1983 | I
Patterning Transformative Change
for sustainable dialogue, vision, conference,
community and lifestyle
Commentary A on an exercise in metaphorical interpretation
of the Chinese Book of Changes.
Original version (on networking
with references) published in Transnational Associations
, 1983, 4, pp
also published in Encyclopedia of
World Problems and Human Potential
, 1994-5, vol 2, pp. 557-558. Also published
in modified form in Statistics, Visualizations and
(Vol 5 of the Yearbook
of International Organizations
, K G Saur Verlag, 6th edition,
2006/2007, as section 10.2.1)
This exercise is concerned with identifying and representing patterns of change
and with the development of better ways of responding to its possibilities in
various forms of socially organized activity, such that developmental momentum
is conserved within the pattern rather than being dissipated unusefully. It
has been applied in seven distinct areas of contemporary concern in an equivalent
manner. The areas are: dialogue, vision, transformative conferencing, sustainable
policy cycles, networking, sustainable community, and sustainable lifestyle.
The focus is on moving beyond the inadequacies of single factor approaches
in each case, in an effort to provide a richer and more adequate framework for
sustainable development. Versions of this exercise, and this commentary, appeared
in the Encyclopedia of World
Problems and Human Potential (1986, 1991). The challenge identified there
is to avoid single-policy weaknesses such as:
- single policies create the impression of being viable and successful
by filtering out conflict and opposition. They are thus ill-equipped to
interrelate a diversity of perspectives, many of which may involve fundamental
disagreements (sometimes manageable by hierarchies in an "objectionable"
- single policies may be used as temporary vehicles for enthusiastic response
to problems, only to be abandoned as soon as unpleasant realities have to
- single policies are often geared to "positive thinking", negating the
possibility of criticism and especially self- criticism, thus hindering
The question is then whether there are any clues to ways of "tensing" policies
to correct such tendencies). What can be done to prevent the energy from draining
out of policies? One approach has been discussed under the heading of "tensegrity
organization" as a hybrid "marriage" between networks and hierarchies (Anthony
Judge. Implementing Principles by Balancing Configurations of Functions,
A related approach is to assume that policies fail to contain problems because
they are effectively out-manoeuvred by the dynamics of such problems. As in
the martial arts, a policy must swiftly re-order conceptual and organizational
resources to keep up with shape-shifting and hydra-like transformations of
the problematique. The policy may need to alternate between several modes
of action and conception in order to respond effectively (Judge, Policy
Alternation for Development, 1984). If this is the case how can we come
to recognize the pattern of transformation pathways to which a cycle of policies
needs to respond?
2. Chinese insights
It is debatable whether Western-style organization has reached the limits
of its ability to improve its "effectiveness". Even if this is not the case,
it is possible that new insights can be derived from non-Western approaches,
as is indicated by the current Western concern with the art of Japanese management.
These would have the merit of breaking out of the currently criticized constraints
of "eurocentric" modes of thought.
For example, the above challenge can be usefully clarified by an exercise
in adapting the insights of the Book of Changes, otherwise known as
the I Ching. This has been a major influence on Chinese thinking for
3,000 years, providing a common source for both Confucian and Taoist philosophy.
As noted by R G H Siu (1968): "For centuries, the I Ching has served
as a principal guide in China on how to govern a country, organize an enterprise,
deal with people, conduct oneself under difficult conditions, and contemplate
the future. It has been studied carefully by philosophers like Confucius and
men of the world like Mao Tse-tung." For this reason the popularity of
its (ab)use as an oracle should not be confused with the philosophy and insight
embodied in its structure. With the benediction of C G Jung, it has achieved
wide popularity in the West over the past decades.
Part of the merit of the book, as its title indicated, is that it purports
to indicate complete patterns of changes, one of which has 384 pathways
between 64 conditions that are recognizable both in an individual and
in society. These insights have hithertobeen interpreted in terms of the needs
of the individual (of whatever degree of influence in society). Although basically
they are addressed to the condition of any social entity, they have not been
applied to organizations as such. Thus even though R G H Siu, cited above
as one of the commentators on the I Ching, has managerial interest
in addition to his research role as a biochemist at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT), his commentary is addressed to the individual. It is
interesting to note that not only did MIT publish his commentary, it also
published a study by Siu on the nature of "Ch'i" (1974). This is the psychic
energy that an individual can accumulate according to neo-taoist philosophy.
It may also be useful to conceive of it as the kind of "energy" which leaks
out of policy frameworks when they fail to respond appropriately to the dynamics
of change and development.
3. Interpretative exercise
The structure of the I Ching is based on 64 conditions (dynamic
situations, perspectives, challenges, phases, or modes of action or conception)
with which an entity may be faced. The underlying scheme is based on sets
of 2 or 8 more fundamental conditions. The series could be expanded geometrically
to 128, 256, 512 or more conditions. But as Siu (1968) notes: "The originators
of the I Ching judiciously stopped at the practical limit of sixty-four.
This number constitutes a classification sufficiently fine so as to provide
useful types of situations, against which specific cases can be matched. Yet
the subdivisions are not so numerous as to be too cumbersome for a single
scheme." For each of the 64 conditions there are six possible sub-conditions
(behavioral responses) on which statements are also provided.
The text of the Book of Changes is often written in a notoriously
subtle and poetic style. This in no way precludes an interpretation of its
significance for organizations or, more specifically, for the policies of
organizations. Such an interpretation has therefore been undertaken as exercises
with respect to network (1986) and to policy cycle (1991) in
the 2nd and 3rd editions of the above mentioned Encyclopedia. By making the
interpretation specific to a sustainable dialogue (vision, conference, policy
..), there is clearly a loss of generality, but this is compensated by a reduction
in ambiguity. Subsequent evaluation will show whether this constitutes an
unfortunate degree of distortion of the original insights.
The interpretation given is as faithful to the spirit of the texts of the
Richard Wilhelm translation (1950) as seemed feasible. Some of the condition
names have been adapted from those suggested by Siu and others. Hopefully
this exercise will encourage others to produce a more helpful interpretation.
No extraneous insights have been introduced. In elaborating each statement
the basic constraint was that it should be briefly formulated with
respect to a dialogue (vision, conference, policy ..) and that any terms used
should be credible in such a context.
The formulation of the statements in the accompanying
documents can be criticized because the orientation is not always consistent.
In some cases they are formulated as injunctions as to what the dialogue (vision,
conference, policy ..) "should" do. In other cases they are formulated in
terms of explanations as to the probable consequences of the dialogue (vision,
conference, policy ..) acting in a certain manner. Or else they are expressed
in terms of what the dialogue (vision, conference, policy ..) "could" or "might"
do. The original texts place the burden of choosing between such interpretations
on the reader.
It is important to recognize that the original text permits a complex
of interpretations, encouraged by the metaphorical nature of the Chinese language.
For each condition the central meaning is underdefined, although clearly delimited
by a complex of connotations based on terms that "alternate" subtlety in meaning
between emphasis on: abstract or concrete; operator or operand; noun or verb;
action or actor; problem or opportunity. Any word can often be beneficially
replaced by a synonym or an alternative grammatical form. Quite distinct conditions
may acquire apparent similarity as a result of the specificity of the words
finally chosen - a choice that amounts to a "frozen" distortion of the connotation
dynamics by which the underlying meaning is embodied.
The (undeterministic) significance in fact emerges through alternation of
attention between the possible (deterministic) interpretations - in sympathy
with the theme of this commentary. Note also the concept of chemical molecules
which can only exist as a "resonance hybrid", namely a dynamic combination
of several alternative structures, when none of them individually is stable.
An exercise of this kind is therefore rather like attempting to "tune" a
"semantic piano" in order to distinguish meanings effectively, even though
no one tuning system can satisfactorily bring out all the possible relationships
between the connotations. Valuable insights into the nature of this semantic
problem, given the possibilities of alternative tuning systems, can be found
in the works of E G McClain (1978). An earlier experiment focused on "tuning"
interrelated cross-cultural concept sets having from 2 to 20 statements each.
Longer interpretations may offer greater clarity, as in those of Wilhelm (1950)
or Siu (1968). Needless to say, as an exercise by one person, the results
given here for dialogue (vision, conference, policy ..) call for further "tuning"
and should therefore be viewed with reservation. Furthermore, it should be
noted that the presentation given here does not do justice to the more sophisticated
relationships embedded in the structure of the I Ching.
4. Transformation pathways
It is the network of 384 transformation pathways between the 64 conditions
into which an entity can supposedly get "trapped" that is perhaps the most
interesting feature of this exercise.
In accompanying documents, accessible via a summary
page, each of the 64 numbered conditions is briefly described, accompanied
in each case by descriptions of 6 possible transformation pathways from that
condition. These may also be understood as the possible "levels" of skill
with which that condition can be faced. The number following each
transformation possibility indicates the new condition into which the dialogue
(vision, conference, policy ..) is then purportedly forced. It should
be emphasized however that these are merely the high probability transformation
pathways. Another set of pathways given is that of the actual sequence
of the numbered conditions. The "a-causal" reason for each such transformation
is given at the end of each condition (as the "Transformation sequence")
on the basis of one of the classic commentaries on the sequence. Read separately,
the transformation sequence constitutes an interesting acausal cycle,
with many links of immediately comprehensible relevance to current world
conditions (eg progress-decline-community, adversity-basic need-revolution,
If in a particular condition the dialogue (vision, conference, policy ..)
engages in lower probability multiple transformations the result is not apparent
here, although the Book of Changes does employ a binary coding system
from which this can be determined without ambiguity. Leibniz is reported to
have been influenced in the 17th century by the binary code of the I Ching,
which could therefore be said to have influenced the design of modern computers.
The striking relationship to the genetic coding system has also been explored
(Martin Schönberger, 1977).
The range of possible transformation pathways encoded in this way is of great
value in the light of contemporary efforts to grasp the nature of change in
relation to human and social development.
5. Contrasting exercises
As a work of political philosophy, it is useful to contrast interpretations
of the I Ching with an early Western equivalent, namely Machiavelli's
The Prince. Both provide recommendations to rulers, but the
I Ching also adapts its recommendations to the initiatives of the ruled.
The Prince has been severely criticized (often inappropriately, given
the instabilities of its historical context), because of the distinctly undemocratic
values of the princes for whom it was designed. In contrast, built into the
I Ching is the progressive discovery of "superior values", however
these are to be understood by the user. As with Machiavelli's advice, the
policy cycle precepts from the I Ching could prove as valuable to the
"ill-intentioned" as to the "well- intentioned".
It is worth noting that another set of 394 Chinese precepts, in Sun Tzu's
classic The Art of War, has received considerable attention in modern
military academies. It is based on the principle that it is the supreme art
of war to subdue the enemy without fighting. Similar attention is accorded
******** Contemporary students of organizational life have also benefitted
from an adaptation of Machiavelli's insights by Anthony Jay (1968) to the management
Organization sociologists do not appear to have had the ambition (or the
presumption) to attempt such a transformation map. Although in 1958 March
and Simon published a study, now a classic, tracing parts of what might have
become such a map. This does not appear to have been followed up. Literature
reviews have since resulted in the production of "inventories" of concepts
for organization effectiveness, as in that of J L Price (1968) with 31 propositions,
or more recently in that of D H and B L Smith with approximately 400 concrete
suggestions, especially for voluntary associations (1979).
Of special interest is the exercise of Edward de Bono who has produced an
Atlas of Management Thinking (1983). This identifies 200 functions
or "complex situations" which bear a striking resemblance to those derived
from the I Ching. The Western managerial sciences have given rise to
many treatises on problem solving in organizations. One of the originators
of systems science, Russell Ackoff, has condensed his understanding of the
art of problem solving into 34 "fables" (1978). Semi-humorous insights have
also emerged in the form of numerous "laws" (Parson, Peter, etc), culminating
in their synthesis in John Gall's 32 "axioms" in Systemantics (1978).
Another semi-humorous approach, inspired by the holds and positions in the
martial arts, is that of Thierry Gaudin (1977) who has identified 21 institutional
"katas". It is appropriate to note that the control of "ch'i", mentioned earlier,
is basic to the Eastern martial arts.
Western efforts to provide (world) systems models of the interrelationships
between socio-political conditions of societies (as opposed to socio-economic
conditions) have been modest and of limited success. For a recent general
review, see J M Richardson jr (1981), reporting in a special issue on "Models
- tools for shaping reality", (as well as reference 36), compared to the preferences
for lengthy textual discourses of which Machiavelli's is an early form.
It is surprising to note that in the East a number of societies have produced
religiously inspired board games with squares denoting value-based psychosocial
conditions, linked by a variety of transformation pathways, in a manner similar
to systems flow charts. Precepts (possibly embodied in chants) are associated
with the definition of each condition and the developmental challenge it constitutes.
Examples are: a Tibetan game (72 conditions) with a Bhutanese version (64
+ 13 conditions) and a Nepalese version (25); a Korean game (169 conditions)
and a Hindu equivalent (72 conditions), supposedly the prototype of Western
"snakes and ladders". It has been argued by Stewart Culin (Games of the Orient,
1985) that the similarity between such games provides "the most perfect
existing evidence of the underlying foundation of mythic concepts upon which
so much of the fabric of our culture is built."
(Commentary B: Alternating between complementary
Earlier version in 2nd edition of Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential (1986)