiefs.  We are starting to work with minds and hearts
again, not positions and titles.  That is why I say what is new is very old,
because this is the way we used to do things.

In this country, among First Nations, we talk a good line about self-government,
but the full implications about what that means are only now beginning to
emerge.  And the fact is that some people are simply not ready for it.  They
need to undo the colonial mentality that keeps them trapped in a endless and
destructive relationship with government.  The good news though, is that many
people are starting to make the choice to do something differently, and OST has
come along at the right time.

So I think change has to do with the initial conditions, a nutrient rich
environment, a lack of preexisting relationships (or a willingness to break
existing ones down), and an external catalyst.  And I'm not at all sure that the
momentum can't come from one person alone, whether or not that person is the BIG
LEADER.  In OST meetings, everyone takes a place in the circle.  In life
everyone has 24 hours in their day.  How they choose to be within that frames
very much determines where change will come from.

Making choices to change is hard, but it's a lot easier when you realize what is
holding you back.  And more often than not what is holding us back is our own
choices to participate in useless exercises.  When we can finally say "I have
better ways to use my time" we can finally get things rolling.

Think of it this way.  Nelson Mandela and a few other people helped to transform
one of the most heinous political regimes of the 20th century.  They had no more
resources available to them than I have available to me.  They had 24 hours in
the day.  They had healthy bodies and supple minds.  They also had people out to
kill them.

Now sitting here, in my nice apartment, with the Internet at my finger tips, a
decent income, supportive family and community and state, I have to ask myself
why I can't effect MORE change than Nelson Mandela did.  No one is trying to
kill me.  No one is telling me where I can go and what I can do.  I have 24
hours, and a healthy body and a supple mind.  I'm basically free, right?

I occaisionally meet with people who are important in the world.  Politicians,
leaders, activists and others who have made tremendous change.  And almost all
of them express some degree of astonishment that they are there at all.  They
are, alot of them, very self-effacing and wonder openly how they have manageed
to do what they have done.  That says a lot to me.  It says that the potential
for change is embedded in each of us.  It says to me too that our instinct to
participate in change is reactive, in that it is a response to our environment.
And when things get to be a certain way, that response kicks in and away we go,
making change.

How's that for a reaction?


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