Chapter 8 – Change, Adaptation, and Collective Consciousness
Trite and oversimplified as it may seem, I come back to the examination of the age-old saying: “Monkey See, Monkey Do?” You might exclaim, “what in the world does that have to do with the title of your chapter?!”
A simple example as an explanation may suffice. Imagine the scientist, engineer, philosopher or inventor who introduces a change in a formula, a production process, creates new language clarifying a complex belief and idea, or sees new applications for wheels and gears. The change takes hold among a few followers and then more. They begin to use those changes to make adaptations to their processes, language, and useful products. The cycle continues with new adopters joining until a critical mass of converts and users are “on board”.
When this happens and is increasingly sustained in behavior, understanding and belief, there is a shift in collective consciousness from what was to what’s new.
Over the decades of my work with people in groups and organizations, what I oversimplified above happened frequently; sometimes with minor results and change and sometimes, over a longer time span, with culture-shifting implications.
Perhaps a couple of examples would help that are drawn from the world I live in or, if you wish, “my collective consciousness” domain. Back in the late 60s and early 70s when I became a manager in the US Peace Corps, there were some senior manager-leaders who introduced the words and concept “program planning and budgeting system” (PPBS) to our agency. The definition and processes for action which came with that phrase were greatly resisted at first. The system wasn’t totally new and embodied words, concepts, and sub-processes that were familiar to many. They and other “early adopters”, for a host of different reasons and some more quickly than others, got on board, learned the system and began applying it. In a relatively short time as these changes go, PPBS, became an agency-wide way of doing business in the area of planning. Short, perhaps, because we were a small agency and staffed by young professionals compared to most other government agencies. This “change” reflected a shift in our culture’s collective consciousness to a planning system devised in the Pentagon which needed modifications when applied to a “peace” organization versus a “defense” institution.
Later in my career working with individuals, teams, departments, and full organizations, “strategic planning” became “au currant”. In some ways this major innovation in planning had threads laced back to PPBS. Over the time of its ascendency as a system-wide, future-oriented planning methodology it took on many stripes and flavors in color and taste. The books written, research done, articles passed around, enthusiasm for and resistance to it grew relatively rapidly. To many critics and practitioners it was wedded to a Western need for quicker results. The “silver bullet”. When applied wisely and pragmatically, with sustained leadership and follower buy-in, it could produce improved results in many measurable areas: financial bottom line; efficiency; employee effectiveness and job satisfaction; innovation; in hiring the best and retaining them longer, as examples.
For strategic planning to be successful, it, as with all change, had to bring about converts to the language, concepts, and processes necessary for this new toy to work effectively. Each person, group and organization used the discipline as a model which underwent modifications and adaptations to their markets, product line, public service responsibilities, current internal and external realities as perceived at planting and growing time. From that wide model there flowered a plethora of variations in color, tone, longevity, popularity and practice.
A final example of change, adaptation and collective consciousness is drawn more broadly from my life and experience. I select it because in many ways you are steeped in it too but may not recognize it were I not to draw your attention to it before telling you this story. Simply, it is a shift in collective consciousness consistent with but different from our heritage as a democracy and republic. That means, at one level, that it crosses into the lives of 330 million people in some form. It also links to words as colors from my palate that I’ve reference in earlier chapters. (Note: next chapter on the collective unconscious?)
I formally joined my profession when I reached my 30s. You could also say I joined a loosely formed professional tribe. We shared many values: commitment to life-long learning for ourselves and others; helping others; affirmation and personal growth; harmony as a counter to conflict; individual empowerment; inclusion versus exclusion; team work; (refine and simplify). The “field” or profession had grown in recognition and acceptance by leaders and organizations since the 50s but it was still a marginal methodology under construction and evolution. It lived under many headings like group dynamics, sensitivity training, team building, organizational change and development, human resource development. Its aim was to make individuals, groups and organizations more effective and healthy through improving personal awareness, communications and interactions, group dynamics, conflict resolution and participatory decision-making. In one guise or another, this “field” or profession is strong and vibrant to this day. Back in the 70s you could then get an advanced degree in organizational development or behavior, for example. Today there are advanced PhD programs in those as well as sub-set degrees and professional certifications available.
How does this go back to our birth as a nation? Underlying my profession are strong adherence and commitment to democracy, freedom of expression, individual and group liberty, collaboration and compromise, civility, opportunity, and human potential. Life today, collectively in organizations, is radically different from the oppressive and authoritative norms and rules of organizations before WWII. The collective consciousness has dramatically shifted in 70 years. It is reinforced by the adoption of key words and concepts that have demonstrated behaviors and results that are seen, practiced, repeated and modeled by more and more of our citizens.
Where it was hardly noticeable outside our professional tribe and those who would hire us, it is widely seen today. I witness it in small communities, schools and learning methods, non-profit boards, churches, college and more course offerings, in local and state governments. Its adoption and practice was more widely seen since the 50s in business and industry, as well as the federal government. (Of course, this reality is not free from regression to their more primitive expressions as witnessed today in our politics and so many of our leaders. But that is another chapter, perhaps.).
And while we may slip and backslide a bit on our cultural evolution pathways, I will always recall what a mentor once said that helps me keep my faith in the foregoing description. “Once you have had a long experience with a high performing team you’ll know its power and satisfaction and wonder why it can’t happen more often. And, in some way, you’ll wish you could work that way all the time.”
Think of the narrative above as providing some color, lighting, perspective and shape to this emerging impressionistic painting. With a stretch of your imagination you can envision how the unfolding of life experiences along other, even dissimilar brush strokes (paths?), take us from some experience we see accepted and played by other tribes, groups of citizens and communities elsewhere here or in other cultures. Those are the definitions of normalcy for that moment in time. Joining that moment in time someone stumbles upon or intentionally introduces an idea, a behavior, a practice, a skill that gradually catches the attention of others. Its currency grows and grows, probably because it is copied or practiced more widely until some critical mass of adherents is reached. It adds some value to our reality, progress and success. Thus future moments are changed and adapted continuously until something seems to settle into our collective consciousness as words, concepts, descriptions, recipes that become widely accepted and practiced. And the cycle goes on.
It is my hope and intention that we can agree that “collective consciousness” can be seen and appreciated as having dimensions that are micro and macro. Families have a collective consciousness that, while operating out of thoughtful awareness often, have routinized and habitual practice. Their CC is tied to the communities, tribes (imagine churches, religions, ethnic and racial groups as tribes) and larger society around them. If this weren’t so we hardly could have, in this moment in time, what we know as towns, cities, counties, states and nations, or a somewhat functional United Nations. Those collective groupings require a CC that is imprinted by language and words and associated images in our brains. But not real unless validated by collective behavior which must largely support our current construction of reality.