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Reflective Human Action

Reflective Human Action
On-Line Curriculum

Week 2 - Core Principles of the New Science

Topics: Accept chaos, share information, develop relationships, and embrace vision.
Objective: Reflect on the application of the New Science

This week's assignments:

  1. Read the E-Lecture…it's a long one!
  2. Participate in one discussion question.
  3. Complete one reflection activity and e-mail the piece to your instructor.


Is it true that perception is reality?

It is! Through questioning our static reality, our perceived reality changes. Why? When we question, we open the possibility of a new perception. Through the questioning, we "see" information to support a new perception. In Leading from the Heart: Choosing Courage over Fear in the Workplace, author Kay Gilley uses a questioning technique that challenges all reality. Asking "What if the opposite were true?" opens the door to consider other realities.

For example, twenty years ago, we all "knew" that if someone were diagnosed with cancer, they would not likely survive more than 6 months to 2 years. But someone asked, "What if the opposite were true?" Because of that question, we now have treatments available that change the old reality.

A close friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was told she had a 5% chance of recovery from this cancer, since this was her second occurrence of cancer. Most would give up the fight, believing that 95% of the people stricken die soon. Yet my friend believed, what if the opposite was true…What if I am in the 5% group? And she began treatments with a belief that she would in fact prove the statistics wrong. This belief system directed her body to fight to be in the 5%, rather than give up and go with the 95% who don't make it.

She recovered.

Questioning our perception is the key to a new reality. Seeking information and sharing our thought process in relation with others creates new meaning for all involved.

You are probably sitting in a chair as you read this e-lecture. In our perception, a chair is a solid impermeable object, right? But, what if the opposite were true???

Leadership is practiced within the context of the environments in which we live and work. The issues that trouble organizations (whether they involve family, work, or play) are those that shape our ideas of science: order, control, structure, prediction, etc. But what if the opposite were true? Although new understandings have shaped our view of the natural world, the old theories continue to direct the man-made world of organizations.

Tom Peters, an internationally renowned speaker in the field of management and leadership wrote a book in 1987 entitled Thriving on Chaos. He intentionally chose this title rather than thriving amidst chaos to challenge his readers to go beyond coping with chaos. In other words, he wanted his readers to deal proactively with chaos and look at chaos as a source of advantage rather than as a problem.

In this module, we will more closely examine new scientific principles that have implications for leadership. Chapter One of the text introduced the four core organizing principles, but let's focus on each concept in the New Science.

Chaos: The final state in a system's move away from order

One core organizing principle of the new reality is accept chaos. New perspectives from the sciences deny the complex and rigid structure of the old models of leadership. Instead, order develops naturally from within instead of being imposed from without. What may appear to be chaotic is simply a natural transition to a new state. The ability to be confident when we don't know, when we are confused, or when we muddle through represents this principle of accepting chaos. Creative or breakthrough thinking often comes out of being overwhelmed, confused, and uncertain. New levels of order and new levels of understanding grow out of apparently chaotic situations. What some might call chaos may be a limiting tendency to look at "parts;" by standing back and looking at the whole, beautifully ordered forms may become apparent to us.

The role of chaos is an essential process by which natural systems, including individuals and organizations, renew, and revitalize themselves:

  • The traditional definition of chaos is a system whose behavior is totally unpredictable.
  • People tend to view and experience chaos as uncertainty, unpredictability, craziness, feelings of being overwhelmed.
  • Chaos is order without predictability; order is inherent in the system and observable when the system is viewed over time.
  • Order and change and autonomy as well as control cannot continue to be viewed as great opposites.
  • Organizations are process structure rather than permanent structures.
  • When a complex living system is subjected to high levels of change, it possesses an innate ability to self-organize or reorganize so that it functions better in its new environment.
  • Disorder can be the source of new order (or form) better suited to the demands of the environment.
  • It is hard for us to welcome disorder as a full partner in the search for order when we have expended so much of our lives trying to ward off disorder.
  • Self and organizational transformation requires a willingness to "let go" and pass through the "dark night" of chaos--use chaos as a part of our thinking to create innovative and successful teams.

Information is the creative energy of the universe—the substance, the invisible workings of creation.

A second core organizing principle is share information. A new insight is that information is one of the primary organizational forces in the universe. Instead of creating information, information is creating life. Information is a resource that moves through the system, disturbs the peace, nourishes new life, engenders creativity, and encourages innovation. Closely guarded information, as the source of power of the old leadership model, is counterproductive to this new understanding. In other words, information is not an entity to condense, package, and pass along in memos. Rather it must be treated as a dynamic quality that nourishes change and creative ideas. Information, freely generated and exchanged, becomes the basic ingredient of the universe.

Begin to notice that information isn't simply something we organize but that it has the power to organize people and tasks. And since information has this organizing power, a critical leadership skill is to constantly receive, interpret, and use information to adapt to the ever-evolving environment.

The position of information is the primary organizing force in any organization:

  • The more participants we engage in our universe the more we can access its potentials and the wiser we become.
  • It is impossible to expect any plan or idea to be real to people if they do not have an opportunity personally to interact with it, to create different possibilities through their personal processes of observation.
  • It is the participation process that generates the reality to which individuals then make their commitment.
  • Information is the source of order, the self-generating source of organizational vitality.
  • Information is an organization's primary source of nourishment.
  • Organizations are discovering that their route to health and resiliency is to open their organizations to free-flowing information around which trustworthy employees are free to organize their work.

Reality is created as people and ideas meet and change in relationship to each other.

A third core organizing principle is develop relationships. Out of quantum mechanics we learn that the forces within the universe are best described as both particles and waves (or energy fields). When applied to the organization, participants are both workers and relationships. Reality is created as people and ideas meet and change in relationship to each other. Thus, an organization is best described as a web of relationships. To capitalize on this principle, organizations must open up and encourage people to move about, making contact with others, not because of role or status but because of work needs.

The rich diversity of human relationships is the energizing force for us as individuals and as leaders.

  • Our attention must shift from the enticement of external rewards to the intrinsic motivators that spring from the work itself.
  • 21st century leaders must focus on the deep longing for community, for meaning, for dignity, and for love in our organizational lives.
  • We need to step back and see ourselves in new ways, appreciate our wholeness, and design organizations that honor and make sense of our totality.
  • We need to recognize the unseen connections that influence our behavior in the work place or other setting.
  • We do not exist independent of our relationships with others.
  • Different settings and people evoke some qualities from us and leave others dormant; in each relationship we are different--we are new in some way.
  • What is critical in organizations is the relationship created between the person and the setting--each relationship will be different and will always evoke different potentialities.
  • Power in organizations is the capacity generated by relationships; look carefully at how the work place (or other setting) organizes its relationships--the patterns of relationships and the capacities available to form them.
  • What gives power its charge is the quality of relationships.
  • Leadership is always dependent on the context, but the context is established by relationships.

Vision: An energy field expressive of purpose and direction.

A fourth core organizing principle is embrace vision. Field theory teaches us that space is occupied by unseen structures that have a broad and significant impact. Vision as a field could have a wondrous capacity to bring energy to an organization and link with other fields to effect movement, flow, and change. The concept of vision as an energy field having an impact on purpose and direction suggests that organizations need to create consistent messages of vision. Indeed, field theory implies that there are potentials and influences everywhere. Kotter (1995) concludes that in addition to the need for a consistent vision to guide persons and organizations through change, a shared vision of the change process will increase the success of transformation efforts.
The role of vision is an invisible field that can enable us to recreate our work place and our world:

  • Everyone in the organization has something to contribute to the vision.
  • Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline (1990) states: " . . . an organization's vision grows as a by-product of individual visions, a by-product of ongoing conversations" (p. 212).

Wheatley gives perspective to life in the 21st century with these thoughts:

New science requires us to question many of our most deeply held assumptions about how things work in life and in our organizations. None of these shifts is insignificant. All of them are worthy of further thought and conversation, as we try to invent and discover the organizations of the next century. Hopefully, these newer sciences point the way to a simpler way to lead organizations. But to arrive at that simplicity, we will have to change our behaviors and beliefs about information, relationships, control, and chaos. We will need to recognize that we live in a universe that is ordered in ways we never suspected, and by processes that are invisible except for their effect. (Wheatley, 1993, p. 16)

For more input on the New Science, watch Margaret Wheatley's Leadership and the New Science video. (This video is available from Kappa Omicron Nu – (727) 940-2658 ext. 2003.)


What is your definition of chaos?

Recall a time in your personal or work life when you were in complete chaos. How do you respond to chaos in the environment? What did you do to work through the chaos? Did you have a positive or negative outcome as you worked through this chaos?

Reflection Activity & Written Assignment


Learning about ourselves by reflecting on our past can help us recognize the big picture of our lives. Our history can provide a broader view of the context in which our lives take place. By understanding our history we can understand why we view the world as we do and gain some insight into our leadership strengths. We can identify the main lessons we have learned and understand how our values, beliefs, perceptions, and expectations have changed with time.

When we reflect on our history, some of us recognize that our lives are not what we want them to be. We feel an emptiness, a sense that we have lost our values, and frustration with our lives. We yearn for the "right job," the "right relationship," the "right church," etc. Yet, we fail to identify that these symptoms reflect a loss of soul and without soul we can never find true meaning in life. The goal of soul work "is a richly elaborated life, connected to society and nature, woven into the culture of family, nation, and the globe. The idea is not to be superficially adjusted, but to be profoundly connected in the heart to ancestors and to living brothers and sisters in all the many communities that claim our hearts" (Moore, 1994, p. xviii). Care of the soul is not without its moments of darkness and periods of foolishness. However, the very foundation of soul is self-knowledge and self-acceptance (Moore, 1994).

This activity will help you identify the strengths and perceptions you have acquired from living life. Will they fortify you to face reality as it is, to embrace the most difficult, to pursue a common exploration of the future, and to search for the common good among a diversity of perspectives? Will you be ready to dream for a new and more humane future, embrace the true and real in yourself, and truly "live soulfully" (Moore, 1994) as you engage with others in leadership?

Arriving at a point in our lives when we can say "I know who I am" does not occur overnight. It is the culmination of many efforts to achieve a positive sense of self, to know our abilities and limitations, and to find meaning or purpose in our lives. In this activity, you will increase your awareness of the lessons you learned from the past. These will provide insights about yourself and about your roles as leader.

Activity Instructions: (Choose Option I or II)

Option I: Noticing the patterns that create chaos.

  1. Think about the most chaotic system you know. It might be your family of origin situation, your current marriage or family, your academic department, or perhaps a difficult relationship. Reflect on the following directives:
    1. Chart the history of the relationship(s) in that system.
    2. Note particularly the impact of people coming and going inside that system.
    3. Do you notice any recurring patterns in the history of the system?
    4. Develop a theory about how the pattern will play out in the future if personal leadership is NOT exercised.
  2. After you have explored your system, write a reflection paper to summarize your theory, giving evidence to support your position.
  3. From what you have learned about this system, add to your reflection paper by exploring the following: How and with whom would you share this information to actually shift the system positively? What impact might sharing your observations have on the situation?

Option II

  1. Reflect on the following questions. Focus on the simple and little things in your life that have significance for leadership.
    1. Picture yourself at the earliest age you can remember. What did you look like? What were you doing? Who was with you? What objects are in your picture? Who is in your family? What is your birth order? If you are the oldest in the family, what happened to your place in the family when younger siblings were born? If you are the youngest, how did other members of the family respond to you?
    2. What was your role in the family when adults were home? When adults were not home? With whom did you stay when your parent(s) were away? How old were you when you were allowed to stay at home alone?
    3. Who were your playmates? What was your role when playmates came to your house to play? Were you a leader of the playmate group? Were you a follower? Did you dominate the play experiences? Were you well liked? ignored? admired? selected first (or last) when groups chose teams?
    4. Were you good at sports? good at such things as math and science?
    5. How did your size compare with your playmates? Was your size (appearance, abilities, lack of abilities, gender, ethnic group) a factor in your early play experiences? teenage experiences?
    6. Did your family vacation together? Describe what happened on a typical family vacation. How often did the family move? Why did you move?
    7. When did you first notice the opposite sex? Did your behavior change when a member of the opposite sex was present? When did you begin dating? Were you popular?
    8. What was your relationship with your grandparents? Did you visit them often? Did you stay with them when your parents were away?
    9. After you left home, where did you find friends? Who mentored you? What was your role in your circle of friends? in the organizations and institutions of which you were a part?
    10. In work situations, what roles did you hold? Were they mandated or chosen? How did you relate to authority?
  2. After you have explored your past, write a reflection paper to summarize your experiences as follows: identify the typical role you have played, define what you are good at and poor at and what you enjoy and avoid, explore the typical reactions you elicit from others.
  3. From what you have learned about yourself, add to your reflection paper by exploring the following: characteristics (strengths) you bring to leadership, ways you want others to respond to you, behaviors that you want to overcome to be a more effective leader.

Moore, T. (1994). Care of the soul: A guide for cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life. New York: Harper Collins.

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